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Newsletter 416

Published November 22, 2021
Protesters in Melbourne demand the freedom to be idiots

I’ve held back this week’s newsletter wondering exactly what was going to be published on the weekend. The Herald has a review of the Doug Aitken show at the MCA and two other pieces I’ve written, but a space crisis has prevailed and the column is on hold again – which means it’s also on hold for this website.

The only piece I’m able to publish right away is a review of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, which turned out to be worth waiting for. As the lockdown has receded I’ve been struggling to keep up with the sudden rush of events and obligations. I would’ve liked to see a lot more at this year’s festival but my time was completely messed up. Will matters improve over Christmas? I have a terrible feeling – based on past experience – that things will only get more frantic.

How weird and depressing is politics? Now that Scummo’s in campaign mode, every day brings a new series of stunts and fibs. This week’s pseudo-issue is the ‘religious freedoms’ bill, which will almost certainly be one the most pointless pieces of legislation ever brought to Parliament. I would have thought that religious freedoms were already enshrined within law, in that everyone has the right to worship the god of their choice just so long as their mode of worship doesn’t impinge on other people. One suspects the whole thrust of the new legislation will be to allow a greater degree of intolerance, discrimination and bigotry. People will have the freedom to indulge their worst prejudices – just like anti-vaxxers demanding the “freedom” to infect others with a potentially deadly virus.

How many sins have been committed in the name of “freedom” (or “truth” for that matter). When a word is so firmly associated with all things bright & beautiful it’s easy to attach it to a lot of very nasty stuff. Extremists demand the freedom to carry guns, and presumably the freedom to shoot those they identify as baddies. Scummo would like us to see him as an apostle of freedom and blame the states for the despised lockdowns.

We might think nostalgically about Kant’s idea of “freedom”, which wasn’t simply an open invitation to do whatever one likes but a choice made on the basis of reason. One might like to be free to catch COVID and infect others but it’s neither a rational nor moral option. If everyone felt like this, humanity would soon be decimated – or at least coming through a pandemic that was burning itself out with a much higher rate of mortality. To act with blind selfishness turns out to be against reasonable self-interest in the long run.

In the name of “freedom” people are losing the capacity to act reasonably. The Victorian police have arrested a gun-toting dope who called upon protesters to storm state parliament and shoot Dan Andrews. An original idea ne c’est pas? Maybe they should hang Mike Pence while they’re at it.

How did “freedom” become a slogan for psychos filled with uncontrollable anger and resentment? I’m afraid a large part of the problem lies with politicians pandering to this mentality in the hope of gathering votes from the masses. There are too many leaders who believe it’s their job to conform to whatever is indicated in the opinion poles, currying favour rather than laying down firm lines of action. But to lead means to set an example, to stick to one’s principles, and tell the truth. Maybe we should declare a moratorium in the word “freedom” until we’ve worked out what it actually means. There must be plenty of other words we can corrupt while we’re waiting.