“You can not get good public policy out of a bad public debate.”
Freedom, or the lack of it, is both personal and political. We all desire to be personally free from negative realities like fear, anxiety and addiction, and to be able to reach our potential, seek happiness, and contribute to a better world.
I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it
We all also desire to be politically free. Not many people today, or throughout history, have known real political freedom. We are extraordinarily fortunate in Australia to enjoy freedom to the extent that we do. However, we must till the soil in which our freedoms were grown, and upon which they depend, to ensure their continued flourishing.
Hard won, fragile, and anything but the norm, a society can lose its freedom in more than one way. Military take-over is one example, but as many wise people have pointed out, a nation can become enslaved to indebtedness as well. Furthermore, a society can eat itself out from within if it loses sight of the basis of freedom, which is respect for the dignity and worth of all citizens and their right to speak to their most deeply held beliefs.
Increasingly in Australia, our famous commitment to a fair go for all, mateship, and rubbing along with people who have different views, seem to be under threat.
It often seems to me that the old adage, “I may disagree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is giving way to a notion which says, “if you dare disagree with me I’ll do whatever it takes to silence you.”
The good policy that Australia desperately needs now will not come out of a bad or silenced debate, which is the inevitable outcome of a loss of respect for other people and the views that they hold.
It is high time we returned to the sort of honest, open debate that has served our society so well in the past. Failure to do so could be our undoing.