Being able to openly discuss your views and have a civil debate is something that I believe all people have a right to do, even if their views are not savoury or particularly welcome – how else are you able to call them out and educate people? But there are a number of issues where, mostly in the media, the spectrum of debate is quite warped. Certain views saturate our news and social feeds and others are dismissed, regardless of their actual merits.
The biggest example I can think of is climate change. In almost every debate I see about climate change, denial is still considered permissible. In interviews, politicians may get asked “do you believe in climate change?” as though there is still a debate to be had here. Sure, it is a way to differentiate those who wilfully ignore science from the rest, but we are well beyond the stage of tentative questioning. Instead, people should be asking what will be done about climate change, because all doubt over the existence of climate change is gone.
Asking whether people believe in climate change simply validates irrelevant views – again, views that people can hold if they so please, but should have no place in serious debate. The debate that must take place is how we are going to remedy our insane abuse of nature before it is too late.
A quote I referenced in my piece yesterday, from Chomsky, tends to sum up this idea quite well:
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
Little action can be taken when there appears to be a sizeable percentage of the population that cannot grasp – or worse, wilfully ignores – basic and proven science. It is one of the tedious realities of the ABC offering ‘unbiased’ reporting, for example; yes, they do report on the science and facts, but there is also the constant whining from the Coalition, whether it is denial or downplaying the issue. The more outrage they can garner by proclaiming climate change a hoax, the more they chip away at time that could be spent discussing serious concerns and solutions. The ABC, whether inadvertently or by design, contributes to that.
Another major example, one which Chomsky was likely referring to when he made that quote, is socio-economic issues – things like socialism vs capitalism, or the real reasons behind certain events and circumstances. This is more applicable to the US, but also holds true here in Australia to an extent.
Take the refugees at the US-Mexican border. The spectrum of debate, of discussion, is over Trump’s racist and illegal/immoral antics on one side, to the Democrats wish to integrate them into US society, welcoming them in with more efficient and less disastrous court systems. In this context, the narrow focus isn’t so much the debate on how to handle the border situation, but more the omission of history and causation.
It is all well and good that Democrat supporters want to help and invite those seeking asylum, but those same people were fond of Obama. I wonder how many of them know that the Hondurans seeking asylum are doing so because they are escaping a regime inserted by the Obama administration, and supported by Trump’s since his term began. Debate can consist of solutions to the migrant and refugee crisis, but minimal conversation takes place regarding America’s imperialist goals. Who knows – maybe the Hondurans would gladly return home if they didn’t have a dictator running their country.
Similarly, North Korea suffers from such historical amnesia and limited debate. Opinion in the US ranges from total annihilation to seeking a peaceful resolution, but no one seems to consider how exactly to do that. Threats of “fire and fury” certainly is one way, and gains attention because it’s great for headlines. But where are the headlines demanding the US backs away from the Korean Peninsula? Where is the discussion on why the US dares think it has the right to be involved in the first place?
Defining the spectrum of debate is a rather simple task – if you are aware of all the possible options. In some cases, like climate change, the spectrum needs to shift to focus on how to handle it, casting aside ‘opinion’ that attempts to equate itself to scientific fact. In others, like US foreign policy, the debates held are not necessarily wrong (although things like “fire and fury” should probably be dropped, might be helpful), but they are limited to what is acceptable to the country’s imperialist goals.
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