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Challenging the orthodoxy

By Kellie Tranter - posted Thursday, 30 October 2014

From the review of the National School Curriculum to the relentless claims of bias by both our public broadcaster and in our academic institutions, there is a concerted campaign playing out in this country to implement a model of thinking that occupies the entire intellectual and cultural space.

In George Orwell's preface to the first edition of 'Animal Farm' he writes:

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question...Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals..


Whether or not you call it social engineering, its purpose is to aggressively block unwanted progress , to maintain tribalism and to insulate the power elite. The mechanism is fear, and the main vehicles are media of all kinds and government policies.

No one can make progress or speak out until they master their fear; until they isolate which fears are worth listening to and how that fear is engendered in them; and until they understand how the political class and the power elite manipulate those fears in order to maintain discipline and control of the population. As Marilynne Robinson, American novelist and essayist, pointed out in a recent interview with the New York Times, "Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I've never seen in my life."

In July 1962, Martin Luther King Junior wrote the sermon 'The Mastery of Fear or Antidotes for Fear'. His words are still prescient over 50 years later:

Today it is almost a truism to call our time an "age of fear". In these days of terrifying change , bitter international tension and chaotic social disruption who has not experienced the paralysis of crippling fear? Everywhere there are people depressed and bewildered, irritable and nervous all because of the monster of fear. Like a nagging hound of hell, fear follows our every footstep, leaving us tormented by day and tortured by night…

While Martin Luther King Jnr prescribed the cure for fear as facing them without flinching, through love and through faith because of the consciousness of deficient resources and of consequent inadequacy for life, Howard Zinn, American historian, author, playwright, and social activist, suggests that collectivity reduces fear. Community reduces fear. Doing something with other people reduces fear because being part of a movement you believe in and being associated with other people who believe in the same thing, helps to overcome fear.

Perhaps it is fear of a critically thinking population who have mastered their fears and who join together to challenge the existing political and economic system that scares the power elite the most. Particularly if, as some experts suggest, the goal of state terror is to isolate and separate social movements.


In Australia we have witnessed the gradual introduction of a range of laws which affect non-violent resistance including anti-protest laws, the expansion of National Security laws, Preventative Detention Orders, ASIO and AFP spying on environmentalists and most likely all of us, proposed bills disallowing political activists from disrupting companies and the gagging and punishment of public servants and whistleblowers. Riot police are even called in to university campuses as a 'precautionary' measure. The list is more extensive than most of us probably realise.

Of special relevance in understanding what's happening today is a 1971 memorandum from Lewis F. Powell, Jr. to the Chair of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Titled 'Attack On American Free Enterprise System', the memo outlined ways in which business should defend and counter attack against a 'broad attack' from 'disquieting voices'. The tactics and recommendations he put forward to block any assault on the economic system still reflect the mindsets of those in power and the beneficiaries of that power.

Powell writes, 'The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism, come from perfectly respectable elements of society from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences and from politicians. Yet these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.'

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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