Flat White

When did we stop listening?

1 March 2022

12:00 PM

1 March 2022

12:00 PM

I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, not Mensa level by any means, but in all likelihood a bit above the median curve. As I grow older, I also believe I’ve gained a bit of wisdom over the years, through successes and failures, hard times and good times. It is as we all should; grow, learn, and evolve as people as we walk through our lives.

I can remember when I was 11 sitting through a school speech day. The speaker was droning on and on about school values and whatnot … it was going on forever. I was bored and not listening at all.

I recall looking at my father, who was listening intently to the speaker. After the event, I asked my father how he didn’t get bored listening to these speeches.

His answer was simple and profound and carries more meaning for me each year. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here; ‘Son, I listen to what they are saying and think to myself if I agree with it or not. I listen because they could have a good idea or two and I might learn something. Even if I don’t agree with them, I still listen.’

Certainly, it was an off-the-cuff answer and he was definitely warning me to sit still and listen next time as I’d been squirming in my seat next to him for over an hour. However, it was a lesson I never forgot, and it is as insightful today as it was back then.

My father was brought up and lived most of his life well before any modern information technology existed. He had what you might call a ‘classical’ education from the 50s and 60s. An education that would not be recognisable compared to schooling now. He was taught Latin, French, and German. Critical thinking was important, and he understood deeply the lessons of history having escaped both the Nazi’s and then the burgeoning USSR in his early years. He read books, quite literally thousands over his lifetime on all subjects and genres, as did most people of his era. I can clearly remember him often listening to politicians’ speeches from both sides of the parliament, reading newspapers front to back, and magazine essays on issues across the world.

He would hold very strong opinions and not be afraid to espouse them, but I always knew he’d thought long and hard before coming to those opinions. I always trusted him, and he was mostly always correct.

Fast forward to today. Even though we have access to the totality of human knowledge at our fingertips, we seem to be less informed than ever before. Society is filled with people who will not read about, or listen to, a viewpoint that doesn’t align with theirs. Let alone take the time to carefully examine if their opinions are at all justified.

Instead of listening, understanding, and empathising, we’ve got into the habit of ignoring, shouting down, de-platforming, and cancelling opposing viewpoints. Not only don’t we listen, but we’ve also stopped learning.

Honest questions: how many people go further than a news article headline, a 30 second TV new piece, or a Wikipedia description to form their opinion these days?

Why is it a bad thing to take a sceptical attitude and read and research differing viewpoints?

What happened to being open to changing your opinion in the light of new evidence?

Much of today’s debate around important subjects seem just to be ill-informed people screaming at each other with closed ears. Those that want to debate subjects, to uncover detail, nuance, and find common ground are drowned out by the volume of these immovable mostly informed opposing forces.

Certainly, we can lay a lot of the blame on the increasingly monolithic and incurious media system which no longer holds governments to account. Who remembers Jana Wendt, Terry Willesee, and Ray Martin taking down politicians from both sides every other night at 7:00pm?

Instead of debate we get hand-picked journalists, asking soft-ball questions. Hell, hath no fury like a politician being asked difficult questions! Just look at the treatment of Peta Credlin when she dared ask Dan Andrews unconformable questions about his handling of the first Covid outbreak in Victoria. Instead of listening and perhaps pressing further with follow-up questions, most of the media attacked Credlin for ‘not being a real journalist’, whatever that means.

The result is, in my opinion, a spectacularly uninformed public. Not only are differing viewpoints never heard, but they are also actively discouraged. Some views are labelled ‘dangerous misinformation™’ and are not to be tolerated at all.

Don’t believe me – here are a couple of examples that highlight the loss of our society’s ability to listen, understand, empathise, and have a rational calm discourse with each other.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to know the name Joe Rogan, even if you’re not quite sure who he is or what he does. Rogan is the most popular podcaster on the planet with 1700+ episodes, 11 million+ listeners to each episode, billions of downloads.

Rogan’s show is simple; he invites his comedian friends and other interesting guests from across countless diverse fields on to his show to have conversations. Most episodes are two to three hours long and have no format, just a long chat to really get into the details of what his guests are saying. Detail, nuance, no chance of misinterpreting their viewpoint.

Recently he made the cardinal mistake of inviting Dr Robert Malone and Dr Peter McCullough on his show as guests in quick succession. Both hold very differing views of the Covid pandemic, and the global response to it, from the mainstream orthodoxy. Both are very highly qualified to discuss their opinions, being experts in their fields.

Since those episodes the calls to cancel Rogan have become louder and louder. The media and its pundits have called the episodes dangerous and wildly irresponsible. We must delete these episodes and never let anyone hear them again. We must cancel Rogan too, no one should be able to reach so many with a different opinion.

One could never, you know, actually listen to the episodes and then form your own opinion as to the merits of their arguments. No, we are not allowed to do that, we must be told what our opinions are.

I’ve listened to both episodes in full and whilst I don’t agree with all their conclusions, they both make very compelling, thoughtful, and clear arguments. Surely listening to and specifically countering their arguments instead of attempting to censor them in their entirety would be better for society?

If the world’s most popular broadcaster can be censored by those who would take away our opportunity to listen to other viewpoints, where do we mere mortals stand?

Not much better, unfortunately.

Recently, I was having lunch with some family members and we started discussing the news of the day. Always a dangerous area.

We touch on the WA border openings, general agreement that it was overdue, and that McGowan was going to be in political trouble if he didn’t fall in line with the rest of Australia. Phew.

The conversation flowed on to Canada, and here it got a bit heated as I explained that in my opinion Trudeau has massively overstepped the mark in dealing with a peaceful protest. No, I was told I was completely wrong as the protesters were a clear threat to Canadian safety and security. Not from what I’ve seen online they looked peaceful, I countered. Blockades on the border were removed peacefully with good faith negotiations and normal police powers by local governments. The same amount of empathy, listening and regular policing would likely resolve the protest in Ottawa. This was clearly a new viewpoint to them on this, the tone of the conversation had changed.

Okay, let’s move on to Ukraine, surely, we can agree Putin is the boogeyman here they said. I mention it sure does seem like America is wanting it to happen, I think with amount of corrupt money flowing in and out of Ukraine to America over the last decade, it might be very convenient to wipe all those records away with an invasion. Again, a new viewpoint that was clearly unacceptable.

I could see the anger rising, I’m not supposed to have a different opinion on worlds matters, certainly not ones that might make people question their own viewpoints.

Let’s try the closure of the Eraring coal fire power plant in New South Wales I think, safer ground here and not overly political. I recalled back the Enron scandal when, amongst other things, power plants were in California taken offline deliberately causing blackouts across the state, which in turn saw the wholesale cost of power spike, making buckets of extra money for Enron. I equated closing 2880MW power plant and replacing it with 700MW battery in a similar light. Again, instant refusal to hear the argument, I was completely wrong, what I said was simply not true.

Then I was asked for the countless time when I was going to get vaccinated, my response being no thanks it wasn’t for me, data was showing it not be that effective after all. Apparently, I had grown horns and was spitting fire at them at this point.

I was accused of being some sort of Trump, Fox News, Rogan, QAnon cultist and berated for reading conspiracy theories and other things on the internet with raised voices through clenched teeth.

No matter that I consume my news widely across many sources, from the mainstream media here and overseas, all the way to citizen journalists on the ground at key events to form my views – I was dissenting from the orthodoxy and that was not acceptable. At no point did any of my words get heard, just angrily dismissed.

It dawned on me that these family members, who are at least as intelligent as me, were spectacularly ill-informed about the world. Not only that, but they – like so many others – have been taught to aggressively shut out any alternative point of view. The visceral anger I saw that I wasn’t part of their echo chamber and didn’t follow the mainstream point of view was both frightening and saddening.

This is not at all an isolated conversation, repeat this countless times in the last two years with friends, in business and in public. I’m sure similar conversations are occurring every day, everywhere people seek to question the designated opinion of the day. This is not healthy for our society.

Recently I’ve been to several anti-mandate, anti-lockdown rallies both in Sydney and in Canberra. I’ve seen the hatred spewed at the peaceful protesters from the sidelines. People have been spat on, abused and even cars rammed into. Yet the government never defends their right to speak in any meaningful way, instead vilifies protesters as fringe extremists and not worthy of comment. They certainly never actually listen to, or addresses, the concerns of the people marching.

The media didn’t bother covering the latest Canberra rally in any serious way. They made up their mind, and yours for you, about people who are sceptical, questioning and dissent from the media’s self-appointed correct viewpoint months ago.

They called rally goers anti-vaxxers, racists, bigots, or any other derogatory terms that can slapped onto them which can then be used as a validation to never to listen to them. After all, who in polite society would ever give racists the time of day.

At no point have I seen the media ask questions, listen, and try to understand what motivated 100,000+ people to drive to Canberra and march on Parliament House, or similar numbers to march in Sydney and Melbourne for weekend after weekend late last year. They never seem to want to know why people are so angry. Back in the day we would have said they had tin ears, although the reference may be lost now.

I fear we have become an incurious close-minded society who have very little real knowledge of current events beyond 30 second TV grabs and over-hyped headlines. We have become too credulous and forgotten to think for ourselves. We have become, dare I say it, stupid.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, whilst governments, the mainstream media and legacy social media have dulled down and outright censored many conversations, there is a flipside. The beauty of the internet age is that when one platform or news service decides a voice or opinion is to be censored or cancelled, a dozen more platforms pop up to spread the message.

That those new platforms can reach more ears than the legacy sources show’s that so many really do want to listen if they are given the chance. Let’s reteach ourselves, our family any friends to be more curious, more critical, more open to listening and changing our opinions. Let’s never berate someone for changing their minds again, lest we further entrench the current stigma of weakness attached to changing one’s opinion.

So, search for new ideas and sources of news, read them, consider their arguments, support them, share them. Hell, why not even become one of them like I have and write pieces for outlets like The Spectator Australia?

The words of my father ring truer today than ever before. If you never listen, you’ll never learn.

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