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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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If we keep quiet, they cannot hear our thoughts

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The writer is in Australia

FOR the last couple of years, I’ve tried to ignore all MSM (apart from incidental occasions when it ambushed me) – but I did still indulge in a daily scan of the headlines, just to see what kinds of lies were the flavour of the month. Substack and Twitter filled the void for up-to-date news of the latest examples of the self-harm, if not suicide, of the West.

The final step was to ditch the headline scan. So far, the result has been interesting. For one thing, I haven’t missed them. For another, I’ve been able to spend time in contemplation and reading, time that might otherwise have been wasted observing or succumbing to the propaganda.

It’s quite amusing, actually, to be told about events evidently ‘in the news’ and to be able honestly to respond ‘Oh, that’s interesting, tell me more. When did it happen? How reliable are the reports? What’s the other side of the story?’ Usually my interlocutor flames out at the first question, unable to tell more, beyond the headline and the very clear narrative. ‘There are fires in the Greek Islands, be afraid.’ ‘There’s a Nazi confrontation at a gym, be afraid.’ ‘There are whales beaching in Western Australia, it’s because of climate change.’

On the other hand, news from home is an important part of our cultural, human makeup. We want to know what’s going on. For me, though, I cannot stomach being lied to, and manipulated, night after night, in my own living room – sins of commission and omission.

In Edward Everett Hale’s 1863 short story The Man without a Country, the narrator describes the predicament of a fictional character, Philip Nolan, convicted of treason in the American Civil War. During his trial, he blurts out: ‘Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!’

The presiding Colonel of the court is shocked by the statement; he returns after an adjournment to deliver the sentence. ‘Prisoner, hear the verdict of the Court. The Court decides, subject to the approval of the President, that you never hear the name of the United States again.’ The prisoner was to be taken to a naval boat and delivered to the commander in Orleans. Further instructions to the marshal: ‘See that no one mentions the United States to the prisoner. Mr Marshal, make my respects to Lieutenant Mitchell at Orleans, and request him to order that no one shall mention the United States to the prisoner while he is on board ship.’

The prisoner spends the rest of his life floating on the seas, from one naval vessel to another, never hearing a word about the United States. His reading material is redacted; all the officers and crew on board are instructed never to discuss topics related to home. On his deathbed he is finally told the news from home by a compassionate friend.

In the story, the individual renounces his country, and declares he never wants to hear of it again. His wish is granted, but his bravado turns to remorse as he realises just what that means. He is cut off from everything that he loves; it is a cruel and unusual punishment indeed.

In our own times, we have witnessed a reversal of this story. Our own governments have declared: ‘Damn the People! I wish I may never hear of the People again!

‘Damn their stupid “human rights”!

‘Damn their pathetic little shops and businesses!

‘Damn their bustling cities and restaurants and laneways and sporting events and theatres! Cancel the Commonwealth Games and ruin local villages. Let the streets be empty and the shopfronts for lease!

‘Damn their notion of bodily autonomy!

‘Damn their heating and fuel bills!

‘Damn their bucolic countryside and wreck it with wind farms!

‘Damn their privacy and freedom of movement!

‘Damn their ideas of freedom of speech!’

In The Man without a Country, the government imposes a penalty on a treasonous man. In our own real life experience of ‘The Country without a Man’, what would it be like for ‘the Man’ to impose a penalty on the treasonous government?

In keeping with the narrative of the original story, a fitting response from ‘the Man’ would be to grant the government its wish. If they really never want to hear of us again, we should accommodate them in that foolish claim. They can be a Country without a Man.

Today, they hear from us in polling. Without survey data, they are deaf.

They hear from us via data collection. Credit cards, GPS data, loyalty programmes, you name it. Cash is anonymous. Phones left at home don’t ping on the towers tracing your route.

They hear from us in our reactions to the problems they orchestrate and the stories they manufacture for consumption on the Six O’Clock News. One can’t react to a story one hasn’t heard.

Today, they hear from us via QR codes and scanned products. Shop elsewhere, shop local. Grow your own. From beanshoots on the window sill to a veggie patch and a chook run, every mouthful generated off-grid is an extra empty field in the database. Likewise every bunch of radishes traded for a couple of eggs never makes it on to a revenue statement.

They hear from us as we beg permission – to install a gas cooker (soon to be banned in the state of Victoria), to camp in a National Park, to walk beyond the limits of a dog beach or to breathe fresh air unencumbered by a porous, bacteria-laden rag strapped to our face. No more begging.

Social media is monitored and censored. Conversations on a windswept beach stay private. So long as we stay quiet, they cannot know our thoughts.

So what, left to our own devices, are the things we should be preoccupied with? When not being told by the government and the media what to be excited by, or afraid of, what do we truly value in our brief stay on earth?

If one doesn’t already know, then surely the first thing is to search for it. If our country has disowned us, we clearly need a new country. C S Lewis wrote of this desire in The Weight of Glory:

‘In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.’

We all need that ‘news from a country we have never yet visited’. News from home. If we find the way, one day we’ll get there. Home.

This article appeared in The view from down here on July 30, 2023, and is republished by kind permission

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Richard Kelly
Richard Kelly
Richard Kelly is a retired business analyst, married with three adult children, one dog, devastated by the way his home city of Melbourne was laid waste. Convinced justice will be served, one day.

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