Injustice

This last week I’ve seen something I never thought to see, enacted into law in Australia.

In the last few years, the two major political parties in Australia have, in subsequent governments, increasingly penalised asylum seekers and refugees who arrive on boats. They’ve sent them to Nauru, Manus Island, and placed them in long term detention in Australia. Conditions in some of those places have been reported as dreadful, and in some cases abusive. There are significant issues with long term detention, particularly for children.

On the 1st of July, the new Borderforce Act came into force, and as a result, doctors and other workers at detention face up to two years imprisonment, should they speak out against conditions in the detention centres, or speak to journalists about what they might have seen or experienced in the detention centres.

I’m a physiotherapist. Like all other registered health professionals in Australia, I subscribe to my profession’s code of conduct, must fulfil the requirements of the registration board, and in addition, mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect is legislated in all states and territories in Australia.

This means that if, in the course of my professional client/patient contact, I believe that a child is being neglected or abused, I must report it to the relevant authorities.

The new Borderforce Act puts into doubt the legality of doing just that. A group of Australian Doctors has protested against this, vowing that they will not be silenced should they see human rights abuses occurring to this in detention.

Today I’m feeling disheartened about the increasingly harsh measures enacted by our government. Australia is meant to be the place that gives the underdog, the battler, and those escaping from oppression a fair go, not the place that imprisons them, and sends them into further peril.

Where is the justice? What drives the issues? How can our government choose to treat people that way? How can they enact legislation – the legislation had bipartisan support, so it was the two major parties, not just the current government – that sends children and babies into inadequate conditions, and then muzzles health professionals from speaking out against abuse?

All I can think is that they hope to gain some political points from it. But at what cost? The sanity and lives of those escaping persecution? The moral and ethical dilemmas now to be faced by health professionals and other detention centre workers? The possible imprisonment of those same people, who are only doing their jobs to the best of their ability?

I really don’t understand how they can sleep at night. And I call them to account. I, too, choose to stand with those doctors and other professionals who will not be bullied by the fear of imprisonment. I may never work in a detention centre, but I am at least with them in spirit. I’m looking forward to hearing from my local federal member’s reply to my recent email on the subject. I sent it about a week ago. Perhaps he doesn’t think it’s important.

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Frustrated

It’s been a frustrating week. This year, for the first time, I purchased a supporting membership to World Con. For those of you who might not be into science fiction and fantasy, World Con happens every year, somewhere in the world, and is the place where the Hugo Awards are awarded, and much science fiction and fantasy stuff happens.

I’ve been attending Australian Cons for the last couple of years, and really wish I’d known about them earlier – because they’re a lot of fun, and really interesting. Fairly obviously, given that I write Science Fiction and Fantasy, I love reading and watching it. Anyway, I thought I’d get involved.

Up until recently, I’d thought that the Hugo Awards were awarded by some kind of special panel of Spec Fic judges. Then I learnt that they’re actually fan nominated and fan voted. I discovered this partly because of the controversy around this year’s nominations. It’s pretty hard to find a non-partisan article on this controversy, but if you stick ‘Hugo Awards 2015′ into Google, you’ll find plenty of stuff to read about it.

One of the major reasons that I bought a supporting membership was because I wanted to be able to vote in the selection process for the 2017 World Con (Go Helsinki! – I’m hoping to be there!) and of course the Hugo Packet came with the membership – so this year I’m going to vote.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working my way through the packet – which is what Hugo voters get in case they haven’t read the appropriate nominations. (I might add that I’m a prolific reader of Spec Fic, but there’s so much stuff to read, that I just don’t have enough time to read it all, so a lot of the stuff in the packet is quite new to me.)

The title of this post is ‘Frustrated.’ And I am. I’ve read quite a few Hugo nominees and winners over the many years I’ve been reading Spec Fic, and I’ve enjoyed pretty well all of it in all its varied forms. But this lot? I’m struggling through a lot of it. I’ve read all the short stories and novelettes and most of the novellas. Ho hum. Sigh. Honestly….sigh….

As an early career writer myself, I appreciate good writing. I also know that I don’t always get it right, but I really thought Hugo nominees would have it down pat. Nope. Or at least not this lot. Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent stories, and some of them are decently written, but so far, the vast majority are not exciting me at all. And as far as a couple of them go, they’re not well written at all.

I do have to thank the Hugo Packet for introducing me to Ms Marvel, though. I will actively go out and find more of her. (Apart from Phantom comics, I haven’t really read a lot of graphic novels.) In the meantime, I will continue to slog through the rest of the packet, hoping to find a gem here and there. Then I shall vote accordingly. On the upside, I’m feeling pretty happy about some of my own short stories right now….


The Stigma of Mental Health Issues

Recently I saw a post on Facebook that said “When cancer takes a life we blame cancer. Depression is a disease. Don’t blame the victim for losing the fight.”

I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. Partly because mental illness has touched our family, and partly because I’ve just submitted a story to the Defying Doomsday Anthology. Obviously I have no idea if my story’s good enough, or if it’s what they’re looking for, but I’m glad I’ve written it, because it made me attempt to hop inside the head of someone suffering from social anxiety and claustrophobia.

I found myself breathless, as I wrote about panic attacks, and almost nauseous as I wrote about the terror of being inside a confined space. I don’t suffer from mental illness myself, but I did run the content of what I wrote past someone who does.

Sufferers of mental illness often don’t talk about their issues. They don’t discuss them because of the looks, the stares and the sudden backing away of friends and family who don’t ‘get it.’ At the same time they feel alone, and isolated, because often when they do have a problem, or struggle with depression, they face rejection, rather than compassion.

It seems that we can deal with physical injury much more easily than illness that affects the mind.

We deal with what we can see, better than what we don’t understand, or perhaps don’t want to understand.

In my non-writing work I’m a physio. I see people in splints, casts and on crutches every day, but I also see those with lower back pain, neck pain, headaches, dizziness and chronic pain issues such as CRPS. Those people also suffer from the stigma of something with no visible signs. Once people have had a non-visible injury themselves, they’re much more likely to be sympathetic to fellow sufferers.

So, should we all experience mental illness in order to become sympathetic? Of course not. However, we should all realise that the sufferer of depression, bipolar, anxiety, OCD, PTSD etc has no choice about the matter. It’s not something that they planned  on having ‘just for funsies.’

Like anyone who has an injury or illness that impacts their day to day activities, sufferers of mental illness are still people. No-one tells cancer patients just to ‘suck up and cope with’ the side effects of their chemo, or those with MS to just ‘get on with it’- they offer them sympathy, support, and the occasional meal. They also treat them as normal human beings.

Watching someone you live struggle with mental illness is awful. When you begin to understand how difficult it is, how frustrating it is, all you want to do is make it go away – and you can’t. You have to sit and watch them struggle through medication changes, watch them drag themselves determinedly out of bed each day, and not be able to alleviate it by any kind of thought, word or deed.

You can cook the odd meal, and you can hug if it’s the right moment for hugging, but you can’t wave a magic wand and fix it, no matter how much you want to.

What you can do, is remember that they’re a human being – a human being with a chronic illness, just like anyone else. You can treat them normally, retain your relationship, and be there. You can even try and understand and accept that mental illness happens – to about thirty percent of us.

Imagine how it might be if people didn’t feel they had to hide it, or pretend that it didn’t exist. If you think that’s nuts, then imagine how a cancer sufferer might feel if they felt they had to pretend that they didn’t have cancer, and pretend that the  debilitating side effects of surgery, chemo or radiotherapy didn’t exist. Put yourself in their shoes and think about it.

If you’re fortunate enough to not have experienced mental illness, don’t ignore those who have. Remember that they’re people too. Remember that they often feel alienated from everyone else for fear of what they might think. Remember that it could be you.

And if it is you, and you’re ignoring it – please don’t. Seek help at Beyond Blue or The Black Dog Institute.


Back from Continuum 11 (Southern Skies)

I missed blog posting last week as I was at Continuum – Melbourne’s Speculative Fiction Convention. It was a great weekend, catching up with people I met last year, and being on panels and attending panels.

Cons are great fun. My biggest problem is making sure I don’t panel myself to death. I love hearing from the fascinating, intelligent people who share their knowledge and passions. Sunday I panelled from go to whoa, and nearly did my head in, so I eventually told myself to head off to bed, and I even listened and went!

I was fortunate enough to participate in three panels – Weedy Seadragon (all about Australian wildlife that might be great in spec fic), Remove or Explain (looking at classic spec fic and discussing problematic views such as racism, classism and sexism), and Separating the Art from the Artist (what do you do when your favourite author espouses views you don’t agree with or proves to have feet of clay). It was a lot of fun, and we had some great discussions.

I’m always impressed with the sheer breadth of knowledge at these events. So many fantastic authors give of their time and experience, and so many fans have such a depth of knowledge about so many spec fic things that it’s like being at an enormous smorgasbord.

The guests of honour this year were RJ Anderson, and Tansy Rayner Roberts.who both made memorable guest of honour speeches. There were several tears shed during Rebecca’s speech, and many crowns worn during Tansy’s. They are remarkable, eloquent women, whose writing I greatly enjoy. I hadn’t read any of Rebecca’s until a couple of weeks ago, when I picked up Ultraviolet. I loved it. I’ve read several of Tansy’s now – and particularly like her Creature Court Trilogy.

Of course I had to purchase a couple of books, or three, or four…so I grabbed Ultraviolet and its sequel, Quicksilver, for our daughter, and grabbed myself the Ticonderoga anthology Hear Me Roar, and Redback by Lindy Cameron which I’m currently in the middle of and enjoying very much.

Then there were the market stalls, but because I was very restrained, having already purchased four books, and World Con supporting membership, and a pre-bid supporters thingy for New Zealand’s bid for World Con 2020, I restricted myself to one small, but beautiful, necklace from Michelle at One Small Duck for our daughter.

Enough of my purchases! This is a very self indulgent post!

On a very nice note, however, my husband thinks that we should go to World Con at some point shortly. I didn’t even have to marshall any arguments as to why it might be a good idea, as he loves to travel. So here’s hoping Helsinki gets the bid, and we can head off to Finland in 2017!


Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.    

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy     

and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This was part of the reading at church this morning, and the basis of the sermon. I’m a Christian, which is not necessarily a popular thing to be these days, particularly if you have an online presence. This is an understandable thing, as the things most people see in the media are the failings of the wider Christian community – and these failings have often been dreadful.

It seems that every time I look at the news, or check out some of my favourite online forums, I see the awful things done by those claiming to represent the God of the Bible. In many cases, those awful things have been covered up and denied, leaving countless other human beings hurting, depressed, and damaged.

I was particularly struck by this morning’s reading, because it reminded me of all of the things that so often human beings, not only Christians, get wrong. To act Justly. To love Mercy. To walk Humbly with our God.

To act justly requires several things. It requires that in our own lives, we admit to wrongdoing, repent, and accept the consequences of our own actions. When we consider others, it often requires self sacrifice, unselfishness, and action on behalf of those who may be less able than ourselves. It also means that where we see injustice, we should oppose it.

To love mercy, again requires self sacrifice and unselfishness, and to view the lives of others through a lens of compassion, not condemnation, and to forgive freely those who have wronged us.

To walk humbly with our God, clearly depends on your view of faith. For Christians it means that self-agrandizment should never be an option – something that seems to have suffered in recent years, and to live the words of Jesus.

Here in Australia, there’s a Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Sadly, one of the things we see most often as the dreadful stories unfold, is repeated cover ups, repeated lies, and a refusal to accept the consequences of actions. And sadly, the cover ups and lies are often from those who claim that they are men and women of God. It grieves me deeply that those who claim the name ‘Christian’ have done, and continue to do, despicable things.

Add to that a Prime Minister who again claims to be a Christian, yet whose government is responsible for the most dreadful asylum seeker policies. They clearly contravene human rights, and again place children at risk of abuse. And all done in the name of fear, and its power over the electorate.

This morning as I read the words from Micah 6, I was struck by the sheer amount of awfulness done in the name of God. It isn’t done by God – it’s done by selfish, sinful, human, people. For those of you reading this, you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to call themselves a Christian in the light of the evil often done ‘in the name’ of God. I suppose it comes down to this. What Jesus says, what the Bible teaches, and what human beings do, are often different things. The God of the Bible says “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly…” Jesus himself said “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

None of us are perfect, sadly, but those who have done evil need to acknowledge that they did the evil and accept the consequences. The organisations that were complicit, and hid what their wrongdoers did, need to do the same thing. Moving a paedophile around just to avoid admitting someone was one, only allowed the person to continue doing what they’d always done. It didn’t, and doesn’t, stop the damage. To continue to cover up the lies, leads to more damage, and doesn’t help the victims in any way, shape or form.

Today I’m saddened by the actions of some of those who call themselves Christians. I’m saddened that they refuse to take responsibility, apologise, and acknowledge the victims. In fact, as a Christian, myself, I call upon them to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God – and not just say the words, but live them, and live their consequences. To those who look at the media face of some Christians, all I can say is, look beyond the human face, and look at the words of Jesus instead.


Choices

I’ve been a bit slack with this blog recently – mainly a matter of life getting in the way of everything else, but I’ve been thinking quite a bit, which is what I do.

There’s a lot going on in the world. We’ve had floods here in Australia, and there’s been the devastation of the Nepal earthquakes, we’ve more young people seduced into the world of extremist terrorism, and the news is full of sadness, disaster and destruction. Part of it is the instantaneous nature of the internet. Nowadays we hear about things immediately, via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where once we had to await reporting by a news service.

I’m often struck by the impact that choice makes on our lives. Years ago my husband and I did a parenting course. One of the early tenets of that course was about choices, and that a large part of parenting was about bringing your kids up so that eventually they’re able to make their own choices about life – and do it well. It’s probably one of the biggest worries for any parent. While your kids are at home, you have a huge say in many of their choices. Obviously, as they grow older, you give them more and more freedom, until eventually, by the time they leave home for university or work, they’re making all of their own choices.

I’m sure that most of us have at least the odd sleepless night praying and hoping that our kids are making wise choices. There’s a lot of stuff to make choices about. Some things are relatively simple – clothes, food, which bus to catch – but others are much more complicated. We’re all confronted with moral and ethical choices about what we should do in certain situations.

One of the things I’ve learnt over the years is that a choice is never made in isolation. Our lives can be very self focused. We often think about what a choice will mean for ourselves individually, but not necessarily for those around us. This is one of the hardest things to do, I suspect. Human beings are, by nature, self centred. Sometimes maturity brings with it a more all encompassing point of view. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I think we often forget that our choices can have far reaching ramifications. I think we’re often so caught up in ourselves, that we don’t think about the wider community, or we choose to ignore it.

This week there’s been a large focus on domestic violence here in Australia – and rightly so. In NSW (my home state) there are four hundred instances of domestic violence each day. This year, we’ve already seen 34 Australian women killed as a result of domestic violence this year. Although there are men who are victims of domestic violence, the vast majority of victims are women. What drives this?

Human beings can make choices. We can choose to drink, choose to remain ignorant, and choose to behave in certain ways. Some time ago I wrote a blog piece on the sexual harassment of young women in public places, and the sense of entitlement that some young men appear to have in regard to a young woman’s body. Somewhere along the way, these young men have chosen to believe that they have a right to do as they wish, no matter whether the young woman wants them to.

I wonder if this then translates into their intimate relationships? What happens when their partner disagrees with them? What happens is she says she’s tired and doesn’t want to have sex tonight? Does that sense of entitlement, amply demonstrated at a pub or club, spill over into the intimate relationship? Domestic violence is on the rise, and something is fuelling it. We’re theoretically in an enlightened age of gender equality, yet more and more we see signs that perhaps not all is as it should be.

Intimate partner violence is a choice. It has enormous ramifications upon not only the victimised spouse, but the entire family, and it then spills over into the community. We see damaged kids, who are then often educationally disadvantaged, socially disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged. More often than not, the cycle repeats itself in a devastating self defeating circle of despair.

I’m fortunate enough to have married a man who is everything I could ever want in a partner, and my parents celebrated fifty years of very happy marriage last year. I have no intimate experience of domestic violence, and I’m thankful for that, but my heart aches for those trapped in damaging relationships, and for those whose choices have led them down the path of violence.

What’s the answer? I don’t know precisely – I wish I did. I do know that it’s enormously important to encourage people to think – to think about their choices, and both the short and long term effects of them. The thing that I come back to time and time again, is that it’s always a choice. Bad choices are usually made out of selfishness and self focus. They’re usually about instant gratification and instantaneous short term reward. Good choices are often harder, because they involve self sacrifice, patience, and forethought. When our selfish desires are placed in the context of long term outcomes, sometimes it puts things in perspective. When children are taught to think ahead, to reason, and to look at right and wrong, and how they’d like to be treated themselves, sometimes they make better choices.

We can only hope.


ANZAC – 100 years on.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli in World War I. ANZAC Day is celebrated in Australia and New Zealand every year on the 25th of April. (ANZAC stands for Australian and NewZealand Army Corps).

For those of us in Australia, it marks the date that we feel defined us as a nation. I recently read an article on ANZAC Day, that reminded me that we’d actually become our own independent nation in 1901. Although Australians served overseas in the Boer War, the general consensus was that it wasn’t until World War I that Australia ‘came of age’ as a nation.

Whatever the reasons, ANZAC Day remains our most important day of national remembrance.

Like many things Australian, it has its own quirks and traditions.

The Dawn Service is attended by thousands every year. Thousands of people who would never normally get up before dawn stand around cenotaphs all over the country, listening to the sounds of bugles, bagpipes and hymns, and remembering in silence those who served all over the world.

There’s a march, later in the morning. It’s full of soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel. There are veterans, school children and service organisations. There are bands. They play things like Waltzing Matilda as they swing along, keeping the time for those marching. Our march today was led by The Light Horsemen, leading the horse of the deceased soldier, boots reversed in the stirrups. IMG_4382

There’s a service next, with a catafalque party, hymns, the national anthem, and the ode. There are poems, an address, and The Last Post is played, followed by a minute of silence, and then the Rouse or Reveille.

People may then go on to ANZAC Day lunches, Anzac biscuits, or other family things. There are always war movies on the television, and heavy news coverage of the various ceremonies around Australia.

Today’s ceremonies were very similar to every other year, but in one way they differed. The turn out of people all over Australia was astounding. Our small rural town saw at least 1000 at the Dawn Service, and probably several thousand at the march and the service following it. Normally the numbers would be good, but significantly less. When you consider that our town’s population (including surrounds) is probably less than 16,000, that’s pretty impressive.

There was so much interest in the commemorations at Gallipoli itself, that there was a national ballot to determine who could go. Many Australians take the pilgrimage to Gallipoli, and more recently, Fromelles in France. Young Australians are taking the task of remembrance seriously.

Despite fighting against each other at Gallipoli, and in the Cannakale battles, Australia and Turkey have forged strong ties. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk sent a letter to the mothers of Australian and New Zealand Soldier. It read: Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”[1]

Today, on this 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, we will remember them. Lest We Forget.

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Swancon and the #c1blitz!

I’ve had a flat out week. It’s been a real doozy.

I went over to Swancon last week, and participated as a panellist and the paperback version of Frontier Resistance was officially released as well, and then this weekend has been the critique and winner reveals of Freshly Squeezed Reads #c1blitz.

Swancon was great. I participated in four panels – YA Dystopias from Christopher to Collins, Fan Fiction Tropes, Science in Speculative Fiction and Asimov to Zelazny – science fiction from the Golden age of Sci-fi.

It was Swancon’s fortieth birthday, and there were three special guests – John Scalzi, Kylie Chan, and Anthony Peacey, who had the very first Swancon in his living room forty years ago. It was lovely to see how much the fandom appreciated his part in initiating the Western Australian Sci-fi convention.

I attended multiple panels, met some fabulous people, and discovered that I can still find my way around Perth despite not living there for almost thirty years (that sounds dreadfully long!) The discussions were thought provoking, funny, entertaining, exciting and fascinating. There are so many eloquent and clever people in the Australian Speculative Fiction community, and it was lovely to see how nice, supportive and inclusive they are of each other. It was made even more evident when the furore over the Hugo nominations broke out all over the internet.

This might seem a little weird, but as an Australian looking in from the outside (and yes, I do know that if I purchase a supporting membership to Worldcon I can have my say) the whole thing seems almost impossible to imagine. I’m not going to weigh in on the argument (and no, I’m not swayed by who the con guests were), but being classed as a social justice warrior isn’t a bad thing here. Enough of that. It’s all over the internet, and you can read about it elsewhere.

On to the #c1blitz. If you’ve been reading my blog for a bit, you’ll know that I participated in Freshly Squeezed Reads first chapter competition as an industry pro. Freshly Squeezed Reads have now run two wonderful competitions for writers of YA literature.

This time around, each industry pro read and critiqued ten first chapters of manuscripts. Each entrant critiqued at least five. There were also teen critiques from a number of schools, who were fantastic. If you’re a writer of YA stuff, you really should pop on over, read some of the amazing writing, and most of all, check out the wonderful critiques. If you’re writing for teens, you should probably listen to what they have to say. There’s a link over there to two solid hours of teen comments which was a discussion aired during the Digital Writers Festival recently. Teens are forthright, and there’s no beating around the bush. I really enjoyed it.

That’s enough for now, though, so time to go and do some writing on my current works in progress. Happy reading (and writing) everyone.


Official Release of Frontier Resistance Paperback – Swancon 40

On Thursday I’m hopping on an aeroplane and heading off to Perth. I’m lucky enough to be going to Swancon – Perth’s Science Fiction convention. It’s the fortieth anniversary of Swancon, and this year it’s the Natcon – or National Convention.

At Swancon, on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, Frontier Resistance will be launched in paperback format by Hague Publishing. Resistance was launched in eBook format last year in October, and the first book in the Frontier series, Frontier Incursion, became a paperback last March. I believe there will be yummy bickies at the launch :)

I’ll also be participating in several panels throughout the convention. Here’s my program:

Friday: 10:00 – 11:00 Christopher vs Collins: Dystopias Past and Present – with Sue Ackerman, Tsana Dolichva and Cat Sparks

Saturday: 15:00 – 15:30 Launch of Frontier Resistance – with Andrew Harvey (Hague Publishing)

Saturday: 16:00 – 17:00 From Asimov to Zelazney: Upholding the Classics – with Sally Beasley, Stephen Dedman, Gina Goddard, Anna Hepworth

Sunday: 14:00 – 15:00 (Overused) Fan-Fiction Tropes – with Belinda Forbes, Desiree Heald, Candice Schilder

Sunday: 15:00 – 16:00 Spec Fic Writing – Science Portrayal in Fiction – with Prk, Amanda Bridgeman, Tsana Dolichva, Donna Maree Hanson, John Scalzi, Helen Stubbs

It’s an exciting list of things to chat about, and I’ll be some of the panels contain people whose writing skills and body of work are super-impressive. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to attending lots of panels, chatting to people, and hopefully I’ll catch up with some of the people I met at Continuum X last year.

If you’re there, please come on over and have a chatT


Fine Lines, Freedom and Responsibility

I’ve been attending sessions at the Newcastle Writers Festival all weekend. I purchased tickets to a number of sessions, and had a great time. Garth Nix reaffirmed for me that you don’t necessarily have to outline your stories to write a good one. I generally know where I’m starting, know where I’m finishing, and a few things that need to happen along the way. Then I start writing – with all of that sitting in my head.

I heard some great short stories from the inaugural Novascapes anthology – a Hunter Region speculative fiction anthology. I read a small excerpt from one of my works in progress, at the WIP session, and had a great time listening to stories from  ABC Open.

I also attended a couple of extremely thought provoking sessions – one of Australia’s attitude towards asylum seekers, and finished off the festival with a panel discussion about the fine lines between hate speech and free speech.

That got me thinking again. I spend a fair amount of time on the internet. I tweet intermittently, Facebook, read, comment and campaign – usually about feminist or health issues. I like to think that I have a social conscience and opinions that are valid.

I was thinking about a number of things, but particularly about accountability. When people are online, rather than face to face, it can be almost as if they change their personas, and spew forth things they’d otherwise not say. I often see thoughtless posts or comments, dashed off without consideration for the feelings of others. I see ‘likes’ and ‘shares,’ retweets and re-blogs, often only partially read, and sometimes even completely misunderstood.

Of course there are wonderful things shared, appreciated and commented upon, and there are cats – many cats. None of these things are bad.

What concerns me most, is that the fine line is often crossed. By the fine line, I mean the tiny gap between valid opinion and outright bigotry. Sometimes racism is hidden behind a thin veneer of ‘concern,’ or fear mongering is used to promote financial gain.

In my own time campaigning on the internet, I’ve had my Facebook photograph stolen and attached to a page that a troll used to abuse others, including my real profile. I’ve been abused and misrepresented. That was all pretty minor compared to some of the abuse others have suffered. That kind of stuff really makes me wonder – what is it that these people are looking for? Why do they troll in such an abusive fashion?

Here in Australia, we have many rights. We can express ourselves freely, and we can believe as we wish, follow our own faith, and access information on just about anything.

But that freedom can be abused. It can be used to denigrate, demean and misinform. Often those in power – and by ‘in power’ I mean those with an audience – seem to become intoxicated by their own selves, to the extent that they believe in the validity of their own opinions, whether those opinions are founded in good information or not. Some even go past opinion, and into the realm of almost cult like behaviour, dishing out posts, blog articles and tweets to their adoring followers, who then repost, retweet and reblog, never giving much thought to the content.

With an increased profile, comes increased responsibility, in my opinion. An increased responsibility to ensure that what you say is true, helpful, and ethical. Does it mean that we should shy away from difficult topics? Or topics where disagreement abounds? Of course not, but those topics should be addressed with civility and respect. Where misinformation is touted as fact, it needs to be countered – using evidence. There’s a nice piece on The Conversation website, which talks about opinion and fact. It’s titled, ‘No, you’re not entitled to your opinion.’ It’s an excellent piece, and it should be more widely read in my opinion. (Which you are, of course, entitled to ignore!)

When I see people deliberately spread hate, or argue without reason, I wonder why. Is it bloody minded stubbornness? Or is it because they just can’t let go of something? Or is it because they’ve never looked beyond the one thought. When I see them argue furiously, but without reason, or an attempt to understand the other person’s position, ignoring all evidence that suggests their stance has issues, I wonder whether they’ve ever learnt to think.

I suppose that I’m arguing myself into a corner here a bit, but my comments really come down to one simple thing. We can choose to behave with respect and responsibility, or we can choose not to. We can play nice, or we can play selfishly, as if the internet sandpit belongs only to ourselves and our opinions. We can choose to hide behind facades, or we can be who we actually are. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, but we can choose to conduct our discussions with integrity and thoughtfulness. Those discussions can be robust, but they don’t have to be abusive.

Time to hop off the soapbox.

I also


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