• Denby Weller

Journal Prompt 9

Read/Listen to this [don't delve too much into the author's life or controversies] (Links to an external site.)

Think about and write around the following ideas:

· What is the water YOU are in?

· What is the water YOU are fighting?

Growing up in regional Queensland, to a family of die-hard conservatives, it still mystifies me and my parents that I was a ‘bleeding heart leftie’ from my first spoken word. 

Although I don’t agree on general political principles with my dad and his social circle, I do hold that civilised discourse is an essential ingredient of a fair and just democratic society. If we can’t debate ideas well, and base our positions on facts, then our democracy becomes an instrument of ill-informed voters who haven’t rigorously tested their beliefs in any kind of meaningful discourse.  

During my journalistic coverage of the 2016 presidential election in the US, and Brexit, I witnessed a worrying increase in polarisation. Philosopher Scott Stephens has said that people are now living in ‘mutually exclusive moral universes’ and this is of concern to anyone who holds that democracy requires high quality public debate to come to high quality decisions on issues of governance.  

I’m fascinated by the many conspiracy theories modern Australian conservatives subscribe to.

Even the positioning of the conservatives as Australia’s ‘responsible economic managers’ against the ‘spendthrift left’ is demonstrably false, with research having shown that the economy’s performance has no relationship to the political leanings of the government of the day. 

In 2019, I conducted research in the wake of the Christchurch shootings on Waleed Aly’s claim that anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia was driven by the mainstream media. I looked at opinion pieces in The Australian, and found no evidence that the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment had its origins there.  

I was surprised, as my anecdotal evidence from the many conversations with my Queensland family and friends led me to think that the Murdoch press had played a role here.

What I did notice in the Oz was that the discourse was being conducted on the premise that all of the above (and many other conspiracies) were accurate. This premise seems to have been formed, at least in part, on social media.

I wondered: how do conservative conspiracies spread from social media to the mainstream media? This is both the water I am in, and the water I am fighting.

Our block in the Blue Mountains was charred in the fires this summer, but luckily our centuries-old waratahs and our shed were unscathed. This plucky little daisy lifted my spirits after months of trying to have conversations with my family about the fires without having to argue about whether or not climate change is real.

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