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Vandstone and Discourse - A Reply to an SMH article

Vandstone and Discourse - A Reply to an SMH article

Words by Alexi Barnstone

“None of us likes being yelled at or chastised for our views. The pleasure of exchanging opinions, exploring them and in the process better understanding or modifying our own is one of the hallmarks of a free society.”

The opinion piece published by former Coalition MP Amanda Vanstone in Murdoch’s Sydney Morning Herald presents us with yet another iteration of a growing phenomenon. The rights’ attempted monopolization over appeals to logic, reason and discourse.  As growing populist animosity extends itself from both the right and left-wing of politics, the institutionalist buckers down. ‘Society has never been this good before’ ‘Progressives are ideological but lack pragmatism’ ‘The left is killing free speech’.

Perhaps, had the article stayed its course and truly critiqued issues around free speech and discourse, one could consider the arguments put forward with intent. Unfortunately, Vanstone does not do this. She does exactly what so many conservatives do. 

She implements the age-old trick honed over the years and re-emergent in contemporary climate skepticism. Vanstone uses the concept of freedom, playing on its frailty, to discourage confronting the truth. The truth that society is systemically broken and cannot be fixed within the social and economic parameters championed since the 1980s. She imbeds her climate skepticism within the carcass of a poorly articulated appeal to democracy. The true objective as always; the preservation of neoliberalism.

And like it always is with those whom deregulation benefits, it doesn’t take long before Vanstone is appealing to free market, long-defunct homo economicus arguments for change. Why don’t the children recycle more, take public transport, buy fewer clothes and stop using air conditioning? They absolutely can, and should. But not all problems can be solved by waiting for the natural forces of the market. We do not have that much time. 

Her derision of the protest movement necessarily ignores the reality of the situation. Her rhetoric a clear testament to that fact.

“The Greta circus has become a complete farce”

It downplays the severity and mocks. Vanstone cannot help herself, because conservative economic philosophy is incapable of solving climate change. We are beyond simple market-based mechanisms. We need institutional and structural change if we hope to address the issue of climate change. Big government intervention, regulated markets, strict environmental policy. A conservative’s nightmare.

That is why Greta Thunburg and us activists have you revisiting old tricks, dear Vanstone. The course of action necessary to address climate change is incompatible with your worldview. This, far more than farcical appeals to freedom of speech, is what your article exhibits. Instead of deriding the passionate youth for attempting to inspire action, why don’t you engage in the fundamental that underpins your perspective.

The rise of both left and right-wing populism is a consequence of many things. A belief that the system does not work is one of them. Whether it be that the system is not equipped to address climate change, that the system is corrupted by the elite, or both, an appeal to discourse is only as valid as it is correct in its comprehension of the subject at hand. Label Greta a sycophant or mock her actions. But do not pretend you understand the severity of the predicament we are in.

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