The Pursuit of Truth

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. The beginning of thought is in disagreement — not only with others but also with ourselves. You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun. In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. You do not become a “dissident” just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. (This paragraph has been formulated using quotes from – Beatrice Hall, Hoffer, Kennedy, Orwell and Havel)

A couple of wags decided to post some satirical songs on the Australian Association of the Deaf Discussion page. Those of us in the know knew who the songs were about and found them amusing. The songs suggested that resources of the organisation which could be better used to support people who are Deaf and hearing impaired were being used for other not so important purposes. They suggested that services and staff support were not getting enough priority. An excess of travel by the CEO was cited as a large part of the reason.

One suspects that there was more than an element of truth in the statements and this was probably the major motivator for preventing them being heard and seen.

AAD have now closed the Discussion Page to the general public. To contribute individuals now have to be a financial member of AAD. Closure occurred to protect AAD’s reputation and to avoid possible legal action . Apparently challenging the practices of an individual or organisation using satire is akin to slander. Of course closing the Discussion Page does nothing to prevent satire/slander, it just makes it harder for people to comment, to question and to challenge. Making the user pay for the Discussion Page makes the more cynical among us see it as a nothing more than a clever fundraising initiative.

According to some, to dissent now means to slander. What rubbish! Dissent, if you are not aware, means disagreement with the philosophy, methods, goals, etc, of a political party or government. This is one of many meanings, but for the purpose of this article it is the most appropriate. Slander is, legally, an untruthful oral (spoken) or written statement about a person that harms the person’s reputation or standing in the community***. Certainly voicing dissent to the policies of an individual within an organisation and suggesting these policies were very wrong could harm that person’s or that organisations reputation. This is not in dispute. The question is whether the actual statements were untruthful. One suspects that there was more than an element of truth in the statements and this was probably the major motivator for preventing them being heard and seen.

Many years ago I was involved in an act of dissent as a member of the South Australian Association of the Deaf. At that time there was, we felt, misinformation going out to the public about the benefits of hearing aids. The person responsible for the misinformation was speaking at a function. SAAD organised a protest outside the function. We had support from a prominent organisation. They provided us with all the resources we needed and a mini bus to get protesters there. I vividly recall how empowered we all felt. We got outstanding radio and TV coverage. A few people were upset at this act of dissent but it was a VERY effective means to bring attention to the issue.

Surely there is a better way to deal with something like this than preventing discussion on the issue? What is wrong with explaining the policy of the organisation, challenging the views of the dissenters and having an open and honest debate? It seems debate is too hard and dissenters a pain in the neck. Caroline Wilson, The Age Footy correspondent was recently the butt of sexist jokes on The Footy Show. Her response is an excellent and dignified example of responding to controversy. (Ironically in her case slander actually occurred). Click on the link to read it. Wilson’s calm and dignified response to a sensitive topic is a lesson to us all.
Wilson’s article

Martin, ( http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/93nw.html ) writes widely on the need for Dissent. He tells the tale of engineers on the Space Shuttle, The Challenger, who tried to bring attention to design flaws in the Space Shuttle. Their superiors, for reasons known only to themselves, suppressed the views of these engineers. The engineers were eventually forced to conform and remain silent with tragic consequences, the Shuttle blew up. Martin believes that the only thing more dangerous than censoring dissent is individuals who simply conform so as to not cause trouble or to avoid trouble for themselves. He calls this self censorship.

Martin’s example of the engineers who warned of problems with the Space Shuttle and were kept quiet is a tragic example of dissent suppressed. The problems that they identified ultimately led to the Challenger Shuttle blowing up with the loss of lives. This could have been avoided simply through openly listening and debating the issues. But instead the all systems go approach and the “I know what I am doing” philosophy won over. What was the result? BOOOOOOOM!!! Sadly, in the case of the Challenger, it probably had more to do with saving money than with common sense.

The articles that sadly led to the demise of AAD Discussion Page clearly had impact. If individuals felt aggrieved by them they only needed to put forward their own views

Martin explains that a common tool for suppressing dissent is the threat of legal action through defamation. Actual defamation cases are apparently very rare. The threat of being sued for defamation is often enough to make people shut up shop and say no more. If the dissenter has a truthful and valid argument, defamation is hard to argue in the courts. However, the threat of defamation and the costs involved if the case gets to court are usually enough to prevent people speaking out. Martin believes that in most cases defamation threats are never carried out because they bring with them negative publicity that is best avoided. It is a sad fact of life that legal threats, more and more, are being used to silence dissenters in areas of the deafness sector. These threats are nothing more than a form of censorship.

It would be so easy to blame the dissenters for the closure of the AAD Discussion Page to the public. It is so easy to classify the dissenters as trouble makers. But people usually only dissent when all avenues to be heard are exhausted. To be heard they will use a variety of tactics to get attention including, but not limited to, humour, satire, anger and controversy. They do this not to cause trouble but because they are committed to the cause. One can only admire them for their desire to be heard. Free speech is the cornerstone of democracy and is what makes Australia what it is today. Why should this be any different for the Deaf and Hearing impaired?

The articles that sadly led to the demise of the AAD Discussion Page clearly had impact. If individuals felt aggrieved by them they only needed to put forward their own views. Sadly they took the easy way out – they chose censorship.

Ultimately this will achieve nothing except more frustration and more anger. As the late and great George Bernard Shaw once said “ ..All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions.” Sad but true. So much, in fact, that there is almost nothing left to say that is permissible!

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Desmond Tutu

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13 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Truth

  1. Even with log in, the forums are gone. If you want bi-partisan discussions, then you need an independent forum. Having said that, all they needed to do was delete any offending posts, rather than close the whole forums.

    I understand AAD’s position. I wouldn’t bother hosting a forum at all. Anyway, what is gonna happen now, is all the critical comments are going to find their way onto other blogs and forums, places where they can’t control.

    While I don’t have any truck with AAD, if professional orgs. cannot be bothered to rebutt comments us Deafies make, then they shouldn’t be pretending to be serving us!

  2. In the previous comment, I wasn’t referring to AAD when I said: “… if professional orgs. cannot be bothered to rebutt comments us Deafies make, then they shouldn’t be pretending to be serving us!” But to Deaf orgs. in general.

  3. “…all they needed to do was delete any offending posts…”

    I assume AAD don’t have the resources to do this job. It’s a huge job and time consuming tasks to monitoring and editing the incoming postings. I must say, there was an insult written on Deaf children in posting is quite appalling. Everyone thinks it’s the “spain” song that solely triggered the forum closed down, but it wasn’t eh. It’s more than that.

    Cheers.

  4. Reply to Timothy

    Thanks for your comments. we tend not to agree that it is a big job. It is vital that the comments are read and monitored. Its not difficult to press a delete button. Although we are aware that the AAD webmaster is a volunteer. (Cant get used to calling them Deaf Australia yet .. The website hasnt changed to reflect the name change yet either.)

    We did not see any insuts to children on the site. We did see a spirited debate on the ncochlear implant between yourself and AJM. We dont think that AJM said anything abusive towards children. These sorts of debates are important andshould not be prevented.

    Like we are disagreeing now … from disagreement comes compromise and awareness .. it needs to be allowed.

    Cheers
    The Rebuttal Team

  5. I loved the article it is so true. I am definately someone who won’t sit back and say nothing.

  6. Thank you for sending the recent Rebuttal edition.

    I didn’t realise AAD had closed down the Forum Chatroom. What a disappointment! I remember very well the time one AAD president hastily shut down the AAD Forum after a service provider organisation made a threatening complaint to AAD. I was dismayed then, because I felt Deaf people needed to voice their opinions. Where else could they do that at that time? Therefore, I thought your articles on “Dissent” came at an opportune time. I was pleased to note that you, Adam and Paul explained carefully the difference between “dissent” and “slander;” as I believed there was some confusion over these actions in the past when service provider organisations made threats to certain deaf individuals, which I thought were inappropriate. As we live in a democracy, we can enjoy freedom of speech. There is always a reason to voice an opinion and it’s healthy to have a debate. It’s important that Deaf people express their concerns, disgruntlements and dreams in a safe environment, and it’s good that “The Rebuttal” provides that outlet. Keep up your passionate dreams and the good work!

  7. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” so begins The Rebuttal’s most recent opinion piece. Of course then, The Rebuttal’s editorial team will respect my right to respond to words of the author of this piece, and to the words of those “in the know” who previously posted with great regularity on the now cautious and quiet Deaf Australia forum (or are they one in the same).

    Interesting that there is mention of government and political parties in this article! Like those who represent such self-serving organisms the author of this piece has relied predominantly upon the sophistry of spin. Put simply, he/she has used difficult-to-fault ideals and arguments to support unreasonable actions (note: that doesn’t mean the arguments are without fault, but they sound good). And said author has the audacity, as one of those “in the know”, to give him/herself and his clique a great pat on the back too! Kudos all around, I say!

    Dissent is one thing. There is another word the author might like to add to his/her vocabulary, however, and that is “respect”. And while you are at it, try “decency”. What many of the “in the know” group on the Deaf Australia forum fail to comprehend in abundance, is that much of what they say is the antithesis of these other, powerful words and that their waggish arguments are subsequently eroded. Animosity arises when the tactics employed lack respect and when sweeping negative statements are made about all those on the opposing camp.

    Biting and satirical commentary on the state of play of particular sectors can be a powerful and useful catalyst for the consideration of change and the introduction of valid and perhaps unrecognised ideas. The change itself will rarely result from such tools – that relies more on tact combined with compelling arguments. The exception to this is all out warfare, of course. Change comes from this, but at a great cost. (Oh, and yes, I’m being glib here).

    The “in the know” group, despite their obvious talents and intellect, seem to behave more like victims, even like children, at times. They rant and rant and rant infinitum. “Poor Deaf, poor us, no one listens to us, no one cares” (all this said despite the fact that they hardly represent all/most Deaf people). And then they pat each other on the back. “Oh, ‘In the Know Bob’ and ‘In the Know Betty’, you are just so fantastic and you make all the best points and one of you should be president of the world because only you have the true answers”. Hilarious stuff!

    But what is truly abhorrent is that these people label groups and individuals as “others”: like all good propagandists they make all issues about us and them, and only the “us” group can ever be good and right. They create issues about personalities or evil organisations run by evil hearing people. That way they keep anyone who could possibly relate to “us” on their side – a powerful mechanism for subtle control. Once again: spin, anyone?!

    What fantastic fanatical posters the “in the knows” must have adorning their offices. All hearing people would be clumsy stupid cartoon fat cats who smoke big cigars and scratch the eyes out of the unsuspecting clients for whom they provide services. There are many staff members, both Deaf and hearing, who are continually offended by the disparaging comments made on the DA forum about how their organisations are run, and the continual questioning of the motives of those who work for these organisations.

    Contributors to The Rebuttal and posters to the Deaf Australia forum can contribute to very significant issues concerning Deaf and hearing impaired individuals. However, sometimes even the disempowered can act as oppressors of appropriate dialogue and at times act as communication bullies. And just because they are inclined to cry victim does not mean that such behaviour should be allowed. (By the way, I can make a pretty good guess as to the identity of the CEO who spends large amounts of money on travel – we all can – and I actually support questioning such spending. A commentary on spending within the NFP sector could have addressed this more effectively, however. As it stands, I doubt that this CEO would ever consider employing the “in the knows”, and fair enough too. It’s case of shooting oneself in the foot, if the “in the knows” are sincere about change).

    The most recent Rebuttal article concludes with, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. In this instance, I have identified a long standing and unspoken injustice. I am not being neutral. Oh, and I’m having some waggish fun while I’m at it, so everyone should be happy!

  8. Bravo. A fabulous counter argument and what this is all about. If you dont agree bloody well say so.

    And I am glad you had so much waggish fun doing it 🙂

  9. A very good argument my friend. Perhaps if the word respect was something the oppressors would show Deaf people and the organisations they work for it would be a better world.

    It is unfortunate that the actions of one or two so tarnish the good name of many .. And I do not include the authors of The Rebuttal among them.

    Spin or not they make people think and discuss issues that are otherwise just spoken of in whispers. What they say needs to be said and needs to be heard.

    Them and Us unfortunately exists primarily because the Them will not listen. Again those one or two Them tarnish the good work of many.

  10. J Norton…. If you know the person, and I know him only by reputation, you will know that nothing you say diplomatically or otherwise will change him or her.

    People like this CEO are so set in their ways, so sure that they are right that they will never admit wrong doing.

    People like this CEO listen to no one. The spin you speak of they’re a master of. When the spin is on the other foot they’re enraged.

    There is no way to stop them other than make it known what they’re doing is wrong. Doing it nicely will not work. The only avenue is blunt honesty and shock tactics. Because all else fails.

    Respect is not given because it is not delivered. The unfortunate thing is the people that have the committment and who shouldb be employed at the organisation the CEO works are those that are willing to speak out. The yes people with nothing but self ambition have no place there.

    It is true that while this particular CEO is there they will never work at the organisation .. And that is truly the organisations loss.

    I am sure the writers of the offending material are aware of this. I can only applaude their bravery … even if it borders on foolish.

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