Are conservative journalists more endangered than polar bears? Unlike the habitat of the world’s largest land carnivore, the landscape across which conservative Australian writers once strode with confidence really has shrunk and fragmented, and as the levels of censorship rise, and more and more media owners warm to the themes of wokeness, right-of-centre writers find themselves clinging to an ever-diminishing number of increasingly isolated mastheads, this magazine among them. And while even the most pessimistic climate models concede that the Arctic icesheet will support polar bears for a few more years, it is beginning to seem doubtful that the Australian broadsheet will be as accommodating.
You could see the writing on the wall at the Oz two weeks ago, in an article which unashamedly prioritised identity politics over comprehensibility. After reading the first half of the sentence starting ‘An unrepresented Pusey, who uses the pronouns they and them,’ I assumed the writer was sneering at his subject – which would be understandable, given the horrific nature of the offences Mr Pusey is alleged to have committed. But the rest of the sentence, ‘told the court they’d not received key documents’ disabused me of this notion, and as if to make sure I didn’t doubt the sincerity of his or her (their) support for the trans lobby, the journo continued to deploy ‘they’ and ‘them’ rather than ‘he’ and ‘him’ at every opportunity – and with predictably confusing results. For all I know, Erin Lyons, who has the byline, is him or herself (themself? theyself?) gender neutral or transitioning, in which case his or her (their) personal pronoun penchant would be forgivable. But the fact that his or her (their) editor did not correct it in the interests of the reader suggests either that he or she (they or them) is in a similar state of sexual ambivalence, or that he or she is scared of being labelled trans-phobic, or – and I suspect this is the depressing reality – that allowing this sort of nonsense to go unchecked is now an editorial policy in at least this corner of the Murdoch empire. The game will we be well and truly up when their stablemates at the Daily Telegraph and the New York Post are instructed to toe this particular line.
It’s not just opinions that you have to be careful about expressing now, of course; it’s also the words that you use to express them – and for some time now context has been an unreliable defence. In the course of contextualising his friend Joe Rogan’s historical use of the N-word, Sam Harris recently told his podcast audience the story of the US academic who lost his job after using the word ‘niggardly’ in a lecture. It wasn’t brave of Harris to do this – it was foolhardy, because the vitriol it attracted was entirely predictable.
I wonder how long it will be before we will start to see the cancellation and de-platforming of people who use words and phrases which merely imply or are associated with other already black-listed terms? How long before schools and colleges ban the reading or teaching of any text which contains the word ‘woodpile’, for example? Perhaps they will also take a dim view of texts which contain words which contain a triggering syllable? Just as the word ‘chairman’ has now been replaced with the word chairperson, will the historic Sydney suburb of Manly – so named by First Fleeters because of the striking physique of some of its original inhabitants – one day become Personly? And will we have to think of more sensitive alternatives to transport and transplant and transmission and Transylvania? And I wonder if there are any words or phrases which are deemed just too intrinsic and sacred to a country’s culture for its citizens to let them fall into disuse? While its coverage of Australia Day this year was predictably cautious, I was heartened to see that the Australian dedicated two full pages to Anzac Day celebrations. But I cannot help wondering how long it will be before the memo goes out from RSL headquarters advising all branches to tell their members to stop referring to each other as diggers for fear of being mistaken for a racist with a cold.
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