Some people will swallow anything. But many may not know they are being manipulated. Two years ago I was listening to a radio interview with a Sydney academic who had just published findings in the role of the press, churches, State Government, and Police Dept. in 1930s Sydney. This was the era of the Razor Gang. I was driving and did’t think to stop and note the show and the author, but this is the gist of it (thereby proving my headline):
The research showed that although there were some razor gang attacks, the press exaggerated the occurence at a time when the police dept. were trying to get an increase in their budget and more officers on the street. The state government were clearly open to pressure on this issue. So, the theory goes, between the press, the police and the government, legislation was drawn up to deal with the issue. The public went along for the ride, for a while.
The back story: guns had earlier become a criminal issue, and legislation was effective in supporting the police in containing gang access to and use of guns. The gangs then resorted to other weapons and tactics.
The legislation drawn up to deal with the razor gangs was based on consorting and public gathering as offences. If two or three people met together on the street Police could detain them under the new law. The research was all about disproving what has come to light as a pure moral panic created by the press of the day, and which benefitted the reputation of the state govenment and enabled police to gain greater power and resource. We would call that collusion. Apparently, the arrest info showed that mostly prostitutes and petty thieves were rounded up, as well many inncoent people gathering for such innocuous reasons as street preaching, hawking goods, and meeting up to go to a cafe. So few actual razor gang members were ever arrested, and even fewer prosecuted. The research also showed that it was the churches of Sydney who turned the tide, they took a stance of setting the record straight, exposing the moral panic as a political and journalistic lie, and presured the government, successfully, into dropping the legislation and the moral panic. The tide turned.
The infamous Nazi, Joseph Goebbels once said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” (often falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler) Goebbels was the master of lies as chief propagandist for the Reich, so he knew a thing or two about lying to people, it was his job. I think he’s right.
Haven’t we, at times, swallowed that race matters, colour defines? Does economic Austerity really work? Did you believe for a time that Saddam Hussein really had weapons of mass destruction? Add your own.
There’s a lot out there to swallow, if you’re not careful it will either leave a bad taste or choke you (metaphorically speaking). In this age of opinion and fake news it is hard to know what is and isn’t truth, but patience, reflection, and open conversation are gifts of discernment we can use to find our way, together.