“You are a writer, I am a doer…. You can intellectualise (sic) as much as you like, but in the process you are doing nothing much useful… Just because you click your fingers and write an article you think you can change government policy settings…. Your message is only getting through to a select few mate… I’m not sure what it is about this you don’t understand”.
I quote this extract from correspondence I have recently received about my own writing because it encapsulates quite chillingly the Tasmanian dilemma quite well - and the narrowness of the focus is an essential element of this, for the same correspondent also suggested that “people such as yourself are focusing their energies and intellect away from strategies to stop the (Gunns Tamar Valley pulp) mill itself, to an ideological position on industrial forestry, political parties, democracy etc..”.
This all raises a number of human issues, well worth exploring, issues about motivation for social activism, for example – the personal, the local, the regional, social justice, the environment, political representation, democratic rights, and so on – and issues about the value of writing about anything beyond the material – the job manual, household bills, traffic signs, the daily news-sport-comics-grocery specials, the weekly television entertainment guide.
My correspondent explicitly condemned me for not doing what he had done. His path and his experience was an exemplary model par excellence in contemporary Tasmania – and the path? One only. Run for public office, do the hard yards in door-knocking, be a “pragmatist”.
But there are many paths, both individual and collective, and to constrain, to prescribe, to impose and then inevitably to proscribe, are to conform to the paradigm of the political culture in Tasmania. And he does conform, par excellence. I do not. I dissent.
The message conveyed to me is that I should be silent where my views are not in accord with those who are the decision makers, at whatever level – and in confidence, of course. Secrecy and confidentiality are or the utmost importance.
Each of us has a voice, but let it be a public voice, not a voice inhibited by the promise of confidentiality, of private meetings, of commercial in confidence and of caucus comfort. Let it be a voice which speaks above all from the personal to the local to the regional to beyond. If it is to be a voice which states “not in my backyard” for all the reasons that have been articulated in relation to the Tamar Valley pulp mill, for example, then it should be a voice which says the same things in relation to other places in Tasmania as well.
If it is not good enough to have a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley for all the reasons that have been exhaustively argued for the last five years – and goodness knows the reasons are as compelling as any could possibly be – then it is equally as compelling to transfer those same views and arguments to the rest of our backyard – the whole of Tasmania.
As we are all victims of our time and place, so we should be aware that attempts at censorship and imposition of conformity are endemic, and likely to mirror the cultural norm, particularly in the political sphere. You never know where attempts at censorship are going to come from next. You never know where the next wave of the self-anointed thought police are going to spread their dark blankets to enforce their own brand of conformism.
This is particularly true in the Tasmanian political context – especially in the Tasmanian context – where the culture of caucus conformity is a mindset so strong that it almost religious in its connotations. This pressing need extends well beyond the party political structures into a whole range of NGOs.
To dissent from the party line in Tasmania is to be ostracized, to be subject to character assassination and to be subject to personal abuse – and the party line is much wider and broader than the Labor-Liberal accord. And just as narrow.