In mid January this year, hundreds of thousands of marchers and numerous world leaders took to the streets of Paris to support freedom of expression. The slaying of 12 journalists in their Charlie Hedbo headquarters, for its polemical pieces and mocking illustrations of the prophet Muhammad, raised the issue of religious intolerance as well as freedom of expression. France, the heartland of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, would not stand for censorship on this issue and the magazine lives on.
How does culture work like that? How does a nation spill half a million people onto the streets simultaneously to fight for an idenity? This phenomenon is not infrequent in times of upheaval, but what makes larges masses of people move as one?
In Queensland, we stand this week between Australia Day, 26th January and our State Election, 31st January. Much of the discussion and polemic in the media concerns, “what it is to be an Australian”, our heritage, our ethos. How does our state collectively make a decision about what political party to choose? How do we move as one when it comes to decisions to go to war? How can a crowd of spectators at a match simultaneously break into laughter or cheer at once, except when something strikes a chord in their heart, a memory, a shared value?
How else do we achieve national untiy at all except through story telling, repeated, iterative, gradual story telling. From school onwards, we are told the story of our nation, our struggles, our journey, our coming of age, our national icons, our spirit. Slowly we believe, we are more than just residents of an address but citizens of a national village, who share a common bond, who belong together more than we belong apart.
While much of this narrative can be murkied propoganda, we need these stories to function as unified whole. Let us examine what stories we are telling ourselves! What is shaping our knowledge of right and wrong? What are we telling our children about the future?