Brendan O’Neill In Australia – Why The Elites Want You To Forget About Lockdowns And Islamic Terror

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3 May 2024
Brendan O’Neill In Australia – Why The Elites Want You To Forget About Lockdowns And Islamic Terror - Featured image

Brendan O’Neill is one of the world’s leading advocates for freedom of speech and civil liberties. As part of his successful Australian tour for the Institute of Public Affairs, Brendan O’Neill called out the practice in the West of forgetting about Covid lockdowns and Islamic terrorist attacks.

This speech was written by Brendan O’Neill in his capacity as a guest speaker. The views expressed are those of the speaker alone.

Below is a transcript of the show.


Brendan O’Neill:

Hello everyone. I was talking to a friend of mine recently about lockdown, and we were having a drink and sharing stories from lockdown about all the crazy things that happened, all the crazy things that were done to us. And I said, “Do you remember the time that the police in the Peak District died a lake black in order to discourage people from going to visit it?” And I was saying that was definitely the craziest moment. And my friend looked at me as if I was mad, and he said to me, “That didn’t happen. You’ve made that one up.” He said, “You’ve let your hatred of lockdown get the better of you, and now you’re inventing stories, you probably dreamed it.”

And I thought to myself, “Yeah, I must have. There’s no way. There’s no way that happened. No society would go so far off the rails that the police would pump black ink into a lake in order to make it ugly, to intentionally make it ugly as a way of horrifying the masses so that they would stay at home, that there’s no way that happened.” So we carried on drinking and talking. And then later on that evening, I thought I’d just do a quick Google just to double check that this didn’t happen, that I did at in fact, dream it, that it was some kind of fever dream I had in the darkest moments of lockdown.

So I went online and I typed in the words, “Police, lake, lockdown, ink,” thinking nothing’s going to come up. No way. And what do you know? I didn’t dream it. I didn’t make it up. It really did happen. In Buxton, in the Peak District in England on the 29th of March 2020, the police went to a beauty spot called the Blue Lagoon and dumped truckloads of black ink into it. And what’s more they boasted about this on their Facebook page. They said, “Too many people have been visiting the Blue Lagoon.” Black lagoon. “Too many people have been visiting the Blue Lagoon no doubt due to the picturesque location and the lovely weather for once.” They actually said “for once.” Then they carried on.

“These visits are in contravention of the lockdown rules.” They weren’t by the way. “And with this in mind, we have attended the location this morning and used dye to make the water look less appealing.” And then they posted photos. They posted photographs of their crime against nature with the black ink swirling around in the lake, and then a picture of the final result, a miserable, murky body of water that no one would want to visit. There was one upside to this story as I was reminded when I was reading the old news report, which is that the black lake became such a curiosity that more people visited it than had visited it before. Everyone wanted a selfie in front of the lake that the police painted black.

So it backfired beautifully. It was a wonderful moment in lockdown. But as I was revisiting this twisted tale for lockdown, I had two thoughts. Firstly, I thought about just how utterly unhinged lockdown was, how mad they went. Dying a lake black is an act of dystopian insanity. It is a testament to the lunacy of that moment, to the hysteria of the elites that such an unholy desecration of nature could take place where the aim of making people stay at home, horrifying. The second thing I thought about was memory in general. What we remember from lockdown and what we forget. The things that we have all excised from our minds, the collective amnesia we all seem to be experiencing in the post-lockdown world.

So I asked other friends about the black lake story and none of them could remember it, none of them. And this was reported everywhere. The BBC, the Daily Mail, CNN, everyone reported on the black lake story. I then asked them about other lockdown incidents to see if they could remember, and they remembered some of them, but not others. So I reminded them that the police in Britain put yellow tape across park benches to stop people from sitting on them. From the 23rd of March, 2020 until the end of April, 2020, Brits were permitted by the state to use parks for their once a day exercise allowance, but they were not allowed to sit down in parks. So literal yellow police tape was put on benches as if they were crime scenes. And if you sat on them, they were crime scenes. You could be told to move on. You could even be arrested if you refused to comply.

Some people remembered this when I told them and other people had completely forgotten it. I then reminded them about the time we could attend weddings but not dance at weddings. So in June, 2021, the state’s ban on weddings, yes, the state banned weddings, the state’s ban on weddings was finally lifted. The limit on the number of guests was lifted, but you weren’t allowed to dance. You could sit next to each other in the pews in church, you could breathe all over each other over a glass of champagne. You could hug the bride and hug the groom, but the dance floor was off limits. Maybe Covid hates dancing, I don’t know. Maybe it spreads faster amongst people who are boogieing on the dance floor. Very few people I mentioned this to remembered that rule.

I reminded them that tens of thousands of people in Britain phoned the police to snitch on their neighbours. The police created a hotline for bastards who want to squeal on their neighbours, that’s what I call them. I think they were otherwise called good citizens. Squeal on their neighbours for going outside more than once a day, or sneakily having a friend around for a pint in the garden. And in the space of 6 weeks, 194,000 people called the hotline. That’s nearly a quarter of a million Karens in Britain. Tens of thousands of starsy wannabes. Dobbing in their own neighbours. And the people I mentioned this to, they had a vague memory of the snitching hotline that was all over the news at the time.

But they couldn’t at all remember how active the hotline was, the fact that the police had to expand its capacity because there were so many calls. They couldn’t remember how starsy like Britain became in 2020. And it got me thinking about lockdown amnesia. And it got me thinking about freedom of thought and the freedom to remember the events that we all live through, because it does seem to me that lockdown has gone down a kind of black hole. Now, this might sound unusual to some of the people in this room. Some of you are engaged in the media, you work at think tanks, you’re involved in political discussion, so no doubt you talk about lockdown sometimes as and when it comes up. But I’ve noticed when I talk to normal people in my life, friends, family members, they never talk about lockdown. Never.

When you go to a pub with someone, you go for a meal and you always have a trip down memory lane, that’s basically what we do when we meet with friends, “Do you remember that time? Do you remember this time?” No one ever does that with lockdown ever. I can’t remember anyone doing that. It’s like it’s become this black hole in our minds that we don’t think about. And lockdown amnesia is a real phenomenon. Psychologists are actually studying it. Last year, the Financial Times ran an essay with a headline, “Why are some of us suffering from lockdown amnesia?”

And it reported on the studies showing that the lockdown appears to be fading rapidly from our consciousness. Many of us, it continued, have only hazy memories of this period and very little sense of the important events that happened. And numerous explanations have been put forward for lockdown amnesia. Some psychologists say, “Well, we were closed off from the outside world. We weren’t talking to friends and family so much, and therefore there were fewer ways for us to mark the passing of time, to create memories in the way that we normally create memories. I’m sure there’s some truth in that, but I think there’s something else to it as well. We are ashamed of what we became. We are ashamed of what became of the societies we live in and the role that we played in allowing it to happen.

I think we are voluntarily forgetting because we can’t believe what became of our nations that we thought were civilised. We can’t believe the monstrosities that we were complicit in. For example, yellow tape on park benches, snitching hotlines so you could dog people into the police, lakes dyed black. I think fundamentally, the culture of forgetting is our way of coping with the fact that the line between civilization and barbarism is thinner than we thought. The line between normalcy and tyranny is thinner than we thought. The line between freedom and slavery is thinner than we thought, and our way of coping with that is by forgetting what happened.

Lockdown reminds us how thin this line is, how fragile civilization is, and we repress our memories of it in order to preserve our pride, in order to preserve our sanity. We would probably go mad if we thought about what happened in those few years. And I think there’s another aspect to this as well. I think the state is complicit in cultivating this culture of forgetting. Their refusal to hold serious inquiries or serious royal commissions. I don’t mean the whitewashes that they’ve kind of staged for a few weeks. I mean serious inquiries, a proper reckoning with what happened, with what we did and whether it was the right thing. Their refusal to do that is also driven by their desire to avoid the feeling of shame and horror at what they oversaw in our societies. But we can’t forget about it. We absolutely have to refuse to forget about it. And when I…

… forget about it. We absolutely have to refuse to forget about it. And when I talk about lockdown, people say to me, “Oh, are you still droning on about that?” Yes, I am droning on about it and I will continue droning on about it, because it was the most extraordinary event of my lifetime. The social contract was absolutely torn to shreds. Civil liberty was suspended, democracy was put on hold. Starsy-like snitching was encouraged. House arrest was enforced on every citizen in the country. Lakes were dyed black. It is an abomination to forget what happened, and it is essential to remember in order to protect ourselves against the possibility that it will happen in the future, in order that we can re-articulate why it was a bad thing and why the values that were undermined during lockdown particularly freedom is worth defending.

I think one of the most interesting and worrying phenomenon of our times is the manipulation of memory, and the way in which we are almost instructed in a very subtle way to remember certain things and to forget other things, to obsess over certain issues and just to completely block other issues out from our minds to such an extent that even something like lockdown becomes this big black hole in our brains.

Another issue, for example, is terrorism. I strongly believe we live under something like a terror amnesia industry. We are encouraged to forget. We are encouraged not to talk about it. I am convinced that one of the reasons the Australian government is so determined to wipe that stabbing video from the internet is to hide away the truth of the problem of radical Islam, to shove it down the memory hole. To borrow a term from 1984, Winston Smith’s job in 1984, of course was to shove inconvenient facts down the memory hole so that the masses would forget about them.

I think that’s one of the reasons the government is at war with Elon Musk, not only because it wants to throw its weight around in relation to a billionaire that it thinks everyone hates when they don’t, but because it wants to memory hole this inconvenient attack, and memory hole all the issues that it raises about the ideology of multiculturalism, the failure of integration, the fact that there are young people in this society and other societies who hate their society so much that they are willing to attack the people in it.

We see the terror amnesia industry across Europe in many different ways. Your responsibility after a terror attack is to lay a flower, shed a tear, maybe put up a message on your social media bio and then move on. Don’t think about it. The song we all sang after the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 was the Oasis song, Don’t Look back in Anger. We had people up and down the country at vigils singing Don’t Look Back in Anger. In other words, just forget about it, move on. It’s not a big deal. I often raise terrorist attacks with friends of mine like I’ve been raising the terrible incidents that happened in lockdown and people have forgotten them. Many British people have forgotten that in Reading in England in 2023, gay men were stabbed to death by an Islamic terrorist. People have forgotten that this happened. A couple of years ago, I asked people about the Brussels Airport and Metro bombing of 2016, which killed 32 people.

No one could remember it. No one could remember this bombing in Brussels. It’s been memory hold. They have forgotten it. The great British singer Morrissey, formerly of the Smiths, he recently made a very good point, which is how is it that everyone knows the names Myra Hindley and Ian Brady who killed six children in Manchester in the 1960s, but no one knows the name of the Manchester Arena bombing who killed 22 people, most of whom were children or teenagers. Why do we know their names but not his name? And I guarantee if you went out on the streets of Britain and asked people to name the Manchester Arena bomber, they wouldn’t be able to do it. We’ve forgotten. We’ve been encouraged to forget. There’s a culture of forgetting around inconvenient issues. He’s name by the way, is Salman Abedi. He’s one of the worst mass killers in British history and no one knows his name. It’s down the memory hole.

On other issues too, for example, the very controversial issue of transgenderism, we are constantly told that there are certain things that we should forget. I remember when Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner. There was a spate of articles saying, Caitlyn Jenner has always been a woman and it’s wrong to say otherwise. Bruce Jenner was put down the memory hole and there were actual bots created on Twitter. These little robots that would scour for any mention off the words Bruce and Jenner and warn those people to stop saying it. Don’t mention it, don’t give voice to that old dead idea that we all have agreed apparently to collectively forget. And we see it on the trans issue in relation to the manipulation of language, for example. So we are encouraged to forget that there are such a thing as mothers, we’re supposed to say birthing parents. We’re encouraged to forget that there is such a thing as men and women. We’re encouraged to think that there are 72 genders or 110 genders or however… I lose track.

And to forget that actually biology is real, people exist and we’ve always known that. The manipulation of language is in fact one of the key ways in which we are encouraged to forget, in which we are encouraged to create a black hole so that inconvenient facts can be shoved down them. So for example, again on the issue of terrorism, the Metropolitan police in London openly flirted with the idea of redefining Islamic terrorism and using different words so that people would have a different understanding of it. So they wanted to change Islamic terrorism to faith-claimed terrorism, and they wanted to change the word jihadist to terrorist-abusing religious motivations, very catchy, rolls off the tongue. And they said the reason they wanted to initiate a change in language was in order to have a change in culture. They said that it could help community relations by breaking the link in some people’s minds between Islam and terrorism.

So the use of the manipulation of language to manipulate thought, that is something that comes right out of 1984. When the torturer says to Winston Smith, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. The whole point of controlling language is to control what you can think.” And we see that again on so many issues these days, whether it’s lockdown, terrorism, sex, gender, and other issues too. And it’s so important that we resist this culture of forgetting, that we resist this culture of memory holding issues that the establishment would rather we didn’t talk about or even think about. So that not only are we censored from speaking about them, but they are cleansed from our minds. We actually really do forget. In Europe we even have a right to be forgotten. That is what it’s called, a right to be forgotten, where you can apply to the state, Brussels and so on, and demand that certain information be removed from the internet about you.

For example, you may have committed a crime in the past, you may have committed some misdemeanor. You want it scrubbed from the internet, because you’ve paid your dues, you’ve done your time, you’ve moved on with your life. And those issues can be scrubbed from the internet literally shoved down a modern day memory hole. It’s so important I think that we refuse to go along with this culture and that we remember the words of Milan Kundera, the great Czech novelist who died recently. He said, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” And I think that those words should ring true today. He was talking about the Soviet world, the Soviet-ruled world. But I think we face similar problems in the 21st century west where memory is manipulated, thought itself is manipulated, and they don’t even need to bring in new forms of censorship, because as we know from 1984, narrow the way people can think and you restrict the way that they speak, you restrict how they can understand the world.

You restrict their ability to understand what’s happening, why it’s happening, why it might be bad, and so on. Where can this end up? It can end up with the post 7th of October situation that Deb mentioned earlier, that we’ve all been horrified by, where you have Western activists going around giving voice to the most extraordinary anti-Semitic bile, rehabilitating the world’s oldest hatred, giving voice to it on university campuses, on the streets of our cities every day. And they are actively manipulating the memory of the 7th of October. They are casting doubt on it. They are saying it didn’t happen. They are erasing it from people’s minds and they are successfully erasing it from people’s minds when it comes to younger generations. And we now have a situation where a recent poll found that one in five young Americans, one in five, thinks that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

So when you have a culture of forgetting, when you have a culture of the control of memory in order to control thought and speech, you give rise to really monstrous developments such as Holocaust denial, outright racism and new forms of bigotry. So forget the right to be forgotten. We should demand the right to remember. We should demand the right to remember that there really was a person called Bruce Jenner, that three men were killed in a park in Reading in 2020. And that during lockdown in Buxton, in the peak district, a lake was dyed black. Thank you.

John Roskam:

Brendan, that was wonderful. Hello everyone. My name is John Roskam. I’m a senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. And Celia just popped down earlier and said that if I press a button on the computer, that the image behind me will change and we’ll get a big photo of Brendan. But I think it’s far more appropriate that we sit in front of something completely Orwellian. Deborah has already mentioned this. I’m going to mention it now and I’m going to mention it at the end of our discussion and question, A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable by Brendan is available for sale and Brendan will spend the few hours after this discussion signing copies for you. We are only… What are we? Six, seven, eight months away from Christmas. That Orwellian QR code has allowed you to post questions to Celia that have now come through on my phone.

And I’m going to be taking a selection of questions, because there have been dozens that have been sent in. But before we go to questions, can I say that I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful day. I had Brendan on IPA encounters this morning, and that episode is going to be released next week, and then I get to sit next to Rita Panahai tonight, so I’m very fortunate indeed. Brendan, I asked you this on the podcast and I’ll ask you now in front of the larger group. You know Australia very well as a visitor regularly here, what has happened and is happening to Australia?

Brendan O’Neill:

I love Australia, but you are losing the plot, I’m sad to say. It’s like the juggernaut of wokeness is… It always starts in California, moves across America, moves across Britain, and then it moves across. Europe sometimes hits a bump in France, because they don’t really like wokeness very much in France. But then it carries on and eventually it reaches Australia and that’s what’s happening. And the reason I always loved Australia is because it had such a proletarian culture. For me, the word proletarian is a compliment, not an insult. And people just not wanting to be told what to think and not wanting to be told what to do. When I used to come to Australia, I was always amazed about how much climate change scepticism there was. I was like-

John Roskam:

Climate change scepticism, there is in this room.

Brendan O’Neill:

You’d meet a man in the street who’d say, “Oh yeah, that’s all bollocks.” And in Britain, that person would probably be arrested and thrown in the Tower in London. So I used to love all that. I think it’s waning a little bit, but I’m not depressed because the vote against The Voice of parliament is one of the most remarkable things that’s happened in Australian political history, and that’s not an exaggeration. I put it up there with Brexit. It’s not quite as good as Brexit. Let’s not get carried away, but very, very good, so there is optimism.

John Roskam:
Rank the three, Brendan; Trump, Brexit, The Voice.

Brendan O’Neill:

Brexit is number one, obviously. We started the whole thing off. And Brexit it is just such a hoot, because the establishment in Britain will never recover. You see them on the streets crying. It’s so funny. I remember the first demonstration they had to get back into the EU, because they all had blue face paint because they are basically cult worshipers of the European Union. And they had the kind of tears running down. I was just there with friends laughing. It was so funny. So Brexit is the best because it’s really wounded the kind of establishment people like us don’t like, and it’s still making waves across Europe.

I think second is then The Voice vote. Trump is a more complicated prospect. I should say, I love Donald Trump. I think he’s hilarious. And I want him to win partly just so it’ll be more fun to open the newspaper every morning. It’ll be so much more fun. And also, he’s a necessary corrective to the moral insanity of the Democratic establishment. So that’s why people vote for him, not because they’ve been led astray by his demagogic charms, but because he is the instrument they want to wield against an establishment that hates them. So that’s how I would order it, and I really hope Trump wins this year.

John Roskam:

Student activism has been with us many, many decades and seems to be a rite of passage for intellectual youth. But since October 7, we have had our students identify with extremely liberalism, Hamas, Iran, and the Houthis. This is disturbing to say the least. Where to from here? Are we heading for our own Cultural Revolution?

Brendan O’Neill:

I think we’ve been heading in that direction for a long time. I think there’s been a Cultural Revolution on campuses for a long time, people subjected to struggle sessions and made to apologise for holding certain views. I remember a few years ago the rugby lads group at the London School of Economics, they got into trouble because they had a party and on the leaflet for the party, they said some sexist things. Don’t come if you’re an unattractive woman, that kind of thing. This is what rugby lads do, that’s what they’re like, and they got into huge trouble. The college threatened to throw them out and they were made to stand outside the LSE in London with placards around their necks saying, I promise to become a good lad and I promise to learn about feminism.

And it was directly reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution with the infamous slogans hung around dissenters necks. So it’s been a long time coming. I think what’s happened since 7th of October is that, not to put too fine a point on it, civilization has fallen apart or at least threatens to fall apart. And when you have somewhere like Columbia University, one of the highest seats of learning in the world, succumbing to mediaeval hysteria, these vile forms of bigotry. I was at Columbia University just three weeks ago. I was visiting it and visiting a friend, and it’s such a beautiful civilised place. Fast-forward a fortnight and there are mobs of jew-haters.

Fast-forward a fortnight and there are mobs of Jew haters harassing Jewish people, cheering on Hamas, cheering on one of the most regressive movements in the world. I think it’s further proof of the thin line between civilization and barbarism. But also, the thing to bear in mind is that we shouldn’t be surprised. When you educate a whole new generation to hate the West, to hate Western civilization itself, to see Australia as a racist country that invaded by white people, to see America as just this horrible country pockmarked by all the crimes of history, to see Britain as the country of empire and slavery. When you alienate the youth from their own history and encourage them to turn their backs on their own history, to hate their own societies, you push them into the arms of barbarism, you push them into the arms of Hamas. We’ve created a new generation that prefers Hamas to the West. It’s partly our fault for allowing the universities to get this bad, but it’s going to take a lot of work, I think, to get things back on a proper track.

John Roskam:

So Brendan, when we were organising this visit, you said you’d love to come to Australia, and you’ve been so generous with your time, and you said you’d like to do a number of events with Jewish organisations here in Australia. So as Deb mentioned, you were at shul the other night, you were with Sharri Markson in Sydney at a synagogue. Why did you want to do that?

Brendan O’Neill:

I think Jewish people just need our solidarity. It’s so clear. I’ve done a few similar events in London since 7th of October. The Jewish community in London feels incredibly isolated. They can’t believe what’s happening. They can’t even go into London at the weekend because it’s full of pro-Hamas mobs. I’m sure you all saw a video recently of Gideon Falter from the Campaign Against Antisemitism being told by an actual metropolitan police officer to move away from the march because he looked openly Jewish. And he said, “If you don’t move away, we’re going to arrest you.”

So, this is the situation we’ve reached, where it’s virtually a crime to be a Jew on the streets of London. And my argument was that if a Jewish person can’t move around London as he sees fit, then we have a real civilizational problem. The emergence of anti-Semitism is always indicative of a deeper rot in society, and we have to be very alert to that.

But I think fundamentally, the Jewish community needs our support, they need our solidarity, they need us to be allies in the traditional sense of an ally, not the modern sense of being a trans ally or whatever. And they really do need us to have their backs. And in having their backs, we do right by them, but we also do right by our own societies, ’cause we defend the values of our own society and the values of Western modernity itself, which is surely that equality matters, everyone should be free to go about their business, bigotry is a problem. So in defending them, we also defend ourselves. And I think it’s important to recognise that.

John Roskam:

A very popular theme in questions, not this particular question, but I’ll lead on to the broader issues later. A week ago, Brendan, had you heard of Julie Inman Grant?

Brendan O’Neill:

No, thank God.

John Roskam:

Brendan, what is your assessment of, and it’s come at a perfect time while you’ve been in Australia, and you referred to the debate between Albanese and Musk, if we call it a debate, how do you read the video that the eSafety commissioner told Elon Musk to take down and therefore forbid us from seeing? What does that represent? And again, a number of questions have come in, and this is something that I’ve written about. Brendan, what’s the difference between the George Floyd video and the video of an alleged stabbing of a Christian bishop?

Brendan O’Neill:

Yeah, that’s the million-dollar question. The difference is they want us to talk about the killing of George Floyd, but they don’t want us to talk about the stabbing of the bishop by the alleged radical Islamist. Because the establishment benefits from us seeing the George Floyd killing and talking about it because it allows them to pontificate about the problem of racism and police racism and modern America, et cetera. They get a real moral rush from talking about that. So they like it when we see that video and when we talk about that video.

They don’t like it when we see the video of the stabbing in the church because it raises awkward questions that they have no answers to, about the failures of integration, the rise of radical Islam, which is far worse in Europe than it is here, but don’t let it get as bad as it has in Europe. In Britain, for example, 100 people have been killed by radical Islamists over the past 20 years. That’s a lot of people. In France, it’s much higher. It’s hundreds and hundreds.

So this is a very serious problem, but they don’t want us to talk about it, because firstly, they fear our passions. So after every terror attack in Europe, they will basically say, “Oh no, what about Islamophobia? What about the Muslims?” You think, “What?” So they discourage debate because they are scared of what we think and what we feel. They think we’re just a mob in waiting.

But also, because they don’t want to talk about the fraying of our societies, which they are largely responsible for. They don’t want to talk about the problem of immigration, the problems of integration, the problems of people feeling such a loathing for their society, that they’re willing to take up arms against it.

So, I think with the stabbing video, that’s very much what is at stake here. But more broadly than that, the whole idea of an eSafety commissioner, I think is horrifying. It’s so Orwellian. Or it’s like the French Revolution, do you remember the Committee on Public Safety? You think, “What? Has Australia got one of those now?”

It’s not government’s job to keep us safe from images and words. That’s something that if you want to do it, you do it yourself. We should have the freedom to see what we want to see and the freedom to talk about it. It is the government’s job to keep us safe from violence and crime, but they don’t do that. They’re so busy policing tweets that they forget to police the streets. So, you end up with the worst of all worlds, which is a collapse in freedom of speech and a rise in crime. And that’s down to this state that doesn’t want us asking these questions.

John Roskam:

Quite a number of related questions to that, Brendan. You would’ve noticed that the Coalition came out and supported the government and supported the decision of the eSafety commissioner, and a number of Coalition MPs said, “We are 100% behind the eSafety commissioner.” If you had five minutes with Peter Dutton as the opposition leader, what would you tell him, Brendan?

Brendan O’Neill:

I would tell him to get a grip. I think there are two ways in which the Liberals in this country are failing that I can see. The first, is their complete failure to make any political mileage from the vote against the Voice to Parliament, they’re just like they’re embarrassed of it. And they say they’re scared of appearing triumphalist, that’s what I heard. It’s not about being triumphalist, it’s about building on that connection with the public who are so obviously pissed off with the establishment, but the Liberals seem unwilling to do that or scared of doing that in case someone says they’re anti-Aboriginal or whatever. So there’s a real cowardice on that issue.

And then the other thing, is that they fail to understand how serious freedom of speech is and the way in which it’s been chipped away at by the Labour government here and by the Australian bureaucracy. I think this crusade against misinformation, I find so chilling. Misinformation basically just means ideas the government doesn’t like. That’s what it means. And it’s no coincidence that you’ve had an explosion, that you’ve had this moral panic about misinformation following the vote against the Voice to Parliament.

We had the exact same thing following the vote for Brexit, and there was a similar development in America following the vote for Trump, a sudden moral panic about misinformation, because they can’t believe we had the temerity to vote against their wishes. And the only way they can understand it is that we were led astray by demagogues on the internet and lies on the internet and misinformation on the internet. So they want to control the flow of information in order to control what we think and how we vote. It is a purely tyrannical instinct.

Whenever I hear the misinformation, to me, it’s as obnoxious as the idea of thought crime. It is not the government’s job to tell us what is true and what is false. That is fundamentally a function of freedom of speech. This goes back right back to John Milton, through to John Stuart Mill. Everyone has always argued, as John Milton said, “Let truth and falsehood grapple. Whoever knew truth coming off worse in a public fight?”

That is what freedom means. Freedom means the responsibility and the right of every individual to decide for him or herself what is true and what is false. You take away that right and we are no longer free citizens, we’re just children who are instructed by the government on what to think and what to feel. So absolutely, don’t have any truck with any crusade against misinformation. It’s just completely wrong.

John Roskam:

As you know, Brendan, the IPA has an extensive programme with Bella d’Abrera and Brianna McKee. We have a schools programme with Colleen Harkin, and thank you for all of the members in this room who support those programmes. Are universities redeemable? Can we start again? Can they be reclaimed or do we simply set up our new institutions?

Brendan O’Neill:

Yeah, I don’t think they are redeemable, if I’m being perfectly honest. I stopped speaking at universities in Britain because it’s just so horrible. And every time I’ve spoken there, there’s always a protest and people with placards, and you just think, “I can’t be bothered. I’m not interested.” I spoke at Oxford a few years ago, and I’m not joking, you’ve all heard the word triggered, and we think it’s a bit of a jokey word, but a woman in the audience was really, she had to be carried out of the room. She genuinely collapsed. It was really extraordinary, I couldn’t believe it. And I said to all the students, “What’s happened to her?” And they said, “Oh, she’s triggered,” as if it was a really normal event at Oxford University. My mind was blown.

I spoke at the Oxford Union once and there was a protest outside, and lots of the protesters were holding candles. So I went up to them and they’re like, “Oh my God, it’s you. We hate you.” And I said, “Why have you got the candles?” And they said, “These candles are for all the people you’ve killed with your articles.” And so I said, “I must have forgotten doing that. I can’t remember killing anyone.” But that’s how they think. They have this very hysterical understanding. They think words are violence. They think words really wound you in a psychological, deep way.

And of course, the problem is, that if words are violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to words. This is the real problem here. This is what we saw with the Charlie Hebdo massacre. If you encourage people to think that words are violence, then you shouldn’t be surprised if people take up arms against people who utter supposedly problematic words, such a dangerous idea. And that’s running riot on campuses. I just think probably universities are not redeemable. Young people often ask me, should they go to university? And I very often say, “No, don’t go, because you just get brainwashed.”

And if you look at all the recent trendy ideas that are, to people like us, are complete nonsense, those ideas tend to be held most firmly by people who went to university. Whereas the person who left school at 16 and has been working for a living productively for 20 or 30 years, they have a much better immunity to these ideas. They’re much more instinctively sceptical. They’re much more likely to question what the establishment says, to say, “Well, I’m not sure that’s true. I want to think about it a bit more.” So, critical thinking exists amongst ordinary people, more so than it does amongst university educated people. That’s the lesson of our times. It brings to mind George Orwell’s comment, “If there is hope, it lies with the proles.” And I think that’s really true right now.

John Roskam:

To reflect the diversity of interests of this audience, I think many of you would’ve listened to the fantastic discussion on Joe Rogan that Brendan had. And a number of you have asked me to ask Brendan, what was it like being on Rogan?

Brendan O’Neill:

It was really good fun, actually. His studio, you’ve got to see his studio. It’s unbelievable. He’s got a gym, a cafeteria. All the antlers of the animals he’s killed are up on the wall, which is the most Joe Rogan thing ever. It was really good. He’s very open to discussion, so anyone who’s listened to it or watched it, you will see that for the first hour and a half, we kind of agreed on most issues to do with wokeness and freedom of speech, etc.

And then for the last hour, we had this quite circular argument about Israel, Hamas, where we disagreed. But he was very open to having that discussion and to having it out and to saying, “Look, I think this, you think that, let’s talk about it.” So, that’s increasingly rare these days, as people will know. So I really appreciated that. And then we went to his comedy club afterwards and stayed there until 2:00 in the morning. So when you go to Austin, Texas to see him, he gives you a good time.

But the reach of it is quite extraordinary. I hadn’t really been prepared for it. So I didn’t know that it had gone up online ’cause I’m not a very online person, so I don’t really keep a close eye on these things. And I got back to London and I went to my gym, and this bloke at my gym pointed at me and said, “I knew it was you. I said to my friend, ‘That guy on Rogan goes to my gym.'” And so I didn’t even know it was online, so I was shocked by this encounter. So it has an extraordinary reach, but more importantly than all of that, it’s a sign that people want new platforms, people want new forms of media.

I often get asked, “What can we do to improve the media? What can we do to improve the BBC, the ABC?” Forget the BBC, they’re a lost cause. Forget the ABC, for sure. They’re even worse. Make your own platform. Make your own broadcast TV show like Rita’s, do your own thing. Your Sky News here is brilliant. Sky News in Britain is the worst channel on earth. It’s so unbelievably different, but Sky News here is very good. Make your own platform, make your own podcast, have your own Substack, do your own thing. There is such an appetite for alternative ways of thinking, that you can really create an audience quite quickly if you want to. So Rogan, I think, is at the pinnacle of that, but there are many other people doing similar things.

John Roskam:

Can I ask you about that? Because a number of years ago, there were high hopes for what was called the Intellectual Dark Web, the Weinsteins, the Jordan Petersons. And we have Rogan, we have your wonderful podcast, the Brendan O’Neill Show, which is compulsory listening. Do you still have that same hope that we had a few years ago, that these new platforms, these new forms of communications, podcasts and emails and letters and so on, would change the debate? Is it developing the way you thought it might?

Brendan O’Neill:

Yes and no. I remember the Intellectual Dark Web. I always had a few issues with the Intellectual Dark Web. They were a bit too much evolution-

John Roskam:

Until they talk?

Brendan O’Neill:

Yeah. Well, no. Yeah. Too much evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology. I was never into all of that, so that made me uncomfortable. And I think some of the new, like Arc and some of these other initiatives, I think they’re so incredibly important. The more debate we have, the better. But one thing that does slightly concern me is everyone seems to be discovering God or going back to church, and I have no problem with that. I was once a Catholic, always a Catholic, I suppose. I was brought up to believe in God. I don’t anymore, I’m a godless heathen.

So that worries me. I think people are so keen to counter the tyranny of wokeness or the absence of moral structure that people feel. People feel a real absence of meaning in their lives. I understand that, that’s a very real feeling. But I think they sometimes try to fix that by becoming tradcaths or tradwives or something, or whatever.

Some of that stuff leaves me a little bit cold, I have to say. I think there’s more to challenging this culture than just hiding in the church or hiding in tradition. I think we’ve got to be a bit braver in how we confront this. Having said that, I think let 1,000 flowers bloom, as Chairman Mao said, or someone. The more, the better. More discussion, more conferences, more debate, more online content. I just think an explosion of that stuff inevitably is going to have an impact because it will create new audiences and new ways of thinking, so the importance of it cannot be underestimated.

John Roskam:

So, many comments…

Brendan O’Neill:

… The importance of it cannot be underestimated.

John Roskam:

So many comments and questions about young people and the future. This one I particularly liked. What books or films would you recommend my 16-year-old daughter read or watch other than Sky News and Rita?

Brendan O’Neill:

Yeah, that’s a good question. What books?

John Roskam:

Where do you get your nourishment from? I mean, you write so regularly and so eloquently for Spiked. What do you look at? What makes you think?

Brendan O’Neill:

All sorts of things. I basically read all the time. I don’t use social media. I’m on Instagram, but I don’t use Twitter. I don’t use Facebook. I just don’t have the mental bandwidth for it. I can’t have it in my mind, so I don’t really look at that stuff. I often meet people when I do media things in London or conferences. I meet people and they expect me to know who they are because they’re online and I have no idea who they are. It’s one of the most embarrassing things that happens to me all the time. So I’m not particularly online, but I do read a lot.

At the moment, I’m reading a lot of Susan Sontag. She’s amazing. I’m just reading her book on photography, which is fantastic. She had a lot to tell us about the era we live in. Same with Hannah Arendt. I think a lot of Hannah Arendt’s old essays are really worth revisiting.

I think in terms of the classic texts to read, John Stuart Mill On Liberty, unquestionable, that is one of the best things ever written about freedom. It’s all in there. Every argument I’ve ever used about the importance of freedom of speech comes from that book, all of them. I haven’t had an original thought in my life. So that’s really worth reading. That’s the kind of bible of modern liberalism I think.

Enlightenment thinkers are worth reading. John Locke’s Letter on Toleration from 1689, one of the first documents of the Enlightenment. There’s so much in there as well. It is amazing how much is in there. He even defends the right of people to mistreat themselves. He makes the argument that the only legitimate justification for state intervention in your life is if you are harming another person. They should not interfere in your life if you’re harming yourself. So it’s right there at the very start of the Enlightenment, all of these ideas. So those classic texts are always worth revisiting for kind of moral nourishment.

Then in terms of the media, what to read, there’s so much out there now. Read Spiked, obviously, that’s the best. Great polemical content, great essays. I read all the papers. I read the Guardian just so I know what not to think. I read BBC News every day. I think it’s very important to read widely and not just to read things that you will agree and nod along to. It’s so important to read things that will rub you up the wrong way.

Cardinal John Henry Newman made this point a hundred years ago. He said, “The human intellect does from opposition grow.” So the only way to grow your mind, grow your intellect is by exposing yourself to ideas that are difficult or challenging. This is why the safe space ideology on campuses where the students are hiding in safe spaces is so destructive because they’re hiding themselves away from disagreement and debate and things that could help them sharpen their own point of view or give them the greatest freedom of all, which is the freedom to change your mind. So the safe space is basically the midwife of dogma. It’s a way of becoming incredibly dogmatic and to avoid the curse of dogma, you just have to read, expose yourself to different ideas. Have a debate with that neighbour who you think is an idiot. Just have all of these discussions so that you can really keep your brain buzzing with information.

John Roskam:

So we have another five or 10 minutes. So last few questions coming back to Australia. So Brendan, as you travel the world, what are the lessons for Australia? You’ve spoken about how the Tories blew Brexit. I might ask you how they’ve blown 14 years of government. What are the lessons for us in Australia to think about? What are the trends that we might want to avoid or that we might not be able to avoid?

Brendan O’Neill:

Yeah, the Tories are a disaster. They’re going to be voted out of office this year, and even though the Labour Party will be the worst government ever, I think it’s time for the Tories to have a time-out. They really have messed things up, and hopefully a new leader will come to the fore like Kemi Badenoch, for example, who’s brilliant. There are still those kinds of voices who can connect with the public and who understand the importance of Brexit and freedom. So they are there. I think they need time to come to the surface.

I think one of the things I’ve learned over the past few years in Britain and other countries as well is just about the ruthlessness of the establishment. They are so ruthless, they will not stop until they get their way and they will destroy everything in order to get their way. They will destroy democracy itself in order to get their preferred political policies and ideas and so on. We saw that after Brexit when the establishment devoted itself to preventing the enactment of Brexit, which is the largest democratic vote in the history of our country. They tried to stop it from happening. We see it now in America with all the things that have been done to Trump, where they are openly trying to prevent him from standing in the election. They’re trying to take his name of the ballot paper in certain states. They’re weaponizing the security apparatus and the Department of Justice to try and get him put in prison, to try and do everything within their power to stop him from standing.

It always makes me laugh that all the things they said about Trump are far truer of Biden. Remember they said Trump is going to bring back the 1930s, but actually it’s America under Biden that feels like the 1930s with all these anti-Semites running amok. They said that Trump would start World War III, but actually it looks more like World War III is happening under Biden. And they said Trump would use the security apparatus to crush his opponents. Well, that’s exactly what they’re doing. They also said Trump was a misogynistic piece of whatever, who would destroy women’s rights. Well, actually it’s Joe Biden who has just redefined sex under Title IX to include gender identity, which in a nutshell means boys can join girls sports teams. Boys can go into girls changing rooms at schools and universities, which is the end of women’s sports, the end of women’s privacy, the end of women’s dignity. It’s a misogynistic assault on women’s rights, not Trump, Biden.

So all the things they said of Trump is actually what they are doing. You have to take all of this with such a huge pinch of soul. The hypocrisy is staggering. So that’s one of the key lessons I’ve learned in recent years, and it’s a very bracing important lesson, which is that we live under establishments that will stop at nothing to make us bend the knee literally in the BLM era to their ideology. And so resisting that is sometimes difficult, but incredibly important.

John Roskam:

Last few questions. No names. This is from James. A UK question on a different note. Brendan, if you had to pick, who would you prefer to be PM of the UK, given that you’ve just said the Tories are going to lose the election, out of and why, Meghan Markle, Piers Morgan or Sadiq Khan? Tough one.

Brendan O’Neill:

What a motley crew.

John Roskam:

Thank you, James.

Brendan O’Neil:

It would have to be obviously Piers Morgan, who I think is quite funny. He is a bit of an idiot sometimes, but aren’t we all? Yeah, definitely Piers Morgan. Sadiq Khan as mayor of London, has been a complete disaster. It now costs £12 a day to drive your car in London. And I don’t mean drive your car from all across London, I mean to drive from your house to the supermarket or to drop your kids at school, £12 a day. That’s 60 quid in a working week for the single mom who has to drop her kids to school or get her shopping. Awful.

John Roskam:

And he’ll be re-elected most likely.

Brendan O’Neill:

He will be re-elected.

John Roskam:

So how has this happened?

Brendan O’Neill:

Well, it’s partly because the Tory candidate is so awful. It’s a woman called Susan Hall. She’s really not impressive at all. The Tories have not put up a good candidate, and he will be re-elected by the kind of upper middle classes of London, but in the outer suburbs and amongst the working classes, he’s very, very unpopular. But sadly, I think he will be re-elected, but he’s been a disaster as mayor.

John Roskam:

You’re not going to plumb for Meghan Markle?

Brendan O’Neill:

Meghan Markle is unhinged as far as I could tell. What a nutter. So no, not her. Although I do think we should go to America and kidnap Harry and bring him back to Britain. I think that something’s gone wrong there. So yeah, something needs to be fixed there.

John Roskam:

Final two questions, Brendan. Hope for the future, where are the green shoots? Where are the causes for optimism? And then what do we do as citizens, as IPA members, as parents, as grandparents, what do we do?

Brendan O’Neill:

There’s loads of green shoots. I know I gave a depressing speech, but I am an optimist by nature, and I feel very optimistic about politics at the moment is an uphill struggle, but there’s loads of green shoots. One of my favourites is the farmers’ revolt in Europe. It’s astonishing. They laid siege to Paris. This will be in the history books in the future. It’s not on the front pages of the papers now. And in fact, the BBC very often ignores it because of the whole culture of forgetting that I was talking about, where they tell us what we’re allowed to know, and then hide what we’re not allowed to know. But this will be in the history books. Farmers laid siege to Paris. They laid siege to the European Parliament in their tractors, thousands of them bringing whole cities to a standstill because of the net-zero insanity where these new rules mean that farmers are going to find it more difficult to grow food.

These are the kind of elites we live under. These knowledge industry elites who have no understanding of the earthy industries like farming and manufacturing and the things that actually keep society going. Give me one farmer over 10 politicians any day of the week. They do something useful. So that revolt is very, very important.

Look at what’s happened in Ireland, for example. The government there has proposed killing 200,000 cows because cows fart and burp and it causes climate change or some nonsense. And they proposed killing 200,000 cows so they can meet their net-zero requirements. Is basically a modern form of animal sacrifice, sacrificing the animals to appease the gods of weather. These people are lunatics, they are absolute lunatics. And I come from a long line of Irish farmers, so the farmers rising up against them film me with a pride. That’s a great green shoot moment. I think the populist revolts that we’ve seen in Australia, Britain, America, across Europe is definitely a green shoot moment.

And in terms of what we can do, I’m glad you mentioned parents and grandparents because I think they have a key role to play in all of this. And grandparents I think have a really important role of just telling their grandkids to stop being such idiots, stop being such losers. Stop being so hyper fragile. Stop coming into my house and telling me there are 72 genders. Grandparents have a very… And I heard that when we were growing up. Our grandparents would just tell us to stop talking nonsense, whatever it was we were saying. They have such an important social role to play, the family network, the community network, those ways in which we fortify ourselves against the vagaries of the establishment and the ideologies of the establishment. That’s why another important thing to defend, of course, is the sanctity of the family, the importance of the family, because that is the heart in a heartless world. That is the place in which you can hide away from these elites who want to tell us exactly what to think and exactly how to behave.

So all of those pre-political spaces in which people can be really free to think and to speak and to build relationships, it’s so important to defend those because they’re under attack as well.

John Roskam:

What a great note on which to finish. Brendan, thank you for your time. Your visits to Australia are always so important, always so timely, and you have such a powerful message. Come back soon. And to all of you who are IPA members, you will have received, as Deborah said, information about how you can allow us to have Brendan in Australia next time. How we can continue our fight for our freedoms and for Western Civilization. If you are not yet an IPA member, there are membership forms outside, and as I mentioned, A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable is on sale outside. And Brendan will be delighted to sign all the copies you’re buying for your grandchildren. That concludes the event. Thank you so much for your support.

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