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Principles, perceptions and power

3 Oct 2016

In the 21st century the convergence and interaction of powerful and unprecedented forces may be transforming key aspects of the social contract in Australia. These disruptive forces appear to be changing the nature of the relationship between the citizen and the state, incrementally shifting the balance of power away from the citizen towards the state and subtly compromising a range of vital but implicit social conventions intended to safeguard civil liberties.

These disruptive forces have been primarily enabled by technological advances that provide virtually universal access to communications and vast quantities of information. The same technologies have also provided an unprecedented opportunity and capability for the state, the media and enterprising individuals to influence and shape perceptions of reality, primarily through the use of intense visual and emotional imagery.

Perhaps the most powerful of the disruptive forces in the 21st century is the emergence of the spectre of terrorism post 9/11 and its rise as a global brand representing an enduring existential threat. The spectre of terrorism has been uniquely effective in undermining liberal democracy by catalysing a utilitarian state response that has progressively suspended or supplanted a range of long-standing principle-based conventions and rules intended to balance civil liberties and national security.

Terrorism is fundamentally the use of barbarity to engender visceral fear in the community and coerce disruptive social change by catalysing a militaristic response from the state. Like all global brands, terrorism is an amorphous and pervasive phenomenon that partly relies on its diabolical nature for its capacity to engender fear. Terrorism is a form of psychological (not real) warfare, and its capacity to engender visceral fear in the absence of a real and imminent threat may represent a form of psychosis.

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