How far should we go in raising an indifferent public’s awareness of important social, moral or political issues?

Some believe “ignorance is bliss”, and the more they know the more they get worried. On the other hand we definitely can’t be indifferent about many things. From a social perspective, through which we try to manage our relationship with others in a friendly manner, what is the borderline between legitimate worry (which leads to taking action) and indifference (which preserve peace of mind, at least in the short term)? Is it morally permissible to encourage other people to worry about certain issues, say global warming, human rights, animal rights, etc. to precipitate effective action? Should we consider them selfish if they are innately not concerned about such issues, or merely show token agreement? 


meetup group: Gentle Thinkers

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comments: Thor May -;

Thor's own websites: 1. articles at ; 2. main site:







This is an initial starter list for discussing the "Raising Public Awareness" topic. The list makes no special claim to quality, and additions are welcome.


- Thor







See some notes from participants after the References






Abdul-Ahad, Ghaith (18 November 2013) 'Syria is not a revolution any more – this is civil war". The Guardian, online @


Adekoya, Remi (28 November 2013) "Why Africans worry about how Africa is portrayed in western media". The Guardian, online @


Associated Press (November 30, 2013) "US bishop dresses up as homeless man to expose congregation's lack of compassion". Sydney Morning Herald, online @


Barnard, Anne (November 30, 2013) "Syrian opposition frays as disillusion and exhaustion take hold". Brisbane Times, online @


Boot, Max (April 16, 2013) "The Futility of Terrorism - Terrorists are by definition weak. Weaken them further by refusing to be terrorized". The Wall Street Journal, online @


Brainy Quote (n.d.) "Activism Quotes". Brainy Quote website, online @


Brainy Quote (n.d.) "Cowardice Quotes". Brainy Quote website, online @


Brainy Quote (n.d.) "Courage Quotes". Brainy Quote website, online @


Burkeman, Oliver (12 December 2013) "From weight loss to fundraising, 'ironic effects' can sabotage our best-laid plans". The Guardian, online @

Burns, Lucy (22 February 2013) "White Rose: The Germans who tried to topple Hitler". BBC News Magazine, online @

Campbell, Courtney (2011) "Awareness Raising & Education - Be Careful What You Pay For". Human Trafficking Working Group, University of Queensland, video online @

Cloughley, Brian (August 21-23, 2004) "The Bush Team in Iraq Moral Cowardice, as
Practiced by Experts". CounterPunch website, online @

Dale, David (February 5, 2013) "Finally, something to protest about". Brisbane Times,
online @

Dobrin, Arthur (December 16, 2011) "Cowards Can Never Be Moral". Am I Right? section of Psychology Today, online @


Drake, Thomas  with Daniel Ellsberg, Katharine Gun, Peter Kofod, Ray McGovern, Jesselyn Radack, Coleen Rowley (12 December 2013) “Former whistleblowers: open letter to intelligence employees after Snowden”. The Guardian, online @    

Ghosain, Manal (June 30, 2012) "The Art and Science of Minding Your Own Business". One With Now blog, online @

Keltner, Dacher (Spring 2004) "The Compassionate Instinct". The Greater Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life website, online @

Khan, Jameel (September 9th, 2013) "Creative and Powerful Public Awareness Ads".
Instant Shift website, online @

May, Thor "Somebody Else’s Problem – Decision Making in China". website, online @

McMillan-Scott, Edward MEP (n.d.) "Liu Xiaobo: biography". Charter 08 for reform and democracy in China website, hosted by the European Parliament, online @

O'Malley, Nick (November 23, 2013) "Just sign here: how is helping people to make a difference". Brisbane Times, online @


Sayers, Richard (2008) Principles of awareness-raising for information literacy: a case study. UNESCO publication (e-book), online for download @


Tokerud, Janet (March 30, 2012) "Reasons Twitter is an Original Thinker’s Best Friend". Independent Knowledge Professional blog, online @

Wiggins, Grant (1989) "The Futility of Trying to Teach Everything of Importance". Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, online @

Wood, Stephanie (December 1, 2013) "On the road to salvation". Brisbane Times, online @



Meetup discussion summary

prepared by Yena (taken from the Concept Sandbox blog at 

Note: This summary is based and interpreted from notes taken during the debate and from the group’s online discussion board and may contain errors. If you wish to correct, be attributed to or contribute content, please contact me or post a comment.

- This question could also be translated to “How far should we go to inform others of what we know as the truth, if we don’t know what the consequences (of our actions) are?”.

- There is a common belief that people can’t make a difference. To overcome this, people need to have their awareness raised. There are some very rare people who make this happen.

- The group concluded that situations suggested by the question are difficult to think about and solve. Situations where we have personal involvement may cause us to hesitate. For example, convincing a friend that they are in an abusive relationship.

- Some of us feel duty bound to attempt awareness raising while others aren’t sure if we are morally allowed to change someone’s mind. Some of us worry that we are letting guilt trips to do all the work.

- It is extremely difficult to know if you are right.

- Moral awareness depends on (personal) circumstances, we may need to resist the powerful and dangerous views even if they delivered by charming people.

- For some members, it is inevitable that we will be manipulating others or employing the same tactics as the “enemy” while we try to raise awareness. Some members find this morally repugnant but we may find ourselves doing this when faced with a difficult audience.

- Emotions can cause us to lose sight of our goal while we try to deliver the message.

- An important part of raising awareness is to check if people are open to change. They are more likely to be receptive towards you and your message. Policy resistant systems or the ironic effect may have a negative or ineffectual on your work.

- People don’t like being morally judged.

- One member suggested that raising awareness is a form of conflict resolution as it involves interaction between concerned parties. To be successful, we shouldn’t meet the resistance head on and we should make change a positive experience.

- While raising awareness, we should be open to learning from our intended audience or the people we are fighting against.

- We’re not sure if empathy is necessary or a useful thing to have when discussing and raising moral consciousness.

- Some group members suggested that a top-down approach (government and policy first, masses last) may be an effective way or a good starting point to raise awareness.

- There are gaps between the “elite” and the rest of us. We aren’t sure if the elite need to dumb down the message or do the others need to educate (and desire to) themselves so they can understand the message.

- One members suggested that one way to educate people is to teach (indoctrinate?) them from a young age to become interested in social, moral and political issues and/or be morally obliged to help others.

- It might be more productive to teach and be taught than to indoctrinate others.

- It may be necessary to offer alternatives for the masses as it is hard to convince people.

- Some people don’t feel passionate enough to change the world but they can change their small part of it.

- One member commented that our society forces us to be too busy to take the time to raise our own awareness, let alone others’.

Interesting questions posed by the group:

- What are the most effective ways of dealing with social, moral and political issues?

- Is it practical to change the minds of the government than those of the masses?

- How do you inform importance?

- Does raising people’s awareness result in effective change, or does it just result in ineffective action and a lot of worry and depression?

- Are there contexts where only a) methods using persuasion and manipulation or b) ones aimed at raising awareness and collaboration are applicable (eg science, discussion, education, personal growth, learning and development, political activism)?

- What is material wealth?

- Will the collective intellect of humanity helps us in the race for sustainability? Will we make better technology?

The following three questions were asked by a member (Rob’s thoughts) in response to discussion’s theme.

- How do we balance, on the one hand, the rights of groups in society that would like to increase public awareness in relation to issues they consider important with, on the other hand, the rights of individuals to choose for themselves their level of involvement in issues, in particular those who choose to have no involvement? Do people actually have a right to no involvement? Are these individuals contributing to lesser outcomes for society? Do these groups with a message go too far at times, infringing on the rights of citizens? Should our society put in place changes guiding the way in which these groups go about their attempts to voice their message? Are these groups, in practice rather than theory, contributing to greater or lesser outcomes for society?

- How do you personally feel when you encounter these groups with a message?

- Do you think there is any value in assessing the behaviour of these groups and the behaviour of these citizens with low interest from the moral perspective? If so, how so? If not, why not?

Additional content covered by the debate:

Technocracy [Wikipedia]

Voting systems and voter apathy

Bunyip aristocracy

Climate change and future sustainability

Doctors and Scientists for Sustainability and Social Justice [Website]

Hail Mary pass (a term that refers to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success)

Risk assessment and moral imperatives

Technological Singularity [Wikipedia] [YouTube Video]

Small Australia debate from the 2010 election

A definition of economics

Bonus Material

Value pluralism [Wikipedia]

Examining opinions [Zen Pencils comic] as taken from a speech delivered by Tim Minchin [Video]

Carl Sagan on science and government [YouTube Video]



Notes from Thor


I am a teacher. My first thought about this topic was to ask “what is a teacher”? The answers I have come to expect to that question after 35 years in the trade are very different to what I would have assumed as a novice. Those differences encapsulate the range of opinion which exists, and will (I believe now) always exist about “How far should we go in raising an indifferent public’s awareness …?”. Therefore I will say a little about the role of teachers.

I have always chosen to interpret my role of teaching as an endeavour to change people’s minds, not as a fanatic, but as a source of alternative perspectives which are worth thinking about. From the outset of my teaching employment, this interpretation of being a change agent has been resisted by the majority of my teaching peers, by many students, and almost universally by educational administrators. Quite often the resistance is disguised by feel good slogans from educational policies of the hour, but when push comes to shove the resistance, and usually rejection is soon evident. Why? It is necessary to expand a little on what it means to be an educational change agent. This quotation may be a helpful start, if you can take the hyperbole with a grain of salt:

We all dwell in an unstable buzz of molecules. Some of these atomic tides have become stable enough for a while, and recursive enough in their relationships, to somehow generate that sense of "I", the identity which allows us to view other assemblies as entities of greater or lesser relevance to the preservation of "I".


We classify these other entities, and their relationship with self, on a scale from solids to photons, and from embedded conviction to diaphanous hope. At some hard to pin down, but robust perimeter of certainty, we declare all within to be our system of knowledge and being. Within all elements must harmonize, or at least develop protective shells of mutual ignorance, like pearls cohabiting blindly within our living oyster. And having settled upon this system of knowledge, for better or for worse, we become immensely protective of it. It is, after all, US, and all which threatens it threatens US.


Enter the teacher. A teacher's role is to induce new knowledge into the knowledge systems of other beings. A desperate task, universally unwelcome to the owners of those working systems, no matter that they wilfully put themselves in harms way by enrolling for a "course" in this or that. Until the moment of having to learn new knowledge, it doesn't occur to them that a threat to old knowledge is being posed. They bite, swallow a mouthful of the new stuff, and gag. It's foreign matter.


So what makes for a great teacher? Subversion. There's no doubt about it. Qualifications, references, classroom years ... none of it matters in the end, not in the business of real teaching. The poseurs are legion. They instruct others in curriculums, they dole out mouthfuls of information with threats and gold stars, they get people to pass exams. But mostly they don't succeed in teaching new knowledge systems.

A teacher is that rare individual who coaxes the existing knowledge systems of his students out of hiding, drags every last tentacle of the monster from the depths into broad daylight, hoses off the slime, wrestles it to the ground when it puts up a fight, and finally gives it a heart transplant. That's subversion. That's teaching. [ Thor’s Unwise Ideas, “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” @22 April 2000 - ]

Implicit in this description seems to be the idea that the teacher is offering something objectively more true, more useful, or in some way preferable to that already in the mind of the student. Quite often, this is absolutely right. If someone wants to fix cars and I give them the technical understanding necessary to fix cars then there is little contention, except overcoming the student’s lazy resistance to any kind of mental work. Quite often though my bit of teaching is wrong in some way. This petrol-head kid might know more about the latest turbochargers than the guy who wrote the text book, and that refugee boy at the back of the class might know more about the real meaning of war than my airy pronouncements parroting some news pundit. In other words, as a teacher I need to accept being wrestled to the ground sometimes too, and take my lumps with good grace. On the whole I find that students warm to this honest kind of exchange, which is why I keep teaching. The takeaway message is that I feel myself professionally obligated to raise the awareness of other people, notably my students, and not always strictly within the parameters of some committee approved curriculum. On the other hand I’ve perfectly open to having my own awareness raised by those same students, and my opinions modified.


The preceding paragraphs would be essentially incomprehensible to the majority of educational administrators I have encountered in the seven countries where I have taught (indeed I wrote a PhD about the consequences of this incomprehension). My concept of a teacher being someone who changes the minds of students would border on outrageous to most politicians in the said countries, a view which many of the public would share. In fact, the prospect of “having their minds changed” is also beyond the expectation of most students, who need to be led gently into the kind of reciprocal struggle for understanding which I have described. The default position for all of these groups, regardless of rhetoric, is that education is about “filling jugs” (empty heads) with information, not “lighting candles”. (The current controversy over “intelligence” services mass vacuuming up all of our private communications is an apt comparison. The data or information which they gather is not knowledge, since on past evidence they almost entirely lack the competence to evaluate it. Similarly, students stuffed full of factoids which they lack the interest or capacity to evaluate are not educated, no matter what their diplomas say).


Turning from the specific issue of professional education to citizen participation in the wider society, it seems to me that the same basic dilemma of whether raising awareness is worthwhile applies, and that the same broad solutions also apply. There are, however, differences. Even the most materialistic student enrolling in a diploma mill expects to learn something (a skill, a compact collection of factoids, whatever) as well as earn something (i.e. a diploma). The normal citizen in his daily survival routine may well feel imposed upon if random strangers take it upon themselves to “enlighten” him, raise his awareness of issues in which he has no interest, or even persuade him into behaviours that run counter to his small pleasures. To take up the role of the random stranger, the ghost conscience of society, is therefore not a trivial intrusion upon other people. It requires good judgement, careful strategy, and an exceptional reason to become involved at all. There are times though, especially when communities or whole countries are under threat, when all of these hesitations may be overcome. There are other times, many of them, when imposing your own pet good cause on everyone within reach might not merely be irritating but counterproductive.  


Finally, there may be compelling situations from time to time when it is not good enough to remain an invisible citizen, sprawling in front of a TV and avoiding trouble. In even the most prosperous and stable communities, our environment is not neutral. The entire advertising industry is devoted to “raising awareness” of products we mostly don’t need and which are often harmful. Every trade, profession, agency, media group and industry has an interest in persuading us to conclusions which, if the total truth were known, might be against our personal best interests. The whole political class in most countries is the best collection of liars and extortionists which the money of large and influential interest groups can buy (Australia is hardly immune to this), yet they are professionally devoted to convincing enough of the people enough of the time that they are there to “serve the people”, not themselves.


All of these many sources of persuasion, over time, are quite successful in turning large segments of public opinion in directions which are damaging to social cohesion, public health, effective education, international relations, and a host of other issues. An average citizen will grumble, shrug, and ultimately surrender to most such biased sources of persuasion. If you are particularly well-informed on certain issues, and have the personal capacity to exert your persuasive abilities against much better funded but malevolent influences, then perhaps you have a duty to do so. The laws, even in Australia, offer you only very limited protection for countering the influence of ‘big money’, coercive corporations and secretive government, but if all people of good will fail in courage and surrender their rights of expression and persuasion, then we are set for the tyranny we deserve (see Drake et al 2013). From another time and context (World Wars I, II), chiselled on memorial monuments all over the country is a reminder: “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”.



 Online discussion notes from other participants


An online discussion, sometimes with references to other sources, is available on the Discussion Page for the 19th Debate on at









How far should we go in raising an indifferent public’s awareness of important social, moral or political issues? (c) Thor May 2013


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