The West is staring down Chinese power — but do we know what’s worth fighting for?

By Stan Grant

Posted 23h ago23 hours ago, updated 17h ago17 hours ago

A soldier in uniform plays The Last Post in front of the Sydney Opera House, with poppies projected on the sails.
Values of self-sacrifice seem out of step today. Worse they are often derided, in a world that values personal liberty above all. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)

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On ABC Radio this week I was reminded of another time, another Australia. We were discussing Australia’s place in the world after former prime minister Paul Keating’s National Press Club appearance criticising our handling of the rise of China.

Many of the callers were lamenting Australia’s recent record on climate change, refugees and racism. We were on the wrong track. We were alienating other nations like France. One man said he had returned to Australia after living abroad to find we had, in his opinion, gone backwards.

Then a lady called in to remind us it was Remembrance Day and asked why, amid the criticism of Australia, no one had thanked those who had paid the ultimate price and given the greatest sacrifice for us to enjoy the freedom of living in a liberal democracy and building the country we have become.

A metal wall with inscriptions of Australian military personnel lost to war, with many red poppies.
We are free to criticise our country but should we also not be mindful that others have paid for that freedom with their lives, asks Stan Grant. (Unsplash: Tony Liao)

It was a clear-eyed moment of reflection that added a much-needed sense of perspective. Yes, we are free to criticise our country but should we also not be mindful that others have paid for that freedom with their lives.

People like my great uncle; an Indigenous man who signed up to fight in World War I and never returned from the fields of France. His body lies there still.

His brother, my grandfather, fought in World War II, a Rat of Tobruk. Aboriginal men who defended our country abroad at a time when they were not fully recognised as equal citizens at home.Indigenous soldiers still fighting for recognitionOften shunned by an Australian society that did not recognise their service, Indigenous veterans are now getting overdue recognition. Read more

My cousin has continued the tradition. A lifelong army officer who served in Iraq.

They believed that if their fight for justice here was going to mean anything they would also have to fight for their country alongside other Australians.

Where is that self-sacrifice today? Where is the belief that there is something bigger than ourselves?

A contest for recognition

Such virtues can seem out of step today. Worse they are often derided. Family, duty, service, nation, faith — how often are they mocked in a world that values identity or personal liberty above all.

It is a flimsy basis for a society. And it reflects a slow unravelling.

In his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, religious scholar Carl Trueman argues we have swapped an honour society for a dignity society.

It is an inheritance of the European Enlightenment, the elevation of the individual above society. He traces it to thinkers like Jean Jacques Rousseau whom he describes as “one of the strangest geniuses in the history of Western society”.

Rousseau famously declared people are born free, but everywhere are in chains. The chains are society: community, religion, kinship. In Confessions, Rousseau says all he needs to do is to “look inside myself”.

Trump supporters climb a stone wall during a riot at the US Capitol.
The United States — the self-declared beacon of democracy, the shining city on the hill — has descended into often violent rancorous tribal warfare.(AP: Jose Luis Magana)

That encapsulates our age; the inner life, the importance of the self. Being our “best selves” or “real selves” matters above all. Recognition and identity are supreme. Society becomes a contest for recognition.

It more often resembles an arm wrestle: whose identity matters more?

Trueman points to a philosophical tradition that dispenses with notions of objective truth. Philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, who said there is no truth only interpretation.

Without truth what holds us together? Is one’s “personal truth” all that matters?

Trueman argues we live in a therapeutic age; we reach for words like grief, trauma, suffering to buttress our identities.

As he writes: “The big political questions of our time are those of identity, and modern identities have a distinctly psychological aspect.”‘The great Australian’ silence is slowly being brokenThe Angel of History is a warning to Australia that we cannot look to the future when our eyes are fixed so deadly on the past.  Read more

Trueman is indebted to the late sociologist Phillip Rieff, who in the ’60s described the rise of “therapeutic culture” — or as he put it “anti-culture”.

Rieff, himself agnostic, believed faith anchored society. It formed a “sacred order”, a set of what he called “interdicts” prohibitions – thou shalt nots – that framed culture.

The modern West upended that order, cast off those interdicts, becoming, Rieff believed, unmoored. There is no “sacred order”, instead a “social order” that can easily descend into a free-for-all.

Society ceases to have inherent meaning and meaning becomes a matter of feeling of personal choice or individual belief.

The rise of the self

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor sees this as the rise of the self. We are all “expressive individuals” unbound from a greater sense of responsibility or duty. Economic growth, technological change, globalisation all have eroded the sense of hierarchy or culture.

As Trueman argues: “Notions of honour no longer fit the patterns of social engagement and therefore recognition in today’s society. That role is now played by the notion of dignity …”

He poses this question: “How does society understand identity, and what range of identities does it consider to be legitimate?”Should we judge Shakespeare by today’s standards?Does pluralism, liberalism, democracy, freedom of expression and rule of law shine a way forward or obscure a dark past that still haunts us today?Read more

So we arrive at the endless culture wars. We form our tribes and arm ourselves for battle.

To talk about notions of honour or society can seem hopelessly conservative today. Even reactionary. Indeed some of those old “shalt nots” that ordered society were terribly oppressive and entrenched exploitative relationships of power. They are well rid of, but the question remains: what do we replace them with?

There are parts of Trueman’s arguments that I’m uncomfortable with. But he and other thinkers like him, challenge us to take stock of where we have come.

In a West too often preoccupied with cancel culture or Twitter pile ons, orders to stay in our lanes and shouting matches rather than civil discussion, we have to ask where does this leave us?

And this matters right now. We live at a time when democracy is being eroded. It is in retreat. Populist demagogues exploit fear and anxiety. Deep inequalities, legacies and lived realities of sexism, misogyny and racism diminish the West’s moral standing.

What’s worth fighting for?

The United States — the self-declared beacon of democracy, the shining city on the hill — has descended into often violent rancorous tribal warfare. It is a deeply divided, almost ungovernable society where mobs trashed the Capitol Building — the seat of democracy itself.

Xi Jinping stands in front of nine large Chinese flags as he toasts a glass of red wine standing behind an official lectern.
The Communist Party has declared Xi’s world view as the “essence of Chinese culture”.(AP: Nicolas Asfouri, pool)

This at a time when China poses a direct challenge to a Western liberal democratic order. China under Xi Jinping certainly gives no sign of self-doubt. Xi unapologetically and brutally imposes his order on society, and he believes history is on his side.

As he says, the West is waning and China is rising.Day to remember the fallenNovember 11 is observed around the world as a day to remember the sacrifice that countless of people have made in service to their country. Here is how Australia commemorates Remembrance Day.Read more

Now Xi is all but ensconced as president for life. The Communist Party has declared Xi’s world view as the “essence of Chinese culture”.

That’s what the world faces now: a confident rising China and a West that seems unsure of what it even is, let alone whether it is worth fighting for.

That caller to the ABC was right. Surely while we criticise — legitimately — our society, we can also give thanks. And this week I have remembered and given thanks for my great uncle and my grandfather; Aboriginal men who would have had reason not to fight for Australia, but believed it was their duty anyway.

Men of dignity, yes, but who believed that honour mattered more.

Stan Grant presents China Tonight on Monday at 9.35pm on ABC TV, and Tuesday at 8pm on  ABC News Channel.Posted 23h ago23 hours ago, updated 17h ago17 hours agoShare

Keating’s speech revealed a cold-eyed realism about Chinese power and its place in the world order

A man in black suit and blue tie points his finger with a blue background behind him and words National Press Club of Australia

Recognising the role of Aboriginal diggers in the Anzac story

Broccoli – the DNA whisperer | Tom Malterre 

Since the age of 10, Tom Malterre has been fascinated by the science of nutrition. In his quest to understand the genius of food, he has achieved both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutritional science from Bastyr University, learned from world experts in medicine at the Institute for Functional Medicine, become a faculty member of the Autism Research Institute, co-authored two books, and coached numerous health care practitioners on using nutritional science as a tool in their clinical practices. Tom loves to spend time with his wife and children hiking in the mountains, harvesting wild food, and tending to the family garden. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Eric Feigl-Ding

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding is an epidemiologist and health economist and a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington DC, and Chief Health Economist for Microclinic International.

He was previously a faculty and researcher at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Chan School of Public Health between 2004-2020, and an epidemiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

In January 2020, he was recognized in the media as one of the first to alert the public on the pandemic risk of COVID-19. He focuses his efforts on analyzing COVID-19 trends, stop COVID-19 misinformation, advocate for public health, and improve health policy.

Eric’s work focuses on the intersection of public health and public policy. He also currently works on social-network based behavioral interventions for prevention, drug safety, diabetes/obesity prevention, and public health programs in the US and globally. He has further expertise in designing and conducting randomized trials, systematic reviews, public health programs, and improving health policy.

During the 2014 Ebola pandemic, he led a team to co-develop one of the first mobile contact-tracing applications for infectious disease outbreaks. The project was shelved after lack of interest in pandemic prepardness technology. His early contact-tracing app’s contributions lived on to inform the later designs of contact tracing apps developed during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. Feigl-Ding graduated from The Johns Hopkins University with Honors in Public Health and Phi Beta Kappa. He then completed his dual doctorate in epidemiology and his doctorate in nutrition separately, as the youngest graduate to complete his dual doctoral programs at age 23 from Harvard SPH. Concurrently with his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard SPH, he studied medicine at Boston University School of Medicine for several years, until he left BUSM to become faculty at Harvard Medical School. Teaching at Harvard for over 15 years, he has advised and mentored two dozen students and lectured in more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate courses, for which he received the Derek Bok Distinction in Teaching Award from Harvard College.



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1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Eric Cline, PhD)

From about 1500 BC to 1200 BC, the Mediterranean region played host to a complex cosmopolitan and globalized world-system. It may have been this very internationalism that contributed to the apocalyptic disaster that ended the Bronze Age. When the end came, the civilized and international world of the Mediterranean regions came to a dramatic halt in a vast area stretching from Greece and Italy in the west to Egypt, Canaan, and Mesopotamia in the east. Large empires and small kingdoms collapsed rapidly. With their end came the world’s first recorded Dark Ages. It was not until centuries later that a new cultural renaissance emerged in Greece and the other affected areas, setting the stage for the evolution of Western society as we know it today. Professor Eric H. Cline of The George Washington University will explore why the Bronze Age came to an end and whether the collapse of those ancient civilizations might hold some warnings for our current society. Considered for a Pulitzer Prize for his recent book 1177 BC, Dr. Eric H. Cline is Professor of Classics and Anthropology and the current Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University. He is a National Geographic Explorer, a Fulbright scholar, an NEH Public Scholar, and an award-winning teacher and author. He has degrees in archaeology and ancient history from Dartmouth, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania; in May 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree (honoris causa) from Muhlenberg College. Dr. Cline is an active field archaeologist with 30 seasons of excavation and survey experience. The views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.

Bri Lee

’m an author and freelance writer.

My third book, Who Gets to be Smart, is out in June 2021. Touring dates and events are below.

My other books are Eggshell Skull (2018) and Beauty (2019).

I’ve written investigative journalism, opinion, short fiction, essays, and arts criticism.

I’m qualified to practice law, but do not, and have published peer-reviewed research. I’m currently doing a PhD in law at the University of Sydney. I was also the 2020 Copyright Agency x UTS Writer-in-Residence.

Sometimes I give lectures, keynotes, and other kinds of speeches.

I live and work on Gadigal land in Sydney, Australia.

Get in touch! All the details are below. Thanks.


Sydney LAUNCH – Tuesday 1 June

Sorrento, Victoria – Wednesday 2 June (CANCELLED FOR COVID SAFETY)


Bondi Beach – Tuesday 8 June

Byron Bay – Wednesday 9 June

Brisbane – Thursday 10 June

North Sydney – Tuesday 15 June

Canberra (ANU) – Wednesday 16 June

Canberra (Politics in the Pub) – Thursday 17 June

Adelaide – Tuesday 22 June


I run the ‘B List Bookclub’ at the State Library of New South Wales. Every month I choose an Australian author to join me for an hour of conversation about their new release, then we have audience questions, and then we have an hour for wine and cheese. Since COVID-19 the wine and cheese part is on hold, but hosting the bookclub online has meant I’ve also been able to do events with incredible international authors. Some previous events are available for you to watch online here.

The next B List Bookclub is acutally… with me! It’ll be on Thursday 24 June in-person at the library, and Rick Morton will be interviewing me about Who Gets to be Smart. I’ll share the URL as soon as it’s up.



For publicity enquiries relating to Who Gets to Be Smart, Beauty or Eggshell Skull, please email my publicist Isabelle O’Brien: isabelleo[at]

For general author enquiries please email my agent Grace Heifetz at Left Bank Literary: grace[at]

For enquiries about events and speaking opportunities, please email my speaking agency at: bookings[at]

For all other enquiries, and if you want me to write for you, please email me at: bri.lee.writer[at]

Photos by the very excellent Saskia Wilson.

Colonization Australian-Style

In My Blood It Runs

Directed by Maya Newell (2019)

Film Review

A very poignant film about a ten-year-old Aboriginal boy who is failing all his school subjects despite having special healing abilities and speaking three languages. DuJuan’s mother and grandmother have brought DuJuan and his younger brother from their traditional Sandy Bore homeland to attend public school in Alice Springs. Sandy Bore has no school, and his family worries he won’t adjust to modern society without education.

They all spends every weekend in the bush in Sandy Bore, where DuJuan speaks in his birth language Arrente and renews his healing powers. Struggling with contradictory messages he receives from his family and teachers, DuJuan hates his Alice Springs school. He bunks class most days and celebrates when he gets suspended.

When his school finally expels him, the family’s biggest fear is that social welfare will kidnap him and send


 to foster care or juvenile detention. At night, Australian special forces patrol Alice Springs (pop 26,000) as part of the government’s anti-terrorist regime.

The Northern Territories juvenile detention facilities (where 100% of the inmates are aboriginal) are notorious for violently abusing children as young as ten. These conditions have been the focus of Australian Black Lives Matter protests.

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Kalanchoe — Sonya Lira Photography

The following is what is written on Kalanchoe — Sonya Lira Photography blog:

I love Kalanchoe and currently have 4 colors of it planted in a large container. There is a red, dark pink, pastel yellow and a yellow orange color. I think there are about 12 plants total. These are from last spring they need to be cut back after blooming this year because they are somewhat […]

Kalanchoe — Sonya Lira Photography

Matthew 7:7–8

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Matthew 7:7–8
← 7:67:9 →
Illustration for Matthew 7:7 “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing
BookGospel of Matthew
Christian Bible partNew Testament

Matthew 7:7–8 are the seventh and eighth verses of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. These verses begin an important metaphor generally believed to be about prayer.

 “Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.”

I do believe this, that by asking I will receive, by seeking I will find, and by knocking doors will be opened. Maybe not instantly, but in the long run it has always worked over the 86 years of my life!

For a collection of other versions, see BibleHub Matthew 7:78.