We Build Anew in Australia

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In mid-November 2023, Australians for Science and Freedom held its inaugural conference under the banner ‘Progress through Science and Freedom’ on the campus of my employer, the University of New South Wales. ASF (not to be confused with the eponymously acronymed Academy for Science and Freedom at Hillsdale College) is a free think tank launched in mid-2023 by myself and nearly a dozen like-minded professionals from different disciplines, all aghast at the travesties we witnessed during the Covid era. Video recordings of the conference are available for free viewing here.

For the benefit of readers finding themselves in or wanting to establish similar nascent groups across the world, let me share the experiences and logic that have motivated us in founding and framing ASF, and guided us in organising, structuring, and planning to build from this conference.  

Much of what appears below was aired at the conference implicitly or explicitly, and is the product of many minds, hearts, and hands.

Why?

A problem many freethinkers experienced early in the Covid era was the difficulty of finding other similarly-minded people. Afraid to be caught out and punished, many people sharing our horror at the transpiring events did not publicly identify themselves. With internet censorship and movement restrictions, not to mention mandates to hide our faces from one another and social encouragement to point the bone at refuseniks, organising an effective resistance was extremely tough going.

Many people thought they were literally all alone, going crazy in their minds, for years. Only a few of us were lucky enough to find ourselves from the get-go in networks with others who saw the madness for what it was.

A lesson to draw from the Covid era is to see the divisive narratives (e.g., Covid, climate, gender) being pushed continuously by today’s media, governments, and other large entities for the poisonous and self-serving propaganda that they are. Being led to see other humans as enemies – whether because they are coughing, using coal-fired energy, or not demonstrating uncritical acceptance of our subjective reality – not only is destructive to our psychological and social health, but cripples our ability to call out actual problems being regularly sidestepped and often made worse by those self-same large entities.

We badly need to reject division and embrace working together in order to combat our real problems and find solutions in the coming years, even if we do not see eye-to-eye with one another on everything. 

So, job one of ASF was to organise disparate independent thinkers who believe reform is both needed and possible, and broadly adhere to a few core guiding principles, while accepting that not all of those so organised will agree on everything and that that fact is a source of strength.

How?

As with many embryonic movements, the founders of ASF started with sporadic one-on-one conversations, often initially finding each other through hopeful cold calls or third-party referrals and learning gradually about one another’s strengths and weaknesses. We each contributed individually and independently in the early years as and how we could, following our mental images of more sanity, more space for open exchange, better policy-making, better education, better care of health, more humane treatment of humans, and so on.

Those contributions ranged from writing books and op-eds, to holding local events, to supporting patients with exemptions or prescriptions, to speaking out on the airwaves, to investigating possible web platforms. Formal collaborative structures were not necessary: we ran on spirit, drive, and trust that people beyond just ourselves were pulling in the same direction, that Team Sanity would grow, and that eventually we would prevail.

As our community grew in number and hence had diversity, the need emerged for something more formal to glue us together – something recognisable both within and outside our group – in order to set some ground rules and improve efficiency. A subset of us attacked the paperwork needed to organise under Australian law, construct a written constitution, and set up a website. 

All the while, no one was giving anyone else orders. Suggestions were made according to the new organisation’s perceived needs and individuals’ perceived skills and interest, but work got done not because of any task master or time sheet but because of individuals’ personal devotion to the cause. Money came solely through the personal pocketbooks of founders. Divas and freeloaders were lurking, inevitably, but the work got done by those prepared to put unsung effort and monetary support towards the cause.

Rationale for the Conference

Even once we had a schmick website, complete with a mission statement and descriptions of our founders, and the handy protocol of republishing blogs from Brownstone Institute (thanks to the Creative Commons licensing system) and elsewhere to augment our original creations, we were still known to only a few dozen people.

I transitioned the Voices Against Lockdowns missives I had been sending to self-identified supporters since August 2020 to the site, rebranding them as Voices for Science and Freedom and introducing a few thousand people to ASF, but this was tiny in the grand scheme. The occasional ASF name drop on national radio or TV was useful in driving traffic to our website, but large-audience opportunities were rare and still didn’t achieve the level of name recognition that would allow us take truly significant strides. We needed to articulate what we stood for in an elaborated fashion, to those sympathetic to our views at first, and build toward eventual recognition in the mainstream.

Moreover, we needed to bring to the fore of the resistance a critical focus on future-building. In Australia as well as most other countries, the fraction of the resistance movement that is truly dedicated to the messy, inglorious work of rebuilding society is vanishingly small. Today in the resistance, many people have worked out how to get in the limelight and stay there, which generally does not involve mapping out and testing practical pathways to a better future for our societies.

Some limit themselves to being perennially mad and shocked, rerunning the horrors of the past few years in their minds. Some build expertise in a small portion of the overwhelming problems of the West (e.g., health-system corruption; poisoning by vaccines; media corruption; human rights abrogations; failures in education; failures of the Deep State; etc.) and write just about that small part. The story of each small part has a place, but we needed a place to tie the small parts together and think forward.

ASF would not be the gaping victim, nor the expert peering backwards at history through his narrow looking glass. It would be as an entity the generalist, able to see society at macro and micro levels and across history, committed to facing the realities of the modern world and to rediscovering the knowledge, principles, and processes that once made the West great. It would use the lessons of today and yesterday in practical, compassionate, scientific, and diverse ways to chart paths towards better future institutions for ourselves and our kids.

To reinforce this focus, while formally introducing our organisation to the Australian resistance and restoration movement, we decided the time had come for an inaugural conference.

Conference Structure

We organised the “Progress through Science and Freedom” conference thematically, with two parallel sessions in every 2-hour time slot, each of which tackled one area of Australian society in desperate need of reform and/or total restructuring. Every session featured leaders in the Australian resistance, whether at the level of local communities, or in focal professions like law, media, education, and health, who were known to ASF’s founders.

These sessions were bookended by an introduction and a farewell in which the founding purpose and intended norms of the organisation – radical tolerance, critical thought, empathy, and sanity – were underscored. We spoke of our role as a horizontally and vertically integrated organisation, bringing together people from across the professions, including eggheads and grassroots community leaders, to reimagine Australia.

Don’t like the present health system? Well, what would a better one look like, and where can we try it out?

Don’t like what is being taught at schools? Well, what curriculum and what schooling protocols would you suggest, and how about trying out your ideas in your neighbourhood with your kids and the ones down the road?  

Don’t like the mainstream media? How might you open an alternative channel, drawing on the lessons embodied in the experiences of others?

Feel like modern Australian democracy has failed? How could we change our political system, practically, for the better?

Practical, inspiring ideas were aired about direct democratic revival, restoring critical thought and freedom in higher education, how to build better media channels, establishing effective grassroots communitiesimproving the quality of public discourse, and much more. 

The Future

We have only just started. Like all organisations that have sprung up in the resistance and restoration movement, ASF is vulnerable to being hampered in its mission by those looking to exploit the new fashion trend of being a dissident for personal glory or affirmation, and uninterested in the often thankless work of running an organisation or helping envision and build a better society.

Particular founders of the organisation risk doing too much, and thereby hijacking something that will be most robust and long-lived if it remains a flat organisation drawing on the efforts of many. Financial backers are few and far between, and all the work done for and in the organisation is still voluntary, mostly by people with full-time jobs. To survive and thrive even fractionally as well as Brownstone Institute has done from its embryonic state in mid-2021, we will need to surmount many new challenges in the coming years.

Attendees at the inaugural ASF conference who provided post-event feedback (selections shown below) seem to see a role and a future for the organisation. I hope we can live up to this potential.

Thank you so much Gigi and team for what was the most amazing conference I’ve ever attended (and I’ve attended heaps). It was a unique combo of intellect and heart, providing safety to finally gather and speak openly. I could go on…we just loved the wide variety of ideas and projects shared and are very thankful to you and the team for all your time and thoughtfulness. 

It has been a pivotal moment in time for me. I will be following through on a number of connections and inquiries and I look forward to what will undoubtedly become an expanding event in the future both in numbers and projects.

I left the conference with a full heart and nourished soul, inspired by the chance to meet so many thinking people, dedicated to making positive change for justice, freedom and quality of life.

Everything was so well organised with a great variety of topics and speaker communication styles. Every speaker I listened to had me on the edge of my seat. I learnt lots and there was time to interact with the speakers and course participants. This was the best conference I have ever attended and I regularly attend them. The food, speakers and venue were a 10. Please do this again.

I am really honoured to be part of a movement that thinks differently, that is open to the dialogue, that tries to establish alternatives to a corrupt system. I really valued being able to talk freely and being surrounded by like-minded people.

The quality, organisation and informative, insightful, inspiring content was MORE than excellent! It was life-affirming. I really cannot speak highly enough about the useful impact of the day and how well it was put together – from logistics, to relevance to heartfelt human connection at such a DEEP level. I LOVED that the conference modelled intelligent, respectful debate – from which I learned so much (along with the amazing presentations themselves). The discussions really helped me to digest and assimilate what I was hearing. AND inspired me to keep going, to remain engaged and keep learning. It was ASTONISHING to see so many brave, intelligent, committed people gathered in one place. We are not alone. We are not crazy. And there is so much more work to be done. Keep going. I also really appreciated the horizontal and vertical approach. Deep subject experts, and those in community fostering connection and practical action. I was super inspired by the bravery, intelligence and commitment of so many of the speakers, many of whom have literally given EVERYTHING to stand up for humanity.

The fact that people with diverse interests and belief systems were able to gather harmoniously due to a shared concern over the draconian Covid era over-reactions of the biomedical security state. In contrast to the snobbery at academic conferences, I enjoyed the friendly nature of the formal and informal periods of discussion. The fact that the conference was open to ordinary Aussies and not merely academics was also lovely.

What an extraordinary few days. You are a beacon of light and hope and strength and possibilities! As I said everyone at the conference showed grit, love, heart, intelligence, bravery and are absolute luminaries in their fields…A very special start to connecting all the good dots and to creating a blueprint for a happier healthier society.


This article was first published on the Brownstone Institute website here.

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Author

  • Prof Gigi Foster

    Gigi Foster (Professor, UNSW School of Economics; BA Ethics, Politics and Economics, PhD Economics) works in diverse fields including education, social influence, time use, lab experiments, behavioural economics, and Australian policy. Named 2019 Young Economist of the Year by the Economic Society of Australia, she publishes in both specialised and cross-disciplinary outlets, and her innovative teaching was awarded a 2017 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. She has filled numerous roles of service to the profession and engages heavily on economic matters with the Australian community, as one of Australia’s leading economics communicators, in the media and at live events. She is co-author of The Great Covid Panic (Brownstone Institute 2021, with Paul Frijters and Michael Baker) and Do Lockdowns and Border Closures Serve the “Greater Good”? (Connor Court 2022, with Sanjeev Sabhlok).

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