Monday, January 21, 2013
So What’s Wrong With Hate Speech Laws?
Any serious discussion of “hate speech” laws should start with a consideration of George Orwell’s prophetic look into the future—specifically the book Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Recall that in Orwell’s book, Big Brother sought to control not only all thoughts but also to language used to form thoughts. To that end, he created the language of “Newspeak,” described as “the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year.”
In a separate essay, Orwell explained that Newspeak is closely based on English but has a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar.
In the book, this suits the totalitarian regime of the “Party,” whose aim is to make any alternative thinking a “thoughtcrime” or, in the language of Newspeak, a “crimethink.”
The language of Newspeak removes any words or possible word constructs which describe the ideas of independent thinking, freedom, rebellion, disagreement, or unapproved values. The underlying intent of Newspeak, of course, is that if something can’t be said—because the words have been criminalized, banned, or no longer exist—then it is hugely more difficult to think.
There are many lessons to be drawn from Orwell here. Law itself represents society’s standard of conduct, defining acceptable from unacceptable behaviour. The end goal of any criminal law is the elimination of certain specified behaviour. If this is the case—as we know it is—what can we make of a law that bans the mere utterance of certain words.
For those comfortable with this, the ever-expanding use of “hate speech” laws is no cause for alarm. But let me pose a few questions.
Having opened the Pandora’s Box of hate speech laws, and in light of the endless supply of unwanted, stupid, and obnoxious ideas and speech, why not expand these laws to eliminate any speech the state deems bad for society? Having legitimized the banning of certain “dangerous” or “hurtful” words—where do we as a society stop?
Orwell once famously said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” This sentence, I think, sums up the essence of free speech in a truly free society. He and others believed that without the freedom to offend, free speech and free thoughts cannot exist.
Ideas are indeed sometimes dangerous things, especially ideas that seek to challenge or even change the current status quo or existing orthodoxy. Indeed, is there really any point in having certain protections for freedom of speech if there is only freedom to express the most popular or current politically correct ideas and opinions?
The punishing of speech and the expression of certain offensive ideas is a classic slippery slope.
It starts so disarmingly with baby-steps, then gradually gains speed, and in time, gives birth to a society where free speech is no longer free and people whisper words they believe are true for fear of punishment or retaliation. I suggest that unless strong voices are heard—and heard loudly—we may very well usher in a new era of state-enforced censorship, and darkness.
Taking offence is a British national sport
The price we pay for freedom is letting silly insults or harmless asides roll off us - so, two words of advice to all the transsexuals “offended” by Suzanne Moore: man up!
The journalist Suzanne Moore was writing a thoughtful article about the pressures on women in a hyper-sexualised society when she reached for a comparison, as writers do. Moore suggested that, increasingly, women felt they should look like “Brazilian transsexuals”.
You knew exactly what she meant. The Brazilian transsexual and the Thai ladyboy are both shorthand for a kind of streamlined, ravishing ultra-femininity. Those of us whose idea of personal grooming involves a quick Bic [razor] in the bath, rather than a waxed deforestation followed by a litre of yak butter, can only marvel at the sheer effort which those chaps who have joined our gender bring to the business of being a woman.
Personally, I would be thrilled to be mistaken for a Brazilian transsexual. So much foxier than a Hobbit in Boden [clothing shop] or a mum in pyjamas on the school run. Suzanne Moore meant no offence. It was not the Brazilian transsexuals who were the object of her concern: she was worrying about women who feel miserable because they don’t measure up to supermodels. She might just as easily have asked, “Why do our daughters need to look like Barbies?”
I bet she wishes she had. There would have been no hysterical complaints from wounded members of “the Barbie community”, claiming to have been trivialised or marginalised or stigmatised. So far, plastic dolls with implausible boob-to-hip ratios have not organised to lobby angrily for their minority rights, though you never know.
Unwittingly, poor Suzanne incited the ire of transsexuals on Twitter, where indignation spreads like a forest fire. On social media, it takes a matter of minutes for an innocuous aside to be inflated to “bullying”. Formerly a very grave charge, in our brave new world of tolerance, bullying now basically means: “They said something I don’t like.”
An organ called Pink News demanded that Moore apologise for what it solemnly called “her recent transphobic outburst”. Just to add to the atmosphere of sweet reason, Julie Burchill wrote an article for the Observer, defending Moore and machine-gunning what she called “bed-wetters in bad wigs”.
Shamefully, the editor added injury to insult, pulling the Burchill piece from the website after it had had been published: a move that was simultaneously repressive and useless. Then Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone weighed in, calling for Burchill and the Observer’s editor to be sacked. I think you may have got the wrong country, Lynne love; this is Britain, not Communist China.
So, a perfectly valid comparison is blown up into “a transphobic outburst”. A decent writer wrongly accused of bullying refuses to apologise for an imaginary offence and is then bullied into closing her Twitter account by the Monstrous Regiment of the Thin-Skinned. I’m afraid that this is where political correctness has got us. Taking Offence is the new national sport, and the moral high ground is so bloody crowded it’s more bad-tempered than Waitrose [high-end supermarket] car park on a Saturday.
We shouldn’t need to worry how our remarks are perceived, not unless they threaten a real person. No more than an airport worker need be afraid she will be suspended for wearing a cross into work. This is a free country, and the price we pay for that freedom is letting silly insults or harmless asides roll off us.
The thin-skinned Offence Brigade would do well to remember the advice of the great Thomas Carlyle: “No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offence.”
Oh, and two small words of advice to all the transsexuals “offended” by Suzanne Moore: man up!
Some reflections from an old Curmudgeon
When leading politicians and commentators describe everything or at least compare everything to sporting matches, pop concerts and Hollywood movies, something is definitely wrong.
The more I read about the past and sympathize with their complaints about the breakdown of civilization and the arrogance of youth, the less I understand the events around me.
Professional people perhaps brilliant in one field should not claim expertise in other or all fields of human endeavour.
As soon as I hear squeaky voices of young commentators on television I switch the channel back to the movies of the 1930s and 1940s for comfort and wisdom.
I am told that the untrained throaty singers who now are presented as serious artists are the result of more than fifty years of tradition. I would rather say they are the result of the domination of dumb-bell radio disk-jockeys, lack-lustre recording studio executives and neurotically-bored listeners. In retrospect, elevator music was closer to the classical composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Only thirty years ago you could travel nowhere without a driving license as proof of identity. Today without tiny little i-phones and reading-pads you have no identity to prove.
The newspapers, the television reports, and the hand-held information sources display multiple terrorist outrages in the Near and Middle East, massacres in the major cities of Western Europe by unassimilated immigrants into the third generation, and numerous individuals and groups arrested days or weeks before planned atrocities against airliners, public spaces, and peace-activists, yet I am supposed to believe the clash of cultures is a right-wing hoax.
Someone boasts of two years preparation for an informative study of this or that. I give myself ten to fifteen years to reach the point where I can start to focus clearly on the subject.
The novel is not dead, as pundits have proclaimed every decade for the past hundred years, only readers able to sustain long narratives with complex plots and deep intellectual discussions of ethics and morals. So too short stories which require intense meditation and multiple readings. Most unlikely to survive are our contemporary education system, collections of apothegms and aphorisms.
I went to the first rock'n'roll show at the Brooklyn Paramount on the first morning and received a free 45" recording of "Greasy Spoon." Alan Freed pounded on a telephone book to get the "big beat." People jumped out of their seats to dance in the aisles. I decided then and there, in my self-righteous adolescence, to withdraw from popular culture completely. I have been true to my word ever since.
Is there really a world-wide clash of cultures, or is it a clash between culture and barbarism in my own mind?
Six degrees of separation, or seven or five, does it matter? I spoke to a friend by phone short while ago whose relative had two children in Sandy Hook, Elementary School, one of whom was killed and the other survived in a different room. Someone else I know lives in Aurora, Colorado, just a few streets from the mall where the Batman shooting took place. My son was on jury duty around the corner from the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, and saw, heard and smelled the terrorist attacks. The world is too small for comfort, even when you live at the very outermost fringes of the Antipodes.
What frightens me most, however, are the trivializers of mass serial murders, the rationalizers of fanatical religious groups and nationalists, and the obfuscation of rational and efficient responses to such situations. They dominate the press, pontificate in the universities, parade their ignorance in the halls of power, and make spectacular films using all the latest technology to perpetuate their lies.
What are the greatest threats to the peace and stability of the world today? The arrogance of power, the self-confidence of fools, and the illusion of rationality. What are the best ways to survive the next decade, with some degree of probability? The humility of preparedness, the patience of wisdom, and the certainty of eventual crisis; in other words, historical realism, social responsibility and moral determination.
Four places to be most careful today: (1) the borders of Syria and its neighbours, (2) the joint between the two parts of Mali, (3) the enclave of Gaza, and (4) the inner sanctum of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
There are many heroes on the front lines protecting the bases of civilization. Our reporters and academics fail to see it: they call them victims and participants in illegal wars. In the eyes of the post-modernists, war has become a war crime: justice no longer counts for anything.
When whales run aground, many hundreds of people rush to protect them and lead them back into safe waters. The pod hurtles itself against the shore again, and then again. The gesture of the rescuers is noble, but futile; nature is cruel and stupid.
There are many places where women are abused and murdered on a regular basis. Some commentators call the perpetrators idiots. I call them savages. Idiots don't know what they are doing.
Before we discover if there is intelligent life on other planets, we should search for it here on earth.
Truth is neither absolute nor rarely self-evident. There is a truth, to be sure, but it needs to be minutely analysed, set in historical context and carefully interpreted. That is why in court you are asked to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
If common sense were truly common, we would not need parents or schools; instincts would be enough.
This old communists hawking Spartacus and those ancient veterans of the barricades with People's Voice for sale show all the practical fervour of Jehovah's Witnesses handing out The Watchtower. They have the wax-caste visages of Lenin in his tomb on Red Square or the holiday photographs of Trotsky on his Mexican tour. They believe they resemble the figures on the tee-shirts they wear. The power of faith.
Sometimes I put a book or article into the hands of a friend. He looks blankly at my face. He cannot understand what it is I have done. He turns the object over, then hands it back, as though it were an unwanted sandwich or children's toy.
Australia: Breakfast cereal company ads raise question marks about "Discrimination"
Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon's department says Weet-Bix manufacturer Sanitarium - which advertises for job candidates who share its "Christian-based principles" - is not a religious body, but would not say whether the company's actions were unlawful.
Sanitarium was founded and is operated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which is not required to lodge the company's financial reports.
A number of its online job ads require successful candidates to have Christian principles. A cereal machine operator job ad says: "If you share our passion for what we do . . . and you are aligned with our Christian-based principles, this will be a great opportunity for you."
A Sanitarium spokeswoman has told Fairfax Media that religious belief "was not a condition of employment".
It is an offence to publish an ad that indicates an intention to unlawfully discriminate under a number of laws. But religious bodies can lawfully discriminate against people with various attributes, including religious belief, unlike other groups. A draft human rights bill retains most of their legal rights to discriminate.
A spokeswoman from the Attorney-General's department said Sanitarium was not a religious body because it was not "established for religious purposes" but could not say whether Sanitarium's ads were unlawful.
"The relevant question is how that preference is applied in practice," she said. "For example, refusing to hire a person merely because they are of a particular faith, gay or divorced, could constitute discrimination, but requiring employees to act in accordance with a particular code of conduct may not be."
The Federation of Community Legal Centres' Hugh de Kretser said most people would consider the ads discriminatory: "If the government thinks Sanitarium isn't a religious body, it should act to stop these discriminatory job ads."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.