Wednesday, December 31, 2014
2014’s mantra: ‘I feel hurt, therefore I censor’
The new censorship is even more insidious than the old
In August this year, the Dominican Republic’s government banned long-tongued twerker Miley Cyrus from performing her latest sausage-related show, ‘Bangerz’, within its territory. It explained its decision as follows: ‘[Miley Cyrus] undertakes acts that go against morals and customs, which are punishable by Dominican law.’
Amid the countless instances of free-speech infringing catalogued by spiked’s Free Speech Now! campaign this year, this one stood out. Not because of its target - after all, Cyrus’s porny aesthetic and subtle-as-crotchless-knickers innuendo frequently prompts outpourings of ‘down with this sort of thing’. No, it stood out because it was so old-fashioned. The Dominican Republic didn’t ban Cyrus on grounds of offence or harm; it banned her on the basis that her act was immoral.
It was a decision redolent of the state censorship of old, of the type of decision-making that used to prevail across the West. It harked back to a time when the state intervened to ‘protect’ its citizens from a form of expression it deemed morally corrupting - decisions made, in short, for people’s own moral good, to preserve their virtue. Such censoring logic recalls, for instance, the classic definition in English law of criminal obscenity - things that ‘tend to deprave and corrupt’, as John Duke Coleridge put it in 1868. Or even more famously, it reminds us of the sentiments of Mervyn Griffith-Jones QC, who, during the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial in 1960, tried to justify the continued ban on DH Lawrence’s piece of wheelbarrow erotica by asking the jurors: ‘Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’
But by the 1960s, as the result of that obscenity trial showed, the state’s ability to tell citizens, especially the lower orders, what they should or shouldn’t be able to read or see or listen to had been thoroughly eroded. For a combination of profound historical reasons, from the rise of mass democracy and the collapse of Empire to the broader secularisation of everyday life, the moral authority Britain’s rulers once wielded with such draconian confidence appeared increasingly groundless. Censorship no longer solved problems for ruling elites; it asked questions of them. On what grounds was a judge to say that this or that was morally corrupting? Why should they be telling us what will deprave and debase?
Increasingly, the state lacked the moral resources to say what was corrupting and what was not, what ‘goes against morals and customs’, and what adheres to them. Be it divine reason or religion-drenched tradition, the sources of the ruling elite’s moral authority had run dry. Little wonder that, in the UK at least, the old institutions of state censorship withered at this point, too, from the abolition of the 1737 Licensing Act in 1968, which deprived the Lord Chamberlain of his role as theatre’s censor, to the transformation 15 years later of the old British Board of Film Censors into the British Board of Film Classification. State censorship, grounded on a sense that the state knew what was morally best for its citizens, seemed increasingly anachronistic.
But as the past couple of decades have demonstrated, there has been a twist to this tale of liberal progress. Censorship, far from disappearing, has changed form. What was once the prerogative of the state has become the prerogative of the individual. What was once grounded on morality, on what the state decreed to be right or wrong, moral or corrupting, is now grounded on emotions, on what the self decrees is hurtful or hateful.
Speech no longer corrupts, or causes the will to deviate from the path of virtue; speech now upsets feelings, and causes people emotional harm. It is not the old-fashioned rational self that’s deemed at risk here; it’s the new-fangled emotivist self. This is now the source of authority in the public (and increasingly the private) sphere, the new ground from which de facto censorship draws its authority, the new basis upon which individuals, and small groups, can legitimately claim that that public figure should be sacked, that TV show should be de-commissioned, that film should be withdrawn. Hurt feelings, harmed emotions and triggered trauma now provide the fuel for contemporary censorship - not morality.
Incredibly, as Free Speech Now! has reported, this historically new form of individuated, ‘I feel, therefore I am’, citizen censorship has become even more widespread during the course of 2014. Think of the way in which comedian Daniel O’Reilly’s comic persona, Dapper Laughs, was forced into retirement in November because, as one censor-campaigner put it, ‘he indirectly harmed others with sexism, casual misogyny and bullying’. The ‘harm’ here is neither physical nor moral - he was not punching people, or turning people away from the path of virtue. No, the harm is emotional; he is accused of making people feel bad.
Or think of the case of TV presenter Judy Finnigan in October. On lunchtime chat show Loose Women, Finnigan said that the rape for which footballer Ched Evans was imprisoned in 2012 ‘was not violent’ and that, following his release, we should ‘let him do his job’. The instantly tweeted response to Finnigan’s perfectly legitimate argument was neither reasoned, nor moralising. No, the mode of address was hyper-emotional: it was outrage. ‘How dare she?’; ‘Her comments make me feel sick’; ‘How could she say that?’. As women’s rights campaigner Jean Hatchet – who set up a petition calling for Evans to be banned – put it: ‘[Finnigan] is guilty of such internalised misogyny that I don’t think she was even aware of how hurtful and damaging her comments were.’ Finnigan was forced into making a public apology, not because a state censor decreed her comments corrupting, but because a group of fellow citizens claimed her words were ‘hurtful and damaging’. And that was enough to force her into effectively recanting in public.
In the US, we’ve seen numerous similar instances of public figures saying something other individuals claim to find offensive, and then either being pressured into contrition, or, if the apology doesn’t come, hounded into ignominy. Think, for example, of Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, who, having suggested that a lot of people claiming to be depressed today know nothing of real misery - ‘My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear fuck-all about “the world is a harsh place”’ - was urged to issue a public apology. As one Australian radio-station producer said of his subsequent decision to remove Kiss’s songs from his station’s playlists: ‘I put the challenge out to other stations across Australia and North America to also drop any of this nudnik’s songs until such time as he reconsiders his thoughtless and insensitive position.’ Again, note the language: Simmons’ argument wasn’t deemed immoral - Simmons wasn’t even said to be wrong. No, it was said to be ‘insensitive’; that is, it was said adversely to affect people’s feelings. Simmons, as is usually the way, apologised.
More striking still was the campaign to force Washington’s American football team, the Redskins, to change their name - a name they’ve had for over 80 years. Such was the clamour that in August the Washington Post editorial board announced that it will no longer use the word ‘Redskins’ in its sports coverage. And the basis for such an incredible move, the reasoning behind attempting to overturn decades of sporting tradition against the wishes of the vast majority of the American public: certain individuals and advocacy groups claim the use of Redskins, a name given to Native Americans by the European settlers, exacerbates, to use the words of one Republican Senator, ‘the pain of [the] brutal and shameful history’ of America’s treatment of its native population. As John Warren, chairman of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi in Michigan and Indiana, put it: ‘The “R” word is… offensive. Athletes of colour should be very, very offended when they hear that word.’ The basis, then, for trying to force an American football team to change its name, the ground on which the claim is made, is the emotional power of the word, its ability supposedly to pique the feelings of native Americans. So far the Redskins have refused to back down.
On and on this merry-go-round of emotionally grounded censorship goes. The grievances are countless. It could be a comedian claiming Spurs fans’ self-identification as ‘Yids’ makes him feel bad; it could be US comedian-cum-presenter Bill Maher being disinvited from American colleges because a joke he made about Hamas was judged hurtful; it could even be the right-wing crackpots of the BNP claiming to have been emotionally wounded by an Islamist preacher - incredible but true. There is something infernal about this endless harm-crying, this perpetual round of ‘I feel hurt, therefore I censor’. And no wonder: there are as many potential sources of censorship as there are individuals with feelings.
So in 2015, we need to continue defending freedom of speech. But we also need to re-conceive what it means to be a citizen. We need to go beyond the emotionally dominated self, ever ready to publicise his or her hurt in the interests of shutting another up, and reclaim something of the robust, reasoning self of more enlightened times.
The ‘I believers’: a law unto themselves
In 2014, an official willingness to believe complainants damaged key legal principles
I can sum up the legal world of 2014 in two words. Many lawyers would understandably tell you, given all the talk of efficiency and cuts, that those words should be ‘legal aid’ - that is, the provision of legal assistance to those who can’t afford it. The endless consultations, judicial reviews, quashed decisions, court walkouts and furrowed legal brows showed that the impending cuts to legal aid carried out by Chris Grayling, the UK secretary of state for justice, were at the forefront of many legal minds. It was also a year in which the practical impact of these cuts began to be felt, with high-profile cases being stopped – albeit temporarily – because of a lack of any proper representation.
But I would choose two different words, two words that I think capture the ethos behind many of the most significant legal developments this year. These words also dominated the public discussion of crime, particularly serious and high-profile allegations, and arguably established certain boundaries for the public discussion of the law in general. I think the two words that capture the dangerous direction in which our legal system is heading are: ‘I believe.’
That’s right, 2014 was a year in which more and more prosecutorial reform was geared towards ‘believing’ complainants rather than investigating allegations with objectivity. In the wider world, publicly proclaiming your belief in the veracity of particularly high-profile allegations around rape and sexual violence became a hallmark of progressive thinking. So it became all the rage in the US to declare ‘I believe Jackie’ when a rape complaint was made – by a woman known as ‘Jackie’ – against a group of students at the University of Virginia. Even when it transpired that the allegation was nonsense, the Washington Post said we should still believe ‘victims’, who are ‘hurt by incredulity’.
In the UK, 2014 was the year in which police officers began publicly declaring their ‘belief’ in allegations before any investigation had even begun. In December, the Metropolitan Police publicly declared that they ‘believed’ the allegation made by a complainant that three young boys had been murdered by a paedophile ring in Westminster. The fact that the police now feel able to declare their ‘belief’ in a complainant making the most serious of allegations, before the complainant’s evidence has been investigated, shows that the mantra of ‘I believe’ is becoming central to the mindset of prosecutors and how they see their own role in the justice system. Why investigate when it is so much easier just to believe?
The mantra of ‘I believe’ also perfectly captures the motivation behind the UK government’s Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which was established this summer in response to allegations of a paedophile ring at the heart of the British establishment. Never before has objectivity and judicial rigour been so readily shoved aside in deference to the need to believe child-abuse allegations. By November, two prospective chairs for the inquiry had been ditched because of revelations about their associations with the state. In other words, there was a danger the chairs might not say what the ‘survivors’ wanted them to say. The home secretary Theresa May, who has now disbanded the entire inquiry panel following further criticism from the ‘survivors’, constantly reiterated the need to believe, saying that the ‘confidence’ of these self-proclaimed survivors was ‘paramount’. Public inquiries used to be held to restore the confidence of the public in the workings of the state; in 2014 they became a forum for the state to express publicly its ‘belief’ in those it is accused of failing.
The Court of Appeal even adopted the mantra of ‘I believe’ when it ruled in December that vulnerable complainants should be made aware of cross-examination questions in advance, ostensibly to help remove the stress of giving evidence. It seems that even the second highest court in the land is keen to show its belief in a complainant’s evidence without the need to subject it to analysis and interrogation. Cross-examination exposes a complainant to the most rigorous scepticism that logic and common courtesy permit. It is the antithesis of blind belief,and rightly so.
Sadly, the trend towards believing allegations over investigating them is set to continue into 2015. Alongside the ongoing farce of May’s child-abuse inquiry, ex-director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer is set to make an appearance in parliament, having won a Labour Party candidacy in 2014. This was the same Starmer who, as DPP, said he would do away with the ‘combative, adversarial’ nature of our justice system to make the experience easier for victims. Given his recent departure from the Crown Prosecution Service, he is likely to be influential even in a shadow-cabinet position. In an interview this month, he said he had ‘unfinished business’ in the justice department. Expect further reforms to encourage the ‘belief’ in complainants at the expense of traditional safeguards against wrongful prosecution.
2014 was a bad year for the justice system because it was a bad year for truth. In 2015 we should strike back against the drive simply to ‘believe’ at all costs. We should refuse to accept the nonsensical and patronising deference that the police, prosecutorial authorities and even elected politicians have shown towards some complainants. And we should reaffirm the impartial but compassionate search for the truth as a fundamental value of our justice system.
Great-Grandma Florist Could Lose Livelihood for Saying No to This Wedding
A florist in Washington state is being sued for adhering to her Christian beliefs in declining to make flower arrangements for one couple’s wedding.
Before the lawsuit, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., had employed workers who identify as homosexual and sold floral arrangements to gay and lesbian customers.
One such customer turned out to be one of the men who would sue her for not being willing to be hired for their same-sex wedding.
Unlike businesses that face similar lawsuits for refusing to provide specific wedding-related services to gay and lesbian couples on religious grounds—among them bakers in Oregon and farmers in New York—Stutzman is being sued in both a professional and personal capacity. That means she could lose everything she owns.
Here’s the Backstory
Barronelle Stutzman is a great-grandmother who has been in the floral industry for more than 40 years.
When Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, she decided that as a matter of conscience she could not participate in or further same-sex ceremonies by using her creative skills in connection with them.
So when two men, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, asked her to design flower arrangements for their wedding, Stutzman politely declined and referred them to other vendors in the area. Ingersoll had been a valued customer, she says, so it was difficult.
The state’s attorney general said Stutzman’s decision to stand by her Christian faith was in direct conflict with a state law ensuring freedom from discrimination.
The measure prohibits places of public accommodation–which officials say include Arlene’s Flowers–from discriminating on grounds of race, creed, sexual orientation, physical disability and so forth.
In April 2013, two months after Washington redefined marriage to include same-sex couples, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers and its owner.
Stutzman is represented by Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer at Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization dedicated to defending religious liberty.
But a few days later, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a civil suit against Stutzman on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.
The suits, since consolidated into Arlene’s Flowers v. Ferguson, were filed in Washington’s Benton County Superior Court.
Waggoner says it is unprecedented for the Washington attorney general’s office to sue a family business owner in a personal capacity unless that owner has committed acts of fraud or misrepresentation.
“They’re trying to set an example of her and punish her,” says Waggoner, noting the suit has the potential to cripple Stutzman’s livelihood. “She’s not wealthy, so common sense would tell you that it’s going to hurt pretty bad.”
A Hopelessly Biased Screed Against Alleged Bias
Newsweek has outdone itself in its pre-Christmas issue with a vitriolic assassination of the Bible, under the title "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin," by Kurt Eichenwald.
This isn't, by any measure, a balanced piece. It doesn't approach fairness. Eichenwald doesn't even attempt to hide his bias, though he seems oblivious to how it compromises his own fairness and objectivity and how hypocritical he is in condemning Bible believers for allegedly allowing their biases to influence them.
It is an unusually long article, by which one might infer that Eichenwald and the magazine consider the subject a matter of major importance that must be addressed.
The piece contains far too many misguided assertions to attempt to refute in a short column. For the opposite viewpoint about the integrity and authority of the Bible, I shamelessly refer you to my book "Jesus on Trial," wherein I cover, in detail, a great percentage of the arguments he makes. My limited purpose here is to illustrate that Eichenwald is woefully guilty of that for which he condemns us Bible thumpers.
The thrust of Eichenwald's screed seems to be that many Christians are an evil and ignorant lot who distort the Bible to justify their alleged hatred and bigotry. He's bothered by Christians cherry-picking Scripture, yet his entire diatribe is a barely disguised clinic in cherry-picking.
Read the article for yourself and see whether you come away with the impression that Eichenwald has much firsthand familiarity with actual Christians -- as opposed to the knuckle-dragging caricature he obviously envisions.
He tells us that Christians "wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals."
Let me ask you fellow Christians: How many Christians have you ever seen engaging in such behavior, other than, say, those in a rerun of an old television series, such as "Kojak" or "Starsky & Hutch," shot in New York City?
He says, "They are God's frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch."
I have attended many church services over the years, and I can attest that the more the church respects the Bible as the word of God the less it chooses passages selectively to support messages. Pastors at my church and countless others often preach on passages that might seem problematic at first glance. They don't cherry-pick Scripture. They tackle it and do their very best to explain it to their engaged congregations.
It seems Eichenwald's real beef is with political conservatives, who he apparently believes put too much stock in certain passages to justify their barbarian beliefs and practices. They are people who "fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country's salvation." Horrors! They believe "creationism should be taught in schools."
He insists that Newsweek's purpose is not to advance a certain theology but "to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don't read it, in the process creating misery for others."
What does he mean by this, you ask?
He writes, "When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore."
Talk about unsubstantiated smears -- the very kind Eichenwald seems to be indicting. Where do Christians banish children from their homes for any reason, much less based on Bible verses? How does so-called biblical illiteracy turn neighbors against each other? If people are following Scripture, they will behave precisely the opposite of this description, and I know of no serious Christian who will argue otherwise.
Neither the Bible nor any authentic Christians I know use Scripture to engender hate and condemnation. Christians are admonished to hate sins, not sinners -- and we are all sinners. Every last one of us.
And the glib slander that we employ Scripture to impede science and undermine intellectual advancement is as fraudulent as it is outrageous.
Perhaps some Christians advocate that public schools teach biblical creationism. But it is obvious to me that Eichenwald is deliberately conflating them with those of us who believe that public schools should teach information about scientific discoveries that point to intelligent design and that we ought to let the science and facts speak for themselves, not selectively exclude scientific information if it happens to coincide with the biblical worldview.
Eichenwald really ought to get out more if he believes that Christians have a desire to undermine intellectual advancement. The Bible -- the actual Bible, not the mythical one to which Eichenwald alludes -- exhorts us to love the Lord with all of our minds. It emphasizes the importance of our acquiring wisdom. It teaches that we are created in the image of an infinitely intelligent God, whose wisdom we are to endeavor to plumb.
I hope that readers of this article will see through Eichenwald's bias and agenda and discover for themselves the abundant information that flatly contradicts or strongly refutes most of the assertions he makes and conclusions he draws.
It is most ironic that Eichenwald's own biases irredeemably blur the lens through which he seeks to expose the biases of others.
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 and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.