Written By: - Date published: 9:44 am, August 12th, 2018 - 97 comments
Categories: australian politics, clickbait, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, don brash, journalism, newspapers, Propaganda, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, uk politics, us politics, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags: simon wilson
Photo thanks to Glenn Jeffrey
I know that I have spent some time writing on this issue lately but it is still bugging me. Since when did the left become censors and the right become the defenders of free speech?
The last month has been an interesting place in Aotearoa.
Suddenly Don Brash is a free speech advocate. Not a dog whistling racist or someone who hates Te Reo or someone willing to do a deal with the exclusive brethren to gain power or someone willing to seek a super injunction to stop an important book from being published but a free speech advocate.
And Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern just wanted to come to Aotearoa New Zealand and have a debate. Surely the exchange of ideas, even really evil stupid ideas, is a good thing. Because surely the best idea wins?
The criticism rankles because the right to freedom of speech was established to allow for liberal and pluralistic ideas to be communicated and to reduce the coercive powers of the state, not for fascists to say that people with dark skins are inferior and dangerous.
The difference is that Southern and Molyneux and Brash are pathological haters of multiculturalism. Lets not muck around here. They use as a weapon the attacking of those amongst us whose skins are darker or whose cultures are different. They want white domination. They do not want a pluralistic respectful community. They want “our culture is better than yours so yours will be suppressed” not “your culture is really interesting, mind if we experience and share in this?”.
And they use one of our strongest weapons, the right to free speech, to achieve their goal.
That is why it is so annoying.
Freedom of speech was implemented to allow the small powerless voice not to be silenced. They were up against power and wealth and the forces in control and it was there to allow progressive alternative voices to be heard.
And fascists have a pretty bad track record when it comes to freedom of speech. Becoming poster boys for freedom of speech after basically being the reason it had to be instituted is freaking annoying.
Simon Wilson in the Herald published his speech notes from the big debate that happened this week. Read them in full. They are a thing of beauty. They neatly capture the incongruous nature of the debate.
The beginning is as absolutely wonderful a burn on Donald Brash as you could imgine. Oh to watch his face when this was being said.
Kia ora! As Post Office staff have been allowed to say since 1984. Nau mai, haere mai. Ko Simon Wilson tōku ingoa. Tēnā koe, Don. A special tēnā koe to you.
Let’s define some terms. “Political correctness”, or “PC”, is a pejorative phrase for what happens when some people object to other people trying to respect the diversity of values and upbringings in a society. Nobody self-identifies as politically correct, because it’s only ever used as a sneer.
“Free speech” isn’t so easy. In Athens, in the cradle of democracy, parrhesia meant the licence to say whatever you like, when, how and to whom. But there was another word, isegoria, which meant the equal right of citizens to participate in public debate in the democratic assembly. Both translate as freedom of speech.
Take that free speech advocate Don Brash. Your contempt for Te Reo will never be forgotten.
And yeah. Getting smashed over for being “PC” that is respectful of others rights and at the same time engaging in the sort of behaviour that fascists engage in is pretty annoying.
And yeah I think us lefties are more into isengoria than parrhesia. Hence our acknowledgment that free speech is not an absolute.
And as Simon says more gently supporting free speech but opposing the free exercise of your culture is pretty fucked up.
He suggests that the US version of free speech may not be such a good thing.
A couple of other things about definitions. In the United States “free speech” is protected by the first amendment to the constitution. You can be as vile as you like, and many people are. Clearly, this is not a rule being bent out of shape by “PC culture”. It’s a rule that favours vile people.
That first amendment also allows you to do your best to buy an election, by spending as much as you like being as vile as you like about the candidates you don’t like. Again, “PC culture” isn’t to blame. This is a rule that favours super-rich, vile people.
Simon also points out that economic disparity is just as important as free speech power disparity. He pointed out how Brash attacked the last Labour Government’s attempt to improve the plight of Maori for political advantage. And they buckled.
Closing the Gaps was attacked by a political leader desperate for attention and happy to cast aside the social good it would do. In a speech in January that year he called the programmes racist – and in doing so he unleashed the dogs. Fear, hatred, confusion: the dogs of real racism.
His party climbed sharply in the polls and the Government fell sharply. Closing the Gaps was itself closed down, judged by the Government too politically dangerous to pursue. Racial divisions flared. The progress we might have made was wrecked.
Simon does not hold back in his conclusion:
Freedom of speech is not endangered in this country, and most certainly not by a “politically correct culture”. The attack on Closing the Gaps was, to my mind, the most egregious use of free speech in New Zealand we have seen in decades.
And the politician who did that, who used his free speech to mount that attack on the most impoverished among us, sits here tonight. He is Don Brash.
But you know what? He didn’t quite win that election. The vote was, among other things, a plebiscite on his view of race relations, and a majority of voters said no. Not because we’re oppressed by a PC culture, but because we’re better than that.
I remember that election well. I can recall Brash talking on Morning Report about main stream New Zealanders who did not include those of us born overseas or with black skin or with complex sexual preferences. And I can recall the surge of people volunteering to support us to make sure that Labour was re-elected. And how the good people of South Auckland and West Auckland returned Labour to power.
Simon points out that Southern and Molyneux and Brash have not had their rights of freedom of expression restricted. We have more access to their ideas than at any other time in our civilisation’s history.
Wilson conculdes by saying this:
I like to think the heart of our civilisation is the city, and the British sociologist Richard Sennett has a definition for it. He calls cities “human settlements in which strangers are likely to meet”. That’s where we’re at now. That’s our true spirit of the times, our zeitgeist. And our task is to make it work, for all of us.
Awful people will try to derail us. But they are on the fringe. They are the outliers. For most of us, the prospect of meeting strangers is difficult, of course, but also rewarding. We don’t have to like everybody, but we have to like that we get along. We have to like that we share. Working that out is what we’re doing here.
The rest – all those complaints from people that no one is listening to them anymore – that’s the narcissists’ sideshow.
The problem is that we know how this will go. There will be a debate about whether freedom of expression should be protected. And the right will be the proponents of it.
They are interested in political advantage. Not the protection of a right. When the time comes they will loudly insist that it be limited.
It has happened in the past.
It sounds like there are a further stream of visitors with vile views. People like Pauline Hanson and Nigel Farage are visiting soon. Farage hopes to ignite a New Zealand version of Trumpism as is clear from this statement in his advertisement for his rather expensively priced meeting:
Never in the history of Western civilisation has the fight for democracy, individual liberties and free speech been more important. So I come to you from the UK with a message of hope and optimism – that if the man or woman in the street, the average Joe or Jane is prepared to stand up and be counted, and push back against the political elite and the media establishment, they can take back their democracy and, ultimately, their country.”
How does the left counter this? Refusing to cede the moral high ground is a start. Although I still believe that it is legitimate to ban and regulate hate speech.