Friday, 10 February 2017

Freedom Of Expression And Its Discontents.

If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
 
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION has long been regarded as the cornerstone of liberty. Indeed, without the ability to speak our minds freely the whole notion of liberty begins to unravel. Freedom of expression is vital in at least one other respect – it helps us to arrive at and recognise the truth. This is important because, as many philosophers and religious leaders have observed, it is the truth that sets us free.
 
The Left’s relationship with freedom of expression has never been an easy one. Ever since the French Revolution of 1789-99 the desire to maintain the purity of the revolutionary message has weighed heavily against those who dared to raise objections concerning the Revolution’s means – if not its ends.
 
The relaxation of state censorship is the first and most important gift to any revolutionary cause. Historically, the sudden appearance of posters, pamphlets, newspapers and books authored by those whose voices had hitherto been suppressed has always been the surest sign that the old order was crumbling. In today’s repressive regimes it is the unfettered use of social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogs; which signals the arrival of the revolutionary moment. Think of the Arab Spring.
 
In its youth the Revolution hails freedom of expression as sacrosanct. The revolutionaries know that without it the power of the elites cannot be challenged. As the Revolution matures, however, and new power structures begin to replace the old, the criticism and analysis which freedom of expression makes possible seems less and less like an unqualified good. To the new occupants of these new structures, it is the protection and consolidation of the Revolution’s gains that should take priority. There is no surer sign that the Revolution is over than when the new power elite begins to punish people for exercising their right to free speech.
 
By this analysis it is clear that the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 70s have well-and-truly passed their expiry date. The great provocations of the Hippy era: think of the Broadway musical “Hair”; the proliferation of revolutionary underground comics; the human “Be-Ins” and “Love-Ins”; Ken Kesey’s “Acid tests”; would today be dismissed as either infantile or inappropriate.
 
Only last week, on the University of California’s Berkeley campus, birthplace of the “free speech movement” which touched off the student revolt of the 1960s, the world was treated to the spectacle of furious students doing everything in their power to prevent the Alt-Right provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, from exercising his right to (yep, you guessed it) free speech.
 
In discussing these sorts of incidents with contemporary leftists, I have been staggered by the consistency of their responses. “What you’ve got to understand, Chris,” they reply, “is that while people have the right to express themselves, they have no right to expect that the things they say will not have consequences.”
 
If free speech is met with "consequences" - is it any longer free?
 
Just what those consequences look like can be seen every hour of every day on social media. Relentless incivility; extraordinary personal abuse; the issuing of threats to attack (and even kill) those whose expression is deemed offensive to, or transgressive of, the great revolutionary “truths” of the once “new” social movements; this, sadly, has become the norm on what passes for the “Left” in 2017.
 
The liberal tradition of responding to the expression of ideas with which you disagree with a reasoned, evidence-based argument in rebuttal no longer seems to fall within either the ideological of intellectual repertoire of today’s left-wingers. The only form of argument they seem capable of deploying is the abusive and circumstantial “Argumentum ad Hominem” – attacking the person rather than his or her ideas.
 
In his celebrated treatise, “On Liberty”, the nineteenth century English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, states: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
 
In the ears of far too many contemporary leftists this oft-quoted passage will sound either incomprehensible or offensive. (Mill does, after all, use the sexist noun “mankind” rather than the more appropriate and gender-neutral term, “Humanity”.) To their way of thinking it is entirely right and proper that those who give voice to offensive or hateful opinions should be silenced. If these people would rather not endure the consequences of exercising their freedom of expression, then they should STFU.
 
“Those who defy the self-evident truths of the new order,” thunder its uncompromising defenders, “must endure the consequences – humiliation and pain!”
 
What tyrant king or totalitarian dictator could possibly disagree?
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 8 February 2017.

34 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Free speech – which is far less restricted in the US than almost anywhere else - is simply an agreement between the government and the people that they (the government) will not prosecute anyone for what they say. But even in the US, this is somewhat restricted. There is no obligation on a private organisation (although I do believe it does take some government money) to give anyone freedom of speech at all. Particularly I would think that arse Milo, about whom I might have something to say later. I would be more worried about the silencing of Elizabeth Warren than protests about this fop.

Jack Scrivano said...

A timely reminder, Chris. Thank you.

Mark Hubbard said...

On this we are 100% in agreement, Chris. What a great piece. I don't know how you square it with past posts, but on free speech I'm not going to be petty: you have perfectly stated what needs to be said, no matter what your politics. (And now I have to confuse all my followers by tweeting this link all day.)

pat said...

Be very careful what you wish for.....what protection will there be for the vulnerable,LBGQ,women et al in an anarchic or fascist state?....even many National supporters should be very concerned at the further fracturing of the Labour Party.
Yes the Greens and NZ first will become the new home of many but we already have a million disengaged citizens whose numbers will be swelled by such an event...and where is the coalition block in such a scenario?...the result of an unimpeded Right is known all too well......it won't " different this time"....human beings haven't changed.

jh said...

The time is overdue for a Treaty of Waitangi Commissioner to augment the role of the Race Relations and Human Rights Commissioners and specifically censure deliberate denigration of the treaty. How on earth can we expect the agreement to be honoured when the bigotry and ignorance of the Far Right is allowed to encroach on the standards of public broadcasting?
http://morganfoundation.org.nz/sharp-bigotry-seven/

Not that I'm defending Mike Hosking, but when people start throwing rocks it is time for Johnathon Haidts The Righteous Mind.

So, as you see, people care about harm and care issues. They give high endorsement of these sorts of statements all across the board, but as you also see, liberals care about it a little more than conservatives — the line slopes down. Same story for fairness. But look at the other three lines. For liberals, the scores are very low. Liberals are basically saying, "No, this is not morality. In-group, authority, purity — this stuff has nothing to do with morality. I reject it." But as people get more conservative, the values rise. We can say that liberals have a kind of a two-channel, or two-foundation morality. Conservatives have more of a five-foundation, or five-channel morality.
9:05
We find this in every country we look at. Here's the data for 1,100 Canadians. I'll just flip through a few other slides. The U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia. Notice also that on all of these graphs, the slope is steeper on in-group, authority, purity. Which shows that within any country, the disagreement isn't over harm and fairness. Everybody — I mean, we debate over what's fair — but everybody agrees that harm and fairness matter. Moral arguments within cultures are especially about issues of in-group, authority, purity.

https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind/transcript?language=en#t-534000

I think you can see a lot of disagreement between left and right in these terms

pat said...

looks like I've loaded my comment to the wrong article......although it is probably just as valid here.

Nick J said...

I watched Milo on Youtube....he was accused of being a "white supremacists" at one stage. Yes he was very provocative but the accuser failed to back up his accusation with any substance. Milo replied rather graphically that he must be the "most self loathing white supremacist" due to his sexual proclivities with black men.

That little passage was very instructive of the Left's intolerance of dissent. Milo actually asks pertinent questions which the "Left" (I dont see how these people are "Leftists") will not answer. For example, he stated that some Islamic countries are so intolerant of homosexuality that he would be put to death there, so why would he, or the audience welcome people from these countries? This is a reasonable question, backed by real evidence that demands a real answer. Milo got abuse.

We on the Left really need to grow up and answer questions raised by the hard facts that we are confronted with. If they cut over "sacred victimhood" of any group so be it.

Kiwiwit said...

Excellent post, but I suspect you hold back from the obvious conclusion - perhaps left-wing politics is inherently illiberal.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Relentless incivility; extraordinary personal abuse; the issuing of threats to attack (and even kill) those whose expression is deemed offensive to, or transgressive of, the great revolutionary “truths” of the once “new” social movements; this, sadly, has become the norm on what passes for the “Left” in 2017."

"perhaps left-wing politics is inherently illiberal."

Perhaps it would do both of you good to go to a conservative website, even some of those in New Zealand, and post something mildly critical of the received wisdom. You will then see relentless incivility, extra ordinary personal abuse, threats of all sorts and a general pile on – before you are banned from the site. I was once accused of enjoying being sodomised by my wife by one of these people. Unfortunately unlike Michelle Obama I responded in kind. And finally the whole conversation was deleted.:) But I have in fact been banned from that arse Slater's blog for a statement that began "Well the scientific evidence shows that...."
So whatever you like to tell yourself, this sort of thing is not the exclusive domain of the left. THAT is dividing up into tiny factions and accusing each other of lack of ideological purity. But let's leave that for another day perhaps.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Milo's sexual proclivities are well-known, but they don't preclude him from being racist. Or sexist or just about anything else for that matter. IMO he is either a self-loathing gay, or someone who has simply abandoned any principles he has to work for Breitbart – site which encourages racism, homophobia, and general nuttery. The man is as barmy as a boxful of badgers and as cunning as a shit house rat. Neither of which are mutually exclusive either. He may have changed his mind I guess, but he did at one stage say,

"I think that gay marriage is another one of those things that helps to reinforce to people that it is a perfectly acceptable, normal, possibly even desirable lifestyle choice and I don’t believe that. [emphasis added]"
So at the least he is a mass of contradictions

He has made a career out of being deliberately provocative, and has actively promoted violence – at least verbal – against people he dislikes. Perhaps if he didn't act like such a twat he might deserve proper answers to the somewhat simplistic questions he puts to people. All of which I could forgive, if he wasn't such a fop. (No not really)
And as I said, no private organisation owes him a pulpit. Which is why he was banned from Twitter, and under pressure of protests from Berkeley. And I suspect he enjoyed the notoriety which this brought, and the extra sales of his book.

Jack Scrivano said...

I am not sure if this is the right place to say this, but I am getting heartily sick of this whole left-right business. Yes, there was a time when Labour was sort of left and National was sort right. But I think that fizzled out a good ten or 15 years ago. Possibly even longer ago than that. Today, National leans quite strongly towards what we might once have considered socialist; while Labour has no real policies, just ‘shouts’ that it hopes might get it into power (with the help of whichever ratbags it thinks it may be able to enrol).

Could we please stop talking about left and right? And could Labour please start putting some policy on the table? If Labour doesn’t do this, I think that it may well go out of business. I for one don’t want to see a country in which the choices are National, Greens, or NZ First.

greywarbler said...

NickJ
I like that term 'sacred victimhood'. Perhaps that is why I have come to dislike PC-ness. Starting out as I understood it, as a way to control the knee jerk prejudiced remarks or descriptions that flow from habit, it has come to mean that speaking truth about the sacred victims can't be done without disapproving or hostile reactions.

Unknown said...

The BSA found Nigel Latta's The Hard Stuff - The New New Zealand balanced. In NZ complaints about balance rarely succeed (it seems).

When controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

BSA Decision:
We consider it was sufficient, in the context of a series that is presented as

being from Mr Latta‘s perspective and could be described as authorial, for
the episode to raise and acknowledge alternative viewpoints, even if these
were later refuted by those interviewed during the programme. While Mr
Hurley would have preferred for the views and evidence he has provided to
be included, we have found that, by referring to the existence of alternative
views, even without the details of those views, the programme was
sufficiently balanced for viewers to make up their own minds about the
validity of the arguments offered in favour of, and against, immigration.
....
The alternative viewpoints were talk-back radio callers and they were refuted by experts with pro-immigration views. The exception was Julie Fry who wrote Treasury Paper 14-10 but her part was limited to talking about skills (over qualified taxi drivers). TVNZ had no interest in balance.

" Finally, the issue of immigration in New Zealand is ongoing, with considerable public coverage that is readily available to audiences.3 However, the majority of news and media coverage appears to us to focus on the ‘negatives’ of immigration, echoing the same fears addressed by Mr Latta in this episode. in our view, the documentary served an important purpose by presenting lesser known perspectives, and there is a wealth of information accessible to viewers arguing for the opposite side of the debate, as evidenced by the complainant in his submissions."

We have a claim here that media coverage of immigration is balanced? If so why were the Savings Working Group findings (2011) largely ignored (one article in the herald plus Bernard Hickey's website?) How often do TVNZ or RNZ feature experts critical of migration? Both outlets have active programs promoting immigration (I would argue). Latta told Paul Henry what keeps him awake at night are the "racists who support Trump": apparently he is an old school (standard social science method) clinical psychologist who doesn't understand human nature. It must be his own inadequacy which keeps him awake at night.

Nick J said...

Grey that indeed is the gist of "sacred victimhood". It is not my term. Its from kunstler.com Saturday a week ago where he deconstructed the phenomena.

I would thank GS for soundly demonstrating my point that the Left would rather "play the man" than answer the awkward questions raised by the likes of Milo.

Brit Bunkley said...

What is your evidence of this assertion Chris? Certainly, there are some outliers, but from my experience, that of my friends and extensive investigation of social media, it is the far right (alt-right) who have been swarming comment sections with death threats, swearing insults and one liner responses to thoughtful discussion. "turn the other cheek"s as often a phrase by the center-left as "Don't bring a spoon to a knife fight."

Yes we had a riot in Berkley, over Trump fellow traveller Yiannopoulos, so extreme that he was banned on Twitter for or “inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” Meanwhile, we hear little of Berkeley Mayor Jesse ArreguĂ­n, who received multiple death threats by the alt right for being critical of Yiannopoulo But on balance, the respectable left have far more in common with Noam Chomsky who took a big hit over support of free speech with the The Faurisson Affair https://chomsky.info/1989____/

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"play the man" ?

If I thought for one minute that the questions were serious, and not simply expressed to provoke a reaction, then they might be worthy of answers. But he doesn't care about the answers, just the reactions. It how he makes his living. He is no different to Ann Coulter in this respect. He provokes not with the intention of making people think, but wanting people to react in a negative way so he can sell more books to his fanboys. I've seen him, if you try to answer his question seriously he just takes the piss or says more outrageous stuff. Well F him. It's bullshit. I don't think he deserves serious consideration, I don't intend to help him sell books. Not to mention that he plays the man (or woman) very well himself.

Jens Meder said...

Jack Scrivano might be right that - in view of the neoliberal right by moving towards the non-democratically exclusive elite-capitalism similar to the non-democratic exclusive (and democratically rejected) socialist monopoly capitalism of the extreme left -

talking about the left and right is becoming outdated irrelevance, as the progressive future towards more universal and less sectional interests based capitalism is for both the left and right -

in moving towards the more democratic and universally egalitarian capitalism of the center -

defined by each citizen (i.e.100% of citizens) being or in the process of being a life-long owner until retirement of capital of at least a minimally meaningful value of it.

Once this has been accepted in principle, the basic difference of interests between haves and have-nots is eliminated, and the concerns of former antagonists are focused in the same direction - the most fair and effective (socially and economically profitable) application of capitalism in a 100% democratic way.

Rocketeer said...

The left are the group think rabid attack dogs nowadays on you have an opinion they don't like you're a brave person I think. Their PC worldview is never to be questioned and where outright lies to drive their pet causes is all fair because we're so stupid that we need them to guide us through life.

Nick J said...

For those who did not see the Milo interview I refer to he asked, "As a gay man why would he support immigration from countries where gays are persecuted and killed legally AND why would feminists support immigration from the same countries where women are abused and are second class citizens ".

Fair questions I think regardless of who asks. Do we attack Milo or provide a reasonable response? Seems to me there are so many questions the Left refuse to answer, especially when you can denigrate the deliverer.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And free speech is never absolute. Never has been probably never will be. Even in the states where it's freer than most places. Ask Deborah Lipstadt. There are always restrictions, and slander and libel laws. As there should be. I suggest you take a trip to some of those places that allegedly allow absolute freedom of speech like 4Chan or 8Chan and try posting something mildly critical of Milo and see what sort of response you get. And try to judge how long you bother staying there when somewhere north of a thousand people have piled on with the most horrific abuse of you and your general ancestry. Just take a look, because although it is not particularly inventive it is vitriolic. And the amount of time some of the people that do this put into it leads me to believe of course, that they are the stereotypical American living in their mothers basement, not engaged in education training or work. Using up time that IMO would be better put towards their homework, instead of spouting adolescent bullshit. So absolute freedom of speech actually results in no freedom of speech – at least not for normal people. Just for those willing to put in the time and effort to abuse other people. It's not that simple. In fact nothing is ever that simple Nick, and it's time maybe you realised it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Food for thought for those who think that it's only the left that engages in anti-free speech behaviour.
http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/06/and-then-the-breitbart-lynch-mob-came-for-me-bannon-trolls-trump/

Nick J said...

Things are not simple of course. Proving our ideas is even harder unless we meet uncomfortable challenges and questions, especially from those who we find repellant. But unless we take on the questions and give superior logic and answers we cede the field.

At that stage we can offer abuse to people we picture as living in their mothers basement. Of that we have no proof, but hell they must not challenge our assumptions about them. Regardless we can claim sanctity of correctness. No wonder we never persuade anyone to vote our way.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Nick. Good points. There was however another post which went some way to addressing this, which seems to have unfortunately been modded. I will say this, that the science suggests that superior logic and answers don't work with true believers, and certainly won't work with Milo who is barking mad in a cunning sort of way. I won't say much more, because I'm not quite sure why I was modded.

Nick J said...

Agree GS. Its the undecided and swinging voters who the Left need to court persuade and capture.

Rocketeer said...

Countries where both gays and woman are being oppressed and to the point of murder, you can probably start somewhere in Jordon and head east until you hit Pakistan, with a rectangle about 2,000 Km’s wide this covers us off. But the left are far too busy ranting at the rest of us about, Israel, Muslim rights, cultural rights like defending female circumcision and child marriage etc. We have the usual suspects our moronic, toffee nosed, spoilt white females all ranting about Donald Trump maybe I could respect these idiots if they stood in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy doing their stuff. The religion of the left was global warming, but now it’s been re-branded as “Climate Change” try having a lucid discussion on that topic with them LOL. Let’s see the global average temperatures have reduced over the last twenty years, sea level rises (average) have barely moved, the CO2 levels in the atmosphere hardly changed oh dear me. Peer review on any climate topic is closed down in a nanosecond, Universities cannot hire anyone who questions the whole climate religion premise and they have suggested climate deniers be imprisoned, these are not nice people!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Rocketeer: Funny, a quick Google search shows that there are any number of organisations that support women's rights and gay rights in Muslim countries, very few of which seem to be conservative. There are also many groups opposing FGM, although I was unable to find any reference to their politics. It is of course possible that there aren't too many of them in New Zealand, because neither of these things is a problem here particularly.
And if you're going to make comments about science, you should maybe give us a link to some evidence. Us left-wing people do so love our evidence.

Bushbaptist said...

@ Rocketeer: "The religion of the left was global warming." A religion is a belief or faith that is not based on provable evidence.

Here are some Scientific sites regarding Climate Change:

http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/science-and-impacts/global-warming-science

http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

http://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/9/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/17/shattered-records-climate-change-emergency-today-scientists-warn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1fwNnJUYgU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAqR9mLJrcE


A belief in the science is not a religion but is based on information from observations by people who are recognised as eminently qualified in that field. It ha nothing to do with Left/Right politics.

Charles E said...

This is one of the most important topics ever Chris has raised and we have bugger all relevant comments, and as per damn usual 30% are from GS, off topic or just the same old...
Freedom of speech damn it is what the world needs to cling to, especially on the left where your screaming self-centred single issue fanatics have wrecked your electability with a slow strangling of this vital freedom. And now we have Putin and Trump on the right getting support from those who have had enough of the left's bullshit but similarly want to suppress this freedom or just flood it with their alternative 'facts'.
Chris you are brave to take on the screaming likes of the feminazis who want to ban the likes of Jackson for being a basic loud mouthed bloke like about half of us. Being himself, so that’s a crime? Hell have no fury ..... as we fully know… but you stand up in Labour for the right of anyone to speak their mind. Anyone and everyone. Well done and keep it up. If you stood for Labour I might vote for it for the first time.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It is an important topic Charles and if my comments are irrelevant it would be really nice if you pointed out where. But as usual airy fairy statements. And talking about hell hath no fury............. you don't much like being contradicted either.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Just another quick remark Charles. After years of your holding the left responsible for every tinpot dictator around the world, from Stalin downwards – I'm holding you personally responsible for Trump. You own him – suck it up.
Now I haven't had much to do with people who use the word feminazis, except funnily enough a few years ago when I was doing some undergraduate research into so-called "men's rights" groups. I'm not sure you'd want to be associated with them Chas, as they were – how shall I put it – hardly confident in their masculinity. In fact many of them had done the mail-order Asian bride thing on the grounds that "they were more traditional." I.e. submissive. Some of them are in for a bit of a shock as they hadn't actually researched the cultures they were getting the brides from, and they won't as "traditional" as they thought. What is it about a certain type of man who can't handle a strong woman who says things they don't like?
And I'm still waiting to hear exactly what I said that was particularly irrelevant.
Perhaps you should give us your ideas on exactly what freedom of speech is, and what the limits should be – aside from "I want to say whatever I want and the hell with everyone else." Which seems to be your man Trump's take on the matter, as he is now trying to gag scientists. Supported by every Republican in Congress don't forget. It's not just him. :)

Unknown said...

GS
Humans are a dimorphic species.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Humans are a dimorphic species."

Men's rights advocate are we? Meaningless in a modern society.

Charles E said...

You are obsessed with Trump GS. He really is much more like you mate.
I'm a conservative. He is not. I believe in liberty, lots of it. He does not.
I pleaded with all my mates in the US to vote Hillary, yet I bet you secretly wanted Trump to win so you could have something to attack.
Rather than me or mine being responsible for Trump it is the failure of the Obama/Clinton machine that allowed him through the door. Their failure to get their vote out. The failure of the left. That is you.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Thank you for your psychiatric evaluation Charles. Completely wrong but never mind. And if you think I regard Hillary and as left-wing, you are mistaken. She is pretty much a Blairite, just like her husband, and to some extent Obama. Even so, under the American system I would have voted for Hillary. Your man Trump is far too dangerous.