Saturday 20 August 2022

Shoving Democracy Around.

I Move That The Speaker Be No Longer Heard: A great many things have to go wrong in a society before naked extremism assembles sufficient support to win public office. People have to feel that they’re not being listened to: that their wishes are being over-ridden. Treat citizens this way and they’re likely to shove your “elite” (per)version of democracy somewhere uncomfortable. 

A WHITE SUPREMACIST, jailed for distributing the banned video record of the Christchurch Mosque shootings, is standing for public office. The office in question: Trustee of Te Aratai College; is hardly the most exalted in the land, but the apprehension of parents with children at the school is easily imagined.

Had Te Aratai received only enough nominations to fill the number of vacancies on the Board of Trustees, the school would undoubtedly have faced some challenges. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. An election will be held, in the course of which the parents of Te Aratai’s students will, presumably, vote for candidates holding less objectionable views than the avowed White Supremacist.

That’s the way democracy works: those subscribing to deeply unpopular beliefs find it extremely difficult to attract a winning number of votes.

A storm in a tea-cup, then? It would be nice to think so, but this story raises some very thorny issues – not all of them easy to resolve.

Let’s return to our hypothetical situation in which the number of nominations exactly equals the number of vacancies. In this case our White Supremacist would have been declared elected, and the parents of Te Aratai College would be stuck with their controversial new Trustee for the next three years. Not a situation to be relished by anyone – except, perhaps, other White Supremacists.

Christchurch City councillor for Heathcote, Sarah Templeton, who has children at Te Aratai, didn’t even want to accept the White Supremacist’s nomination.

“The school has worked really hard to check whether he’s eligible and it is a grey area, and that needs to change” Templeton told RNZ. “Any member of staff or even parent helpers ... all need to have police vetting, and that’s not the same for board of trustees’ members, even though in high schools’ cases, boards of trustees have student reps on them.”

Except, with all due respect to Councillor Templeton, there’s nothing even remotely grey about this area of our democracy. White Supremacy, no matter how distasteful, is not a crime. Those who subscribe to such beliefs remain citizens and, as such, have every right to submit themselves to the judgement of their neighbours.

To have a candidate ruled ineligible for public office on account of his/her beliefs would inflict far greater harm upon our democratic system than the beliefs themselves. Because where would those doing the “vetting” draw the line? How long would it be before the list included not just Nazis and White Supremacists, but all manner of unpopular belief systems deemed “deplorable” by the Powers-That-Be?

All very fine and principled, but we are still left with our hypothetical Board of Trustees and its White Supremacist member. What are they supposed to do? Just let him do his worst?

Of course not! All they need to do is bone-up on a little book called Robert’s Rules of Order. Old-fashioned and high-minded though it may be (it was written by Henry Robert, a US Army officer, in 1876) the book contains within its pages all the many and varied ways to “assist an assembly to accomplish the work for which it was designed”.

Those versed in Robert’s Rules will have little difficulty in protecting their institution from those who would disturb, disrupt, distract, or in some other way prevent its governing body from operating responsibly.

With our White Supremacist waxing eloquent in support of his loathsome beliefs, a fellow Trustee could simply move “That the speaker be no longer heard.” If the motion was carried and the White Supremacist persisted, the Chair could order the Trustee to leave the meeting. If he refused, the Chair could simply adjourn the meeting – pending the Trustee’s forcible removal.

Democracy is not without its own tried and tested means of self-defence.

And if more White Supremacists start getting elected? What then?

Well, then it is time to take stock of where your country is heading – and why.

A great many things have to go wrong in a society before such naked extremism assembles sufficient support to win public office. People have to feel that they’re not being listened to: that their wishes are being over-ridden. Treat citizens this way and they’re likely to shove your “elite” (per)version of democracy somewhere uncomfortable.

In the words of the “American Rasputin”, Steve Bannon:

“We’re gonna give you a democracy suppository!”

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 August 2022.


John Hurley said...

White Supremacy
Massey lecture

Chris Morris said...

Congratulations Chis, I take great heart from you taking a stand on principles, even though you disagree with the person's personal qualities. Free speech is an absolute, not just allowing a voice to people you agree with. If those in power had the ethics you display, we would be in a lot better place.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well Chris Morris, if free speech is an absolute why are there laws against libel/slander?

Chris Morris said...

It is absolute in the terms of allowing everyone to have a voice, not pre-emptive banning. You know there is a difference between free speech and libel/ slander (though as they are civil actions, and there are laws against them, but are they criminal?). Only a stupid pedant would argue one means the other.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Only the ignorant would not explain exactly what they mean by free speech Chris. Libel and slander are not the only restrictions on speech there are others – and pretty much every country has them. I would argue that free-speech absolutists have absolutely no idea what they are talking about and could possibly do with a bit of pedantry.

Chris Morris said...

There are plenty of good precise definitions of free speech around. I don't see the need to link to them. The current rules see fit for purpose. No-one has clearly shown what is wrong with them. No-one has precisely defined hate speech (talking in generalisations or just not defining it past the expression like the PM did doesn't cut it in a court), which shows how wooly it all is. I might not know every subtle nuance of the law but in a binary world, I much prefer to allow the even totally obnoxious voices rather than be a proto-fascist who wants restrictions to some undefined and definitely non-agreed standard. It looks very much like you are the latter GS?
What do you think society will gain by limiting the freedom? They won't stop people thinking those thoughts - they will just go underground. Their message will be spread even more because it was suppressed. Look at what happened to banned speech in the USSR. And if you ban certain groups or people, then you give a very good pretext for your opponents to ban your voice when they get into power.

Chris Morris said...

I note Rachel Stewart sees the danger in banning free speech.

Phil Arps deliverer of pork said...

'I Move That The Speaker Be No Longer Heard' excellent advice Chris of the horses mouth Trotter.
I'll be using that one.
Thanks-Phil Arps

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The problem is Chris Morris that with today's society, as someone said once – "a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has got its trousers on."
The marketplace of ideas is a myth. The people that want free speech on the right only want it for a very short time until they can ban it altogether. This is the paradox of tolerance. Liberal/left voices are drowned out by the fuckwits. The battle has essentially already been lost.