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No Free Speech

Entry 1922, on 2018-07-12 at 20:17:10 (Rating 4, Politics)

Free speech has become an increasingly difficult subject to navigate in this age of instant communications on the internet. Everyone thinks it's important, but everyone also thinks there should be some limits. The problem is, where should the limits be? Where those limits should be tends to depend on the political or philosophical opinions of the person.

And, as is almost always the case, the people who see this issue as simple and think they know exactly where the limits should be are usually the ones who are the most biased, and who have thought about the deeper issues the least. So the most confident people tend to make the most noise and tend to the the least well informed. That is not always the case, but it is often true.

If you have been following the news in New Zealand recently you wil be aware of where this is leading. Of course I am about to take on the vexed issue of the right of the two Canadian political activists, Lauren Southern and Stephan Molyneux, to speak at a venue owned by the Auckland City Council. And, because some left-wing pressure groups also threatened disruption of these speakers, I am referring to the right of these two to speak at all.

So who are these two? Well, they are described in various ways, but far-right or alt-right tend to be the two most common descriptions. I am moderately well aware of activists on both the left and right and I was basically unaware of them until today, so it might be that blocking them from speaking has given them a much higher profile than if they had been simply left alone. If they had just been allowed to speak I would probably have never even known they were here.

So maybe this is yet another example of the Streisand Effect, or something close to it, where any attempt at disguising a fact or event just makes it more prominent.

Of course, before writing this blog post I did some research on these people. I read their Wikipedia pages, I researched opinions about them from the left and right, and I watched a few of their speeches on YouTube.

I have to say that neither of them are the type of people I would prefer to listen to. I found their opinions a bit superficial and often simply inaccurate or untrue. But they also made some interesting points, and I didn't find too much which was genuinely dangerous or offensive. Of course, that evaluation is very much subjective, and there is almost no opinion that I would find either dangerous or offensive. On the other hand, some people find almost anything to be problematic.

And it's not that I just don't like right-wing commentators, because there are some I find quite compelling. Ben Shaprio, for example, I find very interesting, although I certainly don't agree with everything he says.

So this issue can be reduced to two questions: are these opinions so bad that we shouldn't listen to them; and whether they are bad or not, should they be suppressed? I would answer "no" to both of those questions.

I found Molyneux's ideas bizarre and I probably wouldn't bother listening to him again, and I found Southern's a bit superficial, although still containing a lot of good points. So I don't think their opinions are so bad that they should be officially stopped from speaking.

And, even if I had found them more problematic - as many people do - I still think they should be allowed to speak, because free speech should be encouraged, even when it is in disagreement with the official line of the existing powers.

One of the complaints that people have against the right is that they represent a form of fascism. Ironically, one of the characteristics of that political doctrine is that it suppresses dissenting views. Yet in this case it is the left who are doing the suppression, so who are the real fascists?

In all the discussion on this in the mainstream media, I never saw a mention of any specific opinion, comment, or action which deserved to be repressed. Sure, there were some general references to "racism" and "Islamophobia", but that was as far as it went. And to be perfectly honest, today when I hear those words used I just automatically assume the person using them doesn't know what they are talking about, and I am rarely wrong.

In the movies I watched - which I admit were only a small fraction of the total material these people have produced - I never heard a single serious racist or Islamophobic comment. Again, I have to say that some people are offended extremely easily and have a very low threshold for invoking these criticisms, so I guess this is partly subjective.

But there is one opinion, attributed to Molyneux, which might be seen as racist. I never saw this in the material I watched, but it is well documented as an opinion he holds. That is that black people on average have lower intelligence than white. There are a lot of subtleties involved in this question, such as: do races really exist, what is intelligence, what type of intelligence are we talking about, how is it measured, what do the measures which have been done really show, are any differences due to genetic of social factors, is there any point in discussing this anyway, and does discussing this reveal more about the person doing the discussing than anything else?

But whatever a person's opinions are about the subject, it is extremely simplistic just labelling someone a racist because they mentioned it. The correct response is to point out how hard it is to draw any conclusions on this subject given all the potential confounding factors I mentioned above. Just refusing to discuss it might give many people the impression (which is maybe a very valid one) that there are no good rebuttals to the claim, and that is is being deliberately avoided.

The mayor of Auckland, who made the decision to ban the meeting on his own (although he claims it was based on council policies) said the city was inclusive, and he wanted to encourage that. But, apparently inclusivity only applies those groups which the mayor approves of - a sort of exclusive inclusivity. It is surely the height of hypocrisy to reject a group you disagree with because it rejects groups it disagrees with.

A group called the Free Speech Coalition raised $50,000 in just 24 hours to fight the decision to ban the alt-right speakers. It includes an interesting collection of members, including a libertarian and an old socialist. Apparently even the left feel embarrassed by this political interference by one of their own.

Another group, a left-wing pressure group called "Auckland Peace Action" has asked the immigration minister to deny the pair entry to New Zealand. A spokesperson said the speakers were coming to New Zealand to "empower local racists and to encourage racist violence" and to "recruit people to their fascist ideology." and "If they come here, we will confront them on the streets. If they come, we will blockade entry to their speaking venue." Again, a fascist attitude from a group supposedly opposing fascism.

So no one comes out of this looking too good. The two Canadian speakers have a few good points but overall lack balance and have limited credibility. But their opposition possibly look even worse. They make no effort to confront any of the real issues and simply reject something they know little about with generic insults like "racist" and "fascist". What a messed up time we live in. If both sides of the political spectrum would forget about their built-in biases and just look at the issues in a fair way then maybe we would make some real progress, and have a lot less conflict.

But it's hard to get a fair hearing of all the facts when one side isn't even allowed to speak.

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