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Free Speech Again

Entry 1924, on 2018-07-20 at 20:41:11 (Rating 4, Politics)

Free speech isn't free if only speech which is acceptable to some self-appointed referees of social norms is allowed. And criticism of any speech which hasn't even been heard yet seems more than a bit unfair.

If speech is going to be criticised, that criticism shouldn't be based on subjective and poorly defined concepts such as it being "hate speech" or being "racist", "sexist", or "Islamophobic". All of these have definitions which are unclear to begin with, and even when more precise formulations of their definitions are used, they rarely fit in with the actual content of what is being criticised when it is examined fairly.

So given all of these issues I think there should be a very high bar to reach before speech can be shut down. And if the speech comes from a person or group which the censor would normally disagree with, then they should be even more careful about condemning it. Because when they want to suppress an idea for subjective, emotional reasons it becomes just too easy for them to convince themselves that they are really doing it for good, sound, objective reasons.

If the opening to this post sounds familiar it might be because you have also read my earlier post from 2018-07-12 titled "No Free Speech" concerning the attempted blocking of Canadian political activists, Lauren Southern and Stephan Molyneux. The reason I felt the need to continue the discussion on this is that the whole thing just hasn't gone away.

In fact, it has actually become quite interesting. First, the group "Free Speech Coalition" has proceeded with legal action against the Auckland mayor for blocking the use of a council facility to host the speakers. Second, numerous commentators have spoken out against the visiting speakers, even though superficially at least, public opinion seems to support their right to speak. And third, the speakers have been granted entry into New Zealand, so the event can proceed if a new venue can be found.

I recently read one opinion in a mainstream news site which epitomises the problem. The commentator, Glenn McConnell's, points included the following: "the best way to defend free speech is by saying something worth listening to" and "Instead of wasting their time protecting racist speakers, the likes of Don Brash and Chris Trotter could have been doing something useful. Ironically, they could have been proving to us the importance of free speech" and "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all."

It's extremely interesting how this commentator claims that in order to gain the right to speak you must first have something worthwhile to say, then goes on to make the most ridiculous, convoluted, inane arguments which themselves shouldn't be allowed under the rules he is advocating.

But that is really the problem with the PC left: they are so confident of their own alleged morally superior positions that they cannot see that they are at least as bigoted, uninformed, and unreasonable as the people they criticise. Unfortunately, in the current climate of extreme political correctness, their opinions are just given a free pass, while far more reasonable contrary opinions are suppressed.

So let's look at his three main points individually...

First, "the best way to defend free speech is by saying something worth listening to." This is blatantly absurd. So who gets to decide what is worth listening to? No doubt, his allies who value political correctness above truth. And how can we shut down a discussion based on its content if we haven't even heard what that is yet? It's like some sort of dystopian regime where you are found guilty of a crime you might commit in the future. True oppression doesn't just come from the right, apparently.

Second, "Instead of wasting their time protecting racist speakers, the likes of Don Brash and Chris Trotter could have been doing something useful. Ironically, they could have been proving to us the importance of free speech." It's not clear exactly what he is suggesting here. But it is interesting that the two people mentioned on on opposite poles of the political spectrums, showing that this isn't a pure left verus right issue. It is specifically political correctness which is the cause of the problem here, which is massively concentrated on the left, but there are still some leftists (like Chris Trotter and myself) who have a shred of rationality left. Also, note the use of the term "racist" which is just like an argument in itself, even when unjustified. Maybe the whole article should have just consisted of that single word, because that seems to be sufficient for the unthinking supporters of this sort of view.

Finally "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all." Really? Well surely when we see something we disagree with we should criticise it strongly. After all, that is what McConnell himself is doing. Surely this represents a new height of hypocrisy, even for a person like him.

So, yet again, the politically correct arbiters of moral certitude have massively failed by doing exactly what they accuse the other side of. No doubt Southern and Molyneux have some degree of unpleasant and irrational content in their material, but it is becoming increasingly clear that fascist tendencies are not confined purely to those on the right!

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Comment 1 (4927) by JSM on 2018-07-23 at 14:26:56:

The opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

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Comment 2 (4928) by OJB on 2018-07-23 at 14:46:28:

Oh wow. Im honoured. John Stuart Mill follows by blog! :)

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Comment 3 (4929) by OJB on 2018-07-23 at 15:04:33:

But yes, good ol' JSM was right, at least partly. I totally agree that the people denying others the right to speak should not have the authority to do that, especially when they are ignorant of the people they are suppressing and have a clear philosophical bias. It is also very arrogant to assume that because they think another person of group is wrong that it follows that they really are.

There is one other point though, not covered in the quote. That is, another possibility exists: that the oppressors know the others have some good points which they don't want to be spread because it will weaken their own position.

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