Freedom to speak versus safe to speak

‘Free speech’ is an ideal in a free and open, democratic society. But it can be a tricky thing. Some see free speech as a freedom to attack and abuse. Others want it to be a protection to speak without being attacked or abused. Both of these concepts can be abused.

Simon Wilson (NZH): The free speech debate with Don Brash (regurgitated from August).

“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.

When our new friend, the Canadian narcissist Lauren Southern, says “free speech”, she means parrhesia: a licence to say what you want. She is opposed to isegoria, because she is opposed to citizens, in general, having the rights you and I want for ourselves. That she wants for herself.

But for those who would like a break from the abuse, the threats, and oppression that come with unbridled parrhesia, there is isegoria. Ensuring everyone feels safe to speak.

There’s value in this. People who were previously silenced can be heard. Society becomes inclusive, not exclusive. We grow as a civilisation, not through constant reinforcing of the values of an elite – those who dominate the discourse already – but with an interchange of ideas and values among everyone.

In general it’s better of forums for speech are free of abuse and shouting others down and out. The more civil the debate, the more inclusive it will be for a wide range of views.

But claiming a need for ‘safety’ in order to speak can be misused and abused – it can be used (and is used) to try to shut down different opinions and criticisms that can be essential parts of speech.

Free speech does not and should not enforce  sanitised discussions where no feelings are at risk of being hurt.

In this country, let’s agree: when we’re talking free speech, we’re not talking vile, like Alex Jones at InfoWars saying parents of Sandy Hook massacre victims are fake. We’re not talking dangerous, like incitements to violence or shouting fire in a cinema. And we’re not talking defamatory. We proscribe all those without fearing an end to free speech.

But, while we’re on definitions, why are the brave heroes of the free-speech campaign here so selective? Did you know some of them want RNZ to stop using te reo?

Te reo at RNZ is another tricky thing. General use of te reo can be a good thing – but by being inclusive of those who want more use of Maori language, it can exclude those who don’t understand te reo.

I don’t particularly care about use of te reo on RNZ, but I find it distracting. I listen to RNZ to hear about news and current affairs, and I don’t want to hear some long winded spiel about a reporter after they have reported, whether I can understand the spiel or not.

I wonder if te reo is a requirement for RNZ reporters, or optional. Some are more long winded than others.

What about the free-speech rights of Nicky Hager, when the police illegally went after him for the publication of his book Dirty Politics? Where was the Free Speech Coalition then?

The Free Speech Coalition hadn’t been formed then, but the actions of the police were widely criticised and condemned.

What about the freedom to speak in private without communications being secretly recorded or hacked?

The inequality between Pākehā and Māori is, to my mind, the biggest issue facing this country. Not political correctness. That’s a distraction, the bacon you throw to Homer Simpson.

The reason we’re even debating this largely fictitious issue is because of how upset some people get when the public discourse is organised to promote isegoria. The equal right of citizens to participate.

With isegoria, ideas bubble up about inequality and fairness and perhaps a bit of reorganising of the prevailing power relations. Women want equal pay. Māori want not to be structured into educational failure. Workers want a living wage. Poor people, even those who are not poor, want a decent roof over their heads and they especially want that for their kids.

And we develop new ideas, too, about how to speak to each other so everyone can be heard.

Those who say society was better the way it used to be fear those changes are happening at their expense. Which might be true, but it doesn’t have to be.

Arguing that we’re losing the right of free speech turns attention away from real deprivation. And that enables you to insist those other hardships aren’t so important or are just misunderstood, or possibly don’t exist at all.

Ah, this is a dumb argument. I think as a society we are capable of debating different issues at the same time. Saying ‘don’t talk about other things because I want everyone focussed on what I see as most important’.

It’s form of trying to shut down discussions.

What is it they’re so scared of? It’s this. So-called “PC culture”, a culture that invites wide participation, says we should not assume the way we define and regulate society is governed by neutrality. The rules of middle-class white men may not serve the interests of everyone equally.

I’m not aware of any ‘rules of middle-class white men’. I’m aware of attempts to trump up generalised criticisms to diminish the speech of certain demographics, like ‘middle-class white men’.

Being “blind” to difference doesn’t eliminate its negative impacts, it reinforces them.

So, when it comes to defining free speech, and who gets to use it for what, we agree we have to draw some lines – around incitements to violence, for example. But the critical word is “we”.

Who’s we? Who gets to decide who can speak, and say what? Many of the objections to “political correctness”, at heart, boil down to a fear that it will be a very inclusive “we”.

What else are they scared of? A culture of inclusiveness says being “different” through accident of birth or upbringing should not open you to discrimination. It says choosing to be different should not do that either.

It’s a culture that asks for a little humility. It suggests: if you hold all the privileges, try not to lecture other people on what’s good for them.

This is targeted crap. Who holds ‘all the privileges”? No one.

Trying to shout/shut down anything perceived as ‘PC’ is a problem for free speech – but trying to shout /shut down anything perceived or alleged as ‘privileged’ is as big a problem for free speech.

This is not about the martyrdom of Don Brash. No one exercises their freedom to speak more than Don Brash. Martyrdom is a narcissist’s fantasy.

And free speech, in social democracies, isn’t on the endangered list. The world is awash with free speech. We’ve never had so much talk.

And we’ve probably never had so much talk designed to cause offence – or claims of being offended, whether justified or not.

The truth is, in the age of social media and the internet, you can’t limit it. That’s not entirely a good thing, but it’s the truth.

That doesn’t stop attempts to limit it.

My team strongly supports the motion that PC culture has gone too far to the point of limiting freedom of speech.

Indeed, this is so obviously true that I almost feel sorry for our opponents trying to argue the negative of this motion.

Let me immediately make it clear that we are not arguing that there should be absolutely no limits on free speech.

It has been long recognised that it cannot be acceptable to shout “Fire” in a crowded theatre.

It cannot be acceptable to incite violence against person or property.

Our Bill of Rights Act appears to provide a strong guarantee of freedom of speech, not unlike the protection afforded by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

But the Human Rights Act passed in 1993 contradicts that guarantee, by making it an offence to “publish or distribute … matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting”, and it appears to be that legislation which those who want to shut down free speech implicitly use.

So a large number of people have now become aware of just how far the PC culture which permeates much of our society has gone to shut down discussion on issues regarded as in some way “beyond the pale”.

These issues relate to religion, to sexual orientation, to family structure, to the rights of different racial groups, to climate change — you name it. There are some issues which are regarded as just too sensitive to discuss.

Recently, the Human Rights Commission sought to ban disharmonious comments that are “targeted at the religion and beliefs of ethnic minority communities” in New Zealand — which being interpreted means you are free to insult Christians and Christianity but not Muslims and Islam.

And that surely is political correctness gone mad. I want to be free to say, and to say loudly, that people who believe that gays should be executed, and that people who want to abandon the religion of their childhood should similarly face a death sentence, have no place in New Zealand.

At the moment, the politically correct amongst us would stop me from saying that.

Salman Rushdie once said: “There is no such thing as a right not to be offended.” And he was right.

That is an important point.

Truths can be uncomfortable for some people. Different opinions can be difficult to accept. But free speech principles mean that they should not be restricted.

 

Leave a comment

32 Comments

  1. Gerrit

     /  December 28, 2018

    Simon Wilson goes full circle

    “When our new friend, the Canadian narcissist Lauren Southern, says “free speech”, she means parrhesia: a licence to say what you want. She is opposed to isegoria, because she is opposed to citizens, in general, having the rights you and I want for ourselves. That she wants for herself.”

    to

    ” I want to be free to say, and to say loudly, that people who believe that gays should be executed, and that people who want to abandon the religion of their childhood should similarly face a death sentence, have no place in New Zealand.”

    He does not want Southern (labelled as a narcissist no less, how PC) to say what she thinks, but Wilson himself wants the right to say what he wants.

    Double speak?

    Reply
    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  December 28, 2018

      Nicely put Gerrit… nicely put. Wilson is the arch Leftie line pusher and apologist running around pretending to be a journalist and his hypocrisy is nicely highlighted by contrasting those two quotes…

      Reply
  2. Corky

     /  December 28, 2018

    Double speak? Yes. Muddled thinking more so.

    Poor old Don…regurgitated again for a mandatory ‘kicking.’

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  December 28, 2018

      Garn. He loves it.

      Reply
      • PartisanZ

         /  December 28, 2018

        Garn … He puts himself up for it … Asks for it (if you will) …

        He perceives and plays upon the power of victimology … the very thing he accuses the people and races he hates of doing …

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  December 28, 2018

          Yep. I reckon. That’s one of the reasons he loves it. I reckon the other is that without this drum to bang he’d have faded into obscurity long ago, just once a banker, and then the dumped, failed leader of the Nats.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  December 28, 2018

            ‘Just a banker’ ? Hardly. try Governor of the Reserve Bank and someone who has been invited and flown to other countries to give advice; Washington among them.That doesn’t happen to someone who’s just a banker.

            He doesn’t need all this, he knows who he is. He is not an attention seeker, as anyone who knows him will be able to tell you.

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  December 28, 2018

              Not an attention seeker ?
              Plenty of former Governors of Reserve Bank, bet no one can name any except Brash.
              hes an ideologue, a philander and an out of touch old git

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  December 28, 2018

              Rubbish. My husband knew him for years, and I still know him, and he’s not like that at all. It’s amazing how some people can’t stand success in others and have to try to put them down.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  December 28, 2018

              The fact that you can’t name any doesn’t mean that nobody else can. I didn’t know who Trent Boult was, but I am not such a fool as to think that nobody else does.

            • Duker

               /  December 28, 2018

              https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10401658

              How many women in this story?
              There seems to be a 75 yr old merry widow from Welcome Bay who is the latest flame

        • Corky

           /  December 28, 2018

          ”Garn … He puts himself up for it … Asks for it (if you will) …”

          Who else, apart from Alan Duff, put themselves ‘up for it.?’ Someone has to point out the elephant(s) in the room.

          ”He perceives and plays upon the power of victimology.”

          More likely he perceives and points out illegal legislative processes; sanctioned undemocratic processes and general leftwing bs.

          ”The very thing he accuses the people and races he hates of doing …”

          That’s an extrapolation too far, especially for a chap who shacked up with a Chinese shelia.

          Perhaps using your ‘terms of reference,’ you and Don are blood brothers, Parti?

          Reply
  3. kluelis

     /  December 28, 2018

    By 9 years of age I was well aware of different perspectives. Ten years later In 1975 I came across the term “frame of reference” which helped me a lot to crystalise what I already new. To see and understand others perspectives regardless of your own preference is a great thing.So I guess I was PC since I was 9 more than 50 years . Did it help me. Probably not because I spent most of my life being frustrated that being PC was not yet the norm and being surrounded by people who hung on to hard bitten beliefs despite so much evidence to the contrary and who would go to any length to prove 3+ 3 =17. But we have come a long way since the 60’s and the wide left and alt right are becoming more ancient absurd archetypes of a past era. I believe PC has already become very deeply ingrained into all aspects of society and is lived by every one even those who say they oppose PC. I am reminded of the 1980’s when mobile phones, PC’s and eftpos cards came out. People said that stuffs for yuppies. Won’t catch me using that Sh#t. Now the same people can’t do with out said sh#t 🙂 In time folks will all say oh I was always PC right from day one. Mark my words.

    Reply
  4. kluelis

     /  December 28, 2018

    By the time I was 9 years I was already aware of different perspectives. By 19 years I came across the term “frame of reference” crystallizing thoughts I knew before. Did it help? Not really because for the next 30 years I was surrounded by people who despite vast evidence to the contrary would go to any lengths to prove 3+3 = 17. I remember in the ’80’s when PC’s, bank cards and mobile phones came out many people swore they would never embrace that sh#t. Now they could not live without said sh#t 🙂 In time most folks will “claim” they were PC from day on. Yeah right.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  December 28, 2018

      Those things aren’t PC, though. I mean bank cards ,apart from Amex and Diners’ Club (?) which have been around for ages. I didn’t have a brick mobile phone because I didn’t want or need one then, and computers were so limited that I wasn’t missing much. They were also expensive !!! I did have a credit card and eftpos quite early on.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 28, 2018

        Amex cards came out in the 50s. I remember my aunt having one in the late 70s when she came to NZ.

        We had a computer when The Warehouse, bless their hearts, broke the $1000 price.

        Reply
  5. Pink David

     /  December 28, 2018

    “It has been long recognised that it cannot be acceptable to shout “Fire” in a crowded theatre.”

    I can’t say I’ve never believed this is ‘recognised’. What if there is a fire?

    Reply
    • Pink David

       /  December 28, 2018

      “And that surely is political correctness gone mad. I want to be free to say, and to say loudly, that people who believe that gays should be executed, and that people who want to abandon the religion of their childhood should similarly face a death sentence, have no place in New Zealand.”

      Only a few lines later, here he is; yelling Fire! in a crowded theater.

      Reply
    • kluelis

       /  December 28, 2018

      No problem at all Pink. Because as PC raised and trained citizens we would all have been taught as youngsters to file out quietly in an orderly fashion taking care to take our pop corn with us 🙂 If there was a fire it would be quickly doused by PC compliant water sprinklers. PC has the answers 🙂

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 28, 2018

        That saying can be analysed too much; it obviously simply means not deliberately causing a panic, and we see even now what happens when people panic and try to get out.

        Reply
  6. Pink David

     /  December 28, 2018

    “That doesn’t stop attempts to limit it.”

    The UK Police are arresting 9 people a day for being ‘trolls’; Free speech is heading to the ropes…

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/police-arresting-nine-people-a-day-in-fight-against-web-trolls-b8nkpgp2d

    Note too very few of these arrests result in any conviction, nor is it clear if any actual crimes are being committed.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  December 28, 2018

      There are some forms of trolling that are totally unacceptable by any standards; threats of violence being one. If something’s illegal, like threats of rape or violence in actual speech, it is probably illegal online. What about lying accusations ? Saying that someone is a paedophile is a very serious accusation. People who troll hide behind pseudonyms. There comes a time when the troll’s lies go beyond annoying to being extremely harmful.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 28, 2018

        Having been lied about and abused on YNZ, I have sympathy for those who are trolled. This troll was banned for a while, but PG relented and let them back in.

        Reply
    • kluelis

       /  December 28, 2018

      @David and Catkin. Only 9 arrests a day in a country with 3 million bloggers? Wow the UK bloggers must be angels or the tolerance level to offensive blogging is incredibly high or may be the legalise is too complex to effectively counter? I visit robust blogs like this blog but not high end abuse blogs and yet even on this blog there are literally thousands of abusive or fraudulent claims being tossed about constantly. May be our tolerance to abuse is so high and wide spread that unless those offended have the where with all to fight a court case its basically just tough or most likely the invectee just hurls the same level of invective back at the invector 🙂 May be venting online is a great outlet for people and is a positive for our education and mental health? Or may be not? A future YNZ topic perhaps?

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 28, 2018

        Abuse and fraudulent claims are not remotely acceptable. Nor are threats. All that’s needed is the ability to shut down these people’s accounts if it’s on the usual ‘social media’. It’s to be accepted on sites like Whale Oil.

        I was once threatened with rape (as well as being abused) on some Conservatve site (NOTHING to do with the party) when I defended the right of gays to share rooms in hotels. The response was virulent and would have been even more disgusting had the silly old fools who had their photos up been capable of carrying out their threats. They assumed that I was a lesbian and gave me a lesson on what straight men do to women in the way of sex (rape)

        Reply

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