“What really bothers me about much of the ‘new left'”

Rachel Stewart is, amongst other things, a columnist for NZ Herald. I don’t think there is any question that she is fairly left leaning in her political views and preferences. She tweeted yesterday:

Trotter has been prominent in his promotion of free speech in relation to the Auckland Council exclusion of a couple of obscure but apparently controversial Canadians from speaking at a council owned venue.

He has added his support to the Free Speech Coalition that plans to file proceedings against the Auckland council today or tomorrow, after raising $50k in a public appeal last week.

This legal challenge has been strongly discredited by some because of the support of people like Don Brash.

The Trotter post that Stewart was referring to: Free Speech Denialism Is Fascism In Action

Whose Hand Is That? Fifty years ago, nine-out-of-ten people would have nominated the totalitarian regimes of the Soviet bloc or Third World dictatorships as the most likely suppressors of free speech Today, the likelihood is that a substantial minority – maybe even a majority – of the population would nominate the “politically correct” Left as the most direct threat to freedom of expression in the West. How did that happen?

IT HAS BEEN DISPIRITING, this past week, to learn how little people who consider themselves leftists know about fascism.

As the recent torrid exchanges between the defenders of free speech and the opponents of right-wing Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux have made clear, the word “fascist” now denotes little more than conservative views provocatively expressed.

So torrid did these exchanges become that, by the middle of the week, the opponents of Southern and Molyneux were reduced to making the extraordinary assertion that “there’s no such thing as free speech”.

For a free speech denialist to use the sacrifices made by the millions of men and women who fought and died for these goals, in order to justify and encourage the vitriolic verbal abuse of individuals who continue to stand for Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” is beyond despicable. It does, however, makes dispiritingly clear the sheer scale of the political ignorance and hatred against which all genuine defenders of human rights and freedoms continue to struggle.

Free speech denialism also confirms the observation that as the economic and social climate deteriorates, the normally linear configuration of the political spectrum becomes distorted. In effect, the spectrum curves around until the extremes of left and right are practically touching one another and the middle-ground is further away from them than ever. As the political static increases, the gap between left and right is closed by an arc of white-hot intensity. It is in the baleful brilliance this exchange that the events of the past week have been illuminated.

It has not been pretty.

Stewart followed up:

It’s a tactic, of course. Hate on the person, get others to do it too, and voila. Nothing that person ever says or does again is worth diddly squat. Effective too.

This is a very common tactic used online, on Twitter, Facebook and on some political forums and blogs. It is not confined to one political leaning.

Bullies love that shit, and it’s rampant on this platform. Tribalism will be the death of us. Think for yourselves.

And, of course, the more fractious and brutal to each other we become, the more the planet hurtles towards everything we don’t want. That suits the Trumps of the world so damn well, you have no idea.

I agree with Stewart.

The shit fighting, shaming, bullying and frequent attempts to shut people up is a detriment to political discussion and to making progress on important political and social issues.

The active shit fighters, be it from the radical left or radical right, are being counter productive.

It isn’t just the load mouthed bullies that are a problem. There is a lot of putting down and attempting to shut people up in doublespeak language.

Phil Goff claimed inclusiveness was important to him and his council – at the same time he tried to defend excluding some people from using council owned venues.

Another common tactic to try to discredit views is to say things like if you have not supported free speech in the past you have no right to speak on it now.

And also if you are not of a deprived underprivileged underpowered minority you should shut up and let them speak.

There has to be a way of giving more voice to some without arbitrarily taking voice off others.

It is in’t a simple issue. There are serious problems with bullying online, and those bullies and abusers are deliberately working against free speech and fair debate. This needs to be confronted.

But attempts to selectively shut people up, whether done nastily or couched in niceness, is a pox on out democratic discourse.

This is a real problem with the ‘new left’, but it isn’t only the new left that is shitting in their own nest.

Q+A: Phil Goff on funding infrastructure and free speech

This morning Phil Goff will be interviewed on Q+A.

Goff says that one way of dealing with local government funding problems is to have the GST on rates returned to councils for them to do as they wish with.

On free speech, Goff says that he has a responsibility to ensure Auckland is an inclusive city – by excluding some speakers?

Should controversial Muslims be able to speak at an Auckland venue?

Should two international Muslim speakers be allowed to speak at Auckland city venue the Bruce Mason Centre?

If, instead of controversial Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molynuex, a couple of controversial Muslims wanted to come to New Zealand to speak, would the reactions and the arguments be the same?

What if Donald Trump wanted to come and speak in New Zealand – would he get the same promises of demonstrations that are planned for his imminent visit to Britain?

What about two controversial Israelis? If, instead of a speaking event, what if they wanted to play an exhibition game of tennis?

Two Palestinians?

What if two international anti-TPPA speakers wanted to organise a protest in Auckland?

It would be interesting to see how many of the current free speech promoters took a similar stance, and how many of the ‘ban hate speech’ promoters took a similar stance.

 

‘Free speech’ versus ‘hate speech’ (or intolerance of the intolerant)

The ‘free speech’ debate continues.

‘Free speech’ is not entirely free, and it is far from equal, some people have far more opportunity and power than others to be heard. How free speech should be is a contentious issue.

‘Hate speech’ is harder to define, but someone at Reddit attempted:

“Hate speech” has simply become “Things we hate hearing you say.”

What a weak, feckless, emotionally hysterical culture we’re encouraging.

A quote from Golriz Gaharaman:

“Freedom of speech, like most rights, is not absolute. It’s subject to the rights of others, to safety, freedom, equality. Our gov must balance the right of right wing hate mongers against the greater interests of public safety in NZ. Just as Aus has done in denying their visas.”

I got involved in a discussion on all this on Twitter yesterday (I usually avoid it, it’s difficult to debate well when dabbling while multi tasking). It started with this:

Marianne Elliot: I’m taking notes on who stepped up to support Renae vs who is supporting this lot.

John Hart: The Venn diagram will be two non-intersecting circles I suspect.

PG: I have spoken up for Renae and against Jones’ legal action, and also support free speech at Auckland council venues. You don’t? (I didn’t support Renae’s petition, nor do I support what Southern & Molyneux say).

Sarah Jane Parton: Did you donate to both Renae’s legal fund and Brash et al’s $50k? Are you the ∩?

PG: I’m not cool with him at all. But like many people I have serious concerns about the growing tendency to try to shut down speech people don’t agree with. Have you read this?
http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2018/07/the-cost-of-free-and-democratic-society_9.html

Sarah Jane Parton: WRT to the “legality”, I point you to section 61 of the Human Rights Act,

Sarah Jane Parton: And then there’s the costs of security, policing, damages, etc etc.

PG: Should street protests be banned? There are costs of security, policing and risks of damage with them.
Or a protests a valid form of free speech important to a democracy?

Marianne Elliot: The critical line in that piece is this: “It’s perhaps all too easy to proclaim the general need for tolerance and acceptance of “offence” by others when you’re in a privileged and protected social position.”

PG: As important: “But, if we are going to mark out some social groups as requiring greater protection from the effects of speech, how do we do so, and who gets to decide just who they are? And how do we stop… expanding to capture expression we might think ought to be allowed?”

Marianne Elliot: Those are not simple questions, but with a clear power and risk analysis, nor are they impossible to resolve. The point is that we need someone other than the people who have always been in charge to be leading that conversation.

PG: It’s a growing issue that should be talked about be people other than those in power like . But one of our big challenges is how we do that without being it being trashed by abuse and by polarisation.

Marianne Elliot: Or maybe the biggest challenge is that the people at least risk from hate speech are used to being in charge of our laws and in control of debates about them.

PG: Some of the biggest targets of ‘hate speech’ and abuse and threats and defamation are those most prominent in power.

Marianne Elliot: Defamation is an important legal issue & is also very different hate speech. Calling one powerful white man racist has a very different power & social impact to someone saying “blacks are collectively less intelligent”, or invoking a “quick, decisive, and brutal” white backlash.

PG: It’s different again including many non-powerful white men in general condemnation. I think there needs to be a significant shift, but care has to be taken not to take rights of some when giving them to others.

Marianne Elliot:  Maybe instead it’s time to sit back and listen to the people being harmed by this speech? To listen to their very real and reasonable fears, and resist telling them that they don’t understand what is really at stake?

PG: We should always take time to sit back and listen, but that shouldn’t silence us either. I don’t know who tells others they don’t understand. Attempts to understand should work in all directions. As Andrew said, it’s very complex.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’d like to hear ’ take on this piece.

Eddie Clark: Some differences at the edges maybe, but pretty much agree with Andrew. Anyone who tells you this is simple probably doesn’t understand it well enough.

Marianne Elliot:  It’s not simple. I haven’t heard many say that it is. What many (including me) are saying is that it is time for the people at least risk of harm from harmful speech to listen to people at most risk, and to resist telling them that they don’t understand what’s at stake.

Marianne Elliot:  There are difficult balances to be reached. But for that balance to be fair, what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance.

PG: “what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance” – by suppressing the speech of whom? You can’t easily shut up those you don’t want to hear, nor make those speak who you want to hear.

Marianne Elliot:  Oh lord. I’m not sure there’s much point continuing this conversation if you think that changing the balance of who holds power in setting and interpreting law is about suppressing speech. Over and out.

PG: Oh lord, you’ve jumped to a bit of a conclusion there. I don’t think that.

Sarah Jane Parton: If you are not the people who will be harmed by this stuff then maybe it IS time to be quiet. Goff’s call has not been met with criticism from former refugees, transfolk, or Muslims, which is noteworthy. The ethnic and gender make up of Brash’s “coalition” is also telling.

PG: Are you suggesting that only former refugees, transfolk, Muslims and you should say anything about this? If that’s the case the issue would never have been raised or discussed to any noticeable degree.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’m saying that if you use your privilege to support and amplify the voices of other privileged people whose very aim is to trample on marginalised people, maybe it’s time to be quiet.


That’s more or less how it ran – Twitter threads can get a bit convoluted.

It evolved from debating whether free speech principles overrode claims of hate speech or not, to suggesting that people ‘in privileged positions’ should be quiet and let others speak about the problems with hate speech.

I’m sure no minds were changed in the conversations, but this illustrates some of the issues around complexities of free speech versus hate speech’

It is more an issue of how much intolerance of intolerant speech should limit the freedom to speak.

‘Free speech’ group raises $50,000 to challenge Auckland Council

The free speech versus alleged potential hate speech or inflammatory speech continues after the cancellation of a speaking event where two Canadians that almost al New Zealanders had never heard of suddenly became the centre of controversial attention.

Previous posts on this:

A group that has also provoked controversy has successfully raised $50,000, aiming to take the Auckland Council to court for banning Southern and Molyneux from using a council owned venue.

Free speech coalition:

Defending free speech means defending the rights of people with views you might find objectionable..

We are a group of New Zealanders concerned with the decision by Auckland Council and Mayor Goff to ban Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux from using Council-owned venues to speak on August 3. The ban sets a dangerous precedent for anyone who wants to express, or hear, controversial views.

We are raising funds to bring judicial review proceedings against Auckland Council, who we believe are likely in breach of the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act.

Update: We have now hit the $50k initial goal, so will be proceeding with legal action! Every dollar donated will now go into the legal fund – to defend free speech in New Zealand. If we can afford it, we’ll use the extra money to hire fancy lawyers to take on the Council’s big legal guns.

Newshub:  Don Brash’s free speech group raises $50k to sue Auckland Council

Don Brash says Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s decision not to let far-right speakers use council venues was wrong, and is part of a group that’s raised $50,000 to take the council to court.

He says he’s not familiar with Mr Molyneux or Ms Southern, who have been accused of hate speech for their views on Islam, feminism and gender.

“I don’t know what their views are, I’ve never heard them speak, I’ve never heard anything they’ve written”.

“Presumably they cannot say, ‘Please go and kill somebody’ because that would be illegal. But if they say ‘we don’t like particular groups’, well that’s free speech. I think they should be allowed to say that.”

Dr Brash says he’s wary of condemning certain opinions as hate speech.

“It is a perfectly accurate statement to say that in the Koran, gays are to be executed – simply stating that as fact should surely be allowed,” he explained.

“It’s quite a different thing to say therefore we should do something awful to Muslims. They’re two different things.”

It has been posited that the $50k should be spent on an alternate venue, but there is wider important issue at stake here, in a world (especially online world):

  • growing increasingly intolerant of speech that people disagree with
  • growing increasingly toxic and abusive

Both are abuses of free speech.

One example of the stupid levels debate gets too, but with a good response:

That’s pretty much my position – I had never heard of the Canadians and wouldn’t pay money to hear them speak, but I think the Goff/council banning of them from using council venues is bad for an elected mayor and a public body.

This is becoming a common ‘unless you have supported every cause I agree with you should shut up’ type of put down.

I have supported Renae against Bob Jones, as well supporting the right of people to speak at Auckland council venues.

I think that challenging the Goff/council ban on speech could be an important stand to take.

Peters, Bridges support free speech

Both acting Prime Minister Winston Peters and national leader Simon Bridges have spoken in favour of free speech after Auckland mayor Phil Goff banned Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux from speaking at an Auckland City Council owned venue. Southern and Molyneux subsequently cancelled their New Zealand visit.

Concerns were initially raised by Auckland peace action – Auckland ‘alt-right’ event cancelled due to ‘health and safety’.

“Auckland Peace Action (APA) called on the Government to not allow the speakers entry to New Zealand.” The group also threatened to disrupt the event, saying: “If they come here, we will confront them on the streets. If they come, we will blockade entry to their speaking venue”.

Goff:

Views that divide rather than unite are repugnant and I have made my views on this very clear. Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux will not be speaking at any council venues.

1 News: Winston Peters would have let far-right commentators talk at venue on ‘basis of free speech’

During a press conference today, Peters said if it were up to him he would have let the Canadian pair talk, after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he would not let any Auckland Council venue to be used by them.

The Acting Prime Minister said “despite the fact that what they might have to say is a very antithesis of what nearly all of us believe here, we still believe in their freedom and their right to express it in free speech.”

He said if it had been up to him, “we’d have allowed them to come on the basis of free speech”.

“We should be very careful who we expel on that cause because the downstream historically record on that has been just disastrous,” Mr Peters said.

Good to hear him saying this.

He also questioned whether the mayor had made the decision alone or with council approval.

Fair question…

Auckland Live, who run the Bruce Mason Centre where they were to speak, tweeted the cancellation was due to “security concerns around the health and safety of the presenters, staff and patrons”.

This came after Mr Goff tweeted the pair would not be speaking at Auckland Council venues last Friday.

…that will probably go unanswered by Goff.

Simon Bridges backs free speech for far-right writers banned from Auckland Council venues

National leader Simon Bridges says two Canadian far-right writers should be able to come to New Zealand and speak, even if people disagree with their views.

Bridges told TVNZ’s Breakfast show today he strongly disagreed with the pair’s views but freedom of speech was important.

“I disagree strongly with what these activists are saying but I think it’s a dangerous thing to say ‘because we don’t like what you’re saying we won’t let you in’.

“I can see how [Goff] made his decision but I wouldn’t have banned them from coming to New Zealand. We should allow people we strongly disagree with to come. We’re a mature, liberal democracy.”

With some of the comments made over the cancelled visit of Southern and Molyneux, and a lot political commentary and debate, I would question how mature our democracy is.

In contrast Green co-leader Marama Davidson backed Goff’s decision:

Good to use our freedom of speech to say your racist bigoted views aren’t going to be catered for here. Thanks Phil. These two can get out.

It wasn’t ‘freedom of speech’ that Goff used, it was abuse of mayoral power to suppress free speech at a council owned venue.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman‏ also backed the Goff/Auckland Council ‘public safety’ excuse for not allowing the Canadians to use the North Shore venue.

I haven’t seen anything from Auckland Live or Ghahraman‏  that backs up their concerns about public safety.

Penny Bright responded to Ghahraman‏ on Twitter:

I have a proven track record in defence of freedom of expression (particularly under former Auckland City Council at Town Hall and the former Ak City Council Building). I don’t accept Mayor Phil Goff has the lawful right to decide who has access to Ak Council venues.

Rogan Mortimer has started a petition Protect Lauren Southern Event but it has just 145 ‘signatures’ in four days.

Juana Atkins also has a petition: Defend Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux’s right to freedom of speech in New Zealand.

This petition is to send a strong message that we will not allow people who are scared of criticism of their ideas to silence their critics and to prevent those who want to listen to them from attending the events of their choice.

When we book tickets we expect the venue to not be cowed by bullying groups who are NOT their customers into cancelling the event.

That includes a stupid photo of Southern holding two firearms – it has more signatures (currently 1204), presumably promoted on Whale Oil, but that won’t make many free speech waves.

It’s always funny to see people from Whale Oil promoting free speech when it suits them, given their history of banning many people trying to speak freely there.

Another petition, this one opposing free speech: Stop Lauren Southern from entering New Zealand

We, the undersigned concerned residents of New Zealand petition the Minister Of Immigration of New Zealand to stop Laurence Southern from entering New Zealand.

Laurence Southern is a Canadian born far right political activist. She has blasphemous views on Islam where she has used terms like “‘Allah is gay God”. She also has very strong anti-cultural / multi-racialism views. NZ is a very multi racial country with a rich mixed cultural heritage.  According to section 61 of NZ Humans Rights Act, this is hate speech. Her visit to NZ and public appearances are conducive for upheaval in the tolerant multiracial New Zealand.

By allowing Lauren into the country can easily stir religious and cultural sensitivities. This can manifest itself chaos and disharmony within our peaceful community and country.

UK have banned Lauren Southern and we request that the New Zealand Government do likewise.

Currently 2,696 signatures.

And yesterday a fund raising campaign was launched to force Auckland Council to respect free speech

A crowd funding campaign has been launched to raise money to bring judicial review proceedings against Phil Goff and Auckland Council for their banning of speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern at Council-owned venues.

New Zealanders who value free speech can pledge money to this cause at http://www.freespeechcoalition.nz.

Supporters of the group include:
Dr. Michael Bassett – Former Labour Party Minister
Dr. Don Brash – Former leader of the National and Act Parties, and former Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand
Ashley Church – Business Leader
Dr. David Cumin – Senior Lecturer University of Auckland
Melissa Derby – University of Canterbury Academic
Stephen Franks – Lawyer
Paul Moon – Historian and a Professor, Auckland University of Technology
Lindsay Perigo – Broadcaster
Rachel Poulain – Writer
Chris Trotter – Political Commentator
Jordan Williams – Lawyer

Mayor Phil Goff has opened Auckland Council up to judicial review, as it is likely breaching the Bill of Rights Act (freedom of speech), and potentially the Human Rights Act (freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion). The Council is subject to both Acts.

This is an all or nothing campaign. If the $50,000 is not raised by 5pm Friday, then all funds will be returned to donors, and the Coalition will not proceed with further action.

The Coalition’s intention is, firstly, to force Auckland Council to reopen the Bruce Mason Centre to these speakers by August 3, the date that had been scheduled for the event. Secondly, and most importantly, we aim to set a precedent demonstrating that government bodies will face firm legal consequences if they breach the rights to freedom of speech and freedom from political discrimination that are laid out in law.

The visit has already been cancelled – that happened quite quickly – so I think this is fairly futile.

However there does seem to be an important debate here – free speech versus ‘protecting’ people from hearing things they disagree with.

I note that attendance at the proposed event with Southern and Molyneux was not compulsory.

Death and rape threats against Davidson

Yesterday Green MP and co-leader Marama Davidson tweeted:

I think this claim has to be seen as credible. But it seems worse.

RNZ: Green Party co-leader receives rape and death threats on social media

The MP posted on Facebook yesterday morning, supporting Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s decision to ban two controversial Canadian speakers from Auckland Council venues.

Marama Davidson said “vile” comments about death and rape were made by supporters of the Canadian pair on her Facebook post yesterday.

“Quite a lot of tears from supporters of the two…some quite vile disgusting death threats to me, my children…some rape threats and people just calling me the most disgusting names and abuse you could probably imagine.”

She deleted the comments straight away because she did not want the wider public to get offended by what was written.

But she was now trying to recover the messages so she could give them to the police.

“Yeah I think it is worthwhile just putting on record to the authorities. That could include the parliamentary security – that this threat has been received,” she said.

Davidson’s post on Facebook:

Threats against MPs and their families shouldn’t be tolerated in New Zealand.

I have reservations about the Auckland banning of the Canadians, but that doesn’t justify threatening someone who supports the ban. It is something that warrants debate, but not gutless anonymous online attacks.

I don’t know how bad the threats were, I haven’t seen them, but it is still a disgraceful blot on ‘free speech’ and politics in New Zealand.

I know what it can be like to be threatened online, it has happened to me including implied death threats, and also threats against members of my family. It is an insidious part of the Internet – threats and abuse are an abuse of free speech.

 

Goff intervenes, Auckland venue banned, speaking tour canned

Two Canadians reported to be promoters of controversial far right views planned on visiting and speaking in New Zealand, but after mayor Phil Goff banned them from an Auckland city venue they canned the tour.

I haven’t heard of them or seen or heard anything they’ve said, so can’t judge them on their views.

NZH: Mayor bans controversial Canadian pair from talking in Auckland Council venues

The promoter of a controversial Canadian pair accused of hate speech has cancelled their tour of New Zealand after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff denied them access to city venues.

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux hold far-right views on topics ranging from feminism and immigration to Islam.

The Canadian couple had been due to speak next month at the council-owned Bruce Mason centre on Auckland’s North Shore.

Pressure had been mounting on Immigration NZ to deny the pair entry with members of New Zealand’s Muslim community and the Auckland Peace Action publicly among those expressing concern.

This seems to be a growing problem around the world – campaigns to block non-liked views or peoeple with particular reputations.

This could well be a slippery slope against free speech.

But promoter David Pellowe said the tour was instead cancelled when Goff moved to bar the pair access to Auckland Council venues.

So Goff decides who should not be able to speak at Council venues?

Free speech isn’t an absolute right. Private venues can choose who hire their facilities and speak at them.

It’s a bit different with publicly owned and managed facilities. And especially with mayors deciding who can’t use them.

This makes them too vulnerable to speech bans by pressure group and adverse publicity – politicians too often do what they think is best for themselves, rather than for the greater good and fundamental speech rights..

Tyranny of the minorities

Tyranny by minorities has become a big issue around the world.

In New Zealand we have some of this problem, whether it be small bands of online activists dumping on people for speaking out of line on Facebook or Twitter, people leaking private information for political gain, like super overpayment stories, politicians getting heavy handed in legal fishing expeditions, organised petitions trying to strip stupid commenters of their night hoods, or suing petitioners (something only very rich people can afford).

Then we have political blogs that should ideally be open debates of ideas.

On the left The Daily Blog as a forum has always been neutered by what is effectively censorship. The Standard has a record of selective moderation that leans heavily in favour of it’s preferred political messaging, and also allows persistent predatory attacks by individuals and mass attacks as well.

On the right there are two extremes.

Whale Oil was nearly a free for all (albeit with some restrictions of facts alternative opinions) until they had massive purges of commenters leading up to the 2014 election, and is now dominated by psycophants and sock puppets – there’s a lot of comment and Cameron Slater often has a hard time getting support for some of his activism but obvious care is taken to avoid getting silenced.

In contrast Kiwiblog is the least moderated major political blog. This freedom of speech is fine in theory but in practice it allows a lot of abuse and attacks by individuals, much of it obviously designed to shut down discussions they don’t want and to drive away people they don’t want to speak. This can be as detrimental to free speech as site censorship.

An article from Australia: Tyranny of the minorities: We live in an age of mob rule by minorities in which anybody who disagrees with them is censored and freedom of expression is something only THEY enjoy….

ONE of the great lines in 20th century films comes from Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War satire Dr Strangelove. The scene is a nuclear missile control bunker. With World War III imminent, two men scuffle until their boss, played by Peter Sellers, cries: ‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!’

That gag came to mind this week when our so-called liberal Left went into convulsions of illiberality after author Lionel Shriver mocked the latest diversity madness. Writing in The Spectator, Ms Shriver poked fun at box-ticking, multi-cultural political correctness at publisher Penguin Random House, which is planning to commission authors on the basis of racial, gender and other quotas.

Such sacrilege proved a timebomb. Tick, tock, tick, tock — KABOOM! Bien pensants, when they heard accounts of Ms Shriver’s article, exploded. They were furious.

As Dr Strangelove might put it: ‘We can’t allow diverging views about diversity!’

No we can’t! At our universities, which are meant to be bastions of free thought, guest speakers are barred for fear they might so much as question Left-wing dogma. This happens to even such distinguished liberals as Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell.

The forces of political correctness impose their unyielding views everywhere.

At Oxford and Cambridge, there are calls for statues of historic benefactors to be torn down because they do not comply with fashionable modern positions on minority rights. At Newcastle University, meanwhile, the students’ union demanded sanitary bins in men’s loos so as not to upset any students ‘with a range of genders’.

There are many examples around the world of this sort of thing. I don’t think it is as bad in New Zealand, but we do have issues and attempts to shut down unsavoury or unwelcome speech.

Maybe someone should have given similar advice to Lionel Shriver. Maybe someone should have said: ‘Don’t mock diversity — it’ll only land you in the most frightful trouble’.

Under this tyranny of the minorities, that may be what you should do for an easy life. But the thing about tyrannies is that they are ruled, ultimately, by bullies. The way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them, as Lionel Shriver has done with such brave clarity.

One of the biggest bullies of them all now is the president of the United States, who frequently and openly lies, and also frequently attacks people he disagrees with or wants to shut up.

He is waging a war of words against a legal inquiry into whether he or his campaign acted illegally leading up to the 2016 US election. His behaviour is remarkable, as is the defence of his behaviour who put their politics ahead of the responsibilities of someone with his amount of power.

British public life is not like Dr Strangelove’s war room. It is a place where the lively conflict of views should be welcomed as an essential part of a flourishing democracy. Freedom of expression has been fought for with blood over the centuries and is vital for liberal, civilised behaviour. No minority mob should ever be allowed to destroy that.

So should we destroy mobs who try to destroy freedom of expression?

Free speech is a complicated.


Note that anyone is free to speak here, as long as you don’t piss me off.

Actually that’s a bit of a self piss take – as much as some have tried over the years I’m not easily provoked. Vi guidelines rather than rules I try to encourage the expression of diverse opinions, and to protect people from abuse and attempts to deter their speech. Imperfectly.

Free speech has limitations

We are relatively free to speak publicly in New Zealand, made easy with the Internet. But there are limitations, especially on specific forums (like here) where those who manage the forums are free to choose what speech is appropriate and what is not. A malicious pest has been trying to have a say here again lately – it’s highly hypocritical that they think they should be able to comment here after trying to trash the forum and have it shut down in the past.

There are always other speech options available for those who want to say whatever they want. International sites like Facebook and Twitter are generally more open about what can be said on their forums, unconstrained by local (New Zealand) laws.

But there are growing concerns about speech being jumped on and limited by easily offended social justice warriors.

The recent overreaction to an edgy Critic menstruation issue at Otago University also showed that people in authority can be draconian at times.

Today’s ODT comments on that and free speech in general: How ‘free’ is New Zealand?

New Zealand is a free country. All are free to express their views.

There we have two plain statements which, superficially, seem to state the obvious. But is it? And are they?

In a perfect world, it could be good if both were the case. But in reality it is not straightforward.

It can get quite complicated, especially when some try to speak with malicious intent.

So why can we not just say and do whatever we like with impunity, even in a “free” country? For a start there are laws protecting individuals and organisations against defamation. Secondly, it is illegal to act in a way, or write anything, which incites racial hatred, while other discrimination based on a person’s ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation is unlawful too. It is also against the law to encourage violence or law-breaking activities.

Such safeguards are necessary in a democracy to ensure citizens can live without fear of prejudice and bigotry. Most realise this is desirable, and it is still possible to robustly express one’s opinions while exercising a degree of self-censorship.

We all effectively censor ourselves in private and public speech, through both choice and necessity. We learnt as children to take care what we said in front of our parents and other adults, and in cl;ass at school. I don’t think there was ever much opportunity for the flocks to speak in church, and questioning religious speech was frowned on – to the extent that there was a law against it,

It has to be said there is also an element of trendiness when it comes to reacting to censorship. These days it is easy to get hot under the collar when a left-wing or liberal view is withheld or censored. But that does not seem to hold true for censoring right-wing or conservative opinions.

It’s not clear to me what they are getting at there. In attempts at social media censorship by shaming and complaining seems to come from both sides of the political spectrum. The most prominent hard left and hard right political forums in New Zealand, The Daily Blog and Whale Oil, have both been fairly heavy handed in their censorship. As polituical activists they try to control and manipulate their messages.

There is a sense that some opinions are more equal than others. That should not be the case, as long as they pass those tests of defamation, human rights and being lawful.

I’m not sure what they mean their exactly, but there are examples online of attempts to belittle or shout down or cut out speech, for example of Maori radicals and old white men, and on issues like climate change.

As a society we must not get prissy about challenging shibboleths. People hold views that others don’t like and that will offend others. Unless those views fall foul of the law, the right to express them has to be protected.

Otherwise we are in jeopardy of living in an increasingly anodyne world, one in which any differences are suppressed rather than celebrated.

People are generally free to speak up against other speech that they don’t like and they think shouldn’t be expressed. But we are still free to criticise and confront attempts to shut down free speech that should be allowed and encouraged.

It’s worth remembering that free speech has responsibilities. This can get complicated on forums like this though, where I can potentially be held responsible for the speech of others.

That’s why I exercise some editing and restrictions – I encourage a wide range of views, but discourage attempts to attack the messenger, and especially behaviour designed to drive away speech and speakers. Some restrictions on speech, like abuse and hate speech, can enhance free speech overall.