Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Free Speech

Everyone technically has free speech in NZ but it's stating the obvious that some people's speech is a lot louder, travels a lot further and carries a whole lot more political weight than others. 

Some people who - by any objective measure - talk and write utter rot have not just one, but several platforms from which to assail the nation's sensibilities. Loads of others have no platform at all. Their job is to be spoken at - or to, if they’re lucky.

It’s a fine thing, the right to speak freely, a precious thing given the reasons why people who have the power might want to curtail what other people have to say.  It has been fought for, people died for it. Many are still fighting and dying for it. 

The right of free speech, like the right of free assembly, gained its significance by being denied.

Freedom of speech is bound indissolubly with the right to know, to be informed, to have access to knowledge.  This is important for both speakers and those who hear the speech.

But neither speech, nor the knowledge which informs it, is politically neutral. It can be  used as a weapon to silence, to stereotype, to discriminate against - to harm others. 

When the right to speak freely comes up against the right of others to be free from exposure to speech that harms - it’s always going to be difficult. 

I acknowledge the far greater impact of racist ideology and rhetoric on those it targets - it damages all of us but it hits people of colour harder and deeper.

On a personal level I have no problem with gagging all racists but on a political level the core question is - who gets to draw the line and where do you draw it?

There really is no easy answer. Those who think there is are being naive or politically infantile. You have only to look at the situation in the UK over amendments to the Gender Recognition Act and the way that the labelling of 'gender critical' arguments as hate speech is being used to close down discussion.

Free speech versus hate speech is a difficult one and extremely polarising and professional right wing agitators like Southen and Molyneux revel in the damage it does.  

Unchallenged they get to make money out of preaching their ugly ideology to like-minded people. Challenged they get to present themselves as martyrs to the cause of free speech and proof of the essential illiberality of the left.  

Win win. 

On an emotional level I'd want to ban them from even entering the country. They offend me way more than the likes of the tattooed putz gurning and gesticulating at a Muslim woman bus driver in the UK.

He’s raw and obvious in his bigotry and awfulness. Molyneux and Southen are carefully packaged, with a telegenic gloss to cover up their feculence. They put a veneer of urbanity and corporatised style over the brutish essence of their message.  

They are dangerous and I detest them.

And they get to do the other thing that rightwing agitators love to do and, having written the rulebook, are very good at - promote division on the Left.  

We’ve seen heaps of that over the past few days and some of it on Twitter has descended into spiteful, sophomoric, ad hominem attacks dressed up as valid political comment. Enough already.  It’s not like NZ has a surfeit of left wing activists and commentators.

Not that the smug ones can actually bring themselves to acknowledge there is a ‘Left’ any more or if they do, they can’t reach agreement on what it is.  I’d like to see the loudest critics get off their political backsides and share their vision for the future with the rest of us. 

My feeling is this. The Right loves the Left to behave in the same ways that it does.  What they’re not good at is being funny. Let’s face it. Lying, being obnoxious and bigoted - they’re without parallel - but humour? Nah. And because they have no humour, they really hate being the butt of it.  

So I say, mock the living daylights out of them. Mock them up hill, down dale, round the corner and back again. And then mock them some more before they have time to draw breath.

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