Wednesday, October 9, 2019

News flash! Academics defend freedom of speech

This was by far the most important thing in my Dominion Post – in fact anywhere in the New Zealand media – this morning:

It’s a resounding defence of free speech, and the heartening thing is that it comes from university academics.

Less heartening is the fact that the six signatories to this article are a courageous minority. Their championing of Emeritus Professor Jim Flynn stands in stark contrast to the chillingly censorious open letter signed last week by Auckland University academic staff demanding that the university silence an attention-seeking fringe group accused of promoting "white supremacy" - a phrase which appears to encompass everything from Nazism to simple pride in the values and achievements of Western civilisation.

Ask yourself: who presents the greater threat – an anonymous group (for all we know, it might just be one person) putting up stickers around the Auckland campus, or the pompous high priests of academia and their herd-like acolytes who seek to outlaw any opinions they hold to be “unsafe”? George Orwell, who knew a thing or two about suppression of free speech, would have been proud to have coined that particular term.

It's now obvious even to blind Freddy that academic freedom and the contest of ideas, two of the key values underpinning liberal democracy, are under sustained and determined attack. Ask yourself: who are the bigots here? Who seeks to impose a new style of totalitarianism? Who's calling for the enforcement of rules prohibiting secular heresy? Ironically, it’s not the supposed white supremacists. They’re not trying to silence anyone.

Another irony is that Flynn, the eminent Otago University professor who now finds himself at the centre of a censorship controversy, has impeccable leftist credentials. Sadly that wasn’t enough to protect him from leftist totalitarianism that has taken hold to the extent that Flynn's British publisher got cold feet over his latest book, which promotes – irony of ironies – free speech on university campuses.

Meanwhile, the Free Speech Coalition is calling for donations so that it can appeal against a High Court decision last week which effectively gives risk-averse municipal functionaries and their political masters carte blanche to deny the use of public venues to any speaker whose views might cause political offence or trigger protests. It’s a frightening decision which must not be allowed to stand. You can donate here:


Doug Longmire said...

Well said Karl,
The threat to free speech is certainly there.
We have the idiot preventing Don Brash from speaking at Massey, then the Whitless (sorry Whitcoulls) banning the sale of Jordan Peterson's book.
Anybody who points out, for example, the simple fact that the the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the world are carried out in the name of one religion, is going to be labelled variuosly as a racist bigot, and/or islamaphobic.
Anyone who points out the fact that the seas are not rising any faster because of human fuel burning is labelled "Climate (i.e. Holocaust) Denier"

Simon Cohen said...

I have to disagree strongly with you Karl.A publishers decision not to publish a book can be made for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with censorship.The financial viability is one reason.Jim Flynn can approach other publishers or he can self publish and sell through Amazon etc.Or he can publish as an ebook.

Karl du Fresne said...

The explanation given to Flynn for non-publication was quite explicit: the publishers feared legal action under British hate speech laws.

Trev1 said...

It is heartening to see some academics standing up for free speech. But the overall tenor of our universities and the media is deeply illiberal. And we have a government that is planning on severely curtailing free speech and criminalizing the expression of opinions which do not fit its agenda. They will probably attempt this early in the New Year after the Royal Commission on the Christchurch shootings has reported. The outlook for democracy is bleak.

Andy Espersen said...

"White supremacy" is a very crude way of putting it. Why not stick with "Europeans know better". Countless examples from the history of de-colonisation exist which will bear out that countries fare better if Europeans are left in charge. People disagreeing with this will point to South Africa - but fact is that hardly any of the many colonies ended up with an Apartheid system. Even the United States eventually ended their Apartheid system peacefully.

The opinion that European civilisation is, if not "supreme", then at least much better at things in most areas cannot be hate speech - and must not be banned.