Friday, July 6, 2018

Let's hear the Canadians for ourselves and decide then whether it's dangerous

It is often the first instinct of the far left, when confronted with ideas or opinions they don’t approve of, to try to shut them down.

There was a tiny but telling example of this in a letter to the Dominion Post a few days ago from a reader who didn’t like my column outlining the advance of neo-Marxism. He said it was “disappointing” (note the morally superior tone and phony sanctimony) to see such opinions being given oxygen by a “credible New Zealand paper”.

In other words, he didn’t like what I said, so I should have been censored. Well, suck it up, buster. It’s called free speech.

But a far more serious and alarming threat to freedom of expression has emerged today with attempts to bar two so-called “far right” speakers from entering New Zealand next month.

There’s the first problem, right there. Both the New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report used that term “far right” to describe the Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who are planning to follow a tour of Australia with a single engagement in Auckland.

I hadn’t consciously heard of Southern before today and was only vaguely aware of Molyneux, but experience has taught me to be very sceptical when the media refer to anyone as “far right”. It’s a subjective judgment that has no place in a news story, which we rightly expect to be unbiased (in contrast with this blog, which is clearly an expression of opinion).

Decoded, “far right” can mean anyone to the right of the political centre. To be consistent, the Herald should have described the activist Valerie Morse, who wants the Canadians kept out of New Zealand, as “far left”. But of course it didn’t, and thus it gave her an aura of political legitimacy that it denied to the Canadians.

In any case, whether or not Southern and Molyneux are “far right” – however that’s defined – is neither here nor there. We live in a liberal democracy that depends on free speech and the free exchange of ideas and opinions. Let’s hear for ourselves what the Canadians have to say and decide then whether it’s dangerous.

When it comes to free speech, I’m an absolutist. The only exceptions should be blatant incitements to cause harm. The moment we give in to the clamour from left-wing bigots seeking to stifle ideas they disapprove of, or for that matter anyone trying to stifle ideas they disapprove of (although it’s invariably the left that pushes for political censorship and suppression), we’re stuffed. Book-burning won’t be far behind.

It will surprise no one that the push to have Southern and Molyneux barred from New Zealand comes from Auckland Peace Action, whose spokeswoman, the serial protester Morse, claims the Canadians are coming to New Zealand to “empower local racists and to encourage racist violence”.

It’s perhaps more surprising that the New Zealand Federation of Islamic Organisations is backing the call for a ban. This is not what New Zealand Muslims should be doing if they want to persuade us that they reject the totalitarian theology of  many of their co-religionists elsewhere.  

So just what makes the two Canadians so poisonous? According to Radio New Zealand, they have “far-right, alternative” views on feminism, gender, Islam and mass immigration.

As one example of their extreme, “alternative” positions, RNZ cited Southern’s statement that there are “only two genders”. It’s an indication of how totally the so-called progressives  have seized control of the public conversation that Southern could be held up as a pariah for expressing an opinion that’s shared by many New Zealanders – possibly even a majority – and which only a few years ago would have been considered utterly unremarkable.

Judging by an audio clip played by RNZ, Southern has also inflamed leftists and feminists by calling out the exquisite hypocrisy of their position on Islam, a religion they’re so eager to empathise with that they conveniently turn a blind eye to its repression of women.
We're told that Southern was barred from speaking in Britain, as if that’s all the justification the New Zealand government needs to turn her away. In fact she’s only one of several speakers to have been detained or turned back at British airports on the spurious pretext that their presence was “not conducive to the public good” or was “likely to incite tensions”, which really meant that they made the timid authorities feel a bit queasy.
But this shouldn’t be a case of “where Britain goes, we go”, to use Michael Joseph Savage’s famous line. Far from giving New Zealand a lead, all the British bans demonstrate is that the country from which we inherited our democratic traditions has betrayed its honourable record as a defender of free speech. We can’t allow the same thing to happen here.
Back to Val Morse. The Herald quotes her as saying: “They [Southern and Molyneux] come to recruit people to their fascist ideology. It is imperative that this type of racism is given no room to be promoted and encouraged in Aotearoa. If they come here, we will confront them on the streets. If they come, we will blockade entry to their speaking venue.”

Well, there you have it. Even if the government allows the Canadians in – and I’ll be the first to take to the streets if they’re barred – the bigots of the left will do their best to ensure no one can hear them. I ask you: who are the real fascists here?
Shouting people down is something the far left has a lot of practice at. They do it all the time in the US, Britain and even Australia. You can hear it on one of the audio clips played on today’s Morning Report, in which shrieking protesters try to prevent Southern being heard.
In the US, ironically, the Berkeley campus of the University of California, which was the birthplace of the radical student free-speech movement in the 1960s, is now synonymous with the practice of no-platforming – the very antithesis of free speech. Just as ironically, some of the speakers recently turned back at British airports had been engaged to deliver addresses at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, where traditionally all comers have been allowed.
Let’s assume for a moment, as a purely hypothetical exercise, that Morse’s shrill hyperbole is even remotely accurate, and that Southern and Molyneux would come here with the aim of inflaming local racists. I could only say good luck with that, because New Zealand is by world standards a remarkably tolerant and moderate society, and stolidly resistant to inflammation by extremists of any stripe.
Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a robust democracy that is perfectly capable of being exposed to rancid opinions without being swayed. I always come back to that wonderful line from Milton’s Areopagitica: “Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
Here, in a way, is the essence of the issue. It all comes down to trust and control. Leftist fanatics like Morse don’t trust people to make their own sensible judgments, so they want to control what we hear and read. If we value free speech and representative democracy, we can't let them.
Footnote: I was saddened to hear Massey University professor Paul Spoonley say on Morning Report that he wasn’t opposed to the Canadians being denied entry. I respect Spoonley and have never doubted him when he described himself as a supporter of free speech. On Morning Report today, however, he added the dreaded “but …”. Spoonley said he didn’t see free speech being advanced by views that he described as “hateful and extreme”.
I have two problems with that. The first is the assumption that the opinions expressed by Southern and Molyneux are hateful and extreme. That depends entirely on the ideological prism you happen to be looking through. But more importantly, I believe that the moment we start putting qualifications around freedom of speech, we’re in trouble. Big time.


david said...

So now i see that Auckland City have banned them and they are not comming. I presume the excuse will be that they feared the violence promised by Morse and co. Inwhich case there is a prima face case that the protestors were going beyond the freedom to have their opposition heard and actually inciting violence. Can we take out a private prosecution?

Kimbo said...

When it comes to free speech I'm not sure it is worth dying in a ditch for shameless self-promoters like Laura Southern and Stefan Molyneux. No, their views are not as odious as, say the likes of David Irving, and yes, I agree wholeheartedly that the likes of the risible totalitarian Valerie Morse should not be allowed to set the parameters for free speech.

Nonetheless, the Auckland Council is not obligated to provide them with a venue. If the promoters of this planned public speaking event were so useless not to arrange a contingency plan for an alternative non-Council venue when this de-platforming was always a real possibility in response to two controversial speakers, then it shows how useless they are. Kinda like when the Rugby Union invited the 1981 Springboks, they couldn't just assume things would proceed "as normal". I'm still annoyed that game against Waikato at Rugby Park, Hamilton never took place. ;)

I also suspect both Southern and Molyneux aren't too disappointed as the cancellation is extra free publicity to boost their on-line profile from whence they derive much of their income. Indeed, there is an international circle-jerk of supposedly persecuted right-wing shock jocks who make followers and subscribers offended that others are offended at what they say. Whale Oil is a local example whose views are little different from Southern and Molyneux (indeed, he tries to leverage off them and others as part of the same collective right-wing offended and persecuted cottage industry). Cam Slater seems to be getting more desperate and self-promoting as his glory days along with subscribers and contributors seem to diminish monthly.

Not sure that human knowledge and progress is advanced much, if at all by their antics, although they do sometimes say what others are afraid to openly, so they are an outlet. But then their take on Islam is as biased and cherry-picked as any soft-soap Muslim apologist, and more broad-brushed, ever-happy to jump from individuals to collectively tarring whole people groups. Just as the Ulster Unionist propagandists did some 100 years ago, including here in New Zealand when questioning the danger of potential Irish Catholic migrants in the light of Fenian/Catholic insurrection, their comparative high birth rates, poverty, alleged drunkenness, lawlessness and lack of education and Protestant graces. In other words they were...different. Like the Chinese who were subject to immigration restrictions. Which leads to what Southern, Molyneux and Slater are really all about...

Kimbo said...

Bottomline: the likes of Southern, Molyneux and Slater think that the migration of Muslims, including as refugees should be restricted to the West. I don't have a problem with having that debate, including whether the proposal is racist/bigoted and antithetical to Western liberties (I think it is). Indeed, you engage with their followers in actual debate and soon dispassionate discussion of the facts go out the window, and alarmist "thin end of the wedge/we will be flooded by an enemy within" amoral panic that has characterised all immigration debates since....forever soon emerges as their default position. Along with the suspect assumptions and rhetoric on which the original premise was presented by Southern, Molyneux, Slater et al.

Hence I don't think Southern and Molyneux are interested in "debate". Their views are fixed, their self-promotional goals are clear, and their rhetoric and methods are inflammatory and dishonest. For all those reasons, irrespective of the free speech issue, I can understand why Southern was denied entry into the UK, at least under their immigration criteria. She had no other purpose other than to incite discord. Doesn't necessarily make the restriction on her right, but yet again, free speech does not mean you have to provide someone with a platform. Just because you are Canadian, doesn't guarantee you entry to the UK. And the fact you can view Southern's Youtube videos in the UK indicates free speech regarding her views is not restricted...just the means of exercising and hearing it.

Back to David Irving. I don't agree that Holocaust-denial laws should be on the books as in Austria. Indeed, his loss in a defamation trial in the UK shows that civil litigation is the best avenue if one insists on a legal means of redress. Mind you, even the nutjob conspiracists will take his loss as proof "the Jooz" control the Western justice system! :( But I don't see why Irving should be allowed into our country to propagate his views...when, if you want you can go online and, with a few clicks of a mouse, find out what they are and why. Also, despite Irving's contribution to military scholarship, as his Holocaust-denial views have been so roundly debunked he should never, never never be offered a platform in a university. Doing so gives him a credibility and an opportunity to leverage off academia that he does not deserve. Let him peddle his shit on the fringes, struggling to get his views heard. As you well know as an opinion writer, Karl, no one is obligated to listen to your ideas, much less pay for them. And some ideas are so full of shit, they don't warrant a hearing. At least not at a university, or via council and/or government venues.

No, I reiterate that Southern and Molyneux are not in the same category and Irving, and yes, you are right, much of what is emanating out of universities smacks of radical left-wing fascism. Voltaire was right that we should defend to the death someone's right to believe and say what they want. But that is not the same as providing a platform.

Karl du Fresne said...

Just two points. 1. This debate is not about the perceived legitimacy of the Canadians' opinions or even their motives. It's about their right to speak and right of others to hear them. 2. Auckland Council obviously accepted the booking, then Goff cancelled it. It was a craven backdown in the face of pressure from strident activists who insist on their own right to speak but want to deny it to others.

david said...

Unknown says "Voltaire was right that we should defend to the death someone's right to believe and say what they want. But that is not the same as providing a platform.

What bullshit. The venues provided by Auckland City are provided for the benefit of the citizens of Auckland at ratepayer's expense. The test of what the citizens of Auckland want to hear spoken or performed at these venues should be left to the citizens who will attand or not as appropriate. It is not the role of any official to decide.

Ruaridh said...

This is difficult one in my view. The right of Free Speech can itself be manipulated by extremists - and not just those whose object is to curtail it. Would we want an Adolf Hitler to pace the boards and orate at any venue? Or to give an Idi Amin stage time? As Trump’s path to power illustrates, there are those whose dissatisfaction with the status quo can lead them blindly to elect menaces to a good and decent society. No value is absolute and sometimes a value judgment has to be made. Absolutes at either end of the spectrum are unhelpful.
Life is about compromises, The real skill lies in getting them right rather than mindlessly adhering to left or right wing dogmatism.

Kimbo said...

@ David

So if the venues are provided at the expense of the Auckland ratepayers, then Goff, like any other administrator, gets to decide if it is in the interests of the owners he represents, including the Auckland Muslim community, whether to proceed with the original booking or not. So competing interests such as taste, likelihood to cause offence to some/many of the owners and freedom of speech are all in the play and need to be balanced. Whether Goff’s decision in this instance is right or not is a matter of opinion.

However, it is wrong (that’s a polite way of saying “bullshit”) to say that rate payers don’t get to decide in this matter. Goff will be subject to voter opinion again at next year’s local body elections, so he will be held to account. My guess? Cancelling on Southern and Molyneux will not be an issue, attempts by a few purveyors of self-interested moral panic in the blogosphere notwithstanding.

In the meantime it is a strange sort of freedom where private owners who rent out venues are well within their rights to refuse or cancel on the likes of Southern and Molyneux, while a public official is not. Trust that adds some precision and nuance to the discussion, although I fear you have the reactionary and thought-challenged response of “bullshit” ready on hair-trigger ready to which case, knock yourself out, Chum.

Kimbo said...

@ Karl

I see your two points and raise you, noting that you’ve avoided my primary point, that protecting freedom of speech does not oblige anyone, including a public official, to provide a platform for it.

1.Yes, freedom of speech applies, irrespective of the stated opinions of the two Canadians. Which is why I also said that their speech, and also that of David Irving too, is rightly available for all Kiwis to access on YouTube. Which is a far more effective means of disseminating free speech than a townhall meeting. But this debate is not occurring in a vacuum. Again, it does not mean they should be denied free speech. However, like the odious Valerie Morse it does no harm to have a more informed understanding about Southern and Molyneux’s message and their likely motives for disseminating it, and the platforms they seek out and attempt to leverage off when doing so

2. I disagree Goff is necessarily craven. As I pointed out on your next post, it is not the primary duty of local government to maintain law and order. Instead that rightly belongs to the police. Also, if handled the right way, there is probably political capital to be made for Goff in going toe-to-toe with Valerie Morse. Instead, Goff chose to the take into account issues of taste and the certain offense that would be caused to some/many of his ratepayers who ultimately own the venues. He’s within his rights, and not necessarily wrong in his balancing of competing priorities. He hasn’t banned Southern and Molyneux from Auckland and neither can he. Instead, they were free to seek out any privately-owned venue in the region that was prepared to take their booking.

Unknown said...

I think it might be instructive for your readers to actually view the "Farmlands"movie and watch some of Ms. Southern's videos before proclaiming her "far right" or "alt right." I don't know Mr. Molyneaux but Ms. Southern is at most, center right and rather liberal minded at that. Ten years ago she would have been considered centrist. As far as her reporting, she has gone places, often at great personal peril, (which I believe she foolishly dismisses,) to report on things that get virtually no media attention, most notably the systematic institutionally encouraged murder of farmers and the confiscation of their lands in South Africa. Her trips to Russia and Northern Europe were interesting as well. Her "hate speech" violation in the UK was a VERY interesting social experiment and absolutely proves out her thesis. At any rate, I always try to do my homework before condemning anyone and I recommend that everyone else do the same. Remember that offensive or unpopular speech is the ONLY speech that requires protection. And if you find someone abhorrent, simply do like I do and ignore them. "Democracy dies in darkness."