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Day to Day Politics: 18c Free speech Vs hate speech. Why the need to change.

I have written about free speech, hate, racial discrimination and the state of our democracy on many occasions and these questions will not leave me.

Why is it, in ‘the name of free speech’ that we need to enshrine, the right to abuse each other, in law?

Or conversely “what is it they want to say that they can’t say now?”

The joint committee on human rights has finished its deliberations and made 22 recommendations on how to proceed. The Prime Minister is now caught between a rock and a hard place. Will he yet again cave into the hard right of his party or will he take a more sensible, moderate course.

Free Speech and an Enlightened Society.

“European politics, philosophy, science and communications were radically reoriented during the course of the “long 18th century” (1685-1815) as part of a movement referred to by its participants as the Age of Reason, or simply the Enlightenment’“.

The Enlightenment advocated reason as a means to establishing an authoritative system of aesthetics, ethics, government, and even religion, which would allow human beings to attain objective truth about the whole of reality.

If you were to ask the likes of Bernardi if we live in an enlightened society he would probably answer “yes”.

I’m not sure how he would answer if you asked.

If we are an enlightened society why then do you think we need to enshrine in law the right to hate each other?

Surely you would think that an enlightened progressive free thinking society would want to eliminate it not legislate it.

It is not a question that requires great philosophical, ideological or even theological debate. It is a black and white question. After all, is not by definition a prerequisite of the human condition.

We do live in an age of enlightenment, a period where the world has made enormous technological advances, but at the same time our intellects have not advanced the capacity to understand simple tolerance.

Indeed, if we were truly enlightened we would treat our fellow human beings, with respect love and faithfulness. We would do unto them as we would expect them to do unto us and we would strive to do no harm. We would love life and live it with a sense of joy and wonderment.

We would form our own independent opinions on the basis of our own reason and experience; and not allow ourselves to be led blindly by others. And we would test all things; always checking our ideas against our facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it did not conform to them. We would readily admit it when we are wrong in the knowledge that humility is the basis of intellectual advancement and that it is truth that enables human progress.

And of course we would enjoy our own sex life (so long as it damages nobody) and leaves others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none or your business.

We would uphold the principle that no one individual or group has an ownership of righteousness. We would seek not to judge but to understand. We would seek dialogue ahead of confrontation.

We would place internationalism before nationalism acknowledging that the planet earth does not have infinite resources and needs care and attention if we are to survive on it. In doing so we would value the future on a timescale longer than our own. We would recognise that the individual has rights but no man is an island and can only exist, and have his rights fulfilled, only by the determination of a collective.

We would insist on equality of opportunity in education acknowledging that it is knowledge that gives an understanding. We would seek not to indoctrinate our children in any way but instead teach them how to think for themselves, evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with us. We would, in our schools open their minds to an understanding of ethics instead of proselytizing religion.

We would never seek to cut ourselves off from dissent, and always respect the right of others to disagree with us.

Importantly we not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.

Lastly we would question everything. What we see, what we feel, what we hear, what we read and what we are told until we understand the truth of it because thoughtlessness is the residue of things not understood and can never be a replacement for fact.

If these things truly are the embodiment of enlightenment. How do we stack up? It is fair to say that some societies and individuals could lay claim to attaining a measure of it. For example in some countries gender equality is more readily accepted and there has been advances in education. Overall though I think the reader would conclude that in most instances our enlightenment has not progressed much.

This is no more empathised than in our understanding of what free speech is. Are we honestly enlightened if we think we need to enshrine in legislation an emotion people already have and use, to express hatred?

There is something fundamentally and humanely wrong with the proposition. There is an intolerable indecency that suggests that we have made no advancement in our discernment of free speech.

If free speeches only purpose is to denigrate, insult and humiliate then we need to reappraise its purpose. There are those who say it identifies those perpetrating wrong doing but if it creates more evil than good it’s a strange freedom for a so-called enlightened society to bequeath its citizens. Are we saying that hate is an essential part of the human condition?

To quote Jonathan Holmes:

“Let’s be clear: Charlie Hebdo set out, every week, with the greatest deliberation, to offend and insult all kinds of people, and especially in recent years the followers of Islam, whether fundamentalist or not. 

Look at some of the magazine’s recent covers: An Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood protester in a hail of gunfire crying “The Koran is shit – it doesn’t stop bullets”; a full-on homosexual kiss between a Charlie cartoonist and a Muslim sheik with the ironic headline “Love is stronger than hate”; a naked woman with a niqab thrust up her backside.”

The Charlie Hebdo massacre as vile and as unjust as it was gave no excuse for repressive world leaders to lecture anyone on freedom of expression. The sheer hypocrisy of it was breathtaking. Some of the world leaders locked arm in arm in the Paris March were from countries with the world’s worst suppression of press freedom. To see the Foreign Minister of Egypt marching arm in arm with world leaders was two faced-ness in the extreme given that Peter Creste has spent more than a year in jail.

It’s all in the name of satirical free speech but it’s not funny if has no insightful truth.

Is this really what an enlightened society means by free speech? Does it demonstrate our cognitive advancement? Is this what well-educated men and women want as free speech or should we see free speech as being nothing more or nothing less than the right to tell the truth in whatever medium we so choose.

One has to wonder why the so called defenders of free speech feel they are inhibited by what they have now. I don’t. I have never felt constrained in my thoughts or my ability to express them. I’m doing it now. But then I don’t feel a need to go beyond my own moral values of what is decent to illuminate my thoughts.

Why is it then that the likes of Abbott, Bolt, Jones, Brandis, Bernardi and others need to go beyond common decency, and defend others who cannot express themselves without degenerating into hate speech? The answer has nothing to do with an honourably noble sort of democratic free speech.

Why does this demand for open slather free speech always come from the right of politics and society? They seem to have an insensitivity to common decency that goes beyond any thoughtful examination.

And we shouldn’t forget that the means of distribution for hate speech is weighted toward the right-wing media, particularly in Australia.

They simply want the right to inflict hate, defame with impunity, insult, and promote bigotry if it suits their purpose. And behind that purpose can be found two words. Power and control.

Often those who demand unrestricted free speech, do so to compensate for the freedom of thought they seldom use.

The way we presently view free speech simply perpetuates the right to express all those things that make us lessor than what we should be. Debate, in whatever form, should not include the right to vilify. It is not of necessity about winning or taking down ones opponent. It is about an exchange of facts ideas and principles. Or in its purest form it is simply about the art of persuasion. The argument that bigots are entitled to be bigots or that unencumbered free speech exposes people for what they are, doesn’t wear with me. It simply says that society has not advanced.

That our cultural ethical intellect has not progressed at the same rate as our technological understanding.

The fact that so many people agree with the free speech argument highlights the tolerance we have for the unacceptable right to hate each other, which to me is the sauce of everything that is wrong with human behaviour.

We will never truly understand the effect free speech has on people until we have personally suffered from the abuse of it.

And we want to make it acceptable by legislating to condone it.

Are we really saying that in a supposed enlightened society that values, love, decorum, moderation, truth, fact, balance, reason, tolerance, civility and respect for the others point of view, that we need to enshrine in law a person’s right to be the opposite of all these things.

If that is the case then we are not educating. We are not creating a better social order and we are not enlightened at all.

The fact is that free speech in any democratic system should be so valued, so profoundly salient, that any decent enlightened government should legislate to see that it is not abused. That it carries with it sacrosanct principles of decency that are beyond law and ingrained in the conscious of a collective common good.

After all the dignity of the individual (or individuals) within the collective is more important than some fools right to use freedom of speech to vilify another. Those who insist on unlimited free speech should realise that when they do so they also reveal their inner morality.

My thought for the day.

”An enlightened society is one in which the suggestion that we need to legislate ones right to hate another person is considered intellectually barren”

 

 

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26 comments

  1. Jack Straw

    Not enough people are enlightened John. Society has regressed since the deceptive old uncle ruled Australia, John Howard did more social damage than people realise.

  2. Harquebus

    For me, it is which should take precedence? My wish to hear, identify and speak my disagreements and denounce wrongs and injustices or protecting feelings and emotions. The former is my preference.

    “enshrine in law the right to hate each other”
    That’s a bit overboard. Where does the word “hate” appear in the legislation? Adopting tactics we often complain about now John?

    “The use of exaggerated hyperbolic language by shock jocks.”
    https://theaimn.com/day-day-politics-right-play-head

    Cheers.

  3. Terry2

    If anything positive has come from this enquiry into 18C and the Human Rights Commission it is that the misleading reports about the HRC bringing court action over the QUT students matter was just one big lie promoted by the coalition and, at best, by a poorly informed Prime Minister.

    You may remember Turnbull’s comments, including these :

    “Days after the Federal Circuit Court threw out a racial hatred case against the students, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lashed out at the commission for “bringing” the case in the first place, claiming it had done a great deal of harm to its credibility.”

    Gillian Triggs and the HRC were forced, time and again to point out that at no time have they nor could they initiate court proceedings : their enabling legislation just does not permit them to do so. In a statement they said this :

    “The commission released a statement clarifying that it “terminated” the QUT complaint in August 2015 — meaning no resolution could be reached — and “had no role in the subsequent law suit in the Federal Circuit Court”.
    It also noted it had no power to prevent a complainant proceeding to court once the commission terminated the matter.
    “At no stage does the commission initiate or prosecute a complaint,” it said in a statement. ”

    I wonder now, will we see an apology to Professor Triggs from the PM and the various troglodytes who promoted this and other inaccurate and misleading stories about the HRC : what do you think ?

  4. Sue

    Much to agree with there John. Those who wish to legislate the right to vilify others are telling the world what sort of people they are – a group who have little idea of what freedom actually is. There is continuum of understanding and one’s position on that continuum is not fixed. However, trying to drag others up or down any continuum by force is a game played by people caught in the egoic mental realm – both the do-gooders and the do-badders. It seems that stepping out of the mental realm into the heart realm is the only way out of the trap, but how to do that? One Buddhist monk described the solution thus: ‘There is no how, just a pathless way’.

  5. Jack Straw

    Harquebus So you want to be rid of 18c Please explain?

  6. Jack Straw

    Terry2 Malcolm got his information and gusto from the Liberal back bencher;The reliable one” Allan Jones

  7. Harquebus

    Jack Straw
    That is my preference for reasons that I have already stated.
    Cheers.

  8. Jack Straw

    So if you and I were working somewhere and you were black or Asian I could constantly call you a good old slanty eyes or say “give the job to the old Back Cxxx on the first floor; day in and day out ?

  9. Jack Straw

    Only the inarticulate, bullies and manipulators have trouble with 18C.

  10. Harquebus

    Jack Straw
    That would be harassment. If someone thought I was (insert insult here) and said so, good. I would then know not to invite them anywhere.
    Cheers.

  11. Jack Straw

    Eg) But you need this job You have other mouths to feed. And I do these insults cleverly and I am your senior at work? But I never let up.

  12. crypt0

    Would it be termed “harassment” or merely “offensive” if one were to refer to our Aboriginal people as “nxxxxxs” or our Jewish friends as “Jew cxxxs” ?
    Just wondering.
    As the article posed …
    Just what is it that they wish to say that they cannot already say ?
    An example would be so helpful.

  13. Steve Laing

    There should be no need for 18C. But that assumes that we are all tolerant of others, and unfortunately we aren’t, so at this point we need to have laws that seriously discourage intolerance and indeed incite hatred and violence. As a society it appears that we just can’t be given that personal responsibility, because there is a very vocal minority who would abuse it, and unfortunately that number seems to be growing.

    What I want to know from those that support changes to 18C, what exactly they want to be able to say that they don’t believe they can say already? We know that Bill Leak’s most ugly cartoons, for example, whilst possibly falling foul of 18C would be may acceptable due to 18D. So what exactly is it they want? What exactly do they want to say that they don’t believe they can say now? As far as I can work out, a few right wingers just want to be allowed to make highly inaccurate generalisations that match their own prejudices – but they seem to be able to do that anyway! I’ve not heard anyone’s free speech being denied at any point – so perhaps someone can give me an example, any example, of what kind of thing 18C denies them? (And for the record, we should be Ok to publish such here as I believe that 18D would protect us given its provision).

    All this “freedom of speech” is just a smokescreen to make it look like those that disagree aren’t in favour of “freedom”. Personally I’ve noted that those most pro-Freedom of Speech, are the first to want to shut it down as soon as they feel that speech abuses them. If, for example, you criticise Israel, they are the first to accuse you of anti-semitism. Trump is the first to throw law suits at those whom he believes disrespect him. Members of our government happily denigrate refugees using inaccurate terminology, inaccurate slurs and innuendo, and now even slang, without the slightest legal concern.

    In my opinion, it seems to be simply another way for the 0.1% to control and manipulate the 99.9%, as it gets rid of a publicly funded defence, and pushes towards having only legal defence (roughly translated as only for those who can afford to pursue it – an option that we know our last PM used to his advantage on more than one occasion).

  14. John Lord

    Harquebus

    “enshrine in law the right to hate each other”
    That’s a bit overboard. Where does the word “hate” appear in the legislation? Adopting tactics we often complain about now John?

    Of course it wouldn’t have to be. But hateful words used would, by inference, make it so.

  15. stephengb2014

    Sell said John Lord
    The best explanation of the meaning of ‘enlightenment’ I have ever read. I read it twice.

    Harquebus, you have missed the point
    May I suggest that you need to read it over and over again, you might be enlightened!

  16. Jack Straw

    Steve Laing: My above examples indicate potentially what some would/could like to say.

  17. Terry2

    Good comments Steve.

    I just posted this on The Conversation where discussion is underway :

    Some facts on the Bill Leak cartoon may assist and, if my research is lacking, please correct me.

    The complaint was raised against Leak over a cartoon, published in The Australian in August 2016, depicting a drunk Aboriginal father who had forgotten his son’s name. The matter was closed by the AHRC in November 2016 after the complainant dropped the case : the matter was raised and the case closed by the AHRC within three months..

    Giving evidence to Senate estimates on Tuesday, Professor Triggs said the commission had twice written to Leak giving him the opportunity to assert that he had drawn the cartoon in good faith. Lawyers for Leak and The Australian wrote to the AHRC on 21 October 2016 saing :

    “We confirm that Mr Leak does not intend to make any submission to your inquiry, whether in writing or otherwise”.

    Melissa Dinnison, who brought the complaint against Leak, said after dropping it that he and his lawyers had “made it clear they weren’t going to co-operate with the conciliation process” and she saw this as an effort to coax her to take the matter to court.

    The overwhelming impression I gain from this is that The Australian newspaper, for their own reasons, were anxious to see this matter go to court and to avoid conciliation : the AHRC has said all along that the liklihood of this complaint succeeding was tenuous at best due to the exemptions contained in section 18D.

    So, the complaint was never the subject of review by the AHRC and never went before the courts. What then was and is the motivation of The Australian in pursuing this matter ?

  18. jimhaz

    [If we are an enlightened society why then do you think we need to enshrine in law the right to hate each other?]

    After watching Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next in the last week, we sure have a long way to go to get to an enlightened society. There are so many European government initiatives we should be adopting here.

    If only.

    If only we did not have such a strong conservative base here due to us more or less being a plutocracy.

    I think there are important religious affiliated people in the US doing exactly what they did to the US here.

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage?CMP=share_btn_tw

    You know what, overall the US are materialistic arseholes. Their lack of socialism is the result.

    I blame the US mindset on the fact that it is an immigrant nation. In my view a side effect is a loss of morality. It allows alpha dark triad personalities to flourish by providing a continual influx of people they find easier to manipulate and the end result is a dog eat dog atmosphere. Immigration divides cultures into many subsets, and an outcome of this cultural division is a strengthening of religious believes as culturally alike people flock to these communal meeting and reinforcement places. In terms of their hatred of taxation maybe that is because they do not want people outside of their cultural subset to receive welfare. We see this effect at the macro level with the conflicts, dislikes, disinterest, disregard for other nations covered by a veneer of diplomatic falsity (ie the best of friends trend).

    This excessive immigration factor is also why we are regressing.

  19. stephentardrew

    I think your excellent essay answers your question more than adequately John. Great read with which I thoroughly agree.

    “Indeed, if we were truly enlightened we would treat our fellow human beings, with respect love and faithfulness. We would do unto them as we would expect them to do unto us and we would strive to do no harm. We would love life and live it with a sense of joy and wonderment.”

    Beautifully put mate.

  20. John Lord

    Terrt2 where would I see it on the conversation.

  21. Terry2

    John

    Here you go :

    https://theconversation.com/parliamentary-inquiry-into-free-speech-resolves-nothing-so-18c-should-be-left-alone-73752?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20March%202%202017%20-%2068755097&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20March%202%202017%20-%2068755097+CID_d76b135efa725a6a4b752a3e1b19d1d1&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Parliamentary%20inquiry%20into%20free%20speech%20resolves%20nothing%20so%2018C%20should%20be%20left%20alone

  22. John Lord

    Thanks Terry.

  23. kerri

    Those who believe in their own entitlement are frequently lacking in one quality. Respect!

  24. Dave

    Great opinion piece, the more people are inspired to think about issues and discuss them with others can only be a positive thing, regardless of a persons perspective. Which leads me to the concept of free speech: (NB, if I make any factual errors I am happy to be corrected) it’s my understanding that John Stuart Mill was one of the early modern advocates of “freedom of discussion”, which conceptually has been reduced to a theory-less catchphrase of “free speech”, ie, a person should be allowed to say ANYTHING. Freedom to discuss one’s viewpoint, while providing supporting arguments and acknowledging the others view, is a far cry from the right to say anything one likes. While I haven’t read enough to be sure, I suspect JS Mill was advocating a way for societies to improve themselves through discussion, and hopefully compromise, to eventually come up with approaches to helping society function better for everyone. Vilification, abuse, deliberate offence and stereotyping don’t have a great record of leading to better outcomes. There’s an easy little experiment we can all do: When you’re at home with your partner and some topic comes up that you both strongly disagree on, try both tactics associated with the arguments surrounding freedom of speech, 1) your right to say anything regardless of offensiveness, or 2) your right to discuss your viewpoint in context with supporting evidence while maintaining civility and manners. I’m sure you’ll find out pretty quickly in a very practical way which approach leads to an uncomfortable night on the couch and a grumpy partner!!

  25. Nina B

    I would hate to think that any group, no matter how much in the minority, in society can not be criticised. No group, or individual, is beyond that. I am a feminist, but there are certainly areas where women can, and should, be criticised. Member in all minority groups make bad choices, and there can be trends in all groups that are destructive to others ( or themselves ). I don’t like the inclusion of “offend” in 18C, as taking offence is a subjective act, and is often unrelated to the intention of the person whose behaviour triggered that response. I also thought the Leak cartoon was fair enough, as it comments on the partial neglect that some of us who work with children have to struggle with (myself included). BUT Leak’s cartoon came with the background of all his other work. I don’t see many of his work satirising bald wrinkly white billionaires who manipulate western governments. I didn’t see any about journalists who hack people’s phones, including the phone of a murdered girl. I haven’t seen any about dynasties whose death grip on a media empire forces their children into the upper reaches of the company’s manegement, with nary a nod to merit. And I have not seen one about old rich men who resemble a testicle attracting significantly younger wives, who are clearly in it for the money, not what they see when they wake up in the morning.
    Furthermore, I do not get the way a small group get so frothed up over this. Surely, if there is a genuine criticism to be made, of any group, it can be done if honest, factual and precise? What are we prevented from saying? Or is it the gap between self-awareness and fact – the factual part for someone like Dutton would be “I don’t like foreigners, even if they grew up in Australia” rather than “Muslims are backwards and it was a mistake for Australia to take them”. Because the truth, if a Del-Con had to speak it, instead of the items they wish to label “free speech”, sound rather pathetic and pitiful. “I don’t like other cultures”. “I want to keep all the money I make and not contribute to society -even though I’m happy to help myself to all the benefits from other people’s taxes”, “I don’t want to share money, power or status with anyone who is different from me”, “I don’t feel much for people who are suffering, and I don’t want to help them”.

  26. Johno

    Thanks John, for a good piece. Didn’t Abbott start all this up, and he wanted to be a priest. The mind boggles. These people that want to interfere with 18c must have a serious lack of empathy and compassion.

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