Freedom of speech and the shouting down of opposing voices

Nathan Smith has a brilliant opinion piece at NBR on freedom of speech, but more importantly the proclivity of people, mostly the left-wing to shout down or wanting to ban those who they disagree with.

People seem split about US presidential candidate Donald Trump. His hair, sorry, his policies neatly separate the left from the right, not only in the US, but in every country pretending to care about the pre-primary silly season currently hogging the airwaves.

In a perfect world, I wouldn?t need to speak about Mr Trump at all. He wields no power and is unlikely to secure any despite what his supporters claim. But this is not a perfect world, and Mr Trump represents a deep problem also found in New Zealand society that?s worth discussing ? as opposed to yelling.

I am not interested in Mr Trump?s ideas about forcing the Mexican government to pay for a security fence to keep illegal immigrants from stealing across the border. Neither am I interested in his attacks on the politically-correct ?regressive?-left (as Muslim author Maajid Nawaz so eloquently calls the progressive left). He may as well command the sea to stop being wet.

I am not even interested in his back-of-the-envelope proposal to stop all Muslim immigration to the US. Presumably this unworkable policy precludes Muslim Americans on holiday or working overseas from re-entering the US, too. Never mind that the idea rips up the US constitution, how exactly does Mr Trump think he’ll screen for such people?

No, what concerns me is every political side in every developed country’s attempt to stifle the other?s words. Being offended isn?t a nice feeling, we can all relate to that. But it does not mean we should force other people to be silent simply to feel good. It is a direct attack on freedom of speech ? the only thing that makes Western civilisation worth protecting.

We saw this last year with Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics. An attempt by the left wing, and enabled by their fellow travellers in the media to shut down debate and people and political discourse because they didn’t agree with them.

We saw Lynn Prentice at The Standard call for me to kicked out and shut down on the internet. We saw Nicky Hager blackmail journalists that if they didn’t stop talking to me or start behaving according to his code of ethics (ironic since the last three books he has authored have come from stolen emails), and the left wing political parties attempt to shut down opposing voices. The media proved fickle guardians of free speech then, and they remain fickle guardians of free speech today…unless it is their free speech being impinged…then they are very vocal.

If there had been a democratic process asking whether the central tenants of freedom of speech should be retained or rejected, and the majority of New Zealand or US citizens chose the latter, that would probably be acceptable. But the powers that benefit from these outrages prefer to say the attacks on words do not erode freedom of speech. And we believe them. Yet erode away they do.

Mr Trump is only the most visible example of someone attacking freedom of ideas and speech. Millions of people in not-so-different countries agree with him too. Some were breathlessly waiting for an opportunity to compare the man to Hitler. But it is this exact response ? spitting nastiness and hatred ? which is the problem. I can spot the culture of narcissism at 1000 paces.

The thread connecting everyone operating inside a Western political spectrum is a desire to remove ?bad? speech. The excuse given is that some speech causes offence and the world would be better if no one was allowed to say those things. Fine. But where does this desire come from? And, more importantly, who will be empowered to choose which words stay and which will go?

Which precisely what Nicky Hager and his pals tried to do. Become the arbiters of who should and should not speak.

Modern people don’t want the political solution to be ?about the next generation? because they?d prefer the answer to be about them ? their own fulfilment, happiness, safety and sanity.

But the more regressive problem is to define oneself in opposition to things. ?I don’t know what I want for dinner,? says a toddler, ?but I’m certain I don’t want that. Or that. Or that.? Then the contents of the bowl paint the walls. We’re all acting like toddlers.

The demand that our personal thought bubbles not be polluted with difficult thoughts leads to a desperate desire to skip right over healthy debate and straight to rage. For instance, this week people in the UK thought Donald Trump shouldn?t say such nasty things about Muslims, so now they want to bar him from entering their country. This is a defence of identity, and the result is rage. Take a look at the Twitter universe if you don?t believe me.

People who truly understand and value free speech know the only cure for bad speech is more speech. The idea that this world might be better if certain words are no longer around is utopian. In other words, it is undesirable. After all, utopia comes from the Greek words for ?no-place?. If this isn?t a red flag, you haven?t been paying attention.

What?s frightening about the responses to the attempts of both Mr Trump and to the ?regressive? left to stifle speech is how few people want to do the work to debate them constructively. The preferred response is hatred. Healthy debate is a combination of effort with empathy, and neither is possible in a society obsessed with broadcasting identity, defined only by what they oppose.

If we engage others with reasoned debate, might poisonous speech disappear? Of course not. But we must not believe the old adage that it is impossible to reason someone out of a position they did not reason themselves in to. I have seen this succeed many times to know it works.

We see the campaigns continue to this day, with the beige badger stating that he thinks we’d be better off without this blog. Lynn Prentice stating openly and with malice that he will see this site taken down and me removed from political discourse. The hate is palpable, the anti-democratic and anti-freedom attitudes prevail, all egged on by the baying of their quite mad and narcissistic microscopic audiences.

The bottom line is that they are threatened, they are jealous and they can’t or won’t do what is required to try and beat me, so they must try to silence me. They won’t.