Mere speech

There is a long predigree in liberal public discourse about the dangers of punishing hate speech. The oft-quoted aphorism goes something like “the antidote to hate speech is more speech”*. The basic idea is that in a marketplace of ideas, bad ideas will be forced out by good ones, and thus the solution to hate speech is to marginalize hateful voices by speaking up vigorously in the defense of those who need it. This has been, proponents of this view claim, the way our society has moved overt and hateful racism from the mainstream to the margins: good people decided it was time to push racist voices out of the mainstream, and nobody had to pass a law making it a crime to be racist.

The truth, of course, is far more complicated than that. This account moves the agency of black people to the back of the bus (yeah, I went there) and makes the provisional successes of civil rights groups in eradicating racism the work of the goodwill of the majority rather than the work of organized people who fought against the system. It also ignores the fact that, even to this day, racist language might be gone, but the racism it described has just found more palatable words to convey the same message it always has. Finally, it ignores the role that craven politics and opportunism played in whatever cultural shift has genuinely happened.

That being said, the point remains: it is not necessary to criminalize hate speech to reduce it. The argument then (often) follows that we should therefore not criminalize it, because of some non-specific harm that may come to some white person down the road who will be mistakenly blamed for saying something that hurts a brown person’s feelings. Or something. I have, in recent years, moved away from the “absolute free speech” position I held for many years, and it’s partially because of stories like this: [Read more...]

Schadenfreude: Sun News edition

Those of you who have either been reading this blog for several years or who regularly follow my Twitter feed and have caught one of my unhinged rants on the subject, I am decidedly not a fan of Canada’s Sun News Network. While (full disclosure) I would not be a fan of any ‘right wing’ news outlet, there are gradations of obnoxiousness and professionalism that allows me a wide level of tolerance for ideas that do not necessarily reflect my own (Margaret Wente, columnist for The Globe and Mail sits just on the periphery of what I can stand before I begin cursing at my computer monitor). I recognize (and laud) that a commitment to freedom of speech specifically licenses views that I disagree with, and I recognize the importance of heterodoxy in a modern democratic state.

The need for divergent views, however, must be balanced with a respect for truth and a commitment to scrupulous standards of fairness. There is no value in claiming validity for positions that are based in distortions of fact or outright lies. In news circles, this ethos is known as “journalistic integrity” – the idea that news outlets have a duty to provide readers with analysis that as closely approximates objective truth as possible. Now I am nowhere near so naive that I fail to recognize that different outlets have editorial biases – that’s media criticism 101. However, there are standards of good reporting that require all editors to suppress their own personal beliefs in service of giving their audience proper information. [Read more...]

White Power-less

Okay, so sometimes my country is just friggin’ awesome:

A white supremacist rally in Edmonton’s downtown lasted only minutes when the demonstrators fled into a subway stairwell after they were greeted by over 100 anti-racist counter-protesters. Police then blocked subway platform entrances until the roughly two dozen self described white pride demonstrators, most of them masked, were able to leave on a train.

Police spokesman Scott Pattison said at one point as the racist group was nearing the site near Edmonton City Hall, both sides clashed briefly, but police separated them quickly.

So a bunch of cowardly neo-Nazi shitheads decided to put on a “white pride” rally. I have no issue at all with white people showing pride in their accomplishments – there’s a lot of them. “White pride” as a movement, however, has always meant (and continues to mean) overt expressions of antipathy toward other groups. White supremacy is a pathetic and risible philosophy, not only because it is demonstrably untrue (there is no scientific correlation between things that code for phenotypic race and any yardstick by which we could demonstrate the ‘supremacy’ of one vs. another), but because it is often most strongly espoused by those who simply have nothing else about which to feel superior. [Read more...]

Movie Friday: Last Dictator Standing

Long-time Cromrades will know that I have nothing but the deepest respect and affection for Robert “Pigfucker” Mugabe – a man who brings new meaning to the term “horrible African dictator with a prolapsed anus from the time he got fucked by an elephant”. This is a man who has made it a crime to insult him, which of course is like waving a giant red flag in front of a bull, and then letting that bull fuck Robert Mugabe’s prolapsed anus.

I don’t just love him because of his stance on free speech. No, there’s so much more to love: his repeated human rights abuses, his open contempt for international law, his complete mismanagement of his country, the fact that he’s completely destroyed any hope that Zimbabwe will be able to climb its way out of the hole he’s dug for it. My favourite part about him has to be his keen sense of humour though.

You see, there’s nothing that old Pigfucker loves more than a hearty joke at his expense. He was concerned because Nando’s, a chicken restaurant chain, didn’t have the clout required to make the above video a worldwide sensation. Being a keen observer of human foibles, he knew exactly what he needed to do to ensure that people the whole world over could share in this hilarious joke – he banned it:

A South African fast food chain has withdrawn a TV advert which pokes fun at Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe as “the last dictator standing”. Nando’s South Africa said it decided to act after receiving threats to its staff in Zimbabwe from a youth group loyal to Mr Mugabe.

(snip)

Nando’s South Africa decided to axe its commercial after Mugabe loyalists from the Chipangano group had called for a boycott and other unspecified punitive action against the company. “We condemn such adverts because it reduces our president to be someone without values,” Chipangano leader Jimmy Kunaka told the BBC’s Brian Hungwe earlier this week.

Of course, as anyone with half a brain knows, trying to stop people from doing something makes it more tempting. When it’s someone as well-loved as ol’ Pigfucker, it becomes international news! So congratulations, Bob – thanks to your genius intervention, people all over the world can laugh about what a despicable waste of carbon you are.

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Just one more…

I’m not sure what it is about religious belief that robs you of any sense of irony, but that phenomenon is fairly well-documented. Religious people seem to lack the God-given ability to self-examine and see yourself as others see you, which is problematic because most of the rest of us see you as sanctimonious jerks (which is, I suppose, a charge commonly leveled at atheists, so maybe that’s not fair of me to say. SEE HOW IT’S DONE, RELIGIOUS PEOPLE?)

What really doesn’t make sense, however, is the complete loss of a sense of historical perspective that seems to be associated with fervent religious belief. For some reason, they keep falling in the same hole over and over again:

Christian groups have condemned a provocative Spanish play about Jesus called Golgota Picnic (Golgotha Picnic), due to premiere in France. Street protests are planned when the play is performed in the southern city of Toulouse, before moving on to the capital Paris. While urging restraint, Toulouse’s Catholic archbishop said the play “fouled the faith of many believers”.

I mean, haven’t we already done this? Didn’t we do this like… 3 months ago? And wait… didn’t we do the exact same story only 4 months before that? I mean, I could keep writing this stuff again and again, but after a while it kind of gets boring making the same points. Censorship of blasphemy doesn’t create less blasphemy. If anything it makes it more attractive and popular. There are things that are actually worth getting upset about in your own organization. Log in your own eye, speck in others’. Art is supposed to be subversive. Blah blah blah. C’mon guys, get hip to it! [Read more...]

When censorship goes weird

Long-time Cromrades will know, given my unabashed free speech stance, that I am decidedly not a fan of censorship. While I recognize that individuals have a right to privacy, I also know that large institutions (be they private or, especially, public) must be held accountable. This means that more transparency is good, and that censorship is bad.

Censorship is especially bad when it is done by large institutions against individual people. Provided that communication does not immediate place lives in danger, or that the speech in question is not slanderous or fraudulent, there is no justifiable reason to censor unpopular speech. In fact, if recent events have shown us anything, it’s that the more attention you draw to something you do not wish seen, the more people look at it out of sheer morbid curiosity.

Often, censorship is disturbing. Occasionally, it is overblown and counterproductive. But sometimes… well sometimes it’s just weird:

[Read more...]

Wives, be subject(ed) to your husbands

I’m not married. I have no idea if I ever will get married. But if I do, it won’t be to anyone who’s read this book:

Malaysian officials have banned a controversial book that offers sex tips to Muslim women, reports say. The book, entitled Islamic Sex, is believed to have been read by a few hundred people. It was published by a group known as the Obedient Wives’ Club, which has been widely criticised for promoting polygamy and denigrating women.

The Obedient Wives’ Club told journalists last month that the book was intended as a spiritual guide to be read only by club members to help them comprehend sex. The club has previously said women should act like “first-class prostitutes” to prevent their husbands from having affairs or resorting to violence.

Yikes.

Funnily enough, there’s no advice to the husbands on how to make sex a life- and relationship-affirming experience for their wives. It’s almost as if the publishers of this book think that sex is a woman’s duty, and that the husband’s role is to simply enjoy it. Almost as if, despite constant propaganda from Muslim apologists (and other theists, to be sure), following the Qur’an doesn’t establish women and men as equals, but rather as a dominant and submissive relationship (but not the good kind). [Read more...]

The lies told about the Occupy movement

This past Thursday, I spent an hour trying to explain the Occupy movement to a friend of mine. Because ze is (depressingly) not particularly well-versed in current events (I say depressingly because this seems to be a common phenomenon), I had to re-cap about 15 years of history and economics – topics I am enthusiastic about but am not an expert in. What followed my careful explanation of the reasons for the protest was a torrent of stereotypes and derrogations of the people present at the protest. When I asked where ze got the information from, all ze could offer was an admission that it had been from “people”.

It is not surprising to me that sources in the larger media are doing a depressingly awful job of reporting about Occupy. It is not a ‘protest’ in the sense that they are used to – loud, focussed, sponsored, targeted. The diffuse and amorphous nature of the problems facing the financial system and the way we think of the economy will not be solved through a single legislative package or a new political candidate; a new avenue of change is needed, and Occupy is trying to be just that. This poses a problem for the media – no leaders, no spokesperson, no head office, no stationery, no logo, no easily-digested sound byte. However, if a part-time blogger like myself can understand and explain the Occupy movement to a naive friend in an hour, then every media talking head that says they “don’t get” the Occupy movement should be fired. They are clearly grossly incompetent and unfit for their job, which is to relate current events and place them in context.

But what bothers me far more than the artificial “confusion” of media outlets is the constant stream of disinformation and propaganda that flows incessantly like rusty tap water from politicians and media outlets. For example: [Read more...]

Anonymity and the online social contract

There’s a really interesting discussion happening over at Almost Diamonds about whether or not bloggers have an obligation to protect the identity of abusive or threatening commenters:

While the balance of power may be in our favor in dealing with the pseudonymous/anonymous Hoggle, it isn’t necessarily for anyone who deals with his secret identity. I know something about how he behaves when he thinks he can get away with it that they don’t. I know how obsessive he can be. I know how weirdly he can interpret things to put himself in the right. I know how angry he is about feminism. And I know that he’s capable of combining that anger with sexual release. What I don’t know is how that translates into his real life. I still know more than any woman from whom he’s hiding his blog.

So the challenge is this: Knowing what I know, having the information I do, give me agood reason why I’m not morally obligated to attach his real name to this kind of behavior as publicly as I can.

My initial position is that the blogger who goes by the name “John Hoggle” (which makes him sound like a character from Harry Potter) shouldn’t be ‘outed’, because in general people have a right to anonymity. Many people rely on anonymity online to protect themselves from legitimate threats. The more I thought about it, though, I realized that I don’t believe that for a second: [Read more...]

Absolute speech freedom? Absolutely!

Blogging requires a bit of a thick skin, or at least a certain amount of self-assuredness. The more people scrutinizing your ideas, the more likely you are to have people openly disagree with you. I recognize that I am breathing fairly rarefied air, here at Freethought Blogs – most of the people reading my posts already agree with most of my basic premises. There are perhaps a handful of topics that I introduce in a given month of blogging that are foreign to 90% of the readership here. I recognize that. I also recognize that by the virtue of not owning a uterus, I will escape a lot of the uglier side of attacks (since everyone knows racism is bad, but misogyny still seems to be okay).

This is why I’m always somewhat buoyed whenever I come across someone who can express my opinion for me: [Read more...]