Thursday, 8 January 2015

Free's fraught, and probably not actually free.

Howdy partners, and a happy new year!
Fear not, I will have some pics from the hols in NZ up as soon as I get them downloaded in my camera (my fella was the official event photographer).

I mainly do posts about something that I have been thinking about a lot, or something that I have had to get my head around. They might come off as a bit navel-gazing, particularly in comparison to some of the other blogs around, but it takes all types, 'eh?

There has certainly been a lot to think about in the news recently. Big events like the Sydney Siege and the Paris shootings give me pause for thought.

Most recently, I have been thinking about the nature of free speech. This is because there have been a few things in the news that have raised this as an issue. There was the horrendous massacre of civilians at a satirical newspaper. Perhaps less prominent is the call to ban anti-vaccine advocate Sheri Tenpenny from speaking in Australia.

Now I will say from the outset that I abhor violence and lawlessness as seen in Paris, and I am staunchly pro vaccination.

I have seen the upsurge in support for the writers of the French publication, we are all Charlie etc. Their right to free speech has been vigorously defended throughout the world. In almost the same breath, there has been a push to deny Sheri Tenpenny a platform in Australia. Her camp have been claiming that they are being denied free speech. Technically, they are right. This dissonance had made me bit uncomfortable. Freedom of speech is not absolute, but relative.

It is one thing to provide an honest and balanced report, for example, the goings on of a corrupt government. This is clearly in the interests of the community, and will increase the odds that the baddies will be brought to justice. Free Peter Greste!

Is it actually in the interests of the community to gravely insult somebody's religion? I really can't see how any good can come of that. In fact, such a thing would be banned in Australia (section 18C of the Racial discrimination act). In Australia, we don't actually have the right to be bigots, despite what George Brandis says. Cartoons depicting insulting images of women, homosexuals, the obese or any other minority group would have been met with shrill calls for their removal, and rightly so.

The cartoons were absolutely not justification for brutal murder. But those cartoons will reasonably offend a section of the population. This occurs in the setting of increasing division within many European Societies - a rise in both ultra-nationalist groups, and conversely in extremist religious groups. It is easy to see how things might deteriorate. And then the media responds by cranking things up a notch, in the spirit of "not bowing down to terrorists". And so it goes.

I take Fr. Rod's point of view on this issue. As Einstein said, a problem cannot be solved with the same consciousness that created it. To tackle this form of extremism, I would be interested in talking with a prominent moderate member of the faith. Tolerance and understanding will in the long term go a much longer way than escalation of anger and hatred.

With the right to free speech comes responsibility. We must remember who we might offend, and what the reasonably foreseeable consequences of that might be. It's not about bowing down, it's about being a good citizen. The consequence of Sherri Tenpenny being allowed to talk in Australia is that some poor kid might not get vaccinated and die of a preventable disease. In this case her right to free speech is outweighed by the need for public health.

Anyway thankyou for reading this far. It's good to get that off my chest.

What has been vexing you? Rant away, or link to a news article.


  1. To live in a democracy is hard bc it means we all adjust ever so slightly to accommodate the whole population. Those cartoons were insulting to some but they are a satirical magazine and they are irreverent to everyone. I am offended by some in society but you don't tip toe around my demographic. I don't care who's offended by those cartoons or sentiments that don't fit my beliefs. Whose offence raised is then more valued? Not mine bc I am bloody offended when people kill over a difference in opinion but they keep doing it.

    1. Whose offence and right to freedom of speech is more important- this was the point I was trying to make.
      And I agree, murder is gravely offensive.

  2. I actually think that freedom of speech has been significantly eroded in the past decade or so by the overwhelming requirement that everyone is Politically Correct instead. Any minority group at all can claim to be insulted by the smallest slight and everyone backs down. This has watered down journalism, politics… everything. It's a minefield. We are all so worried about offending people.
    Then there is the secondary problem where our freedoms are used against us. Those that preach freely under our laws against our values and democracy, would if they could remove them from us.
    But as for that anti vaccination woman, and others similar… no, I don't think they have a right to free speech - their information is falsified, not based on science and is a danger to the public's health. It's really no different from preventing some charlatan selling an "anti cancer" drug that does nothing and has people stop chemotherapy.

    1. The key re: 18c - something that would "reasonably offend" a group of people. I suppose the term "reasonably offend" would be slugged out in court.
      There are lots of people who are quick to take offence. And you are right insofar as it has watered down debate.
      I think some groups cop more abuse than others.

    2. Yes, lawyers would have a field day with the term "reasonably". Suitably vague to keep a court case running for years…
      I have personally learnt that a clumsily worded sentence can produce an extreme reaction with people reading all sorts of things into it that you never intended. We are far quicker to jump to complete outrage as a default setting it would seem.

    3. Offence is taken, not given, and people are indeed very quick to take offence. However a clumsily worded sentence is a very different thing to knowingly publishing something gravely insulting to a group of people.
      I usually take the attitude that if I dont like it, I unfollow/ unfriend or don't read!

    4. There have been some pretty interesting articles in the Newspapers over the past few days about this very topic. Interesting to read about it from the perspective of journalists and how they approach it.

  3. It is interesting, I feel, that for the most part the folks leading with the clarion call to free speech are also those who support Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act - that is, we of the liberal (note the small 'l'!) Left. I have been pondering this issue for the past few days and admit I do not know what the solution is. The killings in France, and much of so-called fundamentalism (especially as pertains to Islam but others too) seems to me to arise from subjugation, persecution and geo-political forces, rather than having a clear basis in religion. I will need to read Karen Armstrong's latest book, when there are a spare few hours.