“Free speech”: what’s really going on?

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I’ve been trying to get my head around the whole fire-storm that has blown up regarding ‘free speech’ and feel the need to unpack it a bit more.

Much as I believe in free speech, I also believe there are some points of view that shouldn’t be allowed any air – regardless of whether that breaches their human rights or not. Paedophiles, for instance, or Nazis, or those who defend any form of genocide or ethnic ‘cleansing’; people whose only agenda is causing others hurt or shame.

I do agree, however, that universities should be a place where it’s possible for the full range of views to be aired, but I think we need to look a little deeper at the intentions of Don Brash and his ‘Free Speech Coalition’ (and of those coming in from overseas to feed the same agenda). Let’s ask ourselves who these people are and what it is that they’re trying to do? If you think they really care about the right for everyone to get their voices heard, think again.

For a start, Brash is not adverse to blocking people, complaining if they use their preferred official language, or suing them if they say something that he doesn’t like – in this, he reveals exactly the privileged position that he comes from, a privileged position he (and others like him) are so desperately trying to maintain. They speak of their right to hear the ugly dog-whistles of white supremacists – not because they agree with them, oh no, of course not – they frame it as a useful discussion that will be good for our country. But what useful purpose can these toxic speakers have in our society, other than to stir up the underbelly of racism already here?

Brash claims we need to have a country where everyone is equal and no one should be given any additional hand-up, especially if they happen to be brown, female or poor. He’s sending coded messages to all the discontented people at the bottom of the ladder ­– trying to lay the blame for their struggles at the feet of actions seen as ‘PC gone mad.’ He and his ilk have no qualms about igniting and fanning the flames of intolerance and hate – it serves their purpose to set the rabble squabbling among themselves for the few dregs in the bottom of the cup while they skim the cream off the top and keep it for themselves. It’s what they’re used to; how they and their mates have managed to hold onto the power and wealth since the first Europeans set foot on this beautiful land and started to strip it of its assets and people. Brash’s underlying motives are elitist and racist, and his Hobson’s Pledge agenda is anti-Maori, full stop.

The fact that they are upping the ante now we have a government who might actually work to address such inequities is utterly predictable. The make-money-at-all-costs brigade have had it good for nine long years and are now furious their reign has been interrupted. They filibuster in Parliament, they spread ‘fake news’ and trot out tired lines about ‘virtue signalling’, while their lack of virtue and any decent ethical/moral compass or genuine support for human rights are the very reasons their ‘boys’ were voted out. And let’s make no mistake: they were voted out. Do the maths. That’s why they fight so hard to undermine MMP – it has more chance of delivering up what the majority of the people really want; of sharing the power and wealth.

The saddest thing is that people buy his argument about equality, when nothing could be further from his truth. If you follow his line of thinking (that no-one should be given a hand up in any focussed way), then we would have to stop the disabled getting support, and the elderly, and the chronically ill, and the vulnerable, and the victims of crime, and the poor, and the homeless, and the . . . I think you get my drift. Boil it down (truly boil it down) and what Brash is actually saying is that he wants no one to do anything that might shake up his comfortable status quo. He has no reservations about leaving people on the bottom rung; his and his mates’ mindset (and overarching aim) relies on there being winners and losers – that’s neo-liberal capitalism in a nutshell.

What Brash and his friends are doing is being mirrored around the world, as we lurch into a terrifying future. Their scrabble to maintain their privilege isn’t going to go away all on its own – they have the keys to power and they’ll fight to hold onto them no matter the cost to everyone else. If we don’t stand up now and face this assault head-on, we’re doomed. So what can we do?

Firstly, if we have no power to stop these racist and misogynist shitheads from spewing forth their hate because we champion free speech (which I think we must champion, in its most ethical form), by all means protest; in fact, do protest. But be smarter about it – don’t feed their flames. Let them come, but give them no air before they speak. Save it for the event itself – and sit quietly taking notes throughout their twisted diatribes before, point by point, refuting their claims and calling them out for what they truly are. They say they want free discourse so don’t stop them; go there and have your say, politely, firmly, calmly, digging holes in their awful arguments and, in the process, showing them up for the vile human beings they really are.

Have no doubt they are working on the side of hate. Look at their actions, study the meaning behind their words. My father and his family fled pre-war Vienna as it marched towards fascism – I have my grandfather’s increasingly terrified letters as he watched the hate unravelling around them, desperate to escape. It starts with a rabid kind of nationalism (the kind being stoked by Trump in the US), and goes on to preferencing one group over all others, while declaring other certain groups ‘the enemy’. We’ve seen it all before.

If there’s anything we can learn from the past, it’s that it’s not okay to let this kind of rhetoric go unanswered or unchecked. But we have to act smarter – not allow them to lead the narrative and or position themselves as some kind of valiant victims. We have to shine the spotlight of truth on them as we declare they have no clothes, and hold up a mirror so the whole of society can see exactly how nakedly venal and ugly they really are.

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6 Comments

  1. Maybe we should replace the term ‘politically correct’ with ‘kindness’!
    ‘Kindness’ because it is, in essence discouraging terminology which is triggering for those who are finding their way back from having been dispossessed. African Americans from slavery, Maori from colonisation, women by patriarchy, the disabled from exclusion etc. Much harder to get away with saying ‘Kindness gone mad’ ‘Too much kindness’ etc

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very well thought out, Mandy. I’ve been beating my brains about the dividing line between free speech and hate speech – both of which could include facts and opinions that many might not like and prefer to deny.

    I would question Newton Lee’s definition of hate speech, though. The hate speech I’ve heard recently doesn’t incite violence so much as incoherent hostility – which can turn to violence after the speaker has skipped the scene.

    And maybe I keep bad company, but I’ve met “racist and misogynist shitheads” all along the political continuum!

    Liked by 1 person

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