Tuesday, March 03, 2015

John Pilger – hyperbolic fiction writer and fan of Putinesque fascism

For many years John Pilger has been the pinup polemicist of the far-left, he takes evidence and facts of actual situations, and uses them to justify his inevitable conclusion that some atrocities, suffering or disaster is the fault of Western governments and businesses.  Of course, like any decent polemicist he takes quite a bit of accuracy, points that are difficult to refute, and then uses it to hitch onto his predetermined line.

The enemy of humanity is capitalism and Western liberal democracy, and humanity’s friends are those who accept governance by socialists, nationalists, theocrats and other leaders who epitomise opposition to those enemies.  By contrast, he depicts Putin’s Russia as a proud sovereign state, ignoring blithely its suppression of dissent, and the vast corporatist gangster run corrupt economy it represents.   I can only guess it is because it reminds Pilger of his beloved USSR.

Now he has let out a vituperative narrative about the globalsituation that is long, but starts with treating the United States as morally equivalent to Nazi Germany, which should be enough to tell you what he is, a raving charlatan:

Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened. Had the United States and its satellites not initiated their war of aggression in Iraq in 2003, almost a million people would be alive today; and Islamic State, or ISIS, would not have us in thrall to its savagery.

It’s history for simpletons, and is almost laughably childish.  Yes, Auschwitz would not have happened as such as it was in Poland, but to claim that the Nazis would not have committed genocide in Germany before then is ludicrous.  To claim “almost a million” people would be alive today had Iraq not been invaded, is equally ludicrous.  Even the controversial Iraq Body Count website counts a total of one-third of that figure.  To claim even that presumes the Hussein demagogues would have not executed opponents, not invaded neighbours and not spawned proxy attacks in the Middle East.  Pilger, you see, treats the Hussein regime as having moral legitimacy and a right to exist.   It also ignores the inconvenient truth that most of the deaths were due to insurgents Pilger and his ilk supported.   

You can’t have it both ways, supporting terrorists resisting the invasion, and then blaming the other side for the people they massacre.

Furthermore, to blame ISIS on this is even more ludicrous.  ISIS was spawned in Syria, as resistance against the Assad regime (which Pilger implicitly supports, and which has always been aligned with the USSR/Russia historically), it spread to Iraq due to sectarian bigotry of the Iraqi government supported by Iran (another regime Pilger implicitly supports).  

I could go on, as pulling apart Pilger is like the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel, it’s too easy. However, given it’s too easy, I’d thought I’d summarise his turgid piece into a series of bullet points, you’ll get the picture rather quickly:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Greece votes for a dream, and it is only that

The news that Greece looks like getting a far-left government let by the soft communist Syriza Party has excited some commentators, but what is perhaps most deceptive is the claim that it is a "rejection of austerity", as if the choices to Greek people were like a menu.

In fact, the choices are far more stark, because what Greek politics is and has been ever since it joined the Euro (indeed one could say ever since it joined the European Economic Community), is an exercise is mass deception and reality evasion.

The troubles of the Greek economy are not due to "the Germans", nor are they due to "the bankers", they are due to the peculiar, though not unique, mismatch between the part of Greek society that wants money from the state (and protection for their businesses or jobs), and the part that doesn't trust the state at all, to the point that it egregiously evades taxation on a grand scale.

This mismatch used to be managed by stealthily stealing from most ordinary Greek people through continual devaluation of the drachma. 

Then it was covered by structural adjustment transfers from the EEC/EU, as Greece gained money to build transport, energy and civic infrastructure, and of course the ongoing subsidies for its agricultural sector.   When it joined the Euro, the Greek government gained access to easy borrowing in a hard currency at low interest rates, so it ran further deficits.  The OECD describes Greece's economy as thus:

In Greece, economic difficulties go deeper than the direct effects of the recent crisis and fiscal consolidation is urgent. Difficulties have been brewing for years, so when the crisis came, Greece was significantly more exposed than others. Besides the severity of its fiscal problems, Greece has, over the past several years, gradually but persistently lost international cost competitiveness, resulting in widening current account deficits, a deteriorating international investment position, and a poor record of inward foreign direct investment. 

Greece has a highly regulated protected economy, with a bloated state sector. 

Syriza wants to protect the economy even further, increase the state sector even further, cut taxes and thinks that banks in other countries, supported by taxpayers in northern European Eurozone states, will help Greece out.

There are, in effect, two paths.

Either a renegotiation of existing loans to be written off or extended is achieved, and Syriza quietly folds its promises on state sector pay, free electricity (indeed any further giveaways), and Greece remains in stasis.  or

Greece defaults on debts and leaves the Euro.

In the former scenario, it looks like at best Greece might get some easing of terms of debt repayment, but the idea that it will get half of its debt written off again, is unlikely, given the previous deal saw private Greek government bondholders accept a 50% write down of debt.  There is little real chance the Greek government could get anything from the private sector, so any further loans will be government to government.  

If Greece gets the sort of deal Syriza hopes for, it will set a precedent that Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and even French and Belgian governments will want to replicate.  At that point, you would have to wonder how much tolerance voters in Germany, the Netherlands, Finland would have for propping up their profligate southern neighbours (let alone the former communist bloc countries that went through much more radical and painful structural reforms than Greece should be facing). 

The real risk is that voters in those countries eject governments that agree to bail out other governments with their money.  After all, who wants to be seen to be bailing out Italy?  German guilt over the war can't be stretched that far.   It threatens unravelling the Euro and even the entire EU project, as parties like Syriza effectively want a fortress Europe that looks closer to the former COMECON than a customs union.

The latter scenario has seemed less likely, but I'm not so sure.  A deal gets offered to Greece that extends the terms for existing loans, in the hope that Greece engages in reforms, but ultimately Greece will run out of money.  At that point, it faces either not paying its pensions or public sector workers, or issuing a new currency, and then the Greek economy finally collapses under the weight of its fundamental contradiction.  A western European standard of living cannot be sustained with an economy that is akin to a wealthy developing country, 

The only solution to this is to reduce the costs of doing business, address the corruption within the regulatory/subsidy/state contract/tax system, remove protection for existing businesses (and jobs) and to cut the role of the state, while enabling the state to be more effective in carrying out its core responsibilities.

However, the outgoing Greek government only made modest progress on this, and Syriza is philosophically opposed to making life easier for the private sector.  Syriza believes in the state owning larger businesses and licensing/protecting smaller businesses.  It believes in a generous welfare state and public sector, and wants lower taxes on everyone except the "rich", who of course have either already left or have at least set up their accounts in a way that they are away from the hands of the taxman.

Even if Syriza does get a deal that avoids a default, it will only delay the next crisis.  An anti-business, anti-free enterprise party will continue to strangle Greece just like similar policies have done for many years.  

What's bizarre is that Greece's northern neighbours have faced much more serious levels of reform and restructuring in the past twenty years than it needs to, but they did it.  Bulgaria and Albania are both much poorer than Greece on a per capita GDP basis, but have economies in much better shape. 

The tragedy is that too many Greeks have voted for a dream that they too can convince taxpayers in other countries to buy them a standard of living they don't earn themselves, and that they can convince banks and other private investors to risk their money with a government that is unwilling to pay them back.  It is a dream, and it is about to become a nightmare. 

What I wrote before about Greece, two years ago, remains true.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Page 3, libertarian techniques for authoritarian gains

There are two dimensions to the #nomorepage3 campaign that has been waged by leftwing British feminists against The Sun newspaper that I agree with.

Firstly, it is avowedly libertarian to ask, rather than force, a publication to not publish something you don't like, and to ask people to boycott it.   By and large the campaign has been about persuasion, not force.  However, that's about as far as that goes.

Secondly, I personally find the page 3 topless image in a newspaper to be rather dated and not so interesting.  If they disappear for commercial reasons, I wont care.

However, every other side to the campaign is quite odious, patronising and fundamentally Orwellian in its philosophical position.  The reasons for the campaign are claims that publishing images of topless women "objectifies" them, portrays the view that "women only exist as sexual objects and nothing else" or even that it promotes the latest trendy slogan "rape culture".

It is only when you deconstruct the reality behind the photographing and publishing of the image, and the alleged contribution to crimes that the insidious authoritarianism of the position is apparent.

1.  The opinion of the model is deemed irrelevant:  Bearing in mind that the women that appear in The Sun choose to do so, and apparently get paid rather well for it, it is curious that their opinions are dismissed by the feminist left.  In an almost archetypal example of the sort of "class-bias" that the feminist left sometimes rally against, these women are treated as though their views don't matter.   This is exactly what the feminist left accuse "the patriarchy" of doing, but they do it to the women who they presume are not university educated or who are complicit with the patriarchy (bearing in mind that the most radical feminists eschew men for political reasons altogether). 

Here are women, who through their own conscious volition (which the feminist left would stand up for in respect of many other choices regarding their bodies, like marrying another women, getting pregnant, not getting pregnant, having an abortion) choose to expose their breasts for a camera for a newspaper.  The women are not forced to do it, the newspaper is not forced to print it, and nobody is forced to buy the newspaper (and many others are on the market).  Of course, those opposed to "page 3 girls" don't buy the newspaper, which is entirely appropriate.

Even worse are some who will claim the model is a "victim", even though none of the models believe themselves to be victims.  This is classic totalitarian psychology, whereby you seek to convince someone who has made their own choices and decisions that somehow, someone has taken advantage of you and that your decisions were made fraudulently.   The "victims" don't understand that they are victims, and if only they understood the philosophical position of the protestors, they would realise they are being exploited.

Yet in this totalitarian world view, if the women don't accept that position and even actively argue against it, they are dismissed as being "victims" or worse, "sell-outs".  There is no scope for ideological plurality in their world.  At no point does the feminist left think that the point of view of the women posing really matters, because they look down on them and diminish their minds, in exactly the way they accuse men of doing.

2. They speak for "all women":  Frequently the claim is made that the image "objectifies women" or "makes them look like they are just sexual objects", on the basis that women never want to be seen that way or thought that way.  For those asserting this, it may be perfectly valid and indeed for most women most of the time, this may be true.  It is unlikely that most people want to spend their entire day being treated by others as a potential sex partner rather than whatever other roles they pursue in life.  Of course, the likelihood of this happening will tend to reflect how relatively physically attract someone is compared to others of their sex, and the demographic of those they interact with. Healthy, fit, attractive young women will get looked at by men (and some women) because they are sexually attractive.  Indeed, sometimes, some women dress and present themselves so they can be seen that way, they want, sometimes, to be seen sexually by men.  That's their choice, as appalling as it may seem to the feminist left.  Again, the feminist left would ignore women making that choice, or say they are obviously "victims", perhaps playing out "sexual abuse" they experienced from men.  However, once again, the totalitarian world view comes out that women should never be treated as sexual objects, and those that choose to do so, need help.   Women can't be free to choose to seek to be seen in whatever way they wish, they must fit the "accepted" range of the feminist left.

3. They seek to end thought crimes:  The end result of the proposed ban is to "stop women being seen as sexual objects", but of course the people they want to stop doing this are men.  They want to stop men thinking, talking and acting certain ways.  Certainly any libertarian would agree that anyone who assaults another sexually is behaving immorally and criminally. Beyond that, it is rude, condescending and stupid to treat most women like that most of the time.  Most employers do not tolerate it, and most women (and many men) quite readily patrol such behaviour.   This is entirely how it should be.  People should treat each other with respect, and it is entirely appropriate for people to campaign to change behaviour that is not criminal.

Yet the feminist left want to go further than that.  In seeking to "stop women being seen as sexual objects" they are seeking a sanitisation of human discourse.  You can see this overlapping with the strenous and successful efforts to regulate sexual behaviour on US university campuses, with the odious concept of "affirmative consent".

If you're unfamiliar with "affirmative consent" it is an attempt to regulate how individuals pair up sexually.  The intention is to reaffirm that just because a woman kisses a man, doesn't mean she consents to intercourse, and it is intended to confirm that if, during any encounter, a woman says no, then it should stop.  In itself, it is difficult to disagree with that intention, but its implementation and net effect is effectively sanitising every step of a sexual encounter by requiring that the man (it is always about men seeking consent from women, other couplings are not considered to be an issue) gain consent for every placement of his hands, mouth, genitals with a women.  "Can I touch you there..?" is required at each step, and at any point if he doesn't obtain consent, and touches her, it is sexual assault and it's all over.   The attempt to sanitise intimate human relations to the point that "can I kiss your neck" "can i kiss your breasts" "can I kiss you belly" becomes what is required at every step without a man being accused of sexual assault,  will kill it.  Particularly given that "affirmative consent" advocates seek such consent, on every occasion, regardless of the nature of your relationship.  If you cannot kiss another whom you have been in a steady loving relationship with for some time, without asking explicit permission, then it loses its appeal.  Indeed, it fundamentally undermines having relationships of trust and the expression of spontaneous affection, which many people enjoy receiving.

The feminist left want page 3 shut down because they want to control what people think, and what they do:
-  Women shouldn't consent to having photos taken of themselves with their breasts exposed;
-  Newspapers shouldn't print those images;
-  People shouldn't look at such images;  
-  Women shouldn't want to be seen as sexual objects;
-  Men shouldn't think of women as sexual objects.

If you deviate from this, you're either a man and so sexist and part of the "rape culture" (consider just what that actually means for those accused, but also how much that diminishes the agency of actual rapists), or you're a women who is either an uneducated "victim" or a traitor to her sisters.

So when it comes down to it, while I'm relaxed about whether The Sun publishes tits or not, I am not relaxed about the philosophy that drives those campaigning against it.  When Islamism, which threatens to treat women as chattels, continues to grow.  When women in the UK of minority backgrounds find it hard to fight misogny within their communities, because the left gives those minorities a "free pass" of "victimhood and disadvantage", you'd think the feminist left would have plenty of targets to focus on whereby women face actual violence.   The blindspots towards sexism within some Muslim communities is palpable, but remember the feminist left police the views within their community like Maoist Red Guards.

Instead, they cling to their 1970s campaigning, at a time when most people can find countless images of women naked online with a series of clicks, many of whom took the image themselves, so they could be admired sexually.

Unless they want to join religious fundamentalists in a new call for censorship of images of womens' bodies, the feminist left might be better just letting newspapers like The Sun, make their own decisions based on what their readers want, or if they think the models are exploited, convince them of the merits of their case.   Better yet, how about re-evaluating their entire philosophical premise - that women should all think the same as they do.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Nobody supports complete freedom of speech"

That's the line that always gets thrown back at libertarians or indeed anyone defending the right to print cartoons that offend some people.  That lack of absolutism in freedom of speech is seen as justification for any exception that anyone wants to claim, which of course means the "right" doesn't exist.

However, the argument that there is no absolute unrestricted right to free speech and so free speech is "up for grabs" is from the same school of thought as those who claim you can't have absolute freedom or anyone can do violence to anyone else.

It's missing the point that the issue is around individual rights, and that restrictions on free speech are not restrictions on individual rights, but the boundaries between individual rights.  It is the same as my right to use my body as I wish, as long as I do not deny that same right to others.  Otherwise I am not asserting an individual right that all people have, but asserting privilege to do as I wish to others that I am not extending to others.

The same applies to the boundaries of free speech.

So what are these boundaries from a libertarian perspective?

No right to use platforms or property owned by others:   You can say, write or produce media if you wish, but you have no right to demand others provide you a platform to do so.  You do not have a right to demand a newspaper print your article, nor do you have a right to be on someone's private property and do as you wish against the wishes of the property owner.  The quid pro quo is that neither does anyone have a right to demand you print their articles, or be on your property and say or distribute content that you disapprove of.   Say what you wish on your own property, say what you wish on your own platform (and bear in mind this means there are no restrictions on who can publish, broadcast or produce content or talk), or as is often the case, obey the rules of someone else's platform.  This also includes accepting the rules of property that you enter.  When you enter a cinema, the classic shouting "fire" is likely to be a rule that would get you ejected from the premises, but also subject you to a lawsuit for the harm done to the owner and the others who acted on the false call.   Free speech, as with all actions are constrained by property rights. 

No right to use the intellectual property of others, without their permission:   Copyright and patents are the cornerstone of many industries and careers.  Those who apply their minds to pens, computers, paintbrushes, musical instruments and even their voices, have the right to own what they produce and to sell the proceeds of the products of their minds.  It is hardly a restriction on your own speech to simply reproduce that of another, if the other's speech is not restricted.

Defamation is about property rights too: Whilst less material, one's reputation is still something that belongs to you and has value, as it affects employment, business and personal relationships.  If someone distributes content that is demonstrably false which seriously diminishes your reputation (i.e. claims of criminal conduct), then there is a right to not only respond with free speech, but to claim financial damages for the harm done.  This does not prohibit such speech, but means that the damage done due to such speech can be claimed.

Censorship of recordings of crimes against the person:  There is no justification for restricting written, drawn, painted or virtual depictions of any events, as this is a creative endeavour that involve no person other than the creator/producer.  By contrast deliberate video, still or audio recordings of actual violent or sexual crimes being committed (recording made with the knowledge the crime would be committed, rather than security cameras incidentally recording the commission of a crime), are a part of the actual offence, as the person who made the recording is an accessory to it.  In such cases, such recordings should be the property of the victim, and can be used as evidence of the original crime, or treated as the victim wishes.  If the victim is not identified, the recordings are evidence of a crime and should be treated as such, until the victim is identified and can specify the fate of the recording.  This is how so-called "snuff" films, child pornography and recordings of actual rapes should be treated, as they are extensions of the actual crime.  Recordings of any other legal behaviour, regardless of it being sexually explicit, including simulated crimes, are different, as these are not crimes.  Recordings of acts without the consent of those involved could be considered violations of property rights (if the recording is undertaken without the consent of the owner or person with licence to occupy the property from the owner) or, if the other party or parties are aware of the recording, as void consent (consent obtained under objectively fraudulent circumstances). 

Prohibitions against threats are an extension of the crimes that are being threatened:  A threat to commit a crime against another is a crime, it is the possible step before the attempt to commit a crime.  The threat is itself an initiation of force, as it may result in the victim responding in submission to the threat.   In this case the speech is an initiation of force that denies the right of the recipient to live in peace.  This does not change if it is a group of individuals making threats to a single or a group of individuals, in other words it covers true hate speech, being the use of speech to threaten violence.

Fraud:  You can make statements that are false, or false claims, or lie about the contract that you are making with another party, but all of these can be subject to criminal and/or civil action for fraud.  This is, in effect, another form of initiating force, for it leads people to enter into contracts, exchanging value, on the basis of a lie, so that value is not exchanged on the basis upon which it was originally agreed. 

In all of these cases of limitations on free speech, the limitation is a demarcation of the boundaries between  the same rights held by all individuals concerned, whether they be property rights or the right to decide what one does with one's own body (recording violations or obtaining consent fraudulently being the violations).  They are not limitations based on a party being offended or in some statist definition of protecting public morals.

So no, those of us who argue for unrestricted free speech are not hypocrites when these limitations which are consistent with individual rights are quoted as the boundaries to free speech.  That is why those arguing for free speech, but also supporting "hate speech" laws fall victim to the claims by Islamists that insulting "the prophet" is "hate speech" because Islamists consider "insulting  the prophet" to be a greater offence than "hate speech" towards Muslims.

Do those of us arguing for free speech say everyone should be offensive to everyone else? No.  It is neither rational nor intelligent nor even ethical to be a whimsical vulgarian, but if it does not infringe upon the rights of others, then it is not the role of the state to use force to control it.

Within this is the right to insult any philosophy, whether based on religion or based on a this-wordly set of beliefs, regardless of how rational or whimsical they are.  It includes the right to insult any art, any speech, any person, and to praise as well.  Yes, it means that frequently you'll be offended, as will I, probably about different things, different words, images or sounds.   

However, it is only through free speech that human beings can learn from each other, can apply their minds to the full evidence of expressions from each other and respond accordingly, with speech or actions.  The right to free speech is the most fundamental egalitarian right that there is, for it is a statement that no power has the right to use force to close your voice, no power knows better than you as to what words, sounds, images and objects you can see and interpret and the sole limit on this is when your production or consumption of speech violates another.

Sky News UK shuts down journalist for trying to show Charlie Hebdo image

Those of us with libertarian/small government leanings have tended to think of Sky News more positively than other UK television news outlets.  The "pay the TV licence or be prosecuted" BBC has long had a reputation for being statist and left-leaning, and state-owned, but commercial Channel 4 is not much better.  ITV News has tended to be less that way. However, Sky News was always thought as being a bit more (if less well resourced) towards the so-called "right", and more challenging of the "what's the Government going to do about it.." narrative that is the default for interviews from so many other journalists.

No more.  Whilst the BBC chose to briefly show the cover of the Charlie Hebdo commemorative edition this week on its 10.30pm Newsnight programme, Sky News (as a rolling news channel) has repeatedly stated that it has made an editorial decision to not show the image on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, seen on the right here.  
Of course Sky News, as a privately owned, commercial broadcaster, has every right to make editorial decisions to not show content if it so wishes.  In the grand Voltairean tradition, I respect and would wholeheartedly defend this right, even if, as I do in this case, vehemently oppose the decision itself.  

However, what happened yesterday evening (Wednesday 14 January) on Sky News was rather more disturbing and offensive, as it consisted of shutting down the interview and the attempt by a French journalist Caroline Fourest.  It had shades of an embarrassed state broadcaster under an authoritarian regime that suddenly had to switch from something embarrassing. The Guido Fawkes blog has the video which I repeat below

Caroline Fourest was displaying, quite correctly, the disappointment and barely veiled contempt for British journalists (as none of the national newspapers have printed the cover on their covers, a couple have printed versions as large as the one above) for not actually standing up for French journalism.  They say #JeSuisCharlie as a hashtag, but none have the courage of Charlie Hebdo.  

Furthermore, Sky News apologises for an "offence caused" by the split second showing of the image, but is completely uninterested in the offence caused to thousands of viewers who are not Islamists, because Sky News insults their intelligence or emotional stability in not being able to handle seeing it.

It is as if it equates showing the image with an endorsement of the content of the image, rather than showing the image in the context of the news item being discussed.   Sky News readily shows clips from ISIS or Al Qaeda videos, but nobody assumes it does this as an endorsement of what is being said.  Sky also regularly shows content that "some viewers may find distressing" or "offensive" involving corpses, the badly injured or distressed.  Real people suffering, which some call "war porn" or "disaster porn".  It isn't difficult to see why it is offensive to some to repeat video footage of the last moments of someone's life, but Sky does it, as it is part of a story with the implication that it should be stopped or relief provided to those suffering.

Yet Sky News has decided not to show the image at all, even with a warning.  Why?  Well Sky wont say,  but there are three most rational conclusions:

1.  Fear of reprisals:  If Sky News genuinely feared its staff would be targeted if it showed the image, then it should say so.  Would it imply that security is not sufficient to protect them?  Perhaps.  Would it imply that the Police have indicated they would not be responsible for protecting them?  If so, we should know this.  Would it indicate that media outlets in the UK may be self-censoring because UK based Islamists are threatening and bullying them?  If so, we also should know this, because it indicates that the claims made by David Cameron that broadcasters should feel free to show or not show what they wish, within the law, as rather empty.  If our media feels at risk from offending Islamists, what next?  It means we are on a slippery slope and the Government's attention needs to shift from talk of passing new laws, to actively protecting those wishing to exercise free speech.

2. Empathy with the "offended":  The least likely, but most disturbing interpretation is that Sky News has  "agreed" the images of the Prophet Muhammed are offensive, and that it is more important to not offend a sub-set of Muslim viewers, than to not offend those who consider the self-censorship to be disgusting or childish.  In short, it would mean Sky News has taken the side of the Islamists, implying all Muslims would be offended, and their offence is worth more than mine.

3. It's not newsworthy: Sky News may have decided that the publication of Charlie Hebdo isn't important, against queues at hospital A & E, energy policy, prospective party leader debates on TV etc.  This would be just fine, there is a lot of news broadcasters don't cover because time is limited.  However, this isn't credible given  the extensive coverage given including correspondents in Paris and of course the offending interview with a French journalist. 

Of course there is a fourth conclusion, which I believe is the most likely.  A panicked, confused and kneejerk reaction has been made based on:

- Copying what other UK broadcasters and print media have done, as a default;
- Fear of reprisals expressed by some staff;
- Some commercial concern that by allowing the image to be shown, it would face viewer or even advertiser boycotts (which is dubious, indeed the opposite reaction could be true);
- A decision that SkyNews did not want to be "the news story itself" by being the only broadcaster in the UK to show it (even though half of UK households have access to multiple TV news channels from many countries, some of which have shown it).

Sky will, I suspect, stick to this line, unless a growing number of viewers and high profile figures demand it apologise for the offence caused by its self-censorship.

In one move Sky has:

- Offended non-Islamists who, as adults (and indeed children as well) can judge for themselves if the benign comic image above is offensive or not.  Instead Sky has judged for them;
- Offended Muslims who do not hold to the theological position that any drawing of Mohammed is offensive.  Sky has presumed to know best for them;
- Demonstrated that it is not, by any means, able to say Je Suis Charlie.  It does not uphold standards of journalistic freedom or courage.  

Notably, broadcaster Iain Dale on Sky News, as a regularly commentator in a review of the next day's newspapers, noted that Sky News is a large organisation, capable of defending itself, by contrast to the small independent newsagents around Britain and in France, who are stocking Charlie Hebdo, at some risk to their own lives and livelihoods.   Watch his response here:

Sky News has disgraced its reputation, has shown itself to be meek, timid and either easily intimidated, or simply appeasers of those who want Islamist blasphemy law to apply in the UK.

It doesn't show solidarity with journalists in France, or journalists that are anywhere taking on those who wish to kill them for reporting that which offends those who want power over our lives.  It shows a muddled, pablum like complacency, sitting with the mediocre, middle ground of "let's talk a lot about it, but don't rock the boat in case we get called names or threatened".

Let's be very clear.  Sky News has taken sides.

The side it has taken is not one against laws of blasphemy, it is not one against religions censoring that which they find offensive, it is not one of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, journalists who confront state or clerical censorship or threats of violence in doing their jobs.  It is not one with the vast majority of their viewers who are not Islamists, nor is it with those offended by the infantile treatment of a benign image.

It's not to side with freedom, an unalloyed defence of Western civilisation and the right for full, free and frank debate.  It's to side with fear, appeasement and to follow "the group", moreover it is, regardless of intent, to side with those who demand that Islamist definitions of blasphemy be followed in editorial decisions. 

and broadcasters wonder sometimes why they are losing audiences...

UPDATENick Cohen in the Spectator has another excellent take on this issue.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The left has been guilty of attacking free speech, says the left

Leigh Phillips on Ricochet writes a powerful, if avowedly leftwing defence of free speech and goes on the attack at what he calls the "anglophone left" for calling Charlie Hebdo "racist", clearly showing that those who repeat this call don't understand French, which of course is a form of what some on the left might call "neo-cultural imperialism":

The last few days have been a humiliation for the anglophone left, showcasing to the world how poor our ability to translate is these days, as so many people have posted cartoons on social media that they found trawling Google Images as evidence of Charlie Hebdo’s “obvious racism,” only to be told by French speakers how, when translated and put into context, these cartoons actually are explicitly anti-racist or mocking of racists and fascists.

Now I would argue vehemently that the left has a strong history of sympathising with those who support censorship, including soft peddling many regimes that would imprison or murder those who expressed political dissent.  Given its strong support for state solutions to most problems or support for so-called "direct action" (a euphemism for vandalism, trespass, intimidation and threats of violence), it is consistent to support wanting to close down debate,  but Phillips seems to get it:

There is a worrying trend on the left to dismiss freedom of expression as part of the colonialist project, to repudiate free speech as a meaningless elite piety. In recent years, the liberal-left, particularly in the anglophone world, has taken to demanding the censorship of “offensive” or “triggering” speech, and student unions, theatres, universities, schools, municipalities, art galleries and other public venues have increasingly shut down a wide range of speech acts. Even many traditional civil liberties groups appear to be cowed. Demonstrators go beyond protesting those they oppose, and now try to actively prevent them from speaking, as in the case of efforts to disinvite Bill Maher from UC Berkeley last year — ironically during the 50th anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement protests. In 2014 in the United States, campus protesters prevented commencement addresses by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, attorney general Eric Holder, and IMF head Christine Lagarde. According to campus free speech group FIRE, 39 protests have led to the cancellation of protested events on campuses since 2009. All this is contrary to traditional leftist defence of freedom of speech and must be strongly opposed. The politics of the speaker should make no difference here.

 We counter bad arguments with good ones. The minute that we begin embracing censorship, it will be our own ideas that sooner rather than later will be deleted by the censors. And the irony is that while these calls to censorship frequently come from the “social justice left,” it is precisely as a result of the liberal foundation of freedom of expression that the women’s movement, the civil rights struggle and gay liberation have achieved all that they have.

The difficult Phillips has is the intellectual tradition he is aligned to has a firm belief in the control of language to control people and behaviour.  It has used the words "racist" "sexist" and now "Islamophobic" as a catch-cry for "shut up, your opinion is worthless, go away and be grateful we can't lock you up".  Those who criticise this get thrown the same word, because the "liberal" left thinks it has a monopoly on morality.

In actual fact it has embraced a form of collective group-think that those who lived under China's Cultural Revolution or the totalitarian Soviet satellite states in eastern Europe would recognise instantly.  It is why the term "politically correct" has been coined, albeit it too has been overused by some on the right to conceal their own bigotry.

Critics are labelled and consigned to the dustbin with that label, and there is a refusal to engage, and the most recent usage of the "check your privilege" claim is a way of focusing not on the content of speech, but on the background of the person speaking.   This, of course, is exactly what umpteen totalitarian regimes have done and still do.

I fear that the likelihood of the left in the English speaking world accepting free speech for those that reject many of its arguments, is not great.  The desire to restrict, regulate and control many aspects of people's lives, of businesses and to spend their money, runs through so much of what is advocated.  If you are going to continue to ban "hate speech", then you are going to continue to place free speech vulnerable to wider demands as to what is "hate".  After all, how many on the left would ban "hate speech" based on professions? i.e. banning vilification of say, bankers.