Jacinda Ardern has demonstrated since the last election that she isn’t a “do nothing” Prime Minister, she wants to be transformative. She has been elevated by the predominantly left-leaning media domestically and internationally as a political superstar, quite something for someone who led a party that came a fairly distant second in 2017 and only gained powered with the support of two other parties (and until the Christchurch terror attack was looking lacklustre in the polls). She has capacity for emotional empathy, rather than hard-nosed policy, and it is the former that drives her to reform laws on hate speech. It’s clear she despises, like any right-thinking people, the ideology that drove the shooter to commit mass murder on the basis of religious belief. The idea that there are people who speak, shout, type, write or otherwise express hatred to others is a mystery to her, and her philosophy of the purportedly kind, caring, maternalistic state runs through so much of what she does and says.
So, she thinks, it is entirely consistent with her vision of the big mother state that people be prohibited from being mean to others. The original issue around the Human Rights Act is that the two key provisions, S.61 and S.131, only apply to “colour, race, ethnic and national origins”, but of course an attack on Muslims isn’t readily defined by this, as Muslims can be from any racial or ethnic background, with majority Muslim countries ranging from Bosnia-Hercegovina through to Indonesia geographically. However, it’s not so simple to simply amend the law to add “religious belief” because the law as it stands is absurdly worded.
The current provisions prohibit expressions that are “threatening, abusive, or insulting” (S.61) or “with intent to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule” (S.131). Few would argue with the term threatening, but insulting is awfully close to prohibiting calling people names. Whereas bringing into contempt or ridicule looks exactly like a ban on criticism or certain forms of humour. Allowing a law change to prohibit intentionally ridiculing people because of their religion is almost a law against blasphemy. Sure it’s not nice to ridicule people’s religion, but the right to ridicule religion came from the Enlightenment.
So Ardern’s proposals (one can’t assume that the empty headed Kris Faafoi had much agency over these proposals) are to replace “threatening, abusive or insulting” and “with intent to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule” with a much more simple provision:
intentionally incite/stir up, maintain or normalise hatred… of protected groups… through threatening, abusive or insulting communications, including inciting violence
Working backwards I know no one who disagrees with laws against inciting violence, so clarifying this alone would be welcome, but why restrict it to protected groups? Inciting violence against ANY group of people (with a defence of self defence to cover situations when a group might attack someone or their property) should be a crime. Why would it not be? However the rest deserves very close scrutiny indeed.
The proposal seeks to prohibit certain actions being “threatening, abusive or insulting communications”, with certain intent “to incite/stir up, maintain or normalise hatred” of the listed protected groups. The key word here is “hatred”. What is hatred?
For hatred to be “incited” or “stirred up” it must already exist somewhat, and certainly “maintain” and “normalise” are for emotions that already exist, “normalise” implies that there is hatred that exists that the “bad person” wants to say is valid.
Ardern doesn’t think hatred should exist, at least not towards the protected groups.
Going back to the actions that are sought to be prohibited, few would argue against threats, but what about abuse or insults? The most confusing element of these proposals is exactly what the terms mean, how a judge or the Police will interpret them in practice, and to help inform that it is useful to understand exactly what Ardern and her acolytes (including the Greens) think is action that is insulting and abusive, or even threatening, and how they interpret hatred. You see it is the jurisprudence of today and the intentions of Parliament and how that percolates into the Police and the judiciary that matters.
And we all know what that culture is. It’s the culture that is seen in trans-activism, that deems feminists who are concerned about self-identified trans-women with penises convicted of sexual assault entering womens’ prisons, as TERFS and spreading hatred. There’s no nuance, the feminists are directly accused of inciting hatred, rather than engaging in a debate about a sensitive issue.
It’s the culture seen in race-activism, that declares an organisation or system “racist” if the outcomes are not proportionate to inputs by race, always according to the race or races the race-activists are concerned about (they blank out other minorities performing much better). It’s racist to be focused on the correct answer in mathematics according to some race activists in the United States, so would insisting that students not pass unless they get problems solved correctly “stirring up hatred”? Is ridiculing such people seen as threatening?
It’s the culture of sex-activism. The lack of equal proportions of women on company boards or the so-called “gender wage gap” if challenged is seen as sexist, because equality of opportunity is not the goal. Unless outcomes are equal, the system is one with entrenched misogyny, although the lack of men in primary school teaching is not seen otherwise. Is questioning the gender wage gap “normalising hatred”? Is this seen as insulting communications?
It’s the culture promoting permanent welfare dependency. Some on the left promote a guaranteed minimum income or perpetual increases in welfare benefits for those who don’t find work that they want. Is claiming that someone who has been on welfare for years is lazy or that the welfare state is parasitical inciting hatred against people on welfare? Why is receiving taxpayer money seen as being deserving of protection, but having money taken from you by the government not?
Finally, it’s the culture of blasphemy. Charlie Hebdo has produced many magazine covers grotesquely insulting of religious figures. There is little doubt that many adherents of those religions regard them to be insulting or even abusive and would argue that they are intended to incite hatred. Could the law even be turned on itself by arguing that the likes of Charlie Hebdo are inciting hatred from Muslims against them as a provocation? The same can be said of the Life of Brian, which some Christians may interpret as inciting hatred against them, through ridicule and insults to their religion. It’s not hard to tell which of these is more likely to be seen as falling foul of the law.
|One of Charlie Hebdo's highly offensive covers|
And that’s just some of the protected categories. Most of them are ridiculous. What should be by far the biggest concern is that the very idea of including these protected categories got not only past officials, but past Ministers and the Prime Minister.
What mindset thinks it is ok to make hatred of groups according to political or ethical opinion illegal?
There can be only two possible conclusions, mind-numbing stupidity or a sinister and disturbing set of beliefs about the limits of a free society. With this government both are entirely plausible. There is no shortage of very poor quality policy initiatives, whether it be the Climate Change Commission, housing, He Puapua, Fair Pay Agreements or the mess around large scale managed isolation vacancies whilst foreigners, and much much more.
So it is quite likely that the Ministry of Justice lacks institutional capability to actually remove political and ethical beliefs from this discussion paper, but it must have gone through senior managers. By what logical contortion can anyone defend criminalising hatred against Nazis? This is what professional civil servants are meant to do, protect Ministers from doing anything stupid.
Because it’s abundantly clear neither Kris Faafoi nor his own Chief of Staff and advisors are capable of it. He’s most certainly well out of his depth as Minister of Justice, it being utterly laughable that he is expected to lead a major legal reform. Which then comes to the Prime Minister. How could DPMC let this go through, how could Ardern and her advisors think it was right to criminalise hatred against people who think (for example), that sex between adults and children should be encouraged (e.g, groups like NAMBLA), or that human beings should progressively wipe themselves out (the voluntary human extinction movement), or the Khmer Rouge (a political group)? Are they inept letting this get through, or just a bunch of woke morons who discuss and debate issues like some sort of mutually reinforcing circle of intellectual onanism? Is it new age stupidity that thinks hatred is always wrong?
I’d like to think it isn’t sinister. If Ardern et al genuinely think it might be a good idea to ban hatred by political group, they want to sanitise all political and ethical discussion to abolish “hatred” of ANY opinion. It’s classic moral relativism, that all ideas are equally valid and ok, and nobody should “hate” people for having opinions that offend them. This seems unlikely, not least because the dominant philosophical thread of this government and indeed the political mainstream is to not think all ideas are equally valid and ok, but rather a culture of wanting to suppress opinions that cause offence. I suspect Ardern doesn’t want to criminalise hatred against feminists against trans-gender radicalism (it’s not radicalism, it’s mainstream), but she does want to criminalise feminists hating trans-gender radicalism. I suspect she doesn’t want to criminalise hating Nazis, but she does want to criminalise hating the Labour Party.
The proposals should be scrapped, and much more simple reforms be instituted. It should be abundantly clear that threatening behaviour whether communications or actions should be illegal, and that threatening behaviour should be towards individuals or ANY group of individuals defined by the person threatening. They should not be defined by category. Threatening Muslims, Green Party members, real estate agents, golfers, buskers or redheads should all be illegal, enough with the identitarian slicing and splicing people by categories. Threats should include abuse that is threatening.
Creating a new law against hatred should be abandoned. Ardern should sack Faafoi and appoint someone competent to be Minister of Justice, and that Minister should send shivers through the Ministry of justice that it dared propose such authoritarian rubbish that is seen in this discussion document.
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