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Is absolute freedom of speech a realistic aim? 31 July 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Hypocrisy, World gone mad... or is it just me?.

Continuing the theme of ‘freedom of expression’ I started a few weeks/months/decades ago here , and the theme of copying my comments on other blogs and pretending these are real posts I started here, I post today with some disparate thoughts on the myth around ‘free speech’. This is a myth in two ways:

(a) everyone assumes free speech and freedom of action are inherently good, and represent worthy ideals to pursue in their own right – that’s clearly not the case, and in fact to believe that absolute freedom is a ‘good’ in its own right is an absurdity – it’s merely a means to an end, the end being a stable, just and fair society; and

(b) it is widely believed that the Western nations practice free speech in its absolute sense and the rest should aspire to, and in fact we are lectured and hectored on how we don’t have enough of this freedom.

As I hinted at a few weeks ago in here, the trend in most Western societies is towards fewer freedoms for the individual, and more restrictions on what he may eat and drink and inhale, where he may go, what work he may do, what he may say and even in some cases, what he may think (the most notorious example of the latter being the odious hate crimes legislation in the UK, where any crime becomes much worse not due to its consequences, but merely due to what the perpetrator may have been thinking; so if the Judge decrees the perpetrator had a certain motive / thinking behind the crime, eg a racial motive, the sentence may end up twice as long!).

So these restrictions on the individual, whether in the name of health and safety, or personal welfare, or societal wellbeing, are getting to be ever-present and even all-pervasive in these allegedly free societies – people are no longer free even in the comfort of their own homes, with the blinds drawn and the doors locked…

Despite this, some Muslims, especially those living in the lands of the East, seem enamoured with the chimera of the Western freedoms. Some argue that, for instance, banning books such as the truly vile Rushdie diarrhoea, or the disgusting insults published as “cartoons”, we should merely ignore them. Those who advocate for absolute freedom also sometimes argue that banning anything merely forces it underground, and adds to its allure. Makes sense, no?

No. This is a misleading hypothesis. The argument that “banning something only adds to its allure” can be used by everyone from those arguing for the legalisation of child-porn to those who say that Class A drugs (heroine, cocaine, etc) should be licenced, taxed and dispensed over the counter… at your local supermarket.

On the face of it, this “argument” appears to have some merit: Does banning drugs create a worldwide drugs cartel, making it perhaps the second most lucrative criminal business (after Halliburton, of course ;-)) Yes. Does banning child porn in the end victimise poor, defenseless children in truly horrible and vile ways? Perhaps. Should we legalise both? Never. Why? Because some things are so vile or disturbing that one has to stop them, using the full force of the law if needed.

Merely ignoring such evil is not the sensible nor the decent response. In fact, we are down a slippery slope indeed if we abdicate all our responsibilities to speak up against evil, in the misuigded belief that arguing against it merely gives it the valuable oxygen of publicity. Perhaps it does, but staying silent is worse… as Edmund Burke may, or may not, have said: ” All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing…

Hence, ignoring Rushdie, or Jyllands-Posten was, in my humble submission, not an option, just as ignoring PNAC or the neo-cons would be a dereliction of duty for all serious journalists and bloggers. Of course, I am not condoning violent behaviour of any kind or even unnecessary threats of violence – private individuals have no right to take the law in their own hands. But I am all in favour of condemnation, and other peaceful and polite protest or lobbying – especially when, for instance in the case of Jyllands-Posten, the horrific and oppressive cartoons were part of a much broader narrative of diminishing Muslim rights in Denmark.

In our lighter moments, we may be enticed by the seemingly attractive argument that everyone should have a right to their speech and their views – indeed they should, but then this right is never absolute, is it? Those whose views involve fetishing young children, or propagating murderous fantasies involving defenceless women, find that most countries actually criminalise these very views and statements. Similarly, try praising, or questioning, the official version of the Shoah in most European/Western countries, and one may get a nasty shock. For that matter, the recent avalanche of “anti-terror” legislation in many countries creates and criminalises a whole range of ‘thought-crimes’.

As such, free speech, or even freedom of thought, seems to be far from universal even in the West – those societies have their own sensibilities, their own taboos and their own values, some of which may not make any sense to us Easterners. Given that, I fail to see what’s so wrong about our societies having our own sensibilities and values?


Lama or Llama 30 April 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Refutations, World gone mad... or is it just me?.
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A gem from the 'Dalai Lama':

"This new terrorism has been brewing for many years. Much of it is caused by jealousy and frustration at the West because it looks so highly developed and successful on television"

So nothing to do with the West invading other countries, bombing and killing innocent civilians and pursuing a neo-imperialist foreign policy? No? Oh okay. What about the grinding poverty imposed on 'the South' by the West's unfair trade practices and unfairer usurious economic system? Not that either? Oh well..must be the TV programmes then, not enough channels or something.

This Lama guy already appears to have attained his 'nirvana'… i.e. become senile / demented. Maybe that's what he does all day – watch TV – so he thinks the 'terrorists' do the same. Now there's a thought – do they have The Bold and the Beautiful in the Afghan caves? hmm.. that would explain some of the annoyance and pent-up frustration those terrorist types exhibit – wouldn't you be a tad upset if you had to watch that trash all day, every day? 

And there are fools who go to this Lama for 'enlightenment'? 

Is this the society we want to live in? 27 April 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in World gone mad... or is it just me?.
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'Interesting' news where an old man was locked up by the police and prevented from saving his own possessions from a fire in his own house – for his own protection, of course.

A retired army captain is suing police for the loss of valuable heirlooms in a fire at his 16th-century manor house.

Edmund Carlisle, 83, who served in the Indian Army in the Second World War, claimed police demanded he left the house, refusing to allow him time to rescue his collection of antique furniture and Victorian oil paintings. When Capt Carlisle objected and tried to remain inside with his wife Rosemary, 82, he said he was wrongly detained in the back of a police van.

I am not a fire expert so I will leave aside the rights and wrongs of the specific issue. However, does this incident raise a wider, and much more important, issue, namely the sometimes mindless and pervasive "health and safety" culture in England today. I think this culture has developed primarily due to the litigious society we have become; when every idiot threatens to sue on the most puerile of reasons, it is not surprising that those in authority end up treading too carefully and losing all sense of perspective.

Whatever happened to the sensible notion that accidents will happen despite the best efforts to avoid them, and that risk is a normal part of life – it cannot be eliminated, so its futile to even attempt it. Yes, by all means, take all sensible steps to mitigate against the obvious risks, eg by wearing seat-belts, locking our homes at night, and so on – but to avoid all risk altogether? What does one do then – live in a plastic bubble?

The same "health and safety" endemic means that beautiful trees are chopped down as acorns may fall on someone's head; that playground swings are removed because a child may fall off, and public swimming pools are closed off. Yes, the mindless muppets running the so-called "public" sector are partly to blame, but so are the common folk who, when faced with any misfortune or accident, look around for someone else to blame. This blame culture is unhelpful and leads to those in authority making sub-optimal decisions. For governments, often the best course of action is not the Blairite call to arms of "Something Must be Done", but the Sir Humphrey/Hacker approach of "masterly inactivity".

There is an even broader issue here, which needs a separate blog entry in its own right – the balance of rights and responsibilities. Where everyone knows their rights, but few care for their responsibilities, it is not a surprise that we end up with the inner cities we do have. In any case, I am not so keen on the "rights" culture so beloved of Eurocrats and lefty loonies – rights, by their very nature, are 'awarded' by someone up high, usually a politician. Much more helpful if instead of this talk of rights for every group imaginable, we revert back to the basic liberties of the subject/citizen; liberties which everyone has and which are inviolable except in clearly defined and well-established circumstances.