The fastest way to spread extremism is with the censor’s boot

Apr 15, 2015

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

By Naomi Wolf

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings, heads of state marched abreast in Paris in symbolic defence of France’s long tradition of freedom of speech. This seemed reassuring. But that image was what political consultants calloptics – for democracies around the world have recently seen a striking wave of anti-speech legislation.

Amid national mourning over the deaths of the Charlie Hebdo staff – including five cartoonists – four French police officers arrested the cartoonist Zeon for “incitement”, identifying as the cause of arrest anti-Zionist or antisemitic cartoons.

A law in Canada recasts antisemitism so it can include criticism of Israel, and declares that freedom of speech should not be “abused”; supporters cite freedom of speech on campuses as an antisemitic threat that the law should target.

In Britain the Tories have been fighting for months to introduce a bill to ban “extremists” from UK campuses; a recent iteration casts UK colleges as monitors of “acceptable” speech.

In Australia a new bill mirrors parts of America’s Patriot Act. “Extremist” groups face social media bans in Britain, and the same push is mirrored in democracies around the world. The US National Defence Authorisation Act criminalises speech it sees as offering “material support” to terror groups, without defining what that might be. (Obama’s lawyers confirmed that the journalist Chris Hedges could be arrested under the NDAA for interviewing a terrorist.) Since terror threats are always invoked in these campaigns to justify banning certain kinds of speech, the public in all these countries has been largely passive. Surely, after one terrorist atrocity after another, stamping out the freedom to express “extremist” ideas on college campuses and online is a small price to pay for safety?


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45 comments on “The fastest way to spread extremism is with the censor’s boot

  • OP :

    (Obama’s lawyers confirmed that the journalist Chris Hedges could be arrested under the NDAA for interviewing a terrorist.)

    What’s the penalty for interviewing George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld or Tony Blair ? It seems to me they carried out more terrorism (in the name of ‘democracy’), than any ISIS or Al Quaida group. Like true terrorists, they got naive young men to do the dirty work.



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  • The Canadian government has an extreme pro-Israel stance. They even claim the Jews started the conflict in the first place. This is very 1984. I frequently argue for a more neutral stance so we can act as peace broker. I get accused of anti-Semitism. It seems anything less that 100% pro Israel counts as anti-Semite. Paranoia is the root of the problem. Jews in Israel feel everyone is out to kill them, and they are pure victims, much like in the Holocaust. They believe their own actions have nothing to do with the problem.



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  • Anyone interested in the current UK elections might be interested to note that the labour party’s manifesto mentions their tough stance on “hate crimes” which will include clamping down on instances of antisemitism and islamophobia online.

    careful what you tweet guys, we might all meet up in prison for sympathising with the wrong victim



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  • I’m not sure I agree with that piece. Two important features of the right to free speech are that all rights carry responsibilities and freedom of speech possible carries the greatest responsibility of all.

    The second is that my rights end where someone else’s begin.

    So freedom to say anything is always a tricky balance of rights and responsibilities. You don’t ban hate speech then you impact on someone’s right to go about their business without fear, or fear that their children are being groomed by hate speakers. But if you ban too much you run the risk of losing valid criticisms or rights to express opinions as a result. For example the rights of Muslims to say they were offended by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons without being accused of being in favour of the shootings. Or the rights to criticise your own leaders without it being seen as support for extremists.

    Some things do need controlling to protect others. The issue isn’t that there shouldn’t be controls but who do we trust to judge and how do we protect that balance from abuse. How do you ensue that all the subtle nuances stay whilst controlling what is going to cause harm.



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  • 9
    aroundtown says:

    I quote from George Carlin quite often, he has a special place in my heart and head. His instruction on our perception of freedom and rights really cuts to the chase for me. He stated that if you want to see about your precious rights look up the 1943 internment of Japanese American citizens. His opinion that we have “temporary privileges” is more accurate than these perceptions that many assume are guaranteed freedoms and rights. If they can be done away with the stroke of a pen then the perceived guarantee’s are worthless. I will let George speak for himself on the point.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=19&v=m9-R8T1SuG4

    Gore Vidal’s example on the elimination of Habeas Corpus was instructive as well – the patriot act killed the protections we assumed were going to be available to us but once again out the window it went without any clamor of the loss, Habeas Corpus was suspended under the Emergency Powers Act, and further codified through the Patriot Act. Slowly our perceived freedoms are swept away by a notion that the state will preserve our liberty but that is a false assumption – Benjamin Franklin shows the way with his opinion “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. As regards Mr. Vidal’s opinion I will let him speak for himself in the link below.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNx5TO_veB4



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  • Hi Alice,

    I don’t understand.

    The right to free speech means the right to tell the truth as I see it, and your right to tell the truth as you see it. Indeed, it is our right and our responsibility to do that.

    If I believe that it is true that the extermination of European Jews by the Nazis is a lie, then it is my right and duty to say so.

    True?

    You say that my rights end where yours begin.

    At what point is my right to freely express what I believe to be true limited by any right that you may have?

    … freedom to say anything is always a tricky balance of rights and responsibilities.

    In what way?

    You don’t ban hate speech then you impact on someone’s right to go about their business without fear …

    That would depend on what you mean by “hate speech”. For most people to feel threatened, to be fearful, would surely mean a direct physical threat to their personal security.

    I don’t see how criminal law on threatening behaviour is related to free expression.

    … or fear that their children are being groomed by hate speakers.

    This is a very odd expression. Would you please be so kind as to break that down, I really have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Some things do need controlling to protect others.

    HMM!

    I wonder how that relates to free speech?

    The issue isn’t that there shouldn’t be controls …

    Oh yes it is.

    That is exactly the issue.

    … who do we trust to judge and how do we protect that balance from abuse?

    I would very much like to hear your answer Alice.

    No matter who you might, or might not, trust there are many people assigned by law, or by the chance few who are rich enough, and chosen without reference to you who are vetting all printed, music, film, television and radio output in your vicinity right now …

    … and they’re coming for the Net.

    How do you ensue that all the subtle nuances stay …

    Indeed, how?

    … whilst controlling what is going to cause harm.

    What harm?

    What harm is done by speech among adults?

    Why is control of adult political and philosophical dialogue ever necessary?

    Peace.



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  • What harm is done by speech among adults?

    One of the great rhetorical questions. Thank you for it.

    All hate speech legislation needs repealing. Its test is vague and open to insanely broad interpretation. It is a smiley faced skim a mere half step from thought policing. Unshared and unvoiced thoughts are indistinguishable from those suppressed.

    Somewhat better would be its replacement with legislation tested by incitement to violence. This clearer test would bring more actionable prosecutions and do more to improve the mode of discourse, leaving its content decently free.

    Some people are the thought police, though, and unashamedly so.



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  • 13
    aroundtown says:

    Good question Stephen of Wimbledon, we will have to wait and see what happens on restrictions we’ve endured in the name of safety, political will to stand up for the masses is limited presently.

    On censorship, the media seems to be the effective tool to steer the discussion this way or that. The apparatus is fairly condensed into a limited amount of hands and that assists the process. That one will be hard to unravel I’m thinking. Best



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  • The “war on communism” confirms that the most effective way to challenge ideas is not to silence them but to engage – to let all sides hear all sides, to hold feared ideas up to scrutiny, and to expose those ideas to free, open dialogue.

    At first glance, we share the noble yet vague sentiment behind this proclamation. Now change one word in the sentence from “communism” to “Nazism.” Our historical frame of reference reviewing the rise of Hitler, World War Two, and the Holocaust renders the sentence suicidal. We are not really embracing a “principle” at all but responding to the recommendation of a practice in a situation which is not applicable to another situation.

    Typical of Wolf’s approach to topics, she jumps on her horse and rides off in so many different directions that she sacrifices coherence trying to synthesize elements that are incompatible. “Free Speech” and “Censorship” are joined at the fulcrum of social, political and economic conflict. It’s the better part of clarity to consider each case discretely in detail from pertinent perspectives rather than affirming an absolute ideal.

    In civil western societies denounced and attacked by “extremist Muslims,” stakeholders must consider dire consequences of terrorist acts or threats thereof that justify curbing the right of free speech. With reasonable cause, government authorities must invoke power to arrest and/or detain individuals who may have been radicalized by speech with credible potential to carry out acts of terror. The balance between public safety and individual rights is a delicate one, resulting sadly in the miscarriage of justice in some cases and always demanding vigilance against abuse. Just as sadly human societies harbor people committed to the slaughter of innocent citizens in the name of causes not amenable “to free, open dialogue.”



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  • The right to free speech includes the right to any sort of propaganda if that is the truth as you see it. And to influence others.

    That includes the right to tell a one sided version of the truth. To present, for example, IS as brave warriors of justice to impressionable teenagers who have yet to develop the critical faculties to deal with it. Do you agree with that? Because 15 year old jihadi brides were groomed in much the same way as paedophiles groom. And the consequence is vulnerable teenagers have thrown their lives away on psychopaths in Syria whilst there are no threats to any individuals.

    Likewise there was no specific threats issued to Lee Rigby. Just some drip fed hate speech.

    On a more basic level, why should any individual have their right to develop self esteem destroyed by racist speech for example?

    So explain why the rights of people to grow up with self esteem and a sense of self worth are lower than the right to spout racist bigotry?

    You see the right to free speech the right to tell the truth and if that were the case I’d be in 100% agreement. But quite the right to free speech is abused by the stronger I society to silence the weaker. What happens when free speech is a tool to keep someone eksein check?



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  • phil Rimer incitement to violence also contains a grey area doesn’t it. And is also open to interpretation.

    And you still don’t consider the rights of others if you limit it to that. What if there is no incitement to violence but instead a drip feed of racist speech that results in an ethnic minorities having a harder life? In the UK we gradually lost a lot of racist comedy on mainstream TV and life got better for many groups as a result. For example we had a tradition of Irish jokes were they were portrayed as a group, as thick. Harmless fun or using a pathetic stereotype to eat away at a groups self esteem?

    So why were the rights of the jokers greater than the rights of their targets?

    You seem to think I’m in favour of thought police. In fact I’m saying use free speech responsibly and wisely. Consider the rights of others when using it. Whether it be cartoons or debate.

    The most effective free speech makes points without offending anyway. The best cartoons I’ve ever see against radical Islam for example were from ten years ago on a British show called Monkey Dust. Said far more than any deliberately offensive stuff.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Go5-aOF7ZWs



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  • The principle/ideal

    No ideas are to be off limits, provided they do not incite violence against others, provided they are not part of a campaign of bullying or harrassment of individuals and provided they are directed to adults in adult public forums.

    Truth is an opinion in political (and many other) matters and cannot be part of a defined solution to policing speech.

    Legislation, police measures and other actions to counter child grooming and indoctrination are an essential part of the mix, because legal or not this kind of speech will get through social media.

    Feelings are hugely important to know about quite as much as the rights and wrongs of a political argument. I am very pleased to hear from IS. I want to know what they feel, about whom and why.

    Speech will never be entirely free but for me I will judge a society the greater the more free speech it can bear. We need to hear the hate to fix it. We need to know its dangerous out there to be more vigilant of and better engaged in our world.

    I disagree with most people here about many things. Who am I going to trust to reasonably cover my ears for my own good?



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  • Steven of Wimbledon – What harm is done by speech among adults? The Second World War and the holocaust spring to mind as the most obvious oft cited examples. I suppose the KKK derived a lot of support by making speeches as well.

    The beheading of Lee Rigby perhaps. The result of private conversations and debates in private places of worship!

    Perhaps the risks to children’s lives caused by the right of half baked journalists to publish the opinion of one self interested scientist about MMR? Without having to explain why they were taking out of their behinds.

    You seem to suggest I’m for banning free speech. All I’m saying is it carries huge responsibilities! Including responsibilities to your fellow human beings. It is the most important right we have because it can also change things for the better.

    As for. who controls it, if you look I said that was the problem. I didn’t offer a opinion. But I will say it should not be in the hands of people with agendas or power.



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  • What harm?

    What harm is done by speech among adults?

    Are there acts of speech that constitute exclusively acts of speech? Are there true propositions, that exclusively refer to an “objective” world outside of any of us?

    Or, as Austin seems to imply in How to do Things with Words, are all acts fo speech also social acts, transactions between individuals – or “performatives”, as he would call them?

    We seem to speak always in context; in some contexts, “Jane is a witch”, while having the external appearance of a neutral, “falsifiable”, discourse about reality, is in fact an incitation to murder. In other contexts, “communist”, “muslism”, “nigger”, “feminist”, “gay”, etc., may perform a similar role to “witch”.

    As such, acts of “speech” can and do great harms to individuals and groups. Calls to arms, libel, defamation, false alarms, direct or indirect incitement to crime, lies – especially deliberate lies intended to elicit reactions or induce bad decisions -, half-truths, partial truths that when combined result in falseties, misadvices, can all bring physical results that are harmful, even lethal:

    It was John who killed the boy.

    Jane is a whore.

    Fire!

    Someone who does such things needs to die.

    The world would be a better place without her.

    John is a communist.

    I don’t know if John is a communist, but he surely holds seemingly secretive meetings in his basement.

    Thalidomide is a fine drug to prevent nausea in pregnant women, without collateral effects.

    Jews are the cause of the financial ruin of our nation.

    People can die – actually, people have died – in consequence of acts of speech exactly like those.

    Words, like thalidomide, may be useful, but they most often than not have collateral effects.



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  • I would agree about legislation to counter child grooming and indoctrination. That is the point I’m partly making. But that is an infringement on freedom of speech isn’t it?

    Who will say what constitutes indoctrination and what is merely pointing facts about UK and US foreign policy? Who judges that? Because some of what IS show will be true. Gaza, children starving in refugee camps and so on.

    You’ve added into the mix bullying and harassment. Which again were the caveats I’d add to freedom of speech. Because it should respect the rights of others.

    My point is unregulated, unbound freedom of speech is not that simple. It needs those safeguards built in to protect the rights of others. Steven does not deem those necessary. But that add the burden of ensuring impartial, independent, fairly applied control.



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  • incitement to violence also contains a grey area

    Everything in law contains grey areas but “hatred” is wildly open to misuse. As Melvin has Godwinned first I shall point out that suppression of free speech in Germany was enormous in the hands of the Nazis. A simple test of “hatred” would have been a doddle for them to exploit. Hatred of their country’s, heritage, culture, religion…..

    You seem to think I’m in favour of thought police.

    You greatly abet them leaving “hatred” on the statute book. Its one helluva weapon.



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  • repeating

    Speech will never be entirely free, but for me I will judge a society the greater the more free speech it can bear.

    I wish to see society grown up and properly moral, painful and slow as that may be.

    Much of sexist speech disappeared because of our collective debate and tens of millions of personal decisions.

    Enforced by fiat reduces us to the morality of the religious tyrannies.



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  • Hi Alice,

    What harm is done by speech among adults? The Second World War and the holocaust spring to mind as the most obvious oft cited examples.

    Actually I’ve never heard that argument. I get out quite a lot too, honest.

    The Second World War, and the coincident Euro-Jewish genocide, we’re not made possible by free speech. They were made by propaganda and tight political control of media – the very opposite of free speech – politicians undermining weak democratic institutions (and a lack of a democratic tradition in Weimar Germany) with violence, an arguably mentally incontinent political elite and the failure of the mass of German-speaking Europeans and politicians in every other country to intervene.

    I suppose the KKK derived a lot of support by making speeches as well.

    I am not right wing, however you might wish to define that outmoded term, and I defend the right of racists to speak. If, like me, you don’t like it there are plenty of soap boxes, printing presses, Net sites, radio and TV stations, to provide us with the means to reply.

    Being nasty and anti-human does not make someone wrong automatically. It increases the probability that they’re ignorant and/or stupid and possibly dangerous. But there is no definitely, no absolutes, in personal expression. Political opinion must be free if only to better identify the idiots and frauds.

    The beheading of Lee Rigby perhaps. The result of private conversations and debates in private places of worship!

    Criminals will continue to plot in secret whatever the law says about citizens rights to free expression in public. This is irrelevant.

    Perhaps the risks to children’s lives caused by the right of half baked journalists to publish the opinion of one self interested scientist about MMR?

    It was not clear, at the time, that the report was false. The telling of truth often falls to just one person. If the whole World was of the opinion that Alice is wrong, but Alice was convinced of a truth, shouldn’t Alice’s speech actually receive extra-special protection?

    If we have truly free speech, that protection exists.

    Without having to explain why they were taking out of their behinds.

    You will find few people who are more critical of modern journalism than me. Nevertheless, with the best will in the World we can’t expect journalists to know all of science – it’s a very big subject. In addition, the MMR paper on Autism – which I think is the one you refer to – was published in The Lancet, a highly respected medical science journal.

    Talking about journalists is, to me, counter-productive. If we define free speech in terms of journalism we define free speech as a professional entitlement, similar to only allowing doctors to prescribe certain drugs. This is to put great power into the hands of an unelected clique and therefore extremely undesirable. Modern publishers, particularly newspaper publishers, demonstrate daily – usually many times per issue – that they are wholly unsuited to be trusted with such enormous power. Television is increasingly, also, demonstrating an inability to seek truth, let alone report it. To put it as politely as I can.

    You seem to suggest I’m for banning free speech.

    If I gave that impression, I apologise. I felt certain that you were struggling to define free speech in terms of limits? I don’t see how that is in any way desirable, defensible, decent, democratic and anything less than deceptive, despicable and deplorable.

    I said I was confused. I remain confused.

    All I’m saying is it carries huge responsibilities!

    You keep saying this, but you fail to say what this means. Please explain.

    Including responsibilities to your fellow human beings.

    I repeat my earlier question paraphrased to, hopefully, make it more easily understood: If I believe I am telling my fellow humans a truth, who are you to tell me that I cannot?

    If I am deluded, misled, ignorant, stupid, arrogant, or all five it makes no difference. If I can be proved to be factually wrong, then my personal reputation should suffer. My opinion should thereafter be discounted (awarded a lesser value) and if I continue in the face of counter-factual evidence feel free to ignore me. But never tell me that my opinion cannot even be spoken.

    It is the most important right we have because it can also change things for the better.

    True, true …

    Which also leads me to confusion. In what way is free speech that is controlled … er … free … ?

    As for who controls it, if you look I said that was the problem.

    Yes, I saw that. But you can’t go around saying everyone who drives a car must first pass a test without also saying who will set the test, supervise the tests, award licenses, police the roads to find the unlicensed, manage the withdrawal and limiting of licenses, etc. etc..

    Saying that free speech needs to be policed requires that someone polices it. I know of no-one qualified to police my speech, or yours. Whom do you suggest?

    I didn’t offer a opinion.

    I can only call on our fellow posters. I feel secure in the knowledge that most will look at your previous posts and see many opinions.

    But I will say it [assumed: the control of personal expression] should not be in the hands of people with agendas or power.

    Good luck with that one.

    Peace.



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  • Hi Alice,

    My eye caught this:

    The most effective free speech makes points without offending …

    Elitism is not the answer.

    Free speech, like democracy, must mean embracing the shy, the timid, the incoherent, those incapable of of rational structure, the emotional mess, the illogical, those who lack an understanding of grammar, those who lack judgement – even to the extent that they clearly demonstrate an inability to weigh evidence – the arrogant, the loudmouth, the fool.

    Without giving these people at least a little time, there is no free speech – only a licensed elite, the roots of a new aristocracy.

    Peace.



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  • Steven of Wimbledon you seem to be confused about free speech if you think it excludes propaganda! Why would it? And if you think it can’t be used to whip up majorities to eventually silence minorities you are naive.

    You don’t get to tightly control the media overnight. Takes a wee bit of propaganda masquerading as free speech first in many cases.

    Let’s take your simplistic argument and apply it to the Murdoch empire shall we. A powerful media giant gets to exercise his right to free speech. Gets to a position where his voice is powerful by using free speech to manipulate the masses. The Sun and the Times have been full of that free speech ideal in the wake of Leveson and Elvedon. Freedom of the press threatened, waste of taxpayers money etc.

    And say you wish to speak out against Murdoch. Exercise your right to free speech. Perhaps on his policy of getting rid of independent media like the BBC. Where do you think your free speech will get you? It’ll get your sex life into the Sun, slanted so that even the most mundane kiss will make you look like a raving pervert. Or frigid. Or ugly. It certainly won’t get your voice heard.

    Murdoch will use free speech to destroy your credibility so your free speech will be pointless.

    And say that powerful voice gets caught. Like Murdoch did just before the politicians were to vote on him getting greater control of our independent media. Which he’d have got away with if he hadn’t moved from the private lives of celebs to the phone messages of murdered teenagers.

    Will he feel the full weight of the law? Or will his right to free speech ensure that nothing is going to happen because politicians and judges and everyone else know that his right to free speech will be used to destroy them. And that is unregulated right to free speech has placed him outside the law. Cos libel laws don’t work that well against Murdoch’s millions and what’s a few thousand pound in pay outs to him against your ruined credibility? Let’s face it if hacked hadn’t found the Milly a Dowler stuff nobody would have cared.

    So explain to me why Murdoch’s right to free speech is greater than anyone else’s rights? Including someone else’s right to be heard without fear?



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  • Phil Rimmer when you refer to sexist speech disappearing due to collective debate. Are you sure that wasn’t also due to a measure of moderation and control and legislation? This site used to contain a lot of low level sexism which a lot of women argued against. A minority of men carried the majority of decent men along with that sexism. Now it is absent and the decent men have reverted to no sexist default mode.

    Did that sexism stop because you all took on board the women’s opinions or because the moderators did? Did sexism reduce here because the sexists realised for themselves what was wrong or because a measure of control was introduced in the interests of equality.

    It’s quite often the law that changes in relations to unfair isms with social attitudes following later.



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  • Phil Rimmer you judge a society the greater for the more free speech it can bear. I’d judge a society the greater for the quality of its free speech. I’d judge society better for having a genuinely impartial, independent, multi interested press. One that can and has to put all the known facts onthe table and balance all VALID informed opinions into the public domain in a manner that reaches the greatest number of people.

    The only current thing that I can see that fits that definition the BBC. But that is under threat from other ‘defenders’ of free speech.



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  • I’d judge a society the greater for the quality of its free speech.

    Me too. This is my moral point and not in the least exclusive of the idea of being greater also by a greater tolerance of free speech. Indeed this is the combined measure of moral adulthood for me.

    The morality of a society is better judged by the disinclination of its people to murder each other rather than by the ferocity of its punitive laws discouraging homicide. Insanely punitive USA is quite a murderous place to live, whilst Norway….



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  • I am in favour of the free expression of ideas, even nasty ones. How else will we learn if we only ever meet one idea ? Much mention has been made above of the media. Who controls the media ? Well who else but rich and powerful people like Murdoch and others. But not all these rich and powerful people have the same interests, indeed the very need for the capitalists to control the media is so that they can propagate their own self interests, as opposed to rival capitalists. Thus in Britain the various rows about whether or not Britain should remain in the EU. Science denial regarding global warming etc.

    It seems the ‘freedom’ to express your ideas effectively depends upon the amount of money you have to spend.

    The ‘freedom’ to see tits on page 3 of the Sun, and to read about the various love lives of ‘celebs’, plus the latest idolisation of footballers, models, computer games involving Thrones, and the like, is dearly bought. But it keeps the workers’ minds off their real position as economically inferior. In Britain at least, religion has largely lost its hold on people’s minds, but the above mentioned alternative opiates seem to do the job just fine ! Drugs n’ sex n’ rock n’ roll ! No wonder the Christians howled ! As do the repressed Muslims.



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  • What is this “free speech” many of you refer to.

    When and in what society has there ever been such a thing as “free speech”?

    Speech, like any behavior or action, has always been socially and legally regulated. The question is the degrees and kind of regulation, not any question about some fictional utopian notion called ” free speech”



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  • 37
    aroundtown says:

    @ Mr DArcy

    Appreciate your point and thought I would add a tidbit along the same lines. Distraction can be an effective tool and unfortunately the price we pay from the condition can become significant. We certainly have opinion’s these days and in my neck of the woods they are generally arranged left, right, and center on most subjects, but there is another. If you create a grand distraction, or utilize the condition, the efforts to push perspectives in either direction can be rendered moot. Hard to be opinionated if your awareness is compromised.

    I am going to post the opinion of Roger Waters on the significant condition and it touches on your opinion as well. It doesn’t start until around 1:30 but you see his point soon enough on distraction and how that filtered into the picture of our awareness. I enjoyed the simple perspective he provides and felt it would be worth it to include here. It is not terribly long.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLCz05uGi2I



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  • Thanks, Jason for the feminist furies video. I’ve seen it before and this time around I spared my ears the piercing shrieks emitted by these creatures. Steve pretty much tells it like it is. I’m appalled that progressives as much as right wingers at the margins can invoke censorship while championing the cause of free speech. Each one of us in his or her own way must be on guard, grit our teeth if we must, against the siren call to join political or social movements we “agree with” led by demagogues who insist on silencing dissent for the good of the cause. (By the way, Naomi (“the babe”) Wolf has fallen out of favor with radical feminists over some crucial issues. I don’t know if she’s worked her way back into the harpies favor. My objections center on her sloppy scatter-shot writing. Apparently there’s some reports of her adopting nut case views on some current events. I don’t see why the media calls her an intellectual.)



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  • Hi Alice,

    .. you seem to be confused about free speech if you think it excludes propaganda!

    I apologise, I thought my sentence structure was unambiguous:

    “They were made by propaganda and tight political control of media”

    I will concede that I could have been clearer; I didn’t specify what I meant by political control. However, this will be rectified in the following discussion.

    Tight control of news and entertainment media silences voices and limits our ability to hear other voices because traditional media use limited resources. Although the Internet is often cited as a medium that breaks this rule it does in fact have two natural limits – attention and profiling (and if the big U.S. Telecoms companies have their way Access, and we all look to our friends who are U.S citizens to support Net Neutrality in the current fight in Congress – please people, get involved).

    And if you think it [propaganda] can’t be used to whip up majorities to eventually silence minorities you are naive.

    No, I agree, that’s generally how propaganda works. You forgot to mention that it can also build majorities.

    You don’t get to tightly control the media overnight.

    That would depend on your definition of “overnight”. An extant example would be Putin’s Russia where state control of the media was re-established in a matter of months.

    A powerful media giant gets to exercise his right to free speech.

    True, at the expense of others free speech – so we have established that our free speech as supposedly equal citizens is already limited in the media. by media companies. But not: This has not actually removed our free speech.

    [Media Giant] gets to a position where his voice is powerful by using free speech ..

    No, Media Giant has a powerful position because traditional media use limited resources at the cost of everyone else’s’ access to those resources and limiting their free speech.

    [Media Giant] manipulate[s] the masses.

    Yes, that’s the obvious result. Power corrupts.

    The Sun and the Times have been full of that free speech ideal in the wake of Leveson and Elvedon.

    If, by this, you mean that In Britain newspapers were caught so drunk on power that they were found repeatedly breaking the law and that the Media Giants – having been exposed and frightened – bang the drum of press freedom then yes.

    Or perhaps you mean the Media Giants, while propagandising that their freedoms are your freedoms and that press freedom = free speech, also confuse people into believing that press freedom means that they simply cannot be held to account even though they’re still being caught breaking the law – then also, yes.

    And say you wish to speak out against [Media Giants]. Exercise your right to free speech. Perhaps on [Media Giants] policy of getting rid of independent media like the BBC. Where do you think your free speech will get you?

    I have the right to say those things. If you mean that my access to the attention of other citizens will be extremely limited then I agree. The existence of Old Media, particularly newspapers, is not only a problem because power is concentrated into commercial hands, conglomerates and the hierarchies that are a normal part of such institutions. To put that simply: The way that most media is run concentrates power into very few hands and hierarchical structures tend to eliminate opposition to the ideas that start at the top.

    Also, although it is often discussed, we do tend to throw our hands into the air in defeat whenever the idea of reforming these overtly political organisations comes up. There is a clear failure of democracy here that doesn’t get enough light and air.

    [Opposing Big Media will] … get your sex life into the Sun, slanted so that even the most mundane kiss will make you look like a raving pervert. Or frigid. Or ugly. It certainly won’t get your voice heard.

    Now you have strayed from talking about free speech to discussing misuse of power, fear of the hierarchy, tabloid feeding of ignorant populist obsessions, bullying, ad hominem, and, and, and.

    Yes this is related to how Old Media suppress political opponents but it has little to do with free speech.

    [Big Media] … will use free speech to destroy your credibility so your free speech will be pointless.

    Making your own view known is never pointless. To think like that is simply to know-tow to Old Media. This policy is giving up before you’ve even started.

    [When Big Media] get caught … will [Big Media] feel the full weight of the law?

    I assume this is a rhetorical question.

    Or will [Big Media’s] right to free speech ensure that nothing is going to happen because politicians and judges and everyone else know that [BM’s] right to free speech will be used to destroy them.

    Leveson’s Inquiry, and the short aftermath, proved that it is the Big Party politicians who are the only ones who really don’t get it. The price that the Liberals will pay in the coming election is already clear.

    And that is unregulated right to free speech …

    No, that’s unregulated rights to limited resources, shelf space at stations, advertisers, press accreditation, brand identity, radio spectrum, cross-media advertising and, and, and … It has nothing to do with free speech.

    You’ve swallowed the Big Media poisoned pill and your convinced that free speech = press freedom. No, no, no. A thousand times: no.

    Press freedom is different, it’s about the freedom of institutions to criticise other institutions and prominent people. It should also be about institutions’ only criticising based on fact, which requires checks and balances.

    Free speech is my right and your right to speak our minds. It is also about our right to hear other people speak their minds.

    The two are deliberately confused by modern media companies because allowing a media institution to speak its ‘mind’ means they can make open-ended, emotionally-charged and irrational statements. This, in turn, removes the need to base stories on fact, allows for bellicose interpretations and views (as the election draws near, even noticeably common in so-called ‘serious’ newspapers like the Guardian and Independent) and this leads to what publishers love most – because it drives attention economics – controversy.

    The freedom to not base a media story on facts makes regulation tougher, and muddies the waters on what journalism is. Regurgitating press releases without checks and so-called ‘balanced’ reporting allows them to treat any kook seriously.

    Right … and Vladimir Volfovich called his political party the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia because he’s a liberal and a democrat …. ho ho.

    [Lack of regulation] … has placed [Big Media, including companies not headquartered in the country in which they are politicking, and directed by non-citizens who, at best, might at some point be replaced by another unelected leader] outside the law.

    True.

    More importantly in my view it also means that the free speech of citizens is being limited by people who have no stake in the outcomes of the politics they promote.

    Britain’s partners in Europe, particularly the Irish, French, Poles and other East Europeans, are appalled that we allow our politics to be so heavily influenced by non-domiciled corporations.

    You also mentioned the difficulty that access to the resources of conglomerates means the leaders of media conglomerates are essentially above the law. Again, this has nothing to do with free speech. It also has little to do with press freedom. It is related to a lack of regulation and political will (some would say political courage).

    So explain to me why [Big Media’s] right to free speech is greater than anyone else’s rights?

    Thatcher loved the fact that a certain Media Mogul fawned on her and her party, and battled the unions as hard, if not harder, than her. So she swept aside the former cross-party consensus on cross-media ownership, then cross-media promotion and conglomeration, then … well the history is out there, go and find it.

    In a parallel process politicians of all parties have been convinced that they have no way to control the press and their propaganda. This was not true when the Conservatives allowed Murdoch to buy the Times, but it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy since about that time. With Leveson they missed an open goal two yards from the goal line. By any measure: Utterly pathetic.

    Including someone else’s right to be heard without fear?

    You just made a personal attack on what must be today’s most powerful Media Mogul. Are you quaking in your boots?

    Thought not.

    Peace.



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  • Stephen of Wimbledon
    Apr 19, 2015 at 6:36 am

    Press freedom is different, it’s about the freedom of institutions to criticise other institutions and prominent people. It should also be about institutions’ only criticising based on fact, which requires checks and balances.

    Free speech is my right and your right to speak our minds. It is also about our right to hear other people speak their minds.

    The two are deliberately confused by modern media companies because allowing a media institution to speak its ‘mind’ means they can make open-ended, emotionally-charged and irrational statements. This, in turn, removes the need to base stories on fact,

    That is indeed an important distinction, if there is not going to be an unregulated “Liars’ and Fraudsters’ Charter” masquerading as “free speech”!

    @OP – The fastest way to spread extremism is with the censor’s boot

    Dishonest, unregulated, media, offers serious competition, in the the race to the bottom in the integrity stakes!



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  • Aye, either you can do / say something or you can’t, because someone else might / may / will, stop you. Like Marx, I am suspicious of the various “rights” people assume they have. The only “right” within capitalism, is the right to own property. And that of course rules supreme, …. for the moment.



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  • Is it not odd that extremism is seen as, by its nature, A Bad Thing?

    Extremism is where risk-taking, individualism and adventuring into the unknown happens. It’s extremists who push back frontiers and develop new ways of living.

    Centrism, on the other hand, focuses on security, communal support and making the best of the known. Centrists secure existing frontiers and improve current ways of living.

    Both extremism and centrism have their dangers but surely both are needed in a healthy society?

    And isn’t genetic mutation, the driving force behind evolution, a form of extremism?



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  • I think I agree with all of this, Ewan, and not just because of your clearly discerning eye.

    All change comes from the edge and the anxious huddle in the middle. Colin Wilson’s book “The Outsiders” was the first real account of this. But there is a third group other than core and rind, the idealists, who confidently march off to create a new centre on our behalf. It is their certainty that I fear far more than the the tentative and ad hoc others. The principle of a tentative Better rather than a confident Ideal is fault tolerant and self correcting, but is hinged upon hearing the complaints of everyone. IS, Libertarians and Simon Cowell are deeply unpleasant facts of life but we must hear from all of them as we share the planet. Indeed IS complaints about the US produce a little resonant tingle once in a while. One day even Simon Cowell might.



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