Wednesday, 27 March 2019

The knee jerks, and, after having jerked, what's left?

IN THE WAKE OF the Christchurch atrocity, there are calls to ban outright so-called hate speech, and the pitchforks for it are already out: Already the temporary bans against websites hosting the murderer's video have been extended, and black lists are being drawn up to permanently ban websites, workers, speakers and Twitter feeds for offending against the self-righteous mores of the mob.
Atrocity begins with cheap opportunistic hate speech against minorities [declared the Greens' Golriz Ghahraman at a 'vigil' shortly after the event]. It began with hate speech, allowed to spread here online. History has taught us that hate speech is a slippery slope to atrocity. We now know that New Zealand needs to address this.
This was us, she insists. All of us, not just one Australian with a gun. Hate speech is always a slippery slope to atrocity she proclaims -- erroneously (and narcissistically) offering up as as partial proof of both, in her speech immediately after this atrocity: the barrage of hate she says she herself receives online. The conclusion she draws from the "barrage": that this was not an aberration from overseas.

And address this, she demands: but how? By damning all white people as colonialist oppressors, as her colleague Ms Davidson was at that same vigil? By 'calling out' anyone who expresses reservations about being encouraged to wear a Muslim headdress (a headdresss damned by by many Muslimas themselves as a symbol of feminine oppression)? By decrying anyone as "racist" who adheres to what they call "Islamophobia" (despite the General Secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organisation, declaring it to be"factually incorrect and counter-productive to define Islamophobia as 'rooted in racism'”)?

In any case, the demands are being addressed now, however, by those listening to her calls and those much like them: by the black lists being sent to police, to Twitter, to ISPs and Facebook and to every guardian of real or online communication who can enact a permanent or temporary ban on speech they deem hateful (black lists based almost wholly upon the authors' views of what they themselves just don't like). Addressed by immediate bans on publications and videos. Addressed by the knee-jerk calls to give more power to security services to carry out their own interventions, their own investigations, their own intrusions  -- security services who failed utterly to avert this atrocity despite the millions of dollars and already intrusive power they already possess, and before the just-announced inquiry into their abject failure has even been held. (“When it comes to Simon Bridges calling for enhanced powers for NZ spy agencies," observes security specialist Paul Buchanan, "he is like a guy who says that he needs a telescope because his binoculars don’t work well enough, only to find out that the lens caps are still on the binoculars.”)

And how good a diagnosis is Golriz's anyway? For what, after all, is this thing Ms Ghahrahman calls "hate speech"? "Hate speech" is so amorphous a thing it is crying out for definition.

And maybe that's the real point of the term: precisely that it is so very hard to define.

You see, for a censor, or for any high priest of the public square, that of course is so much the beauty of this anti-concept of "hate speech." Because if you yourself get to define what "hate speech" is, and this "hate speech" thing is being banned, then you yourself get to ban whatever sort of speech (and speakers) you yourself dislike.

It's a beautiful thing, censorship, when you're the one holding the whip.

Or would like to.

Especially when you've devised this apparently elegant way -- this anti-concept -- of keeping the whip hidden.

TO REMIND YOU (SINCE we've been talking about this idea of anti-concepts several times in recent years), an "anti-concept" is
an artificial, unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate ...
    Observe the technique involved . . . . It consists of creating an artificial, unnecessary, and (rationally) unusable term, designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concepts—a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a “package-deal” of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context, a “package-deal” whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential. This last is the essence of the trick...
    [I]f a man accepts a term with a definition by non-essentials, his mind will substitute for it the essential characteristic of the objects he is trying to designate . . . . Thus the real meaning of the term will automatically replace the alleged meaning.
This is why "anti-concepts" like "hate speech" and "Islamophobia" are witch-doctored up in the first place -- to dismiss ideas (and those who hold them) without even a hearing in return.

So-called "hate speech" is an anti-concept witch-doctored up to obliterate free speech. The process is working. Observe that "hate speech" itself is so suitably amorphous that even Wikipedia struggles to wrap its head around the concept:
Hate speech [says Wikipedia's authors] is speech that attacks a person or a group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
So we have allegedly three ingredients to hate speech: 
  1. speech that attacks; and 
  2. the objects of those attacks; and 
  3. the attacks are based on "membership" of some group.
The objects of attack are clearly defined. The speech itself: not so much. 

And that itself is really the whole point.

Leave ill-defined in advance what an "attack" looks like -- an "attack" that is wholly and solely verbal -- and there is instantly a chill felt down the collar of anyone who wants to say anything about anyone.

It is doubtful even today that someone could declare that all arguments have been settled and all debate prohibited. It is enough to achieve that aim today, however, simply by declaring that someone or other has or may have been "offended." Or "violated." Or "threatened." Threatened by speech that in itself constitutes on threat. And on that basis of offence alone, every would-be speaker can be silenced, and every debate declared "settled" before it even starts. So it is today after Christchurch:

->Mainstream news sites are announcing a "crackdown" on their online comments sections, and calls to remove so-called "extremist" content.

->Demands are being made for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to "deplatform" people on lists being rabidly drawn up by the woke.

->Commentators as innocuous as Duncan Garner and Sean Plunkett also face calls  to be deplatformed by their media managers. "It's now a public safety issue," declares Golriz.

->Websites are being blocked by ISPs here and in Australia (who, immediately after the atrocity, blocked any website who posted the live video of the murders) but who have since elected to continue those blocks after being asked to by the government.

->And other websites are being blocked, or face blockage, because they just somehow quietly slip onto someone's black list (including this one, gentle readers, which someone elected to place in the category of "hate and racism" on one popular website filter used by companies around the world) and then face up to a future of gentle but gradual suffocation.

->Meanwhile, un-woken workers are being sacked and "panel discussions" are being urgently held around the country about how to do all this grassroots censorship even better: Russell Brown for example leading a panel discussion tomorrow "on how Artificial Intelligence and other technology can help us create safer societies"-- or as Brown himself describes it: "about the place of technical solutions in quelling online hate speech and fake news. Are human moderators enough?" Or (the unwritten implication here) should we immediately implement censorship by robot.

->And of course knee-jerk censorship will already make it almost impossible to determine and understand the views of the only person who actually (presumably) does know why he did it, i.e., the author of the atrocity himself, whose rambling so-called "manifesto" faces disappearance down a near-permanent black hole at the behest of the government.

It has become so insane that Martyn Bradbury (yes, Martyn Bradbury) is looking like a fount of wisdom in summing up some of the (over-)reaction:
Attempting to connect the violence on Friday with right wing opinions, the defence of free speech or concerns about immigration and conflate that with all white people as racist murderers is a sure fire way of eroding the solidarity in sorrow that has bound many.
MUCH OF IT MAY be well-meaning (if not "Davidson and Ghahraman's ... determination to leverage-off the Christchurch Mosque Shootings to unleash an uncompromising anti-racist campaign encompassing the whole of Pakeha New Zealand"), but the chilling effect of the suffocation is real enough. And real even if bans, black lists and blocking don't work out. If I may paraphrase a post by Amy Peikoff on this principle, it occurs to me that this down-home version of Attack Watch is a case study in the application of Ayn Rand’s observation that force stops thinking:
In Chapter 8 of his book, 'Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand,' Leonard Peikoff writes, “[I]f and to the extent that someone’s gun becomes a man’s epistemological court of final appeal, replacing the law of identity [A is A], then the man cannot think.” 
    So, to those who have not joined the chorus conflating all white people with racist murderers, or who still have reservations about Islamists and Islamic culture, or who identify and condemn the seething identity politics of both right and left as being culpable: When you think thus independently and then hear about these sackings, de-platformings and black lists, do you say to yourself, even for a millisecond, that you will now have to be more careful when criticising Golriz or Islamism or the Prime Minister publicly? Never mind that, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably the kind of person who would go ahead and act as you had before anyway. That’s not the point. People decide to resist the institution of government controls all the time, but that does not mean that those controls, if and to the extent that they are imposed, do not stop thinking. 
    Some might argue that this kind of grassroots 'Attack Watch' doesn’t threaten the use of force of any kind, nor the imposition of any penalties, so this is in fact not an example coming under the principle. (The black lists and block lists, for example, are not being drawn up by governments but by networks of private volunteers.) But if you think about it, the only reason that people even care about the existence of these lists, is because they know that, even if there has not yet been a threat of penalties of any kind, such penalties might not be far behind. [Sections 61 and 131 of the ill-named Human Rights Act 1993 for example already threatens you with severe punishment for what it calls "Inciting Racial Disharmony"--and this is even before Ms Ghahraman et al get started on revising it, as they will.] 
    This is why phrases like “enemies list” might occur to you when reading these approving and widespread calls for this grassroots censorship. If you feel the slightest bit intimidated by the creation of these lists, for example, or these "technical solutions"–even if you tell yourself you will not be affected by it, that you will continue on, as before–then you have experienced a small taste of what Ayn Rand meant. [As have, for example, the websites already blocked by ISPs for hosting, wittingly or unwittingly, the live video -- and the ISPs themselves who are "asked" by the government o continue the ban to please the government, even though there is not, at this point, any legislation compelling them to do so.) 
    The initiation of force, or threatening to use force, is evil. This is why even a fairly heavily veiled threat of force by our government is cause for concern.
You should never compromise with those who want to use acts of violence to extinguish freedom, reminds Margaret Thatcher, because if you do you then the very things for which you stand are extinguished.

Let us resolve not to extinguish freedom here. Especially not by the jerk of this knee.


  1. Perhaps the barrage of hate Ms Ghahraman receives online is more a result of her persistent demands to set up an apartheid dictatorship with herself and her loathsome cronies at the helm rather than the colour of her skin.

  2. From the Left Chris Trotter is proving to be a beacon of hope regarding free speech. The only one, however (and he can only be this because he repudiates identity politics, thus is excoriated for that - particularly by those two dreadful Greens who attack him viciously on Twitter now).

  3. I get the impression that it is so-called hate speech to quote from the quran, not because it is indeed most hateful in many part, but it puts the noble, victim Muslim in a bad light.
    Intolerence in the Quran
    Skeptic's Annotated Quran
    Dwindling in Unbelief blog
    It is deemed hateful if you challenge any mythology?

    1. It is deemed 'hateful' if you dare to speak the actual truth.

  4. It's a good old New Zealand Moral Panic. I've asked Lynley Hood to do again what she did for Christchurch before; Doesn't seem enticed.

    Hold on, we're still in it. Death count now stands at 51.


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