Tuesday, 30 August 2005

The advantage of speaking for the speechless

Too many people spend too much of their time speaking either on someone else's behalf or as a spokesman for people or things who can't speak for themselves, and they spend too much of our time telling us what we should be doing on behalf of those they claim to speak for. And in the name of those "without a voice" they often seek to silence those who do.

There is a special status in law and in our culture given to advocates who claim to speak for the voiceless. They get extra kudos, legal aid, sympathy, headlines, moral stature ... and just sometimes (and just coincidentally) they also get themselves a job for life.

Look for example at politicians who like to claim they speak for the disadvantaged, even as they disadvantage all of us by putting their hands in our pockets -- naturally too ensuring they advantage themselves by doing so. Or politicians who say they 'speak for their people,' even as their actions serve to further impoverish the people they claim to speak for. Why don't these claims and the consequent theft and impoverishment caused receive any decent scrutiny?

Or look at high-profile activists, like for example Cindy Sheehan, who claims (or allows others to claim on her behalf) to speak for "an invigorated anti-war movement." As Rick Moran asks, where exactly are all the protesters she is supposed to have inspired? [Hat tip SH] Why do claims like this get traction, unless it is that the views of activists like Mother Sheehan reflect those who so breathlessly report their activities and opinions?

And what about those busybodies who claim to speak for "future generations," as if they somehow have a direct line to what future human beings are going to want at some unspecified time in the future. Why do they get taken so gosh-darned seriously? Who's to say that 'future generations' won't think they're all bloody idiots with an anti-human agenda who should have been silenced with a gag and a bucket of paraquat?

And how about those that claim to speak for other species, or for wild and beautiful landscapes, or for the heritage values, spiritual values, cultural values, or moral values of the community. Why do these people get headlines and hegemony when the communities, species, trees, rocks and mud puddles they claim to speak for haven't ever given them any mandate to speak on their behalf?

How do they all get away with it, and why do we let them?

When you are speaking for the speechless, the best thing about it is that the speechless can't speak up for themselves to tell you when you're talking nonsense -- which is precisely why so many idiots are attracted to this kind of advocacy. Your idiocy is trumped by the fact that a) you have a mandate (or claim to), and b) you care (or claim to). When the things and people you claim to be speaking for can't contradict you, you can in short have it any way you want since what you say goes. It's your opinion that matters, and your opinion has all the moral force of those you claim to be speaking for, but without the need to convince them that you're making any sense.

So if you're speaking for the speechless, speaking for the unspeakable, speaking for those who wouldn't let you if they knew, or speaking for those who know you're an idiot but just don't give a shit, then don't pretend you're speaking for anybody who has specifically endorsed you. Tell people instead who you are really speaking for. Yourself.


  1. One of the worst examples of speaking in the name of others is the compulsory students' associations and NZUSA, the national body. These wankers are always claiming that students want more taxpayer's money spent on them when in fact many of us(them) did(do) not.

    Another example is National Socialist-supporting former North Shore City councillor, Andrew Williams, telling the Libertarianz candidate whose campaign I am managing what we Campbells Bay inhabitants think about freedom of experssion via billboards.

    From: Andrew Williams
    To: Michael Murphy
    Sent: Monday, August 29, 2005 Subject: Billboard smashed

    Hi Michael

    I just phoned Jan and told him that your billboard on the road reserve at the bottom of Park Rise had been smashed overnight. A pity that you have chosen to erect a billboard on that area as the locals really HATE our Campbells Bay area being cluttered with billboards. I did a survey a few years ago and there was huge opposition to billboards in our area on road reserves. They just ruin the nice environment in our little bay there.

    So you might well find that in fact having one there works against you rather than for you.

    Also, in our Takapuna Community Board area and the Devonport CB area, we have a local ward by-law prohibiting billboards on road reserves and reserves. And Bette English tells me that candidates in the general election have been recommended to observe this restriction, even though Parliament has allowed hoardings throughout NZ. So I hope you will take the lead from other candidates who have steered clear of our road reserves and respect the wishes of the local community.

    Otherwise, I have no doubt based on past years experience, that your hoardings will get trashed constantly in that Park Rise location. They used to be smashed every 2nd day....one of the raesons why we had them banned from there as it made our lovely little bay look a mess. So you might find it an expensive location to try to keep a sign up there.

    Good luck with your campaign.

    Best regards
    Andrew Williams

  2. Andrew, by the sounds of it, speaking in the name of others seems wrong to you:

    One of the worst examples of speaking in the name of others is ... NZUSA.

    The problem with your argument against NZUSA is that you are using the same strategy that you declare is undefendable. Consider the next quote:

    These wankers are always claiming that students want more taxpayer's money spent on them when in fact many of us(them) did(do) not.

    You cannot use the opinions of others in your argument, as you thus become their spokesperson. Because you do, you would me making the same mistake as NZUSA - thus undermining your own argument.

    Of course, it is an empirical fact many students do disagree with NZUSA policy, so your argument has pursuasive force. But if you are allowed to speak for others, then so should NZUSA.


Comments are moderated to encourage honest conversation, and remove persistent trolls.