Friday, 13 July 2018

Molyneux & Southern V Goff: This was never about free speech

Having achieved its $50,000 target, NZ's newly-minted Free Speech Coalition has proceeded immediately into battle by demonstrating that it knows very little about free speech.

Free speech does not require that you, or the state, provide anyone with a microphone. It simply means that the state must refrain from banning anyone from using their own.

In the case being litigated by the Coalition, the state (in the guise of the Auckland mayor) has not banned speech. It has simply withdrawn a taxpayer-funded microphone.

That is not a free speech violation. It is a judgement call.

It's true that the issue is more confused because the microphone is ratepayer-funded. But as Thomas Jefferson long ago pointed out,* there is little that is more repugnant than to force people to pay to support views they despise. I, for one, (as I've said here many times) despise everything these two stand for. I would not want a cent of mine to go towards supporting their views. Many others, I'm grateful to learn, feel the same.

And that said, nothing stops these oafs from purchasing their own microphone and continuing their tour. They haven't, perhaps because touring here was never their genuine intention. Their true intention, I strongly suspect, was simply to achieve what they've already achieved: headlines and notoriety and a small degree of public martyrdom by a little bit of astute guerrilla marketing.

You really can't buy the publicity garnered in the last few days. Before this spat, there were probably 12 people in the country who knew who these two alt-right morons were, and maybe half-a-dozen who may have ever paid to hear them. Now, many thousands do, and might.

Well played Mr Promoter -- because it seems clear that those thousands, and Mr Goff, have been well played. Have been very well played indeed...

But ... but ... the venue they'd booked is "public property," I still hear many of you cry. But ... but ... "the premises in question are public!" screams an anonymous commenter here this morning. Well, since this is perhaps the part of this issue that most confuses free speech supporters, let's have it out.

Do you think there might be a reason their promoter booked a ratepayer-paid venue instead of a private one?

Yes, I think there probably is.

Bear in mind that one of the defining characteristics of alt-right activism is to use left-wing tactics and ideas against the left.

Hence, for example, the whole-hearted and facile embrace by the alt-right of identity politics.

Hence, as well, the adoption of the mis-directional guerrilla marketing of the left to popularise the alt-right people.

Leave aside for a moment the idiocy of adopting your erstwhile opponent's principles; but the adoption of their tactics is here proving very effective.

And about those tactics and the question of "public property": cast your mind back to the first and very public student protests at Berkeley back in the early 60s, to the protests on "public property" that kicked off the Free Speech Movement (as it was officially called) which swiftly morphed into more violent and more obscene action (such as the Filthy Language Movement, as it was also officially called, that plastered the places with precisely what is said on the label) -- a movement that challenged university regents across the United States to shut down frequently obscene and violent behaviour on public campuses, to then be tarred with the erroneous claim that the regents had "shut down free speech." The aim of the activism being, naturally, to achieve the shutdown.

The key feature here, argued Ayn Rand in a piece analysing the birth of this movement, is
that a radical core uses legitimate issues ambiguously in order to manipulate a larger mass.
The legitimate issue is free speech. The ambiguity involves so-called public property. The manipulation is to gain credibility and public attention for what in any other context should attract only odium.

Isn't that precisely what happened here in New Zealand this week?

To paraphrase Johnny Rotten, "Ever get the feeling you've been manipulated?"

There was a very good reason that so-called "public property" was chosen for those protests and this booking: not because no other venues were more suitable (a back room in a small pub would have been far more appropriate for the booking) but precisely because of the concept's very ambiguity. (And because of it, a larger mass than the oafs truly deserve are doing all they can to publicise two people who never more deserved anonymity.)

This is one of the many important points made in Rand's analysis, and is worth considering here: that the many contradictions of the mixed economy are those so well exploited by these movements. Consider it in the case of the so-called Free Speech Movement that erupted on those campuses:
There can be no such thing as the right to an unrestricted freedom of speech (or of action) on someone else’s property. The fact that the University at Berkeley is owned by the state merely complicates the issue, but does not alter it. The owners of a state university are the voters and taxpayers of that state. The University administration, appointed (directly or indirectly) by an elected official, is, theoretically, the agent of the owners—and has to act as such, so long as state universities exist. (Whether they should exist is a different question.)... The right to determine what sort of language is permissible belongs to the administration of a university—fully as much as to the owner of a barroom.
Just as the right to determine what sort of activity is permissible in a council concert venue belongs to the administration of the council.

But what proper ideological policy should such an administration adopt in taking bookings? Answer: In a free society, there is no proper policy they can take. As Rand observes, "it is a question that has no answer."
 There are no solutions for the many contradictions inherent in the concept of “public property,” particularly when the property is directly concerned with the dissemination of ideas. This is one of the reasons why the rebels would choose a state university [or a council-run venue] as their first battleground...
A good case could be made for the claim that a state university [or council administration] has no right to forbid the ... advocacy of any political viewpoint whatever... An equally good case could be made for the claim that [it] has no right to permit the ... advocacy of any political viewpoint which (as, for instance, communism) is a direct threat to the property, freedom, and lives of the majority of the taxpaying owners... 
On the one hand, a government institution has no right to forbid the expression of any ideas. On the other hand, a government institution has no right to harbour, assist, and finance the [ratepayer’s] enemies...
In the context of a mixed economy, the question is quite literally irresolvable.

Does this then illustrate that free speech is inherently unworkable in a free society? Not at all. What it demonstrates instead is that free speech is inherently unworkable without property rights.
The source of these contradictions does not lie in the principle of individual rights, but in their violation by the collectivist institution of “public property.”
And this, I suggest, is precisely why "public property" was chosen for the farce. Precisely because of its ambiguity.
The technique of the rebels, as of all statists, was to take advantage of the principles of a free society in order to undercut them by an alleged demonstration of their “impracticability”—in this case, the “impracticability” of the right of free speech. But, in fact, what they have demonstrated is a point farthest removed from their goals: that no rights of any kind can be exercised without property rights. It is only on the basis of property rights that the sphere and application of individual rights can be defined in any given social situation. Without property rights, there is no way to solve or to avoid a hopeless chaos of clashing views, interests, demands, desires, and whims.
That obvious principle has been demonstrated over and over -- and has again, here, this week.

If that could be the one lesson the supporters of the mis-named Free Speech Coalition would at least recognise, I would be happy.

* "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves & abhors, is sinful & tyrannical." ~ Thomas Jefferson


  1. I get your point, but am not on all fours with you on this one Peter.

    The issue played out chronologically for me, and that's important: initially, it looked like as well as Goff they were being denied by immigration on grounds of public harm, sic Australia. As it pans out that may not be the case, but at the time I donated that - if my memory serves correctly - was the case. Plus in that time, as I've commented on an earlier post in here, my reaction was particularly fed by APA's open threat to use violence to stop a speaking engagement (whether the speakers are loathsome or not is beside the point once that threat was made), and before that the Federation of Islam in NZ had gone directly to government requesting a ban, indicating, to me, that if they are moderate Islam, it still doesn't understand Western values around free speech, and I think that dangerous: still do.

    So I didn't donate so much to get Molyneux and Southern in, as to show groups like APA and FIANZ that their actions and statements did not fit with the values for a free and open society.

    Outside that, despite your argument - and I'll have to reread, so will give myself the out to change my mind - this is public property, and if I'm forced to pay for something, then I will see that it does not breach my values (re free speech - not bringing in these two idiots, they're almost a side issue for me). It seems to me that council property has to be full free speech - other than incitement of criminal acts, etc) or have no political, religious, or even philosophical use at all. Even Chris Trotter sees that, as does Stephen Franks etc. Somehow related, Spinoff has done two hatchet jobs on David Farrar's character out of this, and that publication which explicitly pushes a progressive/identity agenda is given my tax dollars, so I am being forced to fund thoughts I don't hold - thus I'll work it back the other way, thanks.

    I'm interested in your take, from this, on hate speech?

    (I'll read this post again more deeply over the weekend.)

    1. For my third para above, I will substitute Paul Walker's post below :)

  2. Thank you so much Peter for this article. It has set my thinking straight where before it was not and answered my most pressing questions.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. It's true that the issue is more confused because the microphone is ratepayer-funded. But as Thomas Jefferson long ago pointed out, there is little that is more repugnant than to force people to pay to support views they despise

    The thing about this argument is that it applies to everybody. No matter who is speaking someone will despise their views but will still be paying for the microphone. If Goff was willing to withdraw the microphone from all speakers then ok but he isn't. He just withdraws it from those people he don't like.

    The real answer to this problem is to get the council to sell their venues and make the provision of venues private. Then the owners can decide who they want to speak and who they don't.

    Much like Mark Hubbard I think your argument is interesting and will have to think more about it to see if I want to change my mind.

  5. > You really can't buy the publicity these oafs have garnered in the last few days. Before this spat, there were probably 12 people in the country at most who knew who these two alt-right morons were, and maybe half-a-dozen who may have ever paid to hear them. Now, many thousands do, and might.

    Anyone who follows the likes of Jordan Peterson, Mark Steyn, Dave Rubin, Roaming Millenial, Blair White etc will probably have come across Lauren and Stephan. They are not hard to find. Saying only 12 NZ'ers would have been aware of them betrays a lack of attention on your part.

  6. The suggestion that they deliberately chose a pubic venue to ‘play’ us seems arbitrary to me. I have no way of knowing if there’s any truth to this, and I don’t know how you could know either. The Council being the monopolist on most appropriate venues seems the more likely and obvious explanation. I’ve listened to your criticism of Molyneux and am suspicious of him because of it, but I’ve seen no evidence that Southern is an “oaf”. I haven’t studied her and maybe if I did I’d come to the same conclusion, but as it stands that claim seems equally arbitrary. I can’t help but think your conviction on those two points is clouding your judgement on these matters. Even if I was convinced on those two points, I’d still be more concerned that the Left is using whatever political power is at their disposal to stop their opponents from speaking.

  7. Agree MarkT, the blog author is weaving a conspiracy theory and has provided no evidence. He should have omitted the conspiracy theory and let his argument from principle stand. Calling Lauren and Stefan "oafs", " blowhards" and "alt-right" doesn't help either. That is ad-hominem. (In other contexts, Lauren has been labeled with the disgusting epithet "coal burner". I have no idea how this squares with her being "alt-right".)

  8. It has simply withdrawn a taxpayer-funded microphone. That is not a free speech violation. It is a judgement call.
    Granted we shouldn't have taxpayer microphones but nevertheless they exist.
    You could say taxpayer microphones create distortions in the free speech market.
    So there is "regulation" (ie. the Bill of Rights Act) which acknowledges free speech is desirable and places limits on those who control taxpayer microphones.
    You may consider it a judgement call but it's a call Goff isn't allowed to make.
    You correctly resent paying for speech you despise, but so long as you are forced to do so, it is desirable those decisions are politically neutral.

  9. Nailed it perfectly Peter .
    A PR coup for a couple of virtual unknowns.


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