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On deciding the solution without understanding the problem

We have heard the constant complaints of those opposite over the last 48 hours about ethnic community leaders, multicultural community leaders, and their views on this particular proposal. I said at the start that I was a first amendment type of person: I view the proposal put up by the government and Senator Brandis in the exposure draft as a compromise. I accept that my views are not typical of all those in this place, or indeed all those in this country, in supporting a very strong and almost unlimited commitment to freedom of speech. The problem I have is that those opposite seem to see us as a nation of tribes; as a nation where self-declared leaders of communities—communities defined by race—should somehow should have a special place in the consideration of legislation that any other Australian citizen should not. Every Australian’s view has an equal standing in this place—every Australian’s view, no matter what community they declare themselves to be from; whether it be one or many; and whether or not they declare themselves to be leaders of communities. The elected bodies in this country are the elected representatives of the Australian people. We don’t believe in a corporatist society, or in one where there are a series of tribes where, somehow, some people have more rights than others.

- Senator Scott Ryan

File under ‘I tried really hard to ignore this but I’m a goddamn glutton for punishment’.

So what Scott Ryan is saying here is a strawman. Because Labor and the Greens are pointing to ethnic groups who do not want this repealed because they’re afraid of the lack of legal recourse and/or the message it would send to the community, Ryan thinks that this is tantamount to saying that these groups deserve ‘a special place’. He thinks that paying attention to what multicultural leaders have to say is to give them special treatment over and above everybody else.

Unfortunately for Ryan, the fact is that governments are made up of people who are elected to represent, but may not BE representative. That is where the role of community consultation, submissions to enquiries and even making petitions to the Parliament comes. It’s quite simple, really - there’s no way that this group of humans elevated to high office through a complex series of machinations (only one of which is election day) could actually claim to truly know or truly understand the concerns of every perspective on every issue the government moves to legislate upon. That’s why they ask, because it’s quite possible that the people who make up the parliament don’t actually fully understand the diversity they represent.

Of course, every government has the right to at some point make a decision that may not take into account what interest groups want. We hope that that decision has been made after being in full possession of the facts. What the government then has to do is outline why it has chosen to do what it is doing and why it believes the benefits of a given change outweigh the costs the interest groups have outlined.

Earlier in the speech I quote above, Ryan spoke about how a lack of free speech means racism is pushed underground to fester and the solution to unfair speech is more, free speech. I happen to agree with this argument, but it does assume that there is some standard of what is ‘unfair’, i.e. being harmful, insulting or offensive but not being censored or restricted.

I don’t know how he can make this argument without choking on his own hypocrisy. He says in the quote above, essentially, that ethnic minorities have nothing to offer the debate on what speech should be free and which unfree. So if the people who racist speech affects are told their perspectives on what speech should be unfree (by implication, what speech us unfair or undesirable) aren’t valuable, on what standard, on whose judgement can he say that something is a legitimate target of social activism? How can he say that more speech, rather than restrictions, are the solution when he doesn’t think that the perspective of those who understand the problem better than anyone matters?

Disclaimer: same at the last one.

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"The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. This is why free speech is essential not simply to the practice of democracy, but to the aspirations of those groups who may have been failed by the formal democratic processes; to those whose voices may have been silenced by racism, for instance. The real value of free speech, in other words, is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged. Once we give up on the right to offend in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice."

Kenan Malik on the importance of the right to offend.

These are the kinds of arguments that people who are supposed to be ‘protected’ by hate speech laws are best positioned to make against them.

But nobody really seems interested in those arguments, or the people who would make them. Too foreign to our political culture, I expect. Too radical, too liberal.

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Throwing in the towel on 18C

Lately I’ve been disheartened by the quality of arguments put forward against 18C and in favour of free speech, in spite of believing in the cause.

There are two camps. There are the genuinely principled people, who will say that the solution to racist and racially insensitive speech in public debate is more speech and often have some sort of history in being those doing the ‘calling out’.

Then there are the people who (more often than not) refer to 18C as the ‘Bolt laws’, where the argument is framed in terms of political correctness gone mad and a belief that racist and racially insensitive speech is not only legitimate in our society, it ought to be free from the criticism of others. In other words, these people don’t believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, because there is nothing to disinfect and ‘sunlight’ (read: criticism) is just a form of censorship. It’s not an accident that there’s overlap between this latter group and people who said Adam Goodes needed to ‘grow up’ when a teenage girl racially abused him at the footy and he responded in kind. That teenage girl deserves protection from censure; Adam Goodes does not. Goodes’ use of sunlight in front of thousands of people was not legitimate, because his offence was not legitimate.

The fact that there are two ‘camps’, so to speak, is not what fuels my disaffection. It’s the fact that the former camp seems to be all too willing to acquiesce to the language used by the latter camp. Principled people are allowing genuinely bigoted people to frame the issue through not explicitly reframing it, and by sitting idly by while the kinds of people they should abhor take pleasure in the idea that this law may go. I think George Brandis falls into this category: he is not racist himself and he spends most of his time on this issue invoking good and honest liberal principles but he still allows the bigots to frame the debate. This is why he links 18C to the Bolt case, and why he says people have a ‘right’ to be bigots.

Hypocrisy is compounded, however, even by the principled. Chris Kenny suing the ABC for defamation for showing a manipulated image of him having sex with a dog is case in point.* People look at the kind of cases that have been brought forward under 18C and have (rightly, in my opinion) determined that some of these are a case of ‘hurt feelings’, to the extent that the judgements significantly impinge upon free expression. This line of argument has since been expanded to suggest either implicitly or explicitly that all the cases of racism and racial insensitivity are simple matters of ‘hurt feelings’ - everything, from a taxi driver being racially abused to a demented columnist with an axe to grind is ‘hurt feelings’.

On the other hand, the way most people have treated the Kenny case suggests that such belittling is reserved for 18C. There are those who would defend the concept of defamation law as it protects one’s property (reputation), which is not a terrible idea in itself. The issue is that there seems to be no recognition that there are gradations. The idea that a manipulated image from a group long known for satire would actually damage Kenny’s reputation is simple nonsense. But there seems to be this desire to see cases of alleged defamation as uniformly are valid and legitimate - in other words, a valid restriction of speech - whereas all cases under 18C are equally illegitimate. One kind of complainant deserves the benefit of the doubt and another kind does not.

What is happening is that there’s a peculiar blindness about how wide a net defamation law really casts, whereas there seems to be perfect 20-20 vision on 18C.

I can only theorise about why this may be the case, though I do not doubt that some read this with a sense of triumph. The fact that the pro-repeal case has pretty much exclusively been made by people who have never experienced the kind of racism the legislation is designed to protect against probably has something to do with it.

There’s a point that has not been made in this debate at all, and it has resulted in the anti-repeal case using ‘thin edge of the wedge’-style arguments. Anyone who has experienced racism knows that what someone says to you at work is far more damaging than what a stranger says on the street (made worse if nobody defends you or calls out their behaviour). Comparatively, what some columnist has to say (even if it is with a national stage) would rank pretty low for most people, especially when there are people everywhere telling him exactly how his views are a waste of bits and bytes. One is free to say that in all of these situations it is not the place of the law to intervene: it is the place of other people, codes of conduct, mores, more speech, public debate. But there is a deep failure to even recognise the existence of a continuum.

My own contribution to the debate would be this: things are magnified when important people are involved, regardless of the actual harm and damage done, and the law expands to match it. This is true of both defamation law, and of something like 18C. We know, realistically, the prospects of legal recourse for a racially-abused taxi driver are slim to none. The same goes for someone bumping into someone in public and provoking ire, and copping an earful of racist abuse that usually involved the phrase ‘you people’. The law does not, and cannot, protect these people. This is identical to the criticism that many have of defamation law.

Given that the Attorney-General has this week released an exposure draft of the changes the government wishes to make to the RDA (and they are significant), this is a real wheat-from-the-chaff moment for this debate. My belief in the fundamentally good intentions of the anti-18C brigade rests on the tone and content of the arguments used against the proposed amendments.

The two parts of interest for me are ‘racial vilification’ and ‘intimidate’. Racial vilification, in this case, means to incite racial hatred. Intimidation is to cause someone to fear physical violence because of their race. This, according to George Brandis, is not about public debate, it is about abuse. So far, my friends at the IPA (and I mean that literally, I am friends with people at the IPA) have said the proposals are most of the way there, and the broadening of the replacement clause for 18D especially is a good thing. Andrew Bolt has said he’s relatively happy with the proposed changes. A cursory look at these amendments suggests that someone abused racially in a public place where they would not fear violence (a taxi driver in his cab, for instance) or where there was nobody else around to be ‘incited’ (an argument over a parking space) would no longer be covered even in theory. No doubt clever lawyers and activist judges could make short work of the narrowness of these provisions, but let’s keep it simple.

I wait expectantly to see what comes next, to see how these changes are defended.  


* I like Chris, but he makes a career out of eviscerating the ABC. This is a perfect opportunity for him.

Disclaimer: these views do not represent those of my employer. They are mine and mine alone.

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"To be generically against markets would be almost as odd as being generically against conversations between people (even though some conversations are clearly foul and cause problems for others - or even for the conversationalists themselves). The freedom to exchange words, or goods, or gifts does not need defensive justification in terms of their favourable but distant effects; they are part of the way human beings in society live and interact with each other (unless stopped by regulation or fiat). The contribution of the market mechanism to economic growth is, of course, important, but this comes only after the direct significance of the freedom to interchange - words, goods, gifts - has been acknowledged."

— Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (via the-metres-gained)

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"

The result is that many women have observed state legal reform as the biggest step forward for their rights. Women have only recently enjoyed the freedoms that western men have enjoyed for hundreds of years and they still see vestigial threats to that freedom in the form of sexist culture.

Libertarian challenges to the State’s social and welfare programs are therefore viewed as a threat to women’s freedom and security… This is not an inevitable or ‘natural’ condition, but has grown out of our particular social history.

But it is one that will persist as long as a sexist culture does. As long as women feel (justifiably) threatened by sexist culture, they will be thinking politically in terms of protecting their own and other women’s security.

If the libertarian movement wants to solve this problem, we need to make it clear that ours is a genuinely humanist movement that wants all people to reach their potential and achieve their goals.

Libertarians need to show that women have nothing to fear by removing state-mandated protections.

"

Liberty’s “Woman Problem” - by Jebediah Cole for Voluntarist.net

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"Conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind. In looking forward, they lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept change without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about."

— Friedrich Hayek

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"A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."

— Thomas Jefferson (via liberal-democrats-australia)

(Source: americas-liberty, via liberal-democrats-australia)

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Creeping worry.

benrhughes:

indefensible:

I’ve seen a number of crowdfunding campaigns lately that aim to raise money for a particular person to help them get through a difficult medical event, or life event. I’ve supported a couple; please don’t think I’m questioning the motivation of the donors, or the recipients of this much-needed help.

What worries me is that according to my worldview, many of the things we’re supporting ought to be supported by default in a decent civil society. I wonder if, in addition to the support we currently give to these individuals, we could also support groups actively working to fix the structural inequalities that are causing people to suffer.

My politics are simple. We should constantly aim to build a society that is equitable for all citizens. This, in my view, is an endless goal. I’m concerned that by focusing on certain deserving individuals, we forget the countless others who also need our help.

I’m interested in other people’s thoughts. Thanks.

I have a lot of loosely related thoughts on this.

1) I think there’s a major hole in the libertarian idea that private charity can take the place of public safety nets - and that is, as you’ve observed, charity goes to those who know how and who to ask, not necessarily who needs it most. 

2) As individuals we don’t prepare enough for the worst case. We don’t have emergency savings, we under-insure for catastrophe etc. In part that’s because of social safety net programs; in part it’s because we’re bad at estimating the impact of large events.

3) As a society, we have to be very careful in balancing the provision of safety nets with the unintended side effects. Too much government involvement massively corrupts medical research and treatment. Funnily enough, the US is a great example. 

So: we can’t rely purely on charity, but providing a better safety net somewhat corrupts the market and makes people feel less of a need to personally guard against risks. It’s a bit of a mess.

I think Aus has a good conceptual balance that falls over somewhat in reality. Medicare *should* take care of people on low incomes, and those on higher incomes can get their own insurance or otherwise manage their risks. The issue is that Medicare doesn’t cover enough treatments and is generally underfunded for what it’s meant to provide. I also don’t think there’s a way to totally opt out (for the “wealthy”) - it’s either pay Medicare or pay private health. I’d like to see a “pay neither and get nothing” option, too. 

Photoset

jasminecalver:

History Meme | 4 Leaders | William Ewart Gladstone (United Kingdom)

b. 1809     d. 1898 (heart failure/old age)

In office: 3 December 1868 – 17 February 1874/1 February – 20 July 1886/15 August 1892 - 2 March 1894 

"All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes."

(Source: historyofjasmine)

Photo
the-metres-gained:

arcorn:

ourcatastrophe:

go away, you cretinous glob of delusions of relevance
everyone knows that libertarians are just dorky young conservatives who want drugs legalised not because they have any real problem with systemic criminalisation, but because they don’t have enough friends to get them through the informal economy

God, shows how little you know about the people involved in the party nor their supporters and their moral values.

Hi, I’m Trish.
I’m an active feminist and have participated in numerous feminist events over the past few years, including being part of the team that organised SlutWalk in Canberra in 2011.
I’m also a WOC who speaks up frequently against white-normativity in activist spaces. After having attended two years of NOWSA and having engaged in WOC Caucus there, I’ve internalised the logic of caucuses - the notion that privilege means that you can’t speak for others - and found it intersects really well with libertarian conceptions of knowledge problems. I believe strongly in just shutting up and listening to people’s experiences. At last year’s NOWSA, which was hosted at my home campus of ANU, I also delivered a presentation on the first wave of feminism where I sought to challenge the socialist version of feminist history, and the white-dominated one.
I also ran in the ACT in 2012 as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, where one of our major policy issues was changing planning laws so that housing becomes more affordable for everyone and landlords can’t continue to gouge renters the way they currently do.
When I was younger, I used to be a socialist, but as I learned more about politics and that it wasn’t just that being left wing means you’re progressive and being right-wing means you’re conservative, I started becoming more centrist. Gradually over time I learned more about how both historically and contemporaneously governments use their power to screw over the least well-off.
I recognise that I come from a position of socio-economic privilege and for that reason I oppose all aspects of the nanny state. The nanny state either imposes regressive taxes on people as the least well-off are the most sensitive to price increases on ‘vices’, or it’s fundamentally patronising to try and regulate what people eat and what they do for fun. I’m not interested in being a middle-class elitist.
Please tell me more about how I just hate the government and don’t care about the systematic disenfranchisement of the least privileged in our society by the government.
I dare you.

the-metres-gained:

arcorn:

ourcatastrophe:

go away, you cretinous glob of delusions of relevance

everyone knows that libertarians are just dorky young conservatives who want drugs legalised not because they have any real problem with systemic criminalisation, but because they don’t have enough friends to get them through the informal economy

God, shows how little you know about the people involved in the party nor their supporters and their moral values.

Hi, I’m Trish.

I’m an active feminist and have participated in numerous feminist events over the past few years, including being part of the team that organised SlutWalk in Canberra in 2011.

I’m also a WOC who speaks up frequently against white-normativity in activist spaces. After having attended two years of NOWSA and having engaged in WOC Caucus there, I’ve internalised the logic of caucuses - the notion that privilege means that you can’t speak for others - and found it intersects really well with libertarian conceptions of knowledge problems. I believe strongly in just shutting up and listening to people’s experiences. At last year’s NOWSA, which was hosted at my home campus of ANU, I also delivered a presentation on the first wave of feminism where I sought to challenge the socialist version of feminist history, and the white-dominated one.

I also ran in the ACT in 2012 as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, where one of our major policy issues was changing planning laws so that housing becomes more affordable for everyone and landlords can’t continue to gouge renters the way they currently do.

When I was younger, I used to be a socialist, but as I learned more about politics and that it wasn’t just that being left wing means you’re progressive and being right-wing means you’re conservative, I started becoming more centrist. Gradually over time I learned more about how both historically and contemporaneously governments use their power to screw over the least well-off.

I recognise that I come from a position of socio-economic privilege and for that reason I oppose all aspects of the nanny state. The nanny state either imposes regressive taxes on people as the least well-off are the most sensitive to price increases on ‘vices’, or it’s fundamentally patronising to try and regulate what people eat and what they do for fun. I’m not interested in being a middle-class elitist.

Please tell me more about how I just hate the government and don’t care about the systematic disenfranchisement of the least privileged in our society by the government.

I dare you.