Zille vs. Haffajee on hate speech and the Economic Freedom Fighters

Before we talk about what the law says, we should talk and think about what sort of society we hope for the law to help create. The law is always going to be an imperfect tool for managing millions of often selfish, confused, partisan, and otherwise compromised humans.

So when talking about liberal values such as free speech, it is legitimate to ask whether past, current or future formulations of laws governing the value in question do the job optimally, rather than to simply appeal to them as the end-points of an argument.

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The glorification of violence, and the case of Andy Ngo

Early this morning, Quillette (a conservative-leaning online magazine, founded by Australian writer Claire Lehmann) editor and photojournalist Andy Ngo was the target of antifa (anti-fascist) protest while covering a rally in Portland, Oregon. The banner photograph is from when he was admitted to the emergency ward for treatment. He also had some of his photographic equipment stolen during the incident.

I don’t like many of the views that authors on Quillette espouse, even as I’m happy to concede that Quillette is on the whole more objective than some of their critics claim them to be. But the point of this post is that this doesn’t matter: you don’t need to agree or disagree with a writer or speaker to know that it’s wrong for them to be assaulted for holding the views that they do.

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The Tyranny of Opinion – Russell Blackford

Russell Blackford

The post title refers to Russell Blackford’s most recent book, The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the Future of Liberalism. Blackford is an annoyingly prolific writer, who has published numerous works of both non-fiction and fiction, as well as having edited at least 5 volumes of essays that I’m aware of.

By way of disclosure, I also regard him as a friend, and he was kind enough to write a blurb for my and Caleb Lack’s 2016 book, Critical Reasoning, Science and Pseudoscience. Despite these connections, this note on the book is unsolicited, and entirely sincere.

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The “Journal of Controversial Ideas”

Jeff McMahan, Peter Singer and Francesca Minerva plan to launch the “Journal of Controversial Ideas” sometime in 2019. The journal will allow for (but not insist on) articles to be published under a pseudonym, ostensibly in response to a prevailing culture of self-censorship and fear of expressing opinions on contentious topics.

McMahan and Singer are both philosophy professors, well-known for engaging with complex topics in an accessible manner, and in Singer’s case, also no stranger to controversy. According to a headline in the Guardian from 2009, he might in fact be “The most dangerous man in the world” (he isn’t).

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A word on Vicki Momberg

Vicki Momberg

Vicki Momberg was today sentenced to serve three years in prison (with one year suspended), after being found guilty on four counts of crimen injuria relating to multiple racial slurs she uttered towards black police officers and others on November 3, 2016.

As far as I can determine, crimen injuria is a crime in South Africa, but not anywhere else. It describes serious impairments of the dignity of others, and racist speech can easily be seen as counting as such, at least under certain circumstances. Continue reading “A word on Vicki Momberg”

Free speech and the problem of binary responses

Nazi free speech pug

Leaving character judgments aside, videos such the one made by Mark Meechan, of his dog responding to the phrase ‘gas the Jews’ with a Nazi salute, should be legally permissible.

Legal questions don’t answer ethical questions. I think that this joke’s concept is grossly insensitive, and I do think that people need to spend more time worrying about what they find funny, and why. Continue reading “Free speech and the problem of binary responses”

Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter

xkcd emotion comic social media

A friend of mine once remarked that we can either have democracy or the Internet, but not both. Even if the point is perhaps overstated, interactions on social media, and omnipresent clickbait, certainly contribute to the perception that there’s far more noise than signal on the Internet.

While it’s certainly possible to have productive conversations on social media, those seem – in my experience at least – to have become increasingly rare. Charlie Brooker once listed Twitter as his top pick in the category of video games (in the 2013 show How Videogames Changed the World), and it’s easy to see his point – the platform should perhaps simply be thought of as entertainment rather than as an opportunity for an exchange of ideas. Continue reading “Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter”

#Charlottesville – “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here”

There is something to be said for the idea that anti-fascist protesters can resort to violence too quickly. But this idea can be debated without endorsing or excusing fascism, which you do when you describe these acts of violence as morally equivalent. Continue reading “#Charlottesville – “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here””

The Press Ombusdman’s Huffington Post ruling – #ShelleyGarland and hate speech

The Press Ombudsman received complaints regarding the piece by “Shelley Garland” published by the Huffington Post (who also asked him for comment), and his ruling on the matter was released yesterday.

The ruling is terrible, in both its reasoning and in its consequences.

It is terrible in its consequences first because the HuffPo’s editor, Verashi Pillay, was made to feel obliged to resign, and the career of a promising editor has now been interrupted. Despite her missteps (here, and in the Maimane case), and their severity, this incident should not have led to her resignation.

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