Morality Politics Religion Secularism

COPE and the Civil Union Act

In addition to her Private Members Bill on Advance Directives, which I wrote about earlier this month, Deirdre Carter of COPE has also been pushing for changes to the Civil Union Act, and I’m pleased to report that the Parliamentary committee meeting (15/08) seems to have gone well, with all present agreeing that Section 6 of the Act needs to be reconsidered.

Section 6, for those not familiar with the Act, is the clause that allows for Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials to opt-out of officiating same-sex marriages. It reads:

Free Speech Morality

Gigaba should have allowed Anderson in

Our commitment to free speech is tested by speech that offends us, not by speech we agree with. This does not necessarily entail allowing all speech: it’s possible to take the pragmatic view that while we’d ideally want all speech to be permissible, it might be the case that in some contexts, the risks of violence (or other negative consequences) are too great.

I’m not going to repeat the standard arguments in favour of freedom of speech here (previous defences of the principle can be found in this column on Kuli Roberts, this one on Gareth Cliff, or this one on more general issues to do with “thoughtcrime” and hate speech).

On this pragmatic reasoning, one might ask how we most efficiently nudge ourselves into a world where all speech is allowed, even as those who utter hateful speech pay some other price (for example, widespread opprobrium) for doing so?

Morality Religion

Error Naidoo takes on Lucifer, triumphs.

We don’t know for sure that it was Error Naidoo and his band of hyperbolic homophobes that succeeded in getting the TV show Lucifer moved to a fringe channel and a later time-slot on Dstv, but this is what has happened. (Mumford and Sons, meanwhile, have been moved to an earlier time-slot, to help attendees stay awake.)

Academia and teaching Morality

Bigotry, free speech and student politics at UCT

Zizipho Pae, current UCT Student Representative Council (SRC) Vice President, posted this Facebook status following the US Supreme Court decision to strike down same-sex marriage bans:

We are institutionalising and normalising sin. God have mercy on us.

pae4-592x400I wasn’t planning on saying anything about this, but the most recent rant from Error Errol Naidoo of the Family Policy Institute is mad enough to prompt a quick response, because he – like many others – are confusing the freedom to hold odious views with a (non-existent) obligation on others to not call them out on those views, and freedom from any consequences expressing those views might incur.

Ms. Pae is free to be a homophobe. She implies that she’s not a homophobe in the video embedded below, but the facts are clear: she labels gay people sinners, and suggests that we are “normalising” sin – in other words, that they are a threat to all of our moral welfares. She has a seriously negative disposition towards gay people, in that she doesn’t want them to have the same rights as straight people.

Dress that up in whatever religious sophistry you like, but any non-religious person would regard that as plainly homophobic. Also, any person, regardless of religious persuasion, should realise that Ms. Pae is instead endorsing an (unconstitutional) ban on gay marriage. So, wrong on the morals, wrong on the law.

She can have and express these views, regardless of the fact that we might prefer that she didn’t feel inclined to such prejudice. Her prejudices are also more common than I’d like, which is exactly why we don’t put basic rights to a referendum.

But holding those views does not protect her from criticism, whether or not she thinks she’s doing a bigoted god’s bidding. The university, and the SRC, have chosen to adopt a certain set of values, and homophobia is in contrast to those values.

She was relieved of her duties as Acting President by the SRC, as they are entitled to do. She has not been suspended or disciplined by the university administration, contrary to Mr. Naidoo’s claims.

Her rights to freedom of speech are not being violated – she chose a more demanding standard than “speech without consequences” when she ran for the SRC (before that, in fact, as simply registering as a student here involves committing to promoting certain values). So, free to speak, but then we don’t want you representing us.

So, there is no “anti-Christian discrimination” here, but rather a defending of what the country, and the university, have chosen as their moral foundation, namely non-discrimination on various grounds. She chose to be part of that community, so needs to follow its rules.

Where Naidoo and Pae do have a point is only with regard to the issue of her office being vandalised, and any threats being uttered against her. Those cases need to be investigated and the offenders sanctioned.

In the meanwhile, it would be absurd to think that the SRC should tolerate homophobia in its senior structures, and perfectly reasonable for them to suspend her, pending fuller discussion and investigation.

You don’t get to insult a large proportion of the students you’re meant to represent without consequence, whether you believe in a god or not.

Free Speech Morality Religion

The naked truth about porn on television

Originally published in the Mail & Guardian, 22 March 2013

p14082_01_obr01When TopTV announced that they were planning to launch a fresh bid to screen adult content, a number of the self-appointed guardians of South Africa’s moral fibre rushed to our aid. The usual suspects (like African Christian Action or the Family Policy Institute) spoke of the “flood of filth” that would destroy our families, corrupt our children, and in general violate more rights than I was aware we even had.

The Icasa hearings on these adult content channels took place on March 14, and I was one of only two people who presented in favour of TopTV’s application (besides the applicants themselves, of course). The written submissions received by Icasa were overwhelmingly disapproving (440 against, with only 16 in favour), while at the hearings the ratio shifted to a more balanced two in favour and six against.

That’s where the impression of greater balance began and ended, for the most part. If you were keen on getting examples of how to marshall anecdotes, logical fallacies and statistical innumeracy in favour of a moralistic conclusion, the Icasa offices were the place to be on that day. As I said in my submission, porn seems to reliably increase only two things: arousal and religious outrage, but perhaps negative causality in relation to common sense needs to be added to that list.

It is not true, as some might think, that you need to think pornography entirely unproblematic to defend the right of a broadcaster to screen it, or viewers to watch it. Personally, I’m quite convinced that pornography can alter expectations in the bedroom, or in relationships more generally. But so can just about any entertainment product you can imagine, and pornography only becomes particularly interesting if it causes harms by necessity, or harms that are more severe or of a distinct type.

For some, pornography does seem to be particularly interesting by virtue of simply being pornography. It’s about sex, and sex is about families, and families involve children and healthy societies. We don’t like to talk about sex, or watch it – especially not the kind of sex they show in pornography. Ergo, porn harms children and families.

Except, we don’t have any compelling reasons to believe that it does, in ways attributable to the pornography rather than to other variables such as poverty, communication breakdowns, or the pressures of fulfilling Calvinist, heteronormative, nuclear family-related social expectations that are increasingly ill-suited to the various interests and desires of the 21st-century human.

Introducing one or more pieces of research here will mostly only serve to stoke up a cherry-picking contest in the comments and letters, so I’ll say only this: the past few decades have allowed for a global social science experiment involving being able to compare class, income, race, gender, religion and whatever else you like with porn and sexual violence. And when you look at that data, it requires a fair amount of contortion to avoid the conclusion that people who are educated and living in a functioning and responsive state commit fewer crimes of all sorts, regardless of porn access.

Pornography is a red herring in this argument, particularly with regard to the anecdotes regarding the effects of porn that the Icasa commissioners got to hear about. There’s no question that South Africa is experiencing obscenely high levels of rape (not that any level is not obscene), but it’s not possible to blame pornography for this, given that the sexual violence clusters in areas that are poor, and have less access to pornography than the average reader of this column does. The middle and upper classes should be doing most of the raping, and they are not.

Yes, of course there may be a correlation between pornography and sexual violence – just as they may be a correlation between hours spent on church pews and lower-back ache. But correlation does not imply causation. It’s easy to use correlation and “science-y” language to contribute to a moral panic – but less easy (although far more useful) to demonstrate a clear causal link.

It adds no evidence of causation to wheel out a young man to testify that his cousin’s consumption of Etv pornography led to his rape, at age 13. For every example of this type, we could find thousands of South Africans who watched Emmanuelle without resorting to sexual violence. Note also the apparent contradiction between the “rape is about power, not sex” narrative and the “porn on your TV screen causes rape” narratives.

Then, asserting that porn is as addictive as heroin or cocaine, and that it takes only 5 minutes exposure for a child to be irreparably harmed, doesn’t make it so. The editors of the DSM-V chose not to include pornography as an addition – evidence that it’s at least a contested claim, rather than something to be bandied about as fact.

The real, and honest, narrative here is simply one of a contest between various moral preferences, where pornography, sex worker trafficking and rape start being treated as inter-related just because people say they are so. But the facts of the matter can never be settled by shouting, by our (legitimate) fears for our safety, or by anecdotes involving claims like Ted Bundy “got started in porn” – as if porn should now be understood as likely to turn all kids into Ted Bundy’s.

The joy (albeit one experienced all too rarely) of living in a constitutional democracy that is mostly secular is that you don’t have to watch consume porn if you don’t want to. There are risks in allowing people choice, yes: it’s difficult to predict or control what choices people make, and therefore what you – or your children – might be exposed to.

This means that the task of parenting, or of providing moral guidance in other contexts, is a difficult one. This is as it has always been, and as it should be. But none of us has the right to prescribe morality for others, especially not on the basis of cherry-picked data and moral hysteria.

Morality Religion

Errol Naidoo, allegedly a Christian, on Marikana

Presented without comment, from his latest newsletter:

There has been much hand wringing and recrimination about the Marikana Massacre. But when human life is diminished in the womb, that callousness will find its way into the national psyche.

It is a tragedy that the Church of Christ has not developed a sustainable and coherent strategy to expose the grisly consequences of the culture of death – advanced by pro-death activists.

I have written a feature article about the Demographic Winter in the latest issue of Joy magazine. The culture of death is slowly killing off the human family in Western civilisation.

Abortion-on-demand – driven by radical feminist activists – and the homosexual agenda, lie at the heart of the culture of death. These anti-family groups are responsible for population decline.

[Edit]Contrary to expectations, there are people out there who are willing to say that Naidoo “has a point“, and that I quoted him out of context. Here’s the full newsletter, so you can judge for yourselves.[/edit]

Daily Maverick Morality Politics Religion

Little evidence of integrity at the Film and Publications Board

As submitted to the Daily Maverick

When the Minister of Higher Education calls for a painting to be “destroyed for good”, it’s difficult to not be reminded of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. In case you’re unfamiliar with the book, the title describes the temperature at which paper auto-ignites, and the plot addresses the burning of books as a method for suppressing dissenting ideas.

Framed as a method of thought-control, the destruction or censorship of paintings and books should horrify all of us who hope to live in a free society. So instead of framing it in those terms, why not instead make a case based on “protecting the children”? After all, who but a moral monster would be opposed to protecting children?

This is not yet another column about Zuma’s Spear, but rather an attempt to highlight the creeping threat to liberty exemplified in Nzimande’s statement about The Spear, as well as the Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) decision to classify (images of) the painting as 16N. That the former hasn’t attracted significant outrage is a surprise, because even though Nzimande might well have been speaking as the leader of the Communist Party, he also happens to be the man who oversees the country’s higher education system.

As one of the thousands of academics whose professional lives are influenced by this man’s judgement, I have cause to be concerned about a statement like this. As do all of us, not simply through being invested in the country’s future, but because it’s a stark distillation of the level of cynical manipulation of voters that some in the ruling party are willing to deploy. It’s not simply inappropriate for a Minister of Education to call for the destruction of artworks – it’s a complete abrogation of his responsibilities.

But seeing as those he reports to happen to be sympathetic to that view, we should of course expect no censure, apology or retraction. Meanwhile, if the FPB could have their way, images of Murray’s painting would be scrubbed from the Internet lest some under-16 (or sensitive adult) happens to come across it. The danger is of course real, in the sense that a Google search for “South African art” might well highlight the offensive image in question.

The FPB will be engaging with Internet service providers and search engines to “enforce this decision going forward”, which could well mean the dusting off of the Internet and Cell Phone Pornography Bill, Malusi Gigaba’s plan to enforce the moral standards of a few right-wing Christian organisations on all of us. One of the organisations consulted in the drafting of that Bill was the Family Policy Institute (FPI), headed by Errol Naidoo.

You might remember Naidoo from his call to boycott Woolworths for their decision to take Christian magazines off their newsstands (the profitability of a private company obviously being subservient to Naidoo’s interpretation of God’s wishes). Or, perhaps you’d recall his involvement in blocking both Multichoice and TopTV from screening adult content.

But in case all of those campaigns happen to coincide with your preferences, we’re also talking about the person who called the Civil Unions Act a “grossly negligent act of Parliament”, and whose monthly newsletters rarely fail to mention the immoral and unnatural scourge of homosexuality, and the complicity of the “liberal media” in obscuring the imminent downfall of civilization that will be precipitated by consenting adults in their bedrooms.

The reason Naidoo and the FPI are relevant to the discussion around the FPB’s decision to classify The Spear is that the FPB statement laments the “suggestions made that have sought to question the integrity and independence of the FPB”. I’d hope that in this instance, integrity would include being guided by the spirit and letter of the Bill of Rights in matters such as freedom of sexual preference and orientation.

But this hope seems somewhat unfounded when you look at the FPB’s website. On their home page, you’ll find a sidebar element headed “Useful Links” – but you’ll only find one link there, and that link is to the Family Policy Institute. In case my objection is not entirely clear, I’m not making the claim that religion (or Christianity in particular) can have nothing useful to say in matters of morality or in decisions regarding what children should be exposed to.

The claim is instead that the FBP is endorsing an organisation, and a man, who is a proud homophobe, and who has repeatedly demonstrated that his views on sexuality in general seem to be plucked straight from the pages of Leviticus. To describe this link as “useful” seems somewhat at odds with integrity, at least as I understand it.

Perhaps there’s a more innocent explanation, namely that the FPB has no idea who or what they are endorsing. If this is the case, we have no less cause to question their competence in effectively performing the task of deciding what to classify and how to do so. Incompetence – at least from the perspective of those who wish to view artworks or movies – is hardly more reassuring than significant lapses in judgement.

So it’s not just that the FPB have made a ruling that’s likely to survive even internal appeal processes, never mind court challenges. The issue is also that the chilling of free speech or artistic expression can happen by degrees, and can be disguised by the motivation of “protecting the children”. Because, framed in those terms, who would dare complain? If you do complain – at least once protecting the children is understood in the terms of folk like Naidoo – you might as well confess to being a paedophile.

Morality Religion

Finally: recognition as a ‘homosexual activist’

Thank you, thank you. I wouldn’t be here without the help and support of my cats, Mogwai (pictured), Mr Jones and Mot. I must of course also thank the Family Policy Institute, and particularly its leader, Errol Naidoo, for bestowing this honour on me. The reason for Errol bestowing this honour on me is at this stage slightly ambiguous, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume he means “homosexual activist” in both possible senses. Here’s an extract from his latest emailed newsletter:

Homosexual activist, Jacques Rosseau [sic] has slammed the Film & Publication Board for its association with Family Policy Institute. Apparently, my work to protect children from exposure to porn on TV and the internet is considered “censorship” a crime worse than the social degradation of children.

While I’m grateful, Errol, I do need to point out a couple of problems with the reasoning of your selection committee in bestowing this honour on me. First, it’s not quite true that I’m a “homosexual activist” – instead, I try to be an activist against idiocy of various forms, but particularly the sorts of idiocy that results in discrimination. Yours, for example. But also gender or racial discrimination, or giving one particular religious viewpoint undue attention when it comes to deciding on matters of public policy.

Second, the most important reason for mentioning you in that column was to say that the Film and Publications Board shouldn’t be endorsing homophobes. As a state body, you’d think they had a duty to respect the provisions related to equality in the Constitution. So, when some religious creep (not all religious folks count here) calls homosexual behaviour unnatural and immoral, and threatening to “the family” (the families that homosexuals are in don’t count, of course), you’d think they should distance themselves from you. But no – you’re listed as a “useful link” on their website (but without any text saying something along the lines of “This link is useful if you want to know what a bigot looks like”).

Third, I’m fully in support of protecting “the children” from undue harm. But you’ve never (and nor has anyone else) demonstrated that the children will crack the two pin codes required to view porn late at night, nor that there is good reason to swallow your doomsday-ism about the harms that result from pornography in any case. The evidence is inconclusive, and until you can get God to talk to us herself, rather than through folk like yourself, I’ll rather not base public policy decisions on your say-so, thanks.

The rest of the newsletter consists of the usual self-congratulatory detail related to how he’s saving civilization through setting up urgent meetings to discuss stuff. Or sometimes, waiting to see if people are willing to meet with him:

I am waiting on confirmation to meet with the DG of Communications, Ms Rosey Sekese and the CEO of ICASA who are currently in Cape Town to discuss the urgent need to amend legislation to specifically prohibit pornography on TV and to install filters on the internet to block online porn.

It’s a good thing that not even any Christians I know take him, or his organisation, seriously. Except, that’s not quite right: they do take him seriously to the extent that they see him as an embarrassment to their faith, and as very bad PR for Christianity in general. Replace “faith” with “species” in the previous sentence, and the Christians and I are in full agreement.

(A pdf of the full newsletter, in case you want to read more. But there’s no good reason to.)

Morality Religion

Errol Naidoo: remove religion as example of unfair discrimination from the Constitution

Errol Naidoo’s latest Family Policy Institute newsletter indicates quite a remarkable change of mind, at least if I’m correctly reading between the lines. In one section of it, he appears to be arguing that religion should not merit any special protection from discrimination under South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Here’s (part of) what he has to say:

There is a proposal to remove the ‘sexual orientation’ clause in the Constitution. This clause in the Bill of Rights serves only to provide homosexuals the power to demand special rights.

Homosexuals are protected as human beings in the Constitution like every other citizen. The sexual orientation clause provides special protections and privileges for their sexual preference and more importantly, provides legal sanction to penalise anyone who disagree with their lifestyle.

The clause in question (9.3) reads as follows:

The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

So, following Naidoo’s logic, if the “sexual orientation” clause only exists to “provide homosexuals the power to demand special rights”, it’s surely also the case that this is true for the “religion” clause (and all the others), and he’d have section 9.3 read something like “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly of indirectly against anyone”.

This might be the first, and only, time that I can say he’s on to something which isn’t completely crazy…

Morality Religion

TopTV plans to “release a flood of filth into our communities”

Or so says Errol Naidoo, in any case. I wasn’t planning to say anything about TopTV’s plans to launch 3 porn channels (provided by Playboy TV), because besides this involving TopTV rather than Multichoice, the salient details are identical to those in the DStv porn saga last year. But a few people have enquired as to my views, so here they are.

First, it remains true that we have no compelling evidence that pornography necessarily causes harm in itself. I can’t dispute that some people have had miserable lives, or been exploited and abused in the production of pornography. It’s true that it’s an industry which conduces to trafficking, and it’s plausible that it might lead some consumers to dysfunctional attitudes towards sexuality, gender equality and so forth. These are unwelcome and regrettable correlates of porn.

But as one can’t seem to say often enough, correlation doesn’t equal causation. The fact that many people consume pornography from within healthy relationships, or as singletons who are not disposed towards seal-clubbing, satanic rituals or violence against women and children shows that it’s possible for porn to come without these complications. Which tells us that as much as some production and consumption of porn can come with problems, those problems can be addressed directly without needing to shut down an entire industry. If it ends up being true that these problems are inescapably part of porn production, then I’d agree that porn should be more strictly controlled, and perhaps even eliminated (if that were possible). But they’re not, or at least we have no good evidence that they are.

Which leaves us in a position of having to balance various interests. On the one hand, we have TopTV (or Multichoice), who want to make money. They do this by offering a service that consumers want, in this case porn. If they’re wrong, and consumers don’t want it, then the channels will most likely be pulled. But what they are planning to offer is legal, and they are entitled to do so. Of course they should (from their own self-interested point of view, as well as from the point of view of not causing needless offence) do so in a responsible way. Their plan is to offer these 3 channels as an opt-in service at an extra cost each month. So, parents need to choose whether to allow these channels in their homes or not.

This is stage 1 of the firewall that protects the innocent, fragile children. Unless a parent chooses to subscribe, Jenny and Johnny won’t be exposed to any part of the “flood of filth”. Then, in stage 2 of the firewall, each viewing of one of the porn channels requires the viewer to enter a PIN code. A parent could change this code every day, if they so choose. What this firewall adds up to is that, if Jenny or Johnny end up watching any porn on TopTV, it’s the fault of the parents, not of TopTV.

Naidoo might of course say that this shouldn’t be broadcast even to parents (or adults). For consistency’s sake (although I’m not sure if he’s familiar with that concept), he might also have to say that there can be no violence on TV. There should certainly be no booze on TV – and perhaps there should be no cars on TV, seeing as those can also be used irresponsibly. But none of this really matters to Naidoo and his ilk, seeing as personal choice needs to make way for his fascist world of obedience to the dictates of God. Well, not your god, perhaps, but the one that he insists you believe in. You know, the homophobic one.

He also says that these parental controls aren’t sufficient because:

Despite TopTV’s assurances of parental controls, it will not stop sexually depraved adults from sexually abusing women and children. The majority of the 55 000 rapes of women & sexual abuse of 25 000 children in SA every year, are perpetrated by TopTV’s target market – adult men!

He’s right. TopTV’s parental controls won’t stop sexual abuse, because we’ve got no reason to believe that a) TopTV’s porn will cause their target market to want to go out and rape women or children, and b) all these people already have access to porn, for god’s sake. In the course of his “research”, surely Errol has come across porn that would make whatever PlayboyTV provides look like scenes of Bambi running through a forest?

Naidoo closes his December 8 newsletter with this:

I appeal to you to urgently write to TopTV CEO, Vino Govender and inform him that you will stop paying your subscription fees, cancel your contract or support a targeted boycott of TopTV advertisers if he launches his proposed porn channels in South Africa.

Email Vino Govender at [email protected] and copy in Melinda Connor at [email protected]

Christian consumers stopped Multichoice from launching a 24 hour porn channel on DStv last year. You and I can do it again! Christian citizens must stand up and do what is right!

Before you take a well-deserved holiday with your family – please consider the families that will suffer because of TopTV’s greed. Please encourage your family & friends to write today!

PS: Please forward this email to your family & friends and NOT TopTV [my emphasis]. Please also join us on the official FPI Facebook page for more updates and info about TopTV’s evil agenda.

Perhaps he doesn’t want TopTV to have advance warning of the tsunami of self-righteousness heading their way. I don’t know. But there’s the CEO’s email address. Feel free to write to him to express your support for freedom of choice. Or to say that, even though you don’t like porn yourself, you commend him for his efforts to ensure that it reaches only it’s target market, rather than innocent bystanders. And if you want to mail the other public protector, Errol Naidoo, you can do so here: [email protected]