All I have added to this excerpt from an article in the Times by David Aaronovitch is emphasis on what I consider to be the key words:
A free press must not be bullied by the state
Readers don’t know, but this happens all the time. Rich men and women threaten, companies threaten, gangsters and dope cheats threaten, aggrieved and time-rich individuals threaten; day in, day out letters before action flow like little streams of menace into our legal department. Almost every single time you expose someone or something, it happens in the context of legal threats. People don’t like it if you tell lies about them and they like it even less if you tell the truth.
Which brings me to the most important thing being considered by Ms Bradley. It goes by the tedious name of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and is something that can be invoked, or not, by the government. It is, in essence, the stick that could be used to get newspapers and publications to sign up to the new state-approved press regulator, Impress.
What it says is that any publication not agreeing to be regulated by Impress will be subject to the costs of a legal action — even where it wins. Really. That’s what it says. Call the next Lance Armstrong a drugs cheat and even if he loses the case it will cost you hundreds of thousands. Well, no one in those circumstances would take the risk of running the story. These are not days in which newspapers make much if any money and the fastest way to bankruptcy would be to fall foul of Section 40.
And that of course is why, as sticks go, it’s a knout, a knobkerrie, a bludgeon. It would have to be because otherwise the British press, from the pinkest metro-sheet to the shoutiest judge-hating tabloid, will not sign up with the government-approved regulator.
The first article was by Eve Livingston writing in the Guardian: “The state is an enabler of sexual violence. So what hope for the victims?”
The headline caught my interest, which lasted well into the third paragraph. She wrote,
Violence does not exist solely in the instant that blow meets body, but in the circumstances that facilitate it and the systems which excuse it.
My heart soared. Could it be that Ayn Rand’s argument that all state laws are ultimately enforced at gunpoint had penetrated the pages of the Guardian? For it is certainly true that the state facilitates and excuses its own violence, and I have long thought that this produces a climate of opinion that tends to facilitate and excuse violent acts by anyone.
‘Fraid not. It was just another rehash of the tired old trick of redefining “violence” to mean “anything I don’t like”. Ms Livingston thinks that the government spending less money than she thinks it should on women’s refuges is “violence”. As is the government spending less on anything, or talking in metaphors that might induce unpleasant thoughts.
If economic policy too accurately embodies its violent language of slashing and cutting,
Whatevs, thought I. And nearly missed a rather good point:
…legislation around crime and justice delivers an almost laughable irony. In some cases, the very laws purportedly designed to protect women from violence can, in practice, enable it: the criminalisation of various activities relating to the sale of sex, for example, is universally opposed by sex worker-organising collectives, on the grounds that it limits their ability to work safely – for instance, in groups or designated zones – and without fear of violence from both clients and state agencies.
I was surprised and glad to read this. Until now almost the only voice in the Guardian opposing the fashionable “Nordic model” put forward by an unholy alliance between old style authoritarian conservatives such as Caroline Spelman MP and Gavin Shuker MP (one of whom does and one does not have the abbreviation for “Conservative” written after their name, not that it matters) and new style authoritarian feminists such as Guardian regulars Joan Smith and Catherine Bennett, came from Melissa Gira Grant. Ably though the latter writes, she tends to be discounted because she would actually know. Dear me, we can’t have that.
I really was glad to see that Eve Livingston sees that laws that claim to protect women from violence can have the opposite effect. It is sad that she almost hid her message from me (and not only me judging from the comments) by that silly attempt to stick the label “violence” on something that, even if one believes it to be bad, is not violence. Ironically that same trick is played by the crusading politicians she rightly opposes. Click on the link relating to Gavin Shuker MP above to read the following (emphasis added):
The year-long parliamentary enquiry argues that prostitution should be seen as violence against women and an affront to sexual equality, but sex workers have reacted furiously to the proposals arguing that the criminalisation of clients will push sex work underground, further stigmatise women and put lives at risk.
The second article that surprised me is from the New Statesman. Sarah Ditum writes, “What’s missing from the transgender debate? Any discussion of male violence.”
One of those things that supposedly never happens, happened. Luke Mallaband was convicted of six voyeurism offences after a female student at the University of East Anglia found his phone hidden in the university library’s gender-neutral toilets. The probation report described him as “high risk of posing serious harm to females”.
Here I was simply and honestly surprised that a piece in the New Statesman admitted there was a potential problem at all. I had thought that the whole “transgender bathroom rights” issue was still so new and shiny, like a newly socialist country whose economy has not yet visibly gone to pot, that no one on the Left dared break ranks. But Sarah Ditum did dare, and despite the many poor arguments elsewhere in her article, she saw where Eve Livingston did not the danger in the attempt to use the emotions stirred up by a word as a substitute for argument:
“Inclusion” and “equality” are words with strong positive connotations, and those positive connotations can sometimes smother the problem of competing rights in a warm feel-good fuzz. On 1 December, Parliament debates the report of the Women and Equalities Committee into transgender equality: from reading it, you would have very little idea that the rights of women and the rights claimed by trans people have any points of conflict.
It is not that I have any particular opinion on whether gender neutral public toilets are a Good Thing or a Bad Thing in general. Of course they should be allowed, and of course gender segregated public toilets should be allowed. Libertarianism offers a way out of the contradictions about the “competing rights” of this or that group: respect the right of whoever provides the toilets in a premises to enforce what rules they think best and the right of potential users of the toilets to use those ones or go elsewhere as they think best.
“Richmond Park marks the start of a new, cross-party rejection of Brexit”, says Hugo Dixon in the Guardian. Predictably. People like Geraint Davies MP and David Lammy MP been weaselling away since the week of the referendum. Zac Goldsmith’s defeat at the hands of the Liberal Democrats in the Richmond Park by-election has worked on the Remainers like a psychotropic drug in their carrot juice.
A Reddit user called “lordweiner27” neatly turned around every cliché of the Weasel genre. His or her post seems to have been removed from r/ukpolitics, so I thought I would preserve it here:
The LibDems only won by 4% in Richmond, there should be a second by election.
We know that the LibDems lied and put out fake news during the campaign. When people realise this how many people will change their mind?
We also know that this wasn’t really a vote for the LibDems, it was a by election with very low turnout. What this really was was a rejection of the establishment in the form of multi millionaire Goldsmith, not a vote in favour of the LibDems.
I’ve already spoken to people in Richmond and they’re telling me that their having Libgret and wish they’d voted for Zac. They’re telling me that they were decieved by the LibDem campaign, they fell for the lies and they feel that they themselves are possibly retarded.
And anyway, why should ordinary people get to decide who their MP is? Zac was more well qualified than the LibDem candidate having been an MP for years. All the experts back Zac and they’re always right.
Hollande and Europe are turning the tide. Where will it leave Cameron?
Labour gains from the triumph of the French Socialist leader with his intellectually cogent rallying cry for a new direction for Europe. Look how he won with a promise to tax the super-rich at a heart-attack rate of 75%, yet the French stock market actually rose slightly. Can he now turn the great liner of the EU’s disastrous economic policy?
– Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, 7 May 2012
François Hollande will not seek re-election as president of France
François Hollande, the least popular French president since the second world war, has announced he will not run for a second term in office.
With a satisfaction rating so low it recently dropped to just 4%, the Socialist president appeared shaken and emotional as he said in a live televised address from the Élysée palace that he would not attempt to run for a second term, conscious of the “risks” to the French left if he did so.
– Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, 1 December 2016
“UKIP leader Paul Nuttall says UK should ban burqa”, the Independent reports.
In the 2015 election I was pleased to note that UKIP, the third most popular party in the UK in terms of number of votes, was also the closest to libertarian among the mainstream parties. Since then the United Kingdom Independence Party has both fulfilled and lost its purpose. Its new leader, Paul Nuttall, seems to want to achieve his aim of supplanting Labour as the main opposition to the Tories by outcompeting Labour in the field of authoritarianism. Just listen to the tail-wags-the-dog justification for banning the burqa that Mr Nutall gives in the video clip linked to by the Independent:
“Whether we like it or not we are the most watched people in the world. There’s more CCTV in Britain per head than anywhere else on the planet and for the CCTV to be effective you need to see people’s faces.”
As to the position of intellectuals in Cuban society, it appeared that they had almost everything estranged Western intellectuals desired. There was, to start with, ample official recognition. They were taken seriously and, if loyal to the regime, given generous opportunities to share in power and the management of the new society. They were given responsibilities such as the visitors rarely enjoyed in their own societies. For the most part these were, in the words of Susan Sontag, “pedagogical functions,” and “a major role in the raising of the level of consciousness.” The jubilation on the part of the visitors, as they witnessed Cuban intellectuals moving into positions of power and responsibility, signaled their relief that at long last intellectuals could abandon their traditional roles as social critics and outsiders and could now joyously affirm, endorse, and assist an ongoing social system. At last the painful dichotomy between thought and action was dissolved; Cuban intellectuals were men of action, some actually fought as guerillas; others became revolutionary deans of universities, revolutionary officials in ministries of education, culture or propaganda, revolutionary writers, film-makers, academics. Most of them shared, from time to time, the manly burden of manual labor with the masses. Most importantly, they were fully integrated into society, there was nothing marginal about them.
Under these circumstances, it was possible to accept with a clear conscience the material benefits and privileges the regime bestowed on them, unlike in Western societies, where the material privileges and status advantages of estranged intellectuals often became a major sources of their bitterness, inner conflict, or self-contempt. Wishing to be severe social critics of the societies they lived in and half expecting some measure of retribution or mild martyrdom for their criticism, instead they often found themselves either ignored by the holders of power or, worse, in positions of influence or high social status despite their relentless castigation of the social system which continued, almost absent-mindedly, to feed generously the mouths that so regularly bit it.
– Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China and Cuba, 1928-78, Paul Hollander, page 264.
Amelia Tait, writing in the New Statesman, says,
Reddit’s CEO edited comments on a pro-Trump thread and everyone should care
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has publicly admitted to editing comments on the pro-Donald Trump subreddit r/the_donald in a move he has described as “trolling the trolls”. Huffman – who goes by “spez” on Reddit – deleted comments from the pro-Trump community on the site, and also altered comments that insulted him. He replaced comments reading “fuck u/spez” with those of the users who moderate the thread. This meant the criticism directed towards him appeared to be attacking the thread’s own moderators.
Yet although this might seem like a small and temporary lapse in judgement, the implications are huge.
Normally when a comment is edited on Reddit – by a user or a moderator – a small asterisk will appear after the time stamp to indicate that it has been changed. In this instance, no such asterisk appeared, meaning Huffman ostensibly has the ability to edit comments without a trace. This is crucial because two months ago, a Redditor was taken to court for comments he left on the site. Huffman’s editing powers could clearly be abused to cause trouble for individuals.
Beyond this, however, Huffman chose the wrong Reddit community to anger. Those on r/the_donald are already deeply convinced by conspiracies, and, in a way, Huffman has now validated their claims.
I first came across r/the_donald when news was breaking of the terrorist massacre of 49 people attending a gay nightclub in Orlando carried out on behalf of Islamic State by Omar Mateen. I say “news was breaking”, but it was not breaking at r/news. As one Reddit user said, “They deleted EVERY other thread about the shooting”. Another said, “You know whats crazy? I live in Orlando and I had no idea this was going on. I depend on reddit for my news 100% since it can rapidly deliver news from many sources that I can validate or discard. I have literally been up all night on Reddit and due to the apparent thread lockings and deletions, this story took 9 hours to make it to me — I probably live within thirty minutes of this place.” Yet another said, “This situation has been unfolding for hours, it’s the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and the only evidence of it on the front page is stuff from /r/the_donald?”
The talk is all of “fake news” at the moment, with a presumption that the fakery is coming from the right. But many of those Americans who saw with their own eyes the main Reddit news page attempting to play down a major news story while the Donald Trump subreddit reported it freely will have concluded that those Trump guys were telling the truth and the other guys were fakers – and who can blame them? Some of them will have switched from r/news to r/the_donald as their first news source and will have gone on to vote for Trump as a result. It is always fun to watch the “Nice job breaking it, hero” trope play out in real life, but r/the_Donald is not itself a good news source. The comments that Huffman altered were the usual conspiracy rubbish that is thrown at any politician these days. I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is running a paedophile ring for the same reason that I never believed that Ted Heath was. Apart from anything else, major political figures are too closely watched. Steve Huffman had the right and was right to ban the “Pizzagate” subreddit, which made claims absurd even by the standards typical of such things and had caused real harm to innocent people. As ever, the believers in the conspiracy took any opposition to their theories as PROOOOF that the opposer was in on it too. Mr Huffman would have been completely within his rights and acting in the interests of his company to have banned the people who were libelling him. Instead he chose to play games with his own site’s credibility. A few weeks ago I would have dismissed the idea that the Reddit CEO would personally hack the accounts of his own customers on the r/the_donald subreddit as yet more conspirazoid rubbish. As Amelia Tait said, Huffman has now validated their claim to be persecuted. He has also validated their claim to be important.
How sad that the “huge, stifling bubble” being described is a university. I am not quite clear who wrote the following article for student magazine The Tab. The byline says Lucy Kehoe, a co-editor of Tab Liverpool, but the introduction suggests that she is quoting someone (a male) whose name is not given. Whoever wrote it, it is good to see someone fighting back:
Shutting down the ‘Pro-Life Society’ isn’t liberal — it’s the exact opposite
The way the campus majority reacted to the new ‘Pro-Life Society’ is symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with student politics right now. It was oppressive and deeply intolerant — ironically, exactly what opponents of the society claim they want to defeat.
Speaking as an atheist and staunch pro-choicer, the attempt to shut down the Liverpool University Pro-Life Society before they’ve even had a chance to go for an ice-breaker pint strikes me as a pretty a sinister development. Without trying to sound like a badly-damaged record, simply disagreeing with someone’s opinion does not warrant this person being banned from voicing this opinion, no matter how stark or severe the disagreement may be.
Let’s confront this together, fellow pro-choicers. The members of this society probably find your pro-choice views outrageous, too. Morally reprehensible. In some cases, your views are an insult to their deeply-held religious views.
So, if the Guild was to approve a future application from a pro-choice society, should that be kicked off campus, too? Clearly, the answer is no. Because their outrage doesn’t trump free speech — and neither does yours. When people (like myself) reflect on how wonderful university was, a word we are pretty much guaranteed to use is “diversity”. Diversity of race, religion and nationality. Of accents and hometowns. Of opinion and perspective.
Campuses are places where opinions should be held freely, exchanged in good will and perhaps even debated where necessary. This is the essence of a mature democracy. It’s the basics, really. But this is under attack. No longer is the university an open, tolerant, marketplace of ideas, but a huge, stifling bubble where any group united by a conservative point of view risks being delegitimised by the opinion police.
So far as I know the society has not been banned, but everybody took quite seriously the idea that its suppression should be discussed. The petition to ban it started by a student called Katriana Ciccotto read in part:
“As a female student, I feel completely betrayed, insulted and neglected by the Guild’s recent approval of the pro-life society.
As a female whose student days are long gone, I feel completely wearied by reading political statements that start with “As a female I feel completely [insert line of sad face emoticons here]”. Honestly, kids, feminism once meant something quite different to this. At least with mansplaining you might learn something; a headache is all you get from being in range of womemoting.
“This is a society that is founded on the sole basis that women should oblige to their beliefs. One that denies a woman the right to her own body. These are not religious ideas, they are misogynistic and hateful.
I do not know what “oblige to their beliefs” means nor why it is meant to be a bad thing. The statement “These are not religious ideas, they are misogynistic and hateful” is odd, too. Is it some sort of politically correct charm spell, recited to protect the speaker against accusations of Islamophobia? I am religious but would not claim for a microsecond that an idea being religious is logically incompatible with it being misogynistic and hateful. And while there certainly are those who oppose abortion on non-religious grounds, it is common knowledge that there are vast numbers, including many women of the sort modern feminists do not see, whose opposition to abortion is religious and they are proud to have it that way.
“Whilst I understand and the Guild’s policy towards freedom of speech, misogyny does not come under this category. Surely the Guild would undoubtedly disapprove of a society that promoted racism, homophobia or any other form of hate speech? Why is this different?
“If the Guild want to maintain the idea that they represent their students, they should have the moral obligation to ban this pro-life group.”
I, not Ms Ciccotto, put the phrase “misogyny does not come under this category” in bold type. It was unendearingly typical of the class of “I believe in free speech but” arguments that define free speech down to meaninglessness. There is a word called “whataboutery”, describing a style of argument by deflection pioneered in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in which people avoided facing up to the evil done by their own side by endlessly bringing up evil deeds (especially evil deeds of many years past) done by the other side. Whataboutery often is used dishonestly, but not always. A demand that all should be judged by the same rules is fair. But I really cannot see much to defend in the tactic of buttery.
Jennifer Saul, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sheffield, has a had a figurative and literal rude awakening. Writing in the Huffington Post, she says,
Authoritarianism in Sheffield
…you might think, local Labour councils would be on the side of the good—fighting authoritarianism and working to preserve what they can of the quality of life in their cities.
This morning, however, Sheffield’s Labour council showed us beyond a shadow of a doubt how they feel about the authoritarianism on the rise round the world. Overruling their own hand-picked Independent Tree Panels, they decided to descend on Rustlings Road, a quiet residential street, in the wee hours of the morning with 22 police officers, to fell 8 trees (6 of which the tree panels said should be saved). Residents were awakened in the middle of the night by police demanding that they move their cars. Three were arrested, including two pensioners. Police in the middle of the night, knocking on doors, dragging people out of bed? Arresting elderly law-abiding citizens? This is not the lovely left-wing city I thought I was moving to back in 1995.
I laughed at her political naivety until I remembered that I shared it. Whether the local authority was Labour, Conservative, or any other party, I would not have expected to read of vanloads of police with arc lights and bullhorns descending at dawn on any street of the UK for anything short of a raid on armed and dangerous gangsters.
Nor should Sheffield City Council get away with this less dramatic but equally ominous manipulation of the law:
We learned their recommendation today [i.e the decision of the Tree Panel], only after the felling. (Although the recommendation was dated 22 July, it was only published this morning at 4.30.) The council’s hand-picked experts recommended against felling 6 of the 8 trees. And yet the council was so determined to destroy them anyway that they engaged in a massive police action against law-abiding citizens in the middle of the night.
Other accounts of the incident can be read here and here.
“WITH THIS SHORT film, director Paul Duane and I are hoping to accomplish the near impossible,” writes Eoin Butler in TheJournal.ie. “That is, to start a conversation about the Irish language that is rational, unswayed by emotion, dogma or any political agenda, and informed by the facts as they are, rather than how we might wish them to be.”
Here’s a link to the article, and click on the video link within to see the film, which is twelve minutes long.
“We spend mind-boggling amounts of public money on the Irish language. Cén fáth?”
The film is well worth a look to libertarians and people interested in revitalising minority languages, and practically compulsory* (OK, not literally compulsory. Libertarian purity police, stand easy!) for anyone like me who is both. It starts off in nostalgic sepia with Butler speaking in subtitled and platitudinous Irish. Thirty seconds in, the colour comes on and he switches to English and says, “Actually everything I just said there is an easily debunked lie.”
I’d like to zoom in to a section near the end of the film. Starting at the ten minute mark, Mr Butler argues that compulsory Irish is a failed policy but a network of vested interests has grown up around it. This network, he says, “does nothing to really promote the language or broaden its appeal. Switching off the life support could shock the language back into life.”
At this point I would imagine that most of those anxious about the future of Irish shrivel a little inside and think, that sounds like a strategy of last resort. To which I would respond, it is. Irish is at the point of last resort. As detailed in the first few minutes of the film, the strategy of compulsory Irish lessons in every state school has failed utterly to stem the decline of Irish as a community language, as have other state measures such as making the Irish rather than the English version into the definitive version of each of Ireland’s laws. Quite soon the legal texts and the schoolbooks may be the only places where Irish lives on. When all else fails, why not try something crazy, like acting as if the Irish language were a good thing that people might choose to have?
And as a matter of fact, Mr Butler does give an example of an aspect of Gaelic culture that turned off the pressure and thrived thereby. He says, “I mean, look at Gaelic games. For seventy years the GAA [Gaelic Athletic Association] had a closed, defensive mentality. Its members were banned not just from playing but even attending rugby and soccer matches Today the ban is long gone […] the GAA, with minimal state subvention and zero compulsion on anyone to participate has never been as popular.”
It is not a perfect analogy. The GAA is a private club, not a state, and I would defend its right to impose whatever rules it wishes on its members who joined it voluntarily. But it is notable that when the GAA changed from a strategy of “push” to one of “pull” its fortunes revived.
A hat tip for the finding of Mr Butler’s film to the Irish Republican site, An Sionnach Fionn (The White Fox) although the writer of that site was not such a fan of the film as I was, describing it as “simply a modern form of “settler racism”, part of the poisonous legacy of several centuries of foreign colonial rule in this country.”
The title of this post indicates my reaction to what is happening in the US. So Brexit was not the biggest political earthquake of 2016.
Though, mixing my metaphors, I think Brexit was the gateway drug to President Trump. As I said at the time, “People worldwide have seen that impossible things can happen.”
It’s always fun to see Guardian readers’ heads explode, but a place behind my own ear is feeling a little tingly. He’s a bit… er…