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Yes. But?

In the Spectator, Brendan O’Neill writes In defence of Jo Brand:

Brand’s comedy-crime was to say the following about the recent spate of milkshake attacks on politicians: ‘Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?’ Boom-tish. Funny? I think so. I like Brand’s dry, deadpan wit, so to me it was funny to hear her jokingly propose something so wicked in her droll tones. Others will disagree. That’s subjective taste for you.

But what we surely cannot disagree on — unless we’ve taken leave of our senses, which I think we have — is that Brand was joking. We know she was joking for the following reasons: 1) she tells jokes for a living; 2) she said it on a comedy talk show; 3) she confirmed that it was a joke. ‘I’m not going to do it’, she said, clearly remembering that we live in humourless times in which people are constantly pouncing on someone’s words as proof of their violent intent. ‘It’s purely a fantasy’, she clarified.

And

Amazingly, people have been saying that in response to the Brand controversy. The same political figures, tweeters and tabloids who normally have a field day mocking soft leftists for crying over questionable jokes or edgy ideas are now demanding the censure of Jo Brand. You staggering hypocrites. What is sorely lacking in the free-speech debate today is consistency. The whole point of freedom of speech is that it must apply to everyone. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t free speech at all — it’s privileged speech, enjoyed by some, denied to others.

So here goes: Jo Brand must have the right to joke about throwing battery acid at politicians. Jimmy Carr must have the right to make rape jokes. Frankie Boyle should be free to make fun of people with Down’s syndrome. Boris is perfectly at liberty to say women in burqas look like letterboxes. People must be free to film their dogs doing Nazi salutes. Do you get it now? When it comes to mere words and ideas, no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything. Literally anything.

I do not hesitate to endorse the last paragraph (though I would delete the word “censured” from “no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything”) but in defence of the snowflakes of the Right who are making a fuss about this, could it not be said that they are only applying the fourth of Saul Alinsky’s famous Rules for Radicals, “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

A month ago the YouTuber and UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin a.k.a. Sargon of Akkad was investigated by the police for saying “I wouldn’t even rape you” to the Labour MP Jess Phillips. Someone called Steve on Twitter posted this clip of what Jo Brand said about Carl Benjamin then:

“I think it shocking that politics has been reduced to vile personal attacks… especially from a twat-faced beardy tiny-cocked tosser like him.”

She delivers the line rather well, but did not seem too concerned that Benjamin was being investigated by the police for making a crass but obviously not seriously intended threat to commit a crime. Technically it wasn’t even a threat; he said he wouldn’t rape Jess Phillips. Now the boot is on the other foot. If Carl Benjamin wants some quick brownie points he should ride out in Jo Brand’s defence like a non-rapey knight in shining armour.

I assume nearly everyone who reads this believes in free speech. In the present circumstances, what should we be doing to defend it? Should we take the high road, or apply Rule 4?

59 comments to Yes. But?

  • Guy Montag

    I think we’re long past the point where we can apply one set of rules or standards for everyone. Society is now too diverse, by which I mean fractured. This is especially so when the enemy has made it perfectly clear that they will not abide by any rules which hamper their political or social progress anyway.

    If you guys want to make some sort of impact then defending free speech is not the way to go about it; that ship has already sailed. If you were to demand the restoration of free association, then you might be onto something.

  • While the likes of the BBC go into pearl clutching mode over comments made by Carl Benjamin yet claim freedom of speech when it’s Jo Brand, then going nuclear is just dandy with me. These people are hypocrites. Yes, I do agree with O’Neill’s last paragraph, but the progressives do not, so Alinksy’s rules for radicals does apply here. Make the bastards live by their own rules.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “In the present circumstances, what should we be doing to defend it? Should we take the high road, or apply Rule 4?”

    We don’t want to make the enemy live up to their own book of rules, we want them to see the necessity of adopting ours. So we take the high road, but make a point of pointing out that this is ‘hate speech’, and that ‘free speech means tolerating hate speech like this’.

    Then if they want to disagree, they either have to argue that mock-threatening to maim someone because of their beliefs (a protected category under the Equality Act) isn’t hate speech, or that we shouldn’t tolerate lefties expressing hatred for righties either. I expect the blue-faced frustration that would result from practicing the latter would make it a short-lived proposition.

    We have to directly inject the concept of free speech into the conversation. Tolerating it without mentioning the parallels fails to achieve that, and applying their rules might just end up with them saying “Sorry, you’re right, we’re gonna have to ban left-wing jokes, too.” Which may be satisfying from a partisan-right point of view, but would be even worse from a partisan-libertarian one.

  • Myno

    Rules for Radicals offers suggestions to people who do not care sufficiently for the social fabric that binds us together culturally. Damage is done by following those rules, damage that is part of the point of undertaking them, to those who are bent on destruction as the means to construction. So it isn’t a coin toss. More damage is done by the R4R approach, so it is to be avoided, except as a clear example of what not to do, and accompanied by an explication of the hidden costs involved.

  • >We don’t want to make the enemy live up to their own book of rules, we want them to see the necessity of adopting ours. So we take the high road, but make a point of pointing out that this is ‘hate speech’, and that ‘free speech means tolerating hate speech like this’.

    In theory that’s all fine. But how’s it working in real life? Not so well, huh? Leftists say what they want and lord it over us, while anyone right-wing, or even not sufficiently left-wing (like Danny Baker) get fed to the lions. Every day the ratchet gets tightened, and fine talk gets us nowhere.

    There were plenty of principled people in the USSR who made fine speeches, and then they were taken into the forests and shot.

    As for Jo Brand, she doesn’t even strike me as someone who would be appalled and repelled when the killing starts. I don’t imagine she’d ever institgate it, but I can see her cackling over it when heads start rolling.

  • Eric

    Benjamin should take her to court for saying he made a rape threat.

  • Russtovich

    >We don’t want to make the enemy live up to their own book of rules, we want them to see the necessity of adopting ours. So we take the high road, but make a point of pointing out that this is ‘hate speech’, and that ‘free speech means tolerating hate speech like this’.

    Good lord. I liken that to saying one side in a war must abide by the Geneva convention while the other side does not*. If they can’t agree to the same rules then no, we don’t have to abide by ours.

    Cheers

    * – We already have that though don’t we? And look how well that’s going.

  • Dishman

    Turnabout:

    She can get away with making that joke…

    … because her own appearance would not be harmed by a face full of battery acid.

  • Roué le Jour

    But is it a joke, though? As in, is it funny? I’m “far right” and I wouldn’t think throwing acid at, say, Corbyn was funny at all. I’d be inclined to apologise for bad behavior. A hundred people pelting him with rotten fruit and veg would be funny, but one person with acid is a lone nutter.

    Then she says it’s a fantasy. Well, poppet, that’s the kind of fantasy cake eaters have when they find out the peasants are revolting. This is somthing that infuriates me about modern politics. The left are not the people, they are the aristos. WE are the people.

  • TMLutas

    I’m not very up on UK pejoratives. I would defend Jo Brand in the vilest terms possible.

  • bobby b

    Here in most of the USA, in order to justify shooting someone in self-defense, you need to show that you had a reasonable fear for your life or safety.

    If someone runs up to you and throws a milkshake in your face, and you knew it’s a milkshake, you have no such reasonable fear. Milkshakes are cold, and wet, and maybe embarrassing, but they don’t harm you.

    But now, by citing to Ms. Brand’s comic line, it’s easy to show that you genuinely and reasonably believed that the person approaching you with the full cup of liquid was about to do you severe harm.

    She’s made it much, much easier for me to shoot her co-religionists in the face. And for that, we ought to be grateful.

  • Fred Z

    Freedom of speech means only that the state may not restrict speech, before or after the words are spoken.

    Speech continues to bear the usual risks of a polite sniff through violent assault to outright murder of the speaker and his family, friends and associates.

    As it should, even if the state then takes the perpetrator of assault or murder to task.

    Nothing, nothing, is risk free.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I see no mention of incitement to violence. That’s always been illegal in the UK as far as I know. And I think it probably should be. It’s also a fairly obvious restriction on freedom of speech.

  • We don’t want to make the enemy live up to their own book of rules, we want them to see the necessity of adopting ours.

    And you do that by relentlessly holding them to theirs. The Queensbury rules aren’t much use when your opponent is repeatedly kicking you in the goolies. What they need is a good hard dose of reality – to experience what they will impose upon others – before you have a discussion with them about why they are wrong. These people are not reasonable, nor are they rational. Reason and rationality is wasted on them. A good hard slap to get their attention is needed first.

    Do I like it? No, of course not. But we are where we are.

  • D M

    I would defend Jo Brand even though I can’t stand her.
    Presumably, a person who appears on a pre-recorded radio programme can say what they like safe in the knowledge that the recording will be mulled over and edited and that anything criminal, libellous or not reaching the standard of the BBC Charter will be removed. That is the job of the producer, editor or whoever of those multifarious people behind the scenes.

    Why is no-one calling them to account?

  • Pat

    For years non leftists “rose above” comments such as Ms Brands, whereas comments of a similar character coming from non-leftists were jumped upon. It seems to have worked in the left’s favour.
    If we are to accept whatever the left chooses to say on the basis of freedom of speech then we must insist on reciprocation.
    Only when leftists have their lives disrupted for something they said will they even consider allowing free speech for others.
    So whilst I wish for the same end as Mr. O’Neill I do not believe that we can get there without persuading others that the same rules apply to them.

  • Ian

    When it comes to mere words and ideas, no one should ever be censured, censored or punished for anything. Literally anything.

    I think that’s the most ludicrous thing Brendan O’Neill has ever said. Nobody should be censured for anything, in an article where he’s doing precisely that? What, we can’t criticise anyone for what they say? How about freedom of speech, Brendan? It’s like saying we shouldn’t “discriminate” – i.e., make judgements about people and things based on our values.

    My judgement of Jo Brand’s remarks is that they weren’t funny (no change there then) but were more like an expression of her real feelings about people like Farage, Trump, etc. These sorts of “jokes” and fantasies have proliferated since 2016, and it shows us the darkness at the heart of some of our public entertainers. No, it wasn’t incitement to violence but it was political commentary. Leftists have used so-called comedy to push their agenda for a long time, although it’s been more prevalent in the US with people like Stewart, Colbert, etc.

    There is a provision for “light entertainment” in the broadcasting laws in this country that means the BBC can only be overtly political (without “balance”) in such shows, and they take advantage of it. Although not law, the same kinda applies in the US – it’s OK to be political in comedy, but on news shows broadcasters have to pretend to be unbiased.

    The problem here is not really Jo Brand, who after all is expressing her views, which I can tolerate (although I hope people don’t start using acid on politicians). However, I don’t like the fact that the BBC is supported by the state (i.e., it represents me in some sense), and I don’t like the fact that we have a culture where all our broadcasters are being dishonest about the kind of product they are selling, which originates from these restrictive broadcasting laws that require “balance” and a sense and tradition that news journalism can be unbiased.

    I’m all for Jo Brand doing her thing, and for letting people judge her, and the BBC, for it; but I also think the BBC should sack her for being crap, and I wish they’d just stop employing shit comedians who think something involving the words “Tory MP” or “Trump” makes for a universally funny punchline. We used to have excellent comedians and characters with real ingenuity and wit (I’m thinking Frankie Howerd Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Spitting Image, or more recently The Fast Show) who could make hilarious and at the same time withering (and yes sometimes political) observations about the kinds of people we all know. Even Jeremy Hardy used to be funny, but at some stage he became so twisted by his hatred of those on the right that he stopped making jokes. I mean before he died. One of his later crackers was “If you voted Leave, whatever your reason, you have fuelled racist violence and intimidation.” And what about Eddie Izzard. I mean, Jesus.

    Collectively we seem to have lost a sense of humour because politics has taken over everything. Evidence of this is Brendan O’Neill’s claim to find Jo Brand’s joke funny.

  • Yossi

    It’s the double standards. I remember the Grenfell Tower victim jokers joking in their own private garden. They were cautioned weren’t they?
    The following is a joke, I would never do it: Grenfell fire victims are so easy to hate because they are poor, why bother with milkshakes to their faces when there is battery acid…

    I don’t have to be a comedian in order to make jokes, and the jokes don’t have to be funny.

  • john in cheshire

    Isn’t this the same Jo Brand who, together with Adrian Chiles complained to the far-left bbc about Carol Thatcher because, in the green room and not in front of the cameras, she said some tennis player’s hair made him look like a Golliwog? From then on Carol Thatcher was persona non grata at the far-left bbc.
    Jo Brand should also suffer the same fate; what’s good for the goose etc.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Most of the comments here seem to disagree with Brendan O’Neill. I do too, but hope to make it interesting by presenting a slightly different argument: i claim that O’Neill is utterly wrong in this:

    What is sorely lacking in the free-speech debate today is consistency. The whole point of freedom of speech is that it must apply to everyone. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t free speech at all — it’s privileged speech, enjoyed by some, denied to others.

    There is nothing inconsistent in making your enemy live up to their own rules — at least, as long as you also make your friends live up to their own rules.
    Call it the Iron Rule (as opposed to the Golden Rule):
    Make everybody live up to their own rules.
    Like it or not, it is impossible to deny that the Iron Rule is a logically consistent rule, which means that O’Neill was bullshitting in the above quote.

    Having said that, i too endorse the last paragraph, with 2 important qualifications:
    1. Nobody should be censored or punished BY THE STATE for speech: the State is too powerful vis-a-vis private citizens for us to allow it to follow the Iron Rule. But we, private citizens, are not too powerful to follow the Iron Rule.
    2. When the State nonetheless does punish people for speech crimes, then it is fair for 2 or more factions to use the police to punish the speech of other factions.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “In theory that’s all fine. But how’s it working in real life? Not so well, huh?”

    Has it been seriously tried? We’ve been doing the ‘ignoring it’ tactic, and the ‘kick them back’ tactic, but I don’t think we’ve ever really tried explaining.

    “Leftists say what they want and lord it over us, while anyone right-wing, or even not sufficiently left-wing (like Danny Baker) get fed to the lions.”

    It’s not specific to the left. Every authoritarian – left or right – does that. Everyone wants free speech for themselves, but not their enemies. Whenever they get the power, they enforce their own rules on speech. (I remember Mary Whitehouse…) But they always make the implicit assumption that they get to set the rules, and design the machinery accordingly. Nobody seems to understand that there is always a majority of society that, on some topics, see them as the enemy in the same way, and if you establish the principle that speech society doesn’t like can be suppressed, that necessarily includes their speech too.

    “As for Jo Brand, she doesn’t even strike me as someone who would be appalled and repelled when the killing starts.”

    You know, I think if anyone ever started taking leftists out into the woods and shooting them, there would be a lot of cackling about it over here on the right, too. That’s human nature. We split the world into “us” and “them”, and we don’t consider “them” to even be human.

    Would you be appalled and repelled if we took away Jo Brand’s free speech rights? If she got prosecuted and jailed for making a joke?! I’m not seeing any signs that you would.

    The problem is that when someone is locked into a “us” and “them” mindset, they don’t see the world the way you think they do, and they don’t take the lessons from it that you expect them to. It’s common to think that if you give someone a good kicking when they do something wrong, they’ll learn that it’s wrong and not to do it. But from their point of view, they were acting rightly, and you launched an unprovoked and unjustified violent attack on them! What they learn from that is that you’re evil, and a threat to society, and they urgently need to gather the strength to fight and defeat you, so ‘good triumphs over evil’. Thinking in “us” and “them” terms, you assume they know they’re one of “them” as well, and will act accordingly. But they don’t. They think they’re an “us”, and you’re the “them”.

    If you give someone a good kicking, they don’t learn that kicking people is bad. They learn that the ones who can kick the hardest get all the power. If you kick someone to make them behave a certain way, they don’t learn it’s right to behave the way you want them to, they instead learn that the way to get others to act as they want them to is to kick them.

    It has been noted that school bullies were often kids who were bullied themselves at home. They learnt how the world works from watching the people around them. If they see people being routinely forced to comply by threat of violence, that’s how they see the world. They don’t think “Wouldn’t it be better if people stopped doing that?” because such a world is unthinkable to them. They think peace is impractical – in this world there are only slaves and masters, and if you can’t or won’t be a master, you’ll end up a slave. Instead they think “Wouldn’t it be better if I was the one giving the orders?”

    The leftists have been giving you a legal kicking to try to get you to stop saying things they don’t like. Has that made you see the wisdom of bowing down and submitting? Or has it made you even more determined to fight? Because you believe you’re in the right? So why don’t you believe they’ll feel the same way?

    “Good lord. I liken that to saying one side in a war must abide by the Geneva convention while the other side does not*.”

    I liken it to trying to stop a blood vendetta, in which two clans have been launching raids and atrocities and reprisals against each other for generations, each one in revenge for all the previous ones received, and each launched in the firm belief that if we do something sufficiently bloodily horrific to the other side that they’ll finally see sense and submit.

    How do you explain to someone engaged in a blood vendetta that they need to stop fighting, or they’re going to suffer periodic atrocities forever? As far as they’re concerned “stop fighting” is synonymous with “submit”, which is exactly what those bastards want us to do!

    But there are two ways to end a war. One is to lose and surrender. The other is to negotiate a truce. Do you want peace, or do you want to ‘win’?

    They believe that in a war there are only victors and victims, and you’re either one or the other. But in an endless war, you can never ‘win’, and you’ll always eventually end up being a victim.

    “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” Currently we’re just endlessly squabbling over whose turn it is to wear the boot. What we need is to figure out some way to throw away the boot and live without it.

  • Ian

    @Snorri,

    1. Nobody should be censored or punished BY THE STATE for speech: the State is too powerful vis-a-vis private citizens for us to allow it to follow the Iron Rule. But we, private citizens, are not too powerful to follow the Iron Rule.

    A perfectly sensible First Amendment position in the first sentence. However, I don’t think you go far enough in the second. I’d posit that it’s in fact necessary for private individuals in a functioning society to censure others in order to establish societal norms (e.g., that we don’t want people to throw acid at politicians) and to espouse political causes. More than that, even, it’s completely unavoidable.

    2. When the State nonetheless does punish people for speech crimes, then it is fair for 2 or more factions to use the police to punish the speech of other factions.

    Unless one of the factions fundamentally believes that the State shouldn’t punish speech. If we are to go down the Alinsky route, we help establish that as a norm, which in this case is precisely antithetical to the principle of free speech. This is why I’m critical of people like Kurt Schlichter. Yes, it’s tough to turn the other cheek, but even if it’s made by our enemies with thorns, we do have a crown.

  • It has been noted that school bullies were often kids who were bullied themselves at home. They learnt how the world works from watching the people around them. If they see people being routinely forced to comply by threat of violence, that’s how they see the world. They don’t think “Wouldn’t it be better if people stopped doing that?” because such a world is unthinkable to them. They think peace is impractical – in this world there are only slaves and masters, and if you can’t or won’t be a master, you’ll end up a slave. Instead they think “Wouldn’t it be better if I was the one giving the orders?”

    I was bullied at school. I stopped it by hitting them harder than they hit me. Sometimes, it’s the only language you can use. Talking to them about why it was wrong wasn’t going to work. You are trying to reason with the unreasonable. Doesn’t work.

    So, yes, sometimes you have to defeat the other side and force them to surrender before you can negotiate that peace. Like I said above, I don’t like it, but I recognise the reality.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So, yes, sometimes you have to defeat the other side and force them to surrender before you can negotiate that peace.”

    Quite so. And the leftists think exactly this, too. They’ll only negotiate ‘rights’ and ‘free speech’ and stuff for you after you surrender to them. Hence the never-ending blood feud.

  • I think Alinsky’s Rule 4 and the US 14th Amendment suggest two very different versions of what we are talking about.

    Written out in its full Alinskian meaning, Rule 4 is as follows.

    Your enemy is trying to follow his book of rules. By making extreme interpretations of extreme cases, by pretending the unusual is the norm, by exploiting the imperfection of all things human, demand an impossible standard, and thus vitiate both his rules and his morale. (Because you do not intend to follow your own proclaimed rules, this tactic cannot rebound on you.)

    The 14th amendment* (‘all citizens to have the equal protection of the laws’) demands that laws be enforced as written. If a law does not exempt a category, members of that category shall not be exempted by the enforcers of that law. If a law does not stipulate especial penalties for a category, members of that category will not be more often or more severely punished under that law because they are members.

    There’s nothing Alinskyian in assessing the legal position of Jo Brand according to the phrasing of some current and regrettable UK ‘hate speech’ law.

    – It is a merely empirical question to say whether the hate speech laws, as written, do or do not exempt BBC personalities, reliably left-wing commentators or any similar category to which Jo Brand could claim to belong.

    – It is a merely empirical question whether the enforcement statistics show clearly that if comedian (‘comedian’?) Jo Brand were as right-wing as she is left-wing then she would have needed a lawyer.

    There is nothing double-standard-ish about simultaneously saying:

    – all laws (so including the ‘hate speech’ laws) should have 14th-amendment-style impartial standards of enforcement

    and

    – we need fewer laws (with the hate speech laws being the very first to get rid of).

    Obviously, in the world of practical politics, these two are intimately related. The left like the hate speech laws because they are unequally enforced. Conversely, equal enforcement, were it achievable, would cool their ardour for oppression.

    However that is a secondary point. I think Brendan is lost in space here. If Brendan knows someone who simultaneously wants Jo Brand locked up and some ‘throw acid at left-wingers’ joker left free then Brendan might have as good a ‘hypocrite!’ case against that person as we have against Jo Brand. But there is nothing even remotely wrong in denouncing a culture of unequal enforcement of law, while at the same time denouncing a culture of excessive law.

    *(Obviously, one could discuss the 14th amendment far beyond the aspect I use here for my argument, but I suggest we stay on topic.)

  • Quite so. And the leftists think exactly this, too. They’ll only negotiate ‘rights’ and ‘free speech’ and stuff for you after you surrender to them. Hence the never-ending blood feud.

    We cannot afford to surrender. And the rights and free speech that they will force upon us, we have already seen and it’s neither. Like I said, they are not reasonable people, they are fanatics.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The left only like the hate speech laws because they felt confident from the beginning they would be unequally enforced.”

    It’s not that they thought they would be unequally enforced, but that they thought they were unequally applicable. They believe they were designed to protect groups that only the right hated/persecuted. (Even many people on the right don’t realise how impartial the laws as written actually are.)

    It’s the same sort of contradiction that you get when a policeman first lectures you on how wrong it is to use force and violence to get your way, and then when you keep on arguing, arrests you by force and drags you away to jail by violence. Enforcing a law against violence by violent means means making an exception for the enforcers. And the left think of themselves as the enforcers of moral behaviour. So did the right, once upon a time.

    They think the rules to stop bad guys misbehaving don’t apply to them because they’re the good guys! Of course, everyone else thinks the same.

    “But there is nothing even remotely wrong in simultaneously denouncing a culture of unequal enforcement of law, while at the same time denouncing a culture of excessive law.”

    Agreed. But are those two points consistent with demanding that the culture of excessive law be applied equally to all parties, as a means of persuading them that it’s excessive? If you don’t explain to them why you’re doing it, don’t they just conclude they need to write better exceptions into the law as written?

  • It’s not that [the left] thought [the hate speech laws] would be unequally enforced, but that they thought they were unequally applicable. They believe they were designed to protect groups that only the right hated/persecuted. (Even many people on the right don’t realise how impartial the laws as written actually are.)Nullius in Verba, (June 15, 2019 at 2:42 pm)

    I think you are wrong on both points.

    When left-wingers, even those yet more muddle-headed than Jo Brand, talk about ‘toxic whiteness’ and the like, they know (when, rarely, obliged to think of it) the law does not as phrased say something like, “Racially-defined expressions of hatred shall be illegal unless directed against whites“. Their very conviction of how racist a society they live in, how inadequate and compromising Blair’s Labour party was, how surely the evil Tories would have repealed a ‘better’ law, ‘helps’ them to know this.

    Conversely, the right, even those far less well-informed than samizdata’s wonderful contributors ( 🙂 ) are well aware that the laws did not openly declare open season on whites, males, etc. Again, their very conviction of the left’s dishonesty helped them understand this. (Their better understanding of the society they live in also helped.)

    (Doubtless there are exceptions to the above. Never say “no-one is that stupid”; someone somewhere is!)

    Of course, the left do not express it as ‘unequal’ enforcement, still less ‘unfair’. Rather, when (rarely) obliged to polemicise, they (in line with general left philosophy) fall naturally into focussing on the intent of the law.

    BTW, I note (for the information of readers) that your quote of my earlier comment was correct when you copied it, though I used (abused?) the 5-minutes-to-correct-typos window to rewrite it more briefly. I am sometimes guilty of exploiting the 5-minutes-to-correct-mistakes rule for the probably-not-so-intended task of improving my clarity or (often desirable) my brevity. 🙂

  • Gavin Longmuir

    NIV: “Enforcing a law against violence by violent means means making an exception for the enforcers.”

    All law, and all law enforcement, is based ultimately on Violence — or at least the credible threat that Violence will be employed in the last resort. Think Bill Clinton and the innocent children he caused to be burned to death at Waco because of some trivial offences by their parents.

    Because Law is ultimately based on state-sponsored Violence, “We the People” should make it very difficult for politicians to pass Laws — any Laws.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “When left-wingers, even those yet more muddle-headed than Jo Brand, talk about ‘toxic whiteness’ and the like, they know (when, rarely, obliged to think of it) the law does not as phrased say something like, “Racially-defined expressions of hatred shall be illegal unless directed against whites“.”

    Agreed. But that’s because they didn’t think it had to. The law was introduced because of pervasive anti-black discrimination/persecution. The true purpose of the law was to fight white racism against blacks. There was no doubt when the law was introduced which race had all the power. There was no all-pervasive black persecution of whites to prevent.

    White racists applied one-sided rules selectively, depending on skin colour. Well maybe we should do the same to them, until they see the virtues of equal enforcement of the rules? We’ve tried explaining why racism is wrong, and it hasn’t worked, so maybe if we hit them harder with racism than they hit the blacks, they’ll finally realise and stop being racists?

    They’re fighting for a racism-free world by applying racism against whites like whites did against blacks. You’re fighting for a hate-speech-law-free world by applying hate speech laws against leftists like they do against the right. Maybe if we hit them hard enough, they’ll finally realise and stop believing in hate speech laws? And maybe when they do, we’ll think to ourselves “Hey! This is working! Why stop here?

    The problem is that the weapon takes on a life of its own. It corrupts the user, until they become the thing they were originally fighting. It’s like giving firemen flame-throwers as they head into a burning building and telling them to “fight fire with fire”. You can’t pick up the One Ring to fight Sauron with. You might win the battle, but in the process you just created a bigger and more powerful monster.

    I’m not sure how else to say it. Using their methods and thus becoming just like them is no victory.

  • Jim

    “And the leftists think exactly this, too. They’ll only negotiate ‘rights’ and ‘free speech’ and stuff for you after you surrender to them.”

    No they don’t. They’ve made it quite clear the Right should have no rights now, and will definitely have no rights if they win. Whereas the Right, if they won would impose equal rights for all.

    So your analogy of two morally equal sides who would do the same to each other given the chance is totally wrong. A better analogy is the Second World War, and consider what sort of world would have been imposed if the Allies had lost, vs what was imposed when they won (I am talking about the Western Allies here, not Stalin of course, who was a mirror of Hitler, just under a different flag).

    When your opponent refuses to accept to have any rights at all, then its not a question of ‘after you Claude’ its a fight to the death, one of survival or extinction. And in such scenarios, all gloves are off.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “No they don’t. They’ve made it quite clear the Right should have no rights now, and will definitely have no rights if they win. Whereas the Right, if they won would impose equal rights for all.”

    Yep. That’s what they say, too. Only swap ‘Left’ and ‘Right’.
    “Equal rights for all” is their mantra.

    The thing is, everyone is blind to the stuff they’re for forcing other people to do because they think that’s only right and natural, and justified by necessity and common sense, and only sees the stuff that other people are making them do as being a denial of rights.

    There’s always a justification/excuse for them breaking the rules. “They started it” or “They’re too dangerous a threat” or “Its only for the duration of the temporary emergency” or “To protect the vulnerable” or “Because it’s OK if it’s us doing it. We’re the good guys.” But whether or not you’re ‘the good guys’ is defined in part by the methods you use.

    It’s perfectly possible for *both* sides in a war to be bad guys.

  • bobby b

    “It’s like giving firemen flame-throwers as they head into a burning building and telling them to “fight fire with fire”.”

    I’ve helped fight several large grassland/field fires, and my assigned tool has usually been a large propane torch and a 20-lb tank. You get ahead of the fire with your own small, controllable burns and deny the main fire fuel as it advances.

    Back in the 40’s, we all got together and sent armed men across your continent for the express purpose of finding and killing as many people in German uniforms as possible. Without context, that sounds awful. “We’re better than that.” But in the context of trying to quell a German war of aggression, it was not so bad. Bullets are bad – unless they’re used to stop worse badness.

    Fighting fire with fire is a valuable concept. While I wouldn’t normally go out and set small fires in fields – while I wouldn’t normally hunt down and kill Germans – we sometimes need to do such things to fight greater evils.

    I don’t think I’m disagreeing with your main point. I wouldn’t want to see any governmental action against Brand for saying what she said. It’s her absolute right, I think, to say what she wants free from governmental coercion.

    And it’s my absolute right to call her out on it, call her an idiot, shun her, punish her professionally, ridicule her . . .

    As I said above, she’s made it more dangerous for people who want to do something as harmless as throw milkshakes on people to make a point. Now, since she’s put the acid attack into play, a recipient must consider that, and take defensive action appropriate to acid, not just milkshakes. Somewhere, a milkshaker is going to be shot as a defensive reaction against acid. That’s on her.

    And I think she should pay a price for that, instead of merely gather some laughs and boost her progressive-humor reputation.

  • neonsnake

    Freedom of speech is important for a number of reasons; as a starting point, it’s “just” a measure of how much liberty we have as individuals. Which is probably the most important point.

    Secondarily, in a practical sense, it’s important because it allows people who dissent from the majority view to have a voice; this is important because if we’re truly fighting for liberty, then a couple of things follow:

    1) Liberty applies to all; or otherwise it’s not worth fighting for.

    2) The minority view forces us to check our assumptions – maybe they’re right? Maybe they’re saying something that we should listen to, and adjust course accordingly. Otherwise we’re saying that we’re infallible, and that’s egoism/legalism.

    Mr O’Neill, in his article, says that people shouldn’t be “censured, censored or punished”. I’m going to be charitable, and assume this was a brain-fart on account of swiftly writing an article to hit a deadline. Clearly people should be censured. Freedom of speech means nothing if one is not free to disapprove, vocally, of what is being said. I will also say that punishment is just if someone says something egregiously stupid (if I say something to bring the company I work for into unjustified disrepute, they have the right to sack me). I agree that they shouldn’t be censored by the state.

    I don’t approve of Jo Brand’s joke about throwing battery acid at people. It’s really not funny.

    I don’t approve of Carl Benjamin’s joke about raping/not-raping an individual. It’s really not funny (if you’re of the persuasion that he said he “wouldn’t”, so “that’s okay then”, I strongly advise growing the fuck up. Think of how that affected the lady he singled out. He also doubled down and said he “would”, if enough pressure were applied)

    But both of them should be allowed, legally, to express such views, and we should also, legally, be allowed to express our disapproval.

    There’s a view on the Left (or more properly, anti-authoritarian), which expresses itself as “MUH! FREEZE PEACH!!1!!!”, that the Right* (or more properly, authoritarian) is only in favour of free speech when their rights to be racist/sexist/choose your -ist are being infringed upon. There’s probably an element of truth there, and we do ourselves no favours by getting outraged over such left-wing views.

    If we believe that Jo Brand should not be allowed to express her opinions, no matter how reprehensible we might find them, then we have ceded the higher ground.

    If so, then we’ve stopped arguing about Libertarianism, and we’ve started arguing between different forms of Authoritarianism.

    *The difference between the Right and Left is economic. The difference between Authoritarian and Libertarian is government intrusion into personal matters. They’re a different axis, no matter how much we might wish to simplify. The left is not immoral, it’s just incorrect. The right is not moral, it’s just correct, and shit at PR.

  • neonsnake

    The true purpose of the law was to fight white racism against blacks

    Thing is, we’re still living in a world where “Race Realism” is a thing that is discussed.

    There are people who actually exist (I don’t know how) that do not believe that white people are racist against black/brown/whatever, or that they are justified in doing so because of some kind of pre-disposition or IQ level of “lesser races”.

    There’s a point, I think, where the “left” went “oh, do you know what? I’m sick of your nonsense, you racist fucks. Fuck you, you’re obviously stupid. We’re making it illegal.”

    And we on the “right” went “oh, but, muh freeze peach!!!! I should be allowed to call brown people ‘pakis’ because free speach!!one!!!!”

  • bobby b

    ” . . . but, muh freeze peach!!!!”

    You have a very low opinion of everyone who speaks with the accent of the Southeastern USA, don’t you?

    You do understand that we ought to be looking at people as individuals and not as stereotypes, right?

    😛

  • neonsnake

    You have a very low opinion of everyone who speaks with the accent of the Southeastern USA, don’t you?

    Was that how it came across?

    If so, I offer an unreserved apology.

    I don’t know if I’ve spent any time in the Southwestern USA. I’ve spent a couple of weeks in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, in the company of a sixty-something black woman. I spent an hour or so in the smoking lounge with a Texan in a flyover who insisted on calling me “boy” in a stopover (he was a great guy) towards San Francisco, and couple weeks for CES in Vegas some years ago. Does that count?

  • bobby b (June 15, 2019 at 6:59 pm), neonsnake also seems to be agreeing, in sentiment at least, with those who claim that offensive speech is not to be called free speech.

    Of course, I could act all-offended by those who say whites are toxic. More importantly, the following should cause some real distaste.

    At this moment, after a year of war, pamphlets abusing the Government, praising the enemy and clamouring for surrender are being sold on the streets almost without interference. (George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn)

    Abusing Churchill, praising Hitler, demanding we stop resisting the Nazis (and all this being urged over the winter and spring of 1940-41, mostly by communists) – now that’s what I call offensive. It illustrates bobby’s comparative point (addressed to Nullius) about the two sides not being the same – then or now.

  • neonsnake

    accent of the Southeastern USA, don’t you?

    I don’t know enough about classism in the USA to be able to answer that.

    I grew up, and I still have the accent, of an Essex Boy in the UK. I grew up between Essex and East London. I live in the the A127 corridor (I’m happy to discuss what that means, but essentially, it disqualifies me from having opinions). I am SCUM.

    My accent, my speech, marks me out as “low”.

    I am low class, working class, if you hear me speak. I speak in a mix of lower class and rhyming slang. My views, presumably, should be disregarded?

  • The true purpose of the law was to fight white racism against blacks. There was no doubt when the law was introduced which race had all the power. There was no all-pervasive black persecution of whites to prevent. (Nullius in Verba, June 15, 2019 at 4:02 pm)

    Nullius, the law we are talking about was introduced in the latter half of 2002. It was introduced by a Labour government with a healthy majority won in 1997 which then won two more terms. It was introduced during the early years of the Rotherham situation. (And, pedantically, its immediate justification was the fear that post-9/11 we’d say mean things about muslims.)

    There was no all-pervasive white persecution of black to prevent in 2002, but rather the end of a different process. These laws openly removing our free speech were the culmination of a long softening-up process. Decades earlier in the UK, a black interviewee reported a white interviewer for ‘racist body language’ when she glanced at her watch. Decades earlier, the aggressive PCness of the BBC was obvious. “Whites had all the power”, you say. 🙂 White intellectuals had much power. And minorities had much power of complaint and accusation.

    I’m old enough to remember the year 2002.

  • bobby b

    “I don’t know enough about classism in the USA to be able to answer that.”

    It’s a cultural thing. The “ . . . muh flag . . .“, “ . . .muh freeze peach . . . ” thing has always been a way for the North to make fun of the supposedly less intelligent Southerners. (See how President GW Bush was ridiculed for his accent.) It grates, as I know people from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line and have never seen any basis for such a stereotype.

    And I’ll point out that I put the little smiley thing there on purpose. I didn’t actually think that you were perpetuating any such thought, knowing where you’re from (and where you’re NOT from.)

    I think the bulk of “offense” these days is caused exactly like this – unknowing, with really no reason to know. I certainly don’t think less of you because you adopted a fairly common Americanism without knowing its roots.

    As a for-instance – you mentioned that people called other people “pakis”, and – as I live somewhere other than the UK – it struck me that I didn’t know that that was objectionable. They’re from Pakistan – isn’t “Paki” a natural shortening? We call people from Australia “Aussies” – people from Britain “Brits” – people from Nippon “Nips” – it’s hard to keep track of which ones we’re supposed to be offended by, which (to me) indicates that the nature of offense qua offense has much more to do with the hearer than the speaker.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “bobby b (June 15, 2019 at 6:59 pm), neonsnake also seems to be agreeing, in sentiment at least, with those who claim that offensive speech is not to be called free speech.”

    That’s not how I read it. He’s pointing out that the left commonly make the claim that the right is only in favour of free speech when their rights to be racist/sexist/choose your -ist are being infringed upon. And that if we only object to infringements of free speech in those cases (i.e. OUR free speech, not that of of ideological enemies) it grants credence to such claims.

    “Abusing Churchill, praising Hitler, demanding we stop resisting the Nazis (and all this being urged over the winter and spring of 1940-41, mostly by communists) – now that’s what I call offensive.”

    And people regularly criticise communism and socialism today without getting into trouble from the PC left. Not every expression of political disagreement is considered offensive.

    A better example to use to illustrate similarities/differences would be Whitehouse versus Lemon, and indeed Mary’s long campaign to keep ‘offensive’ material out of the media. A position held by the BBC at the time, too.

    Or you could ask what Alan Turing thought about wartime/post-war Conservative views on our British liberty and freedom to express one’s self.

    Every age and time enforces its social norms, by very similar means. The current norms condemning racism, sexism, and homophobia arose in reaction to a society that was far from liberal, and certainly not shy about enforcing its opinion with more than mere words.

    I’m not pointing this out as any sort of condemnation of the right, or ‘tu quoque’ moral judgement on the right. The past is past. I’m just making an observation that this feature of human behaviour is universal. Everyone sees the mote in their brother’s eye, but cannot see the beam in their own.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Nullius, the law we are talking about was introduced in the latter half of 2002.”

    The Race Relations Act was introduced in 1965. This battle has been going on a long time. The recent laws are only refinements and extensions to laws that have been around since the 1960s.

  • The recent laws are only refinements and extensions to laws that have been around since the 1960s. (Nullius in Verba, June 15, 2019 at 8:20 pm)

    Laws banning free speech are “only refinements and extensions” of other laws. Well, I guess that is clear.

    In a rather complicated sense, of course, one could agree there is a path of development.

    In a more fundamental sense – let us agree to disagree on these matters.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake: “I speak in a mix of lower class and rhyming slang.”

    I look forward to seeing you write some pieces in rhyming slang!

    Now that you mention it — ‘Neonsnake’ could be rhyming slang for ‘milk shake’ … 🙂

  • neonsnake

    neonsnake also seems to be agreeing, in sentiment at least, with those who claim that offensive speech is not to be called free speech.

    I’m saying that free speech can sometimes cause offense. That we have the right, also under “free speech” to call out such offensive speech, and that the purpose of free speech laws is to protect both – you for being able to say daft shit, and me for being able to point out that it’s daft.

  • CaptDMO

    Of COURSE freedom of speech is beneficial, it let’s folks serf-identify.
    “Family Guy”-Death on Date.
    “You can’t hug your children with nuclear arms.”
    Even the Supreme Court of the US has at least recognized “Them’s Fightin’ Words”.

  • neonsnake

    I look forward to seeing you write some pieces in rhyming slang!

    Now that you mention it — Neonsnake could be rhyming slang for milk shake

    I think we need to take an honest butchers* at ourselves if we’re going to attempt to win.

    *butchers = butcher’s hook = look. I genuinely use the phrase without thought.

    As for neonsnake: I’m the whitest of white guys, but I have a background of Chinese and Japanese martial arts and philosophy. An old Japanese sensei once told me that my birthdatae made me a Fire Snake, but my philosophy was too progressive, so he named me neonsnake.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Laws banning free speech are “only refinements and extensions” of other laws. Well, I guess that is clear.”

    Why would anyone think it wasn’t?

    “6. – (1) A person shall be guilty of an offence under this section if, with intent to stir up hatred against any section of the public in Great Britain distinguished by colour, race, or ethnic or national origins –
    (a) he publishes or distributes written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting; or
    (b) he uses in any public place or at any public meeting words which are threatening, abusive or insulting,
    being matter or words likely to stir up hatred against that section on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins.”

    Race Relations Act 1965, s6.

    ‘Hate speech’ laws regarding racism have been around a lot longer than since 2002!

    But as for “Laws banning free speech”, I instead refer you to the Blasphemy laws dating from 1400!

    “The offence of blasphemy was originally part of canon law. In 1378, at the command of Pope Gregory XI, persecution of John Wycliffe and the Lollards was undertaken. However, the only punishment available to the bishops at the time was excommunication. The clergy, dissatisfied with this, forged an Act of parliament, without the assent of the Lords or Commons, enabling the arrest and imprisonment of heretics. In the following year an attempt was made by Parliament to repeal the Act, which prompted a series of prosecutions, and the repeal failed. Not satisfied with their new powers, further were sought and granted under King Henry IV in 1400. These new powers allowed the bishops to arrest and imprison all preachers of heresy, all schoolmasters infected with heresy, and all owners and writers of heretical books. On refusal to abjure (solemnly renounce) or relapse after abjuration, the heretic could be handed over to civil officers, to be taken to a high place before the people and there be burnt, so that their punishment might strike fear in the hearts and minds of others. In April, 1399, William Sawyer was convicted of heresy and put to penance by his bishop. He was again arrested on 12 February 1400, as a relapsed heretic and was convicted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sawyer was burnt on 2 March, eight days before the power to inflict such punishment was granted. There is a long list of those burnt, or hanged and burnt, between 1414 and 1506.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_the_United_Kingdom#Ecclesiastical_offences

    It was blasphemy law that Mary Whitehouse used to prosecute Denis Lemon in 1977, for publishing a poem.

    A poem, for heaven’s sake!

    Is that clear enough? 🙂

  • Is that clear enough? (Nullius in Verba, June 15, 2019 at 9:06 pm)

    Merely as a point of clarity, while I never cared for the 1965 law, section 6’s demand for intent and for a ‘form’ offence , not just a content offence, and also the final words of section 6

    but no prosecution under this offence shall be instituted … except by or with the consent of the attorney general.

    (this last perhaps weakened in 1976 but other defences perhaps slightly strengthened?) all worked to mean that, while other aspects of this law were put into effect, the general free speech culture of the UK was unaffected by actual invocations of clause 6 (rare and sometimes even-handed and often plausibly close to the older ‘immediate threat of public order offence’ requirement).

    (If you know of prosecutions for section 6 alone not plausibly close to the older standard and/or not at all even-handed and/or content only and/or simply numerous then by all means link. The talk of prosecuting Powell after the so-called ‘rivers of blood’ speech was swiftly quashed by the Labour attorney general of the time, albeit not as swiftly as the talk of prosecuting Jo Brand.)

    So I continue to see the 2000 and after laws, especially 2002 (content sufficient, alleged perceptions of hearers sufficient, and, as we are discussing, no pretence of evenhanded enforcement) as the point where free speech as such was made a crime.

    Relevant to this is Orwell’s use of the word almost in ‘almost without interference’ that I quote above. The 1940/41 UK government was not legally helpless in the face of ‘The People’s Convention for the People’s Peace’ but a range of factors maintained our free speech culture at that time – one of them the ‘immediate danger of public order offence’ criteria of the 1936 act and etc..) You may recall the incident of Churchill losing his temper with a pricing-is persecution left-wing cartoon, and a very young Tony Benn analogising it to Hitler’s ‘no more territorial demands’ as ‘just this one cartoon to be banned’ (the government backed down). We never had a 1st amendment, so government’s customary restraint in using powers it had or could have was part of our free speech culture.

    Anyway, as noted this is just for clarity. I suggest we agree to disagree as regards your seeing “only refinements and extensions” after the turn of the millennium, where I see a major change in the effective legal culture. Readers can decide for themselves.

  • neonsnake

    And that if we only object to infringements of free speech in those cases (i.e. OUR free speech, not that of of ideological enemies) it grants credence to such claims.

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. We’ll go to the wall for “I’ve been in a lot of trouble for my hardline stance of not even raping her. I suppose with enough pressure I might cave.”, but when it comes to someone who isn’t on our side, we’re prevaricating.

    We either believe, or we don’t. If we don’t, then that’s fine, but as I said – at this point, we’re just arguing that we should be able to joke about rape, but they shouldn’t be able to joke about acid.

  • bobby b

    “A poem, for heaven’s sake!”

    I think Whitehouse’s problem was that the poem wasn’t for heaven’s sake.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby,

    I too was informed as to the error of my ways when I said something about “Pakis” in this parish some years ago. But what can you expect from us Provincials *g*.

    Your point is quite right.

    . . .

    Neon, at 6:09 p.m. above, edited by me to make it perfectly clear (if there is such a thing as “perfectly clear”) what I’m focussing on and unequivocally agree with:

    Freedom of speech means nothing if one is not free to disapprove, vocally, of what is being said. … I agree that they shouldn’t be censored by the state.

    [snip]

    Both of them [Jo Brand, Sargon] should be allowed, legally, to express such views, and we should also, legally, be allowed to express our disapproval.

  • Itellyounothing

    Yeah, I read lots of fine words.

    I see lots of good points.

    Going along with the left authoritarian tendency to scream I’m offend does nothing to defend free speech.

    Forcing the BBC (STATE FUNDED BROADCASTER) to live by the rules it torments others with seems exactly in line protecting free speech.

    Because next time they do it to the other side they will wonder who on their side will get a dose.

    If they think they can mouth off without consequences, their behaviour will worsen.

    Mutually assured destruction can ensure the containment and eventual defeat of a vile ideology…..

  • Swede

    We live in an age now where you can tweet something from an airplane then land only to find you’ve lost your job because of it.
    The people who made that environment possible, that made those rules applicable, are from the same political tribe that Jo Brand is from. While those rules may be odious, I see no reason why she should be exempt. The ricochet needs to hurt as much as the shot. It’s only after they’ve become the target that wisdom has any hope of setting in.

  • As a meta-comment on this ‘Yes, But’ post, I note that (except maybe for the mention of rhyming slang 🙂 ), the thread as a whole is very on-topic so far, each individual comment tending to endorse either the ‘Yes’ or the ‘But’.

    The analogy occurs to me of the pacifist versus the soldier, the one saying “I will not kill”, the other, “I will kill those invading my country.” To the pacifist, the defending soldier shares the guilt of war. To the defending soldier, the pacifist is part of the problem (as Clausewitz put it, the aggressor is always peace-loving; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.)

    In a similar way, some here seem to think we degrade ourselves by calling out unequal enforcement. To others, unequal enforcement is both wrong in itself and part of what keeps the system going, so not calling it out degrades us.

  • William O. B'Livion

    Should we take the high road, or apply Rule 4?

    Libertarians and Conservatives have generally taken the “high road” for the time I’ve been paying attention to politics.

    Again generally it has done us no good.

    One of “our” (both American Conservatives and Libertarians) principles has always been that people are “equal under the law”–that neither King nor Pauper can get away with murder. From that position I’m perfectly ok with making them live by the rules they want me to live by.

  • staghounds

    TWENTY TRILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT and people worry about who made who cry with words on the playground.

  • P. George Stewart

    The party that’s out of power is always in favour of free speech while the party that’s in power isn’t. Often enough, it’s not really a principled commitment but rather just a tactic to get the rubes on board.

    But the recognition that a commitment to free speech, if taken seriously as a matter of principle, means you sometimes have to tolerate things you really don’t like, is always welcome.

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