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Onchocerca volvulus and freedom of speech

There is a horrible disease prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa called onchocerciasis or “river blindness”. The black flies that live near rivers carry a parasite, a tiny worm called onchocerca volvulus. When the fly bites a human the parasite worm is injected into the human’s body. Then…

Within the human body the adult female worm (macrofilaria) produces thousands of baby or larval worms (microfilariae) which migrate in the skin and the eye.

Sometimes sufferers can see “tangled threads or worms in their vision, which were microfilariae moving freely in the aqueous humor of the anterior chamber of the eye”. This will be one of the last things they ever see before they lose their vision altogether.

I have been haunted for years by one account of how people come to be infected with this disease. It goes like this: a fly lands on a child. They swat it away, like they’ve been taught. Another fly lands. They swat it away again. And so on, thousands of times. Until one day the child is too tired or too excited or too distracted and they fail to swat away the fly. Then they get the disease, right? Actually, no: it usually takes several bites before they are infected. So there is a period when they think, well, a fly bit me but nothing has happened to me so far – the grown ups must be exaggerating. You can no doubt predict how the story ends. Once infection does occur it is irreversible.

Today’s Sunday Times reports,

Prosecutor criticises ‘sinister’ Met for investigating Darren Grimes over interview

Scotland Yard’s criminal investigation of a conservative activist over his interview with the historian David Starkey is “sinister and foolish”, according to a former director of public prosecutions.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven said the Metropolitan Police’s pursuit of Darren Grimes, a pro-Brexit campaigner, was “deeply threatening of free speech”. Mr Grimes, 27, has said that police want to interview him under caution over a controversial interview uploaded to YouTube in the summer, in which Dr Starkey said that slavery could not have been genocide as there are “so many damn blacks” still around.

Mr Grimes is facing investigation for an offence of stirring up racial hatred, which falls under the Public Order Act. The offence carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

The decision to pursue the publisher of an interview has resulted in widespread criticism and concerns about the threat posed to freedom of speech. The force has confirmed that it began an investigation on September 25 after seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Lord Macdonald, head of the CPS between 2003 and 2008, told The Times yesterday: “Dr Starkey was roundly condemned for his remarks and has since lost all his academic positions.

“But offensiveness is not a crime and for the police now, weeks later, to target the journalist who interviewed him is both sinister and foolish. It looks like they are letting themselves be used as part of a political stunt — and, what’s worse, a stunt that is deeply threatening to free speech.”

For most of his career Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, better known as Ken Macdonald, was the very model of a left wing liberal activist lawyer. It is good to see that the flies can still be swatted by the left hand of the British body politic. In fact the police investigation is being swatted from several sides, and may soon be quietly shelved. Even so, as Brendan O’Neill writes in an article on the case for Spiked,

And yet, even the existence of this investigation is worrying, even if it does soon fall apart. We should keep the champagne on ice if the Met comes to its senses and drops its pursuit of Grimes, because we will still need to ask ourselves how this could happen. It strikes me that it is the natural result of the slow-motion decay of freedom of speech in this country, of the past few years of Leveson inquiries into the free press, police arrests of trolls for making offensive comments, the arrest of comics and feminists for saying ‘incorrect’ things, the use of public-order legislation to punish controversial opinion and the extraordinary growth of informal clampdowns on free speech too, from the cult of safe spaces on campus to Twitterstorms against anyone who questions the illiberal ideology of wokeness. Too many people have been cavalier about the demise of freedom of speech and the result is this: the police investigating someone for having a discussion.

The darkness in my vision might just be approaching old age, but sometimes I think I see tiny threadlike forms twist and writhe.

26 comments to Onchocerca volvulus and freedom of speech

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Freedom of Speech is under attack in this country – it has been a gradual process since 1965. It is now a mixture of laws (often influenced by Marxists – such as Lisa Nandy’s father who was a Marxist academic adviser to the Home Office as long ago as the 1970s) and despicable people in various bodies (government and Corporate and charitable) following Marxist “Diversity and Inclusion” policies. Whether they actually know they are following Marxist policies or not does not matter – for, as Gramsci pointed out in the 1930s, the result is the same whether they know or not.

    Often the very organisations that should be fighting this Marxist attack on Freedom of Speech – are actually pushing it.

    To borrow an example I used in anther thread – it is as if “friends and colleagues” in an organisation one has worked in for years or decades suddenly screamed “Hail Hydra!” (or “Build Back Better!”) and tried to stab you to death.

    Accept that it is not really sudden – the signs were always there. “To build a better world, one must tear down the old one”.

    People who say stuff like that – have told you all you need to know about them. “Diversity and Inclusion”, “Build Back Better”, and on and on.

    And soon, very soon, this will destroy the United States – just as it is destroying Britain. The last defence against it in the United States (President Trump) will be gone.

    Freedom of Speech will be “Hate Speech” – the new judges will be firmly of this view.

  • I have just bought some books by David Starkey. As it happens, I was able to buy a couple of actual physical books for a location where they will be seen by a range of people (and maybe read by a few). These days, I assume that more of my money goes to the author if I buy kindle books (commenters are welcome to confirm or correct if they know more about the book trade) so I will likely get others as ebooks.

    I like reading history. I’ll be interested to see if I like the books. (In the old days, I always watched and enjoyed David’s TV series.) Whether I do or no, I’ll hope I contribute to an uptick in his sales. As I’ve said before, we do buycotts better than boycotts.

  • MadRocketSci

    Glad to hear there’s a treatment for that disease!

  • Nullius in Verba

    This one reminds me of Matthew 7:1-5.

    Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
    And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
    Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

    We’ve had anti-free speech laws in the UK on things like obscenity and blasphemy for a long, long time, many of them only very recently repealed. The British Board of Film Classification still gets to decide what films may be shown in public cinemas, and nobody blinks an eye at that. This is nothing new. Only the target has changed. I agree totally that speech of this sort should be free – as do a long list of politicians and journalists from both sides of the political divide commenting on this case, including the Home Secretary Priti Patel, who runs the police. But if anyone thinks this is a sinister new development, I think they must have got bitten and blinded many years ago.

    The law has always set limits on freedom of speech.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

    The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.


    As previously, I think it’s probably a case of a criminal complaint has been made to the police so they need to investigate whether a crime has been committed. That doesn’t mean one has. If someone has been murdered, and you were seen leaving the scene carrying a hammer, the police will likely want to question you, and will not take ‘no’ for an answer. That doesn’t mean carrying a hammer has now been made illegal. It’s not a sinister conspiracy to outlaw workmen’s tools. Although I don’t expect many people here are going to believe that.

  • bobby b

    “The darkness in my vision might just be approaching old age, but sometimes I think I see tiny threadlike forms twist and writhe.”

    So long as some can still see those worms and call them out, we stand a good chance. “Some” is all we’ve ever really had – we’re not descending into darkness any more than our ancestors were. We’re just fighting more effective tools.

    (NiV: Are you citing the European Convention as an aspirational document? Yech.)

  • lucklucky

    There is no Freedom of Speech in UK. I think that is clear.

    Now it is also clear that media do not wants freedom speech, that is why they do not name who decided to do this.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “(NiV: Are you citing the European Convention as an aspirational document? Yech.)”

    No, I’m citing it to condemn the law. My point is that there have been legal limits on free speech since forever. I don’t disagree that it’s bad. I’m only arguing that this is not some surprising new development. It’s how things have always been.

    It was only last year they removed bondage from the list of banned obscenity in the UK. It’s only a few years since the last of the blasphemy laws got repealed. Some people find such material offensive, disgusting, disturbing, whatever, and want it banned, and the law has done so. Every now and then some of that legislation gets rolled back. (As Tony the Tiger says: “That’s Grrreat!“) But that’s usually just a case of changing targets – of shifting what society finds intolerably offensive. We fight censorship on the details of what speech specifically is allowed (mainly when someone stops speech *we* support), not the underlying principle of whether it’s society’s business to decide, and so never actually end censorship.

  • Noticer

    lucklucky – you’ll find noticing is frowned upon in these here parts.

  • “(NiV: Are you citing the European Convention as an aspirational document? Yech.) bobby b
    October 12, 2020 at 12:22 am”

    No, I’m citing it to condemn the law. (Nullius in Verba, October 12, 2020 at 1:23 am)

    Bobby b had it right the first time.

    Genuine supporters of free speech praise the English-speaking culture that steadily improved both its laws and its culture of free speech over centuries, at first within the formerly-lethal range of its own politics (where else could it begin if it was ever to grow) and then more widely. Similarly, genuine opponents of slavery praise the the English-speaking culture that abolished slavery (and its lesser cousin serfdom), at first for its own citizens (where else could it have begun) and in the end all over the world.

    Genuine supporters of Alinsky’s rule 4 exploit Burke (“There is a radical imperfection in all things human”) to mock real improvements, and resistance to real regressions, in both these areas because it isn’t, or wasn’t at some past time, perfect.

    And others may use similar techniques of argumentation, perhaps because, as Ellen said, “NiV – I am beginning to think you like arguing”, and also, as I have sometimes thought, because NiV has a Sheldon-Cooper-like imbalance in understanding (well evidenced in the immediately-following reply to Ellen in that thread, which begins like a dialog line in The Big Bang Theory 🙂 ).

    Such tricks of argumentation can sometimes derail a thread, but can also offer useful examples to study, since these methods are the common stock of sophistry (and the common schtick of argumentation 🙂 ), so you will meet them in any debate with the PC, who rely on their inheritance of western civilisation far more than they care to recognise.

    This comment is of course an example of another technique known to Alinsky – deconstructionism. I have waited a long time before applying it, but reading NiV’s response to bobby b’s observation , I felt its time had come.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Genuine supporters of free speech praise the English-speaking culture that steadily improved both its laws and its culture of free speech over centuries”

    Quite so! A statement that implies England’s past history on free speech was worse than its present!

    This is precisely what I’m saying. The UK has always had restrictions on free speech, and they have many times in the past been far worse than the present. We used to burn heretics at the stake! Then we refined that to mere imprisonment. Then we refined that to social exclusion. Then we stopped caring about the same things. But we never quite completed the process of throwing away the last of the long-existing mechanisms of social enforcement.

    Likewise on pornography/obscenity and blasphemy. We used to be far stricter, we gradually liberalised the law, and recently we have been repealing and downgrading the remnants. But we have only descended from the mountains into the foothills, we have not yet reached sea level. Speech is not yet free. A few of the old mechanisms of control are still there. But the targets of social disapproval and legal restriction change.

    The post above is written as if our history was one of sea-level absolute freedom, this move raises us to the foothills, and we are worried about this being the start of a trend towards the mountains. It’s not. The trend is still towards freedom, but we still live in a society where some restriction of speech is considered necessary, and where the target of the restrictions is shifting politically and culturally.

    The post above argues that we are moving in the direction of worsening freedom of speech, by pointing at a single imperfection. I am arguing that we are still moving in the direction of improving freedom of speech, that imperfections still exist, but they are still an improvement over the recent past. Natalie is using our radical imperfection to paint our society in stomach-churning shades of black. I am arguing that what we experience now is still a massive improvement over what we used to be; that the imperfection being pointed to is normal for our times.

    People only see it as a worsening because they are blind to being in the foothills, they are so used to the long-standing restrictions they never see them (or even support them!) They only see it when it shifts aim to speech they support.

    I’m actually reasonably happy about this development. Someone has been investigated for speaking in a highly unpopular cause, and a whole slew of public and political figures have made a point of speaking up for free speech, despite good and obvious reasons not to like or agree with or be seen agreeing with what was said. That’s good! That wouldn’t have happened if the public mood was not shifting towards a free speech direction. Politicians say things that they think will win them more support.

    Britain is better than it was, and I’m happy to praise it for that. But there is indeed radical imperfection in all things human, and we’re not and never have been as perfect as blind patriotism likes to think. We used to be worse. We’re slowly getting better, but this sort of thing is still normal. There’s a long road to travel yet.

    “Such tricks of argumentation can sometimes derail a thread, but can also offer useful examples to study, since these methods are the common stock of sophistry”

    So are strawman arguments! 🙂

    Sometimes I do wonder how much you believe in the merits of a diversity of opinion. But practising against opposing arguments is one of the main ones, so I’m pleased to see you say that. 🙂

    The greatest orator, save one, of antiquity, has left it on record that he always studied his adversary’s case with as great, if not with still greater, intensity than even his own. What Cicero practised as the means of forensic success, requires to be imitated by all who study any subject in order to arrive at the truth.

    He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination.

    Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. This is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty.

    Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition, even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess. They do not know those parts of it which explain and justify the remainder; the considerations which show that a fact which seemingly conflicts with another is reconcilable with it, or that, of two apparently strong reasons, one and not the other ought to be preferred. All that part of the truth which turns the scale, and decides the judgment of a completely informed mind, they are strangers to; nor is it ever really known, but to those who have attended equally and impartially to both sides, and endeavored to see the reasons of both in the strongest light.

    So essential is this discipline to a real understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skilful devil’s advocate can conjure up.

  • NickM

    NiV,
    Yeah, right… Lots of things have got better or just changed (the moral taboos have changed) but freedom of expression has to be basically absolute (yeah, I know libel and stuff) but… fuck it… I’m gonna play “Custer’s Revenge”. Just for the sheer Hell of it.

  • John B

    Simple explanation. The Establishment goon squad confident they could nail an inexperienced, young man of modest financial means – an easy target – were horrified when they failed to destroy Darren with their trumped-up charges and money, power and influence, so they are having another bite and have set their Orcs on his trail.

    We always get our man.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    The outrage that the Met should have chosen to question wor Gaz is both heartening and dispiriting in equal measure.

    It’s heartening in that so many, from across the political spectrum, should be so angered about the obvious threat to free speech, a freedom that Englishmen have argued for, and indeed have literally fought for, since the 1600s.

    But it’s equally dispiriting to see that anger aimed at the Met. A case was referred to them by another police force and they investigated it, as they are legally obligated to do. This is a good thing. We don’t want the police to have discretion about which cases they choose either to investigate or to disregard; there is no reason to think that investigating officers are good guys, i.e., people who will investigate only those cases that we would agree are legitimate. Chances are good that they aren’t.

    So they ask some questions. Young Gazza wasn’t arrested or detained, but was invited in for an interview. Those who conduct the interview will submit their finding to their higher-ups, who will in turn choose whether the original complaint is vexatious or should be presented to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will then decide whether the case should be taken forward to prosecution.

    One would hope that, at each stage, calmer and more justice-minded heads would prevail. But even with those theoretical safeguards we are still left with a system manned by fallible human beings. And that’s the weakness of the system. It is ultimately imperfectable.

    That’s the crux of the dispiriting bit of this all. The genuine and legitimate focus our anger should be, not the Met and its imperfect safeguards, but bloody Parliament. It was they who created the laws that allowed this tyranny to happen in the first place. If there were no laws against hate speech then none of this would have gotten off the ground to start with.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The genuine and legitimate focus our anger should be, not the Met and its imperfect safeguards, but bloody Parliament. It was they who created the laws that allowed this tyranny to happen in the first place.”

    Or alternatively, blame the voters who voted in Parliament, and made clear in opinion polls that they supported hate speech laws.

    Parliament do it because it’s popular, because the principle is deeply embedded in our culture, and because they are themselves fairly typical examples of our citizenry. They support hate speech laws because most people in our society do – pick a bunch of citizens at random and you’ll get plenty of supporters.

    People generally believe in free speech *for themselves*, and for people culturally like themselves. But they don’t entirely believe in it for the sort of people they despise or fear. The belief in absolute free speech (or freedom of belief) as a universal principle is vanishingly rare.

    Things used to be far worse. Today our society does at least consider free speech to be valuable in a theoretical sense, when violent passions are not involved. But like free trade, a lot of people would find it hard to articulate exactly why it’s considered so important, and they tend to easily make exceptions. People forget the lessons of history, think of it as some sort of noble tradition or abstract ideal, and have to learn for themselves all over again.

    Like for instance, does ‘absolute free speech’ mean broadcasting porn to children? Or is that banned? The visceral disgust reaction many people feel at the idea evokes anger and distress, and we lash out by trying to ban it. Yes, of course we all believe in free speech, but the noble ideal of ‘free speech’ doesn’t include harmful and dangerous speech like that! And that’s how every exception begins.

    Can Islamic Jihadi preachers publish effective bomb designs to Muslim teenagers? Can Marxists propagandise to university students? Can school teachers teach about LGBT sexualities to pre-teens? Can Antifa rabble-rousers publish the addresses of right-wing politicians for the mob to harrass, and their kid’s photos and where they go to school? How about child porn? Or revenge porn? Does it include the fraudster telling lies to your grandma so she’ll hand over her life savings? Does it include the mob boss ordering a hit on some shopkeeper behind on his payments? Should the police be allowed to write down what other people have said about you in their own records? Is there a line to be drawn, and if so, where do you draw it?

    The line has been pushed further and further back, mostly-but-not-always in the direction of allowing people to say more, but there has always been a line. It’s there because society wants it so. That’s nothing new. All that’s changed is what society puts on the other side of it.

  • The Establishment goon squad confident they could nail an inexperienced, young man of modest financial means – an easy target – were horrified when they failed to destroy Darren with their trumped-up charges and money, power and influence, so they are having another bite (JohnB, October 12, 2020 at 12:48 pm)

    In case transatlantic readers want background on the ‘establishment goon squad’ and Grimes, I attach some Guido links:

    DARREN GRIMES WINS APPEAL AGAINST ELECTORAL COMMISSION

    ELECTORAL COMMISSION GRILLED OVER DARREN GRIMES COCK-UP

    The end of the second link notes how annoyed the remoaner apparatchiks were at Grimes, how eagerly they sought back then for a means to keep their discredited case going.

  • The genuine and legitimate focus our anger should be, not the Met and its imperfect safeguards, but bloody Parliament. (Philip Scott Thomas, October 12, 2020 at 7:55 pm)

    Embrace the healing power of ‘and’, Philip. Wanting the relevant parliamentary select committee to check the met’s unequal oppression of the laws is not an alternative to wanting rid of laws that oppress. Disliking parliament’s current inadequacy in that respect is not an alternative to noting Starmer’s past form and future intent in that regard.

  • lucklucky

    NiV
    Tell me what speech was punished in 90’s for example but it is not today?

    “But it’s equally dispiriting to see that anger aimed at the Met. A case was referred to them by another police force and they investigated it, as they are legally obligated to do. This is a good thing. We don’t want the police to have discretion about which cases they choose either to investigate or to disregard; there is no reason to think that investigating officers are good guys, i.e., people who will investigate only those cases that we would agree are legitimate. Chances are good that they aren’t.”

    In what world you live? That is precisely what they do. Do you think they will investigate many repellent things that came up from Labour supporters mouths?
    Are you not aware this is threat to everyone and that Process is the Punishment?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Tell me what speech was punished in 90’s for example but it is not today?”

    Here’s an example of a gay businessman prosecuted for distributing pornography.
    https://www.theguardian.com/law/2012/jan/07/obscene-publications-act-future-doubt

    The latest case – which saw a jury take two hours to return not guilty verdicts – comes amid growing concern that Britain’s obscenity laws, which have multiplied in recent years with new laws on the possession of “extreme pornography”, are contradictory, ill-defined and illogical.

    While the act – used to prosecute publishers rather than those in possession of proscribed material – has only been used in 71 cases in the last year, its social impact is far more wide-reaching, with the Crown Prosecution Service using it to advise film censors and others on what they believe a jury would find obscene.

    Peacock, who advertises online, had been approached by an undercover officer seeking to buy videos depicting so-called “water-sports” and other acts that, while legal in consensual sex, appear on the CPS list of acts it advises may be prosecuted for obscenity.

    As I mentioned above, a whole bunch of these categories were taken off the CPS list at the start of last year, although of course there’s plenty more material that’s still banned. (The tiger case was quite funny, though!)

    Or there’s the law on libellous blasphemy, which was repealed by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Michael Newman, a secondary school science teacher and an atheist, was arrested under England’s blasphemy law for selling Wingrove’s blasphemous video Visions of Ecstasy in February 1992 in Birmingham. He was forced to resign from his school position due to protests from Christian parents.

    The Human Rights Act 1998 requires the courts to interpret the law in a way that is compatible with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The offence of blasphemous libel was believed by some to be contrary to the freedom of speech provisions in the Convention. However, just before the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998, a claim that the blasphemy law is inconsistent with article 10 of the Convention (providing for freedom of expression) was rejected in the case of Wingrove v UK (1997).

    Wingrove’s film “Visions of Ecstasy”, which includes Saint Teresa making whoopie with Jesus on the Cross, was banned in the 1990s, but you can watch it today.

    Or consider Abu Hamza, the Finsbury Park preacher, who in 2006 was found Guilty of three charges related to “using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to stir up racial hatred, contrary to section 18 (1) of the Public Order Act 1986”, not guilty on one further such charge. Guilty of one charge of “possession of threatening, abusive or insulting recordings of sound, with intent to stir up racial hatred, contrary to section 23 of the Public Order Act 1986”. Guilty of one charge of “possessing a document containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”, under the Terrorism Act 2000, s58. This charge under the Terrorism Act of 2000 related to his possession of an Encyclopedia of Afghan Jihad, an Al Qaeda Handbook and other propaganda materials produced by Abu Hamza.

    Gays, atheists, and Islamists – not exactly notoriously right-wing causes, are they?

    The social boundaries change only very slowly. Things have changed a little since the 1990s, considerably more since the 1970s, and a huge amount since the 1950s. Previously we worried about moral correctness and the self-appointed morality police. Today it’s PC and SJWs. But fundamentally they’re no different – the authoritarian fundamentalist instinct is still the same. The methods they use are the same. Humans are still human.

  • Paul Marks

    As almost always Nullius is wrong.

    Things are not “the same” – they are totally different. Today both the Criminal Law and government and private organisation policies are used to undermine society in the way outlined by Critical Theory (the Frankfurt School of Marxism), this is not the same as the 1950s or whatever Nullius claims it is.

    At this point, on this and just about everything else, I think we can dispense with the idea that Nullius is just intellectually mistaken – he is lying, his intention is to deceive.

    Actually there is a double intention – to deceive, and to annoy those he does not deceive. I am not sure he has managed to deceive anyone around here recently (although he certainly used to – for example I was a least partly deceived by his lies about the Covid 19 lockdowns, for some weeks), but he certainly still manages to annoy. I believe it is called “Trolling” – and Nullius is an excellent “Troll”.

  • Luckylucky experienced the educative perils of debate with Nullius. 🙂 Luckylucky made a commonsensical remark, but maybe (or, I shall argue, maybe not) without taking due care and attention in its precise phrasing – so must now move on or indulge an increasingly pedantic and absurd discussion. David Starkey made a very commonsensical remark, but without taking due care and attention in the placement of his understandable ‘damn’ of impatience – and now wishes he could move on or else only face debate in the obscure thread of a blog post. So I suppose you could say the example is on topic.

    Nullius defends the legal propriety of the prompt police action against Starkey – and hauls luckylucky over the coals for thinking free speech has degraded since the 1990s (which at least shows a narrative consistency not always evident in the Nullian corpus 🙂 ). “Our antagonist is our helper”, as Burke would say. Let’s see what we can say if we take due care and attention.

    Britain’s obscenity laws, which have multiplied in recent years with new laws on the possession of “extreme pornography” … (from 2012 Guardian article linked in NiV above)

    ‘multiplied’ – looks like common sense was indeed on luckylucky’s side, even in this corner of the subject (that “extreme pornography law” was introduced in 2008). We’ve occasionally discussed the new puritanism on this blog, speculating sometimes about one motive and more rarely about another.

    However it wasn’t acquittal under a new law that Nullius linked to, but under a law that everyone ‘knows’ died in the 60s, between the D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterly’ trial’s acquittal at that decade’s start and the swift reversing of Oz’s ‘Rupert Bear comics for pedophiles’ conviction just after its end. That was true insofar as it created

    the police view that it was almost impossible to prosecute for obscenity in cases of written representations of sex.

    but we didn’t (and don’t) have any Trumpian “two old rules out for one new one in”, so stuff lingers in legal lists long after society has moved on – not slowly, as Nullius claims, but so rapidly that pointing out such lacunae produces commonsensical astonishment, not because people know less than Nullius but because they understand more about the world they live in. However new technology made ‘written’ a smaller proportion of information, and allowed the old act sometimes to surface (as in the case linked to) though it remained rare because it remained very hard to gain a conviction. (The 2008 law was written to be more efficient in that respect, as its supporters and enemies both noted.) It wouldn’t be a real Grauniad article without a typo. 🙂

    whether a process actually exits that leads to “moral corruption”

    The author meant ‘exists’ but ‘exits’ is apt – the earlier law’s natural state was to exit, like an aborted computer program, not convict.

    Obviously, Nullius statement about “taken off the CPS list at the start of last year” is not “repealed”, so in fact Nullius’ pedantic correction of luckylucky is wrong – is itself in need of pedantic correction, and luckylucky’s claim about free speech law in the 90s versus today leaves the court of Samizdata opinion without a stain on its character, or at least the right to be believed by consenting adults (but maybe such adults should refrain from debating Nullius further, lest we be kept here till the thread closes 🙂 ).

  • bobby b

    Paul Marks
    October 14, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    “Things are not “the same” – they are totally different. Today both the Criminal Law and government and private organisation policies are used to undermine society in the way outlined by Critical Theory (the Frankfurt School of Marxism), this is not the same as the 1950s or whatever Nullius claims it is.”

    If I hit you over the head whenever you spoke back in the 60’s with a red pipe, but now I hit you on the knee with a green pipe, we might remark on similarities, no? Same basic process, different tools and targets.

    If I had to guess at NiV’s point, it would be that society in general has prohibited and discouraged and punished speech throughout history – e.g., the porn examples – but this audience feels it more keenly now that we’re the squelched ones. Same as it ever was, just differing details.

    NiV, you baffle me sometimes because you’re such a moving target. There are few commenters on the internet concerning whom I have to guess what it is they’re saying. If I’ve guessed wrong here, sorry.

    But I’m still left with, to what point? What conclusion shall we draw from your argument? That speech has been quashed in the past, so shut up and live with it? That we should fight for free speech always, and should have been fighting for it in the past when we weren’t the targets? (That’s my best guess, but I’m then left with, too late, we’re here today, and others who were more affected ought to have been carrying on that past fight.)

    Can you put your point into one pithy sentence?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Luckylucky experienced the educative perils of debate with Nullius.”

    ‘Perils’? It’s just a debate. Lucklucky asked a perfectly reasonable question. I answered it. That’s how debates work. No ‘peril’ involved!

    “Luckylucky made a commonsensical remark, but maybe (or, I shall argue, maybe not) without taking due care and attention in its precise phrasing – so must now move on or indulge an increasingly pedantic and absurd discussion.”

    His (her?) wording was perfectly clear. I had been talking about speech being punished in the past, the rules on some of which had been liberalised since. Lucklucky asked for examples of what I was talking about; a perfectly reasonable challenge.

    “Nullius defends the legal propriety of the prompt police action against Starkey – and hauls luckylucky over the coals for thinking free speech has degraded since the 1990s”

    Nope. 1) the police action was against the interviewer Grimes, not the interviewee Starkey. 2) if I was hauling anyone over the coals for thinking things were getting worse rather than better, it would be Natalie, not Lucklucky. And 3) I didn’t make any claims about the 1990s. I said “We used to be far stricter, we gradually liberalised the law, and recently we have been repealing and downgrading the remnants.” If you take “recently” to mean “since the 1990s” (which is not unreasonable) then maybe Lucklucky doesn’t know of any examples that recent and wonders what I had in mind. He/she politely asks. I politely tell him/her.

    “‘multiplied’ – looks like common sense was indeed on luckylucky’s side, even in this corner of the subject (that “extreme pornography law” was introduced in 2008).”

    Previous law punished publication rather than posession. This law was the result of a moral panic campaigning to shut down websites visited by some high profile ‘serial killer’ types, but they couldn’t actually do that because the sites in question were abroad and legally produced, so instead they looked at outlawing posession of the images instead. It’s a narrowing of the material being banned – only “extreme” material was covered rather than obscenity in general, but it extended things in that the users could now be prosecuted and not just the producers. And that was only because in this case the producers were out of the government’s reach.

    For the purposes for which I’m raising it – the narrowing definition of the sort of material society can ban – it still works as an example. But I agree it’s slightly odd in that instead of attacking freedom of speech, the particular example is actually being addressed at the freedom to listen.

    I’m also a bit bemused as I thought it was *you* that emphasised the point that English society had been getting better on free speech over time, something you thought we should all praise. Whose side are we on?

    “However it wasn’t acquittal under a new law that Nullius linked to, but under a law that everyone ‘knows’ died in the 60s”

    And yet people could still be arrested in 1992 for blasphemy!

    Under the Obscene Publications Act (1959) in 1996 there were 562 cases brought, in which 324 individuals were convicted. The number has dropped since, but it was still alive and well in the 1990s.

    “That was true insofar as it created the police view that it was almost impossible to prosecute for obscenity in cases of written representations of sex.”

    The boundary moves. At that time they had worked out that erotic fiction, purely the written word, was now pretty much all OK with society, but films, photographs, and other more visual depictions were still problematic. I suspect part of the reasoning behind this was that written fiction more clearly didn’t harm or exploit anybody, but films and photographs could only be produced with real people (or animals, in the case of bestiality). The future debate over CGI is likely to get interesting! But whatever the reasons, the boundary may have changed but I gather we were still getting a couple thousand prosecutions for obscenity a year up until a couple of years ago. The obscenity laws are not dead.

    “Obviously, Nullius statement about “taken off the CPS list at the start of last year” is not “repealed””

    And obviously, the question I was asked didn’t say “repealed”!

    I was asked: “Tell me what speech was punished in 90’s for example but it is not today?” and to clarify “punished” here, we were reminded “Are you not aware this is threat to everyone and that Process is the Punishment?”

    Nor did I say only “repealed” earlier – my phrasing was “we gradually liberalised the law, and recently we have been repealing and downgrading the remnants”. You can interpret that quite loosely. (I don’t always pay due care and attention to precise phrasing either!)

    But I’d argue that it is nit-picking to say it wasn’t “repealed”. The CPS guidelines are part of the machinery of the law as it is applied – they decide when ‘the Process’ is to be inflicted.

    “so in fact Nullius’ pedantic correction of luckylucky is wrong”

    I wasn’t correcting Lucklucky. He/she asked a question.

    “and luckylucky’s claim about free speech law in the 90s versus today leaves the court of Samizdata opinion without a stain on its character”

    Lucklucky made no claim about the 1990s, and you missed the bit about the repeal of the blasphemy law.

    “or at least the right to be believed by consenting adults (but maybe such adults should refrain from debating Nullius further, lest we be kept here till the thread closes 🙂 )”

    You can believe and say what you want. But the corollary of that is that so can I!

    I don’t know why you keep on trying to shut down debate with me. Does a debate open to different points of view make you feel uncomfortable?

    Nor can I ‘keep you here’. I express my opinion. It’s just an opinion, like anyone else’s here. If you want to ignore it, I’m fine with that. The world will not end. If you want to challenge it, I’m willing to debate it. If you want at any time to stop debating and go do something more interesting instead, I’m OK with that too and I can’t stop you. I assume people only debate with me because they want to. You are exercising your free speech by deciding to argue, just like me. And I can take no responsibility for you doing what is clearly done by your voluntary choice.

    “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for those we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

  • Nullius in Verba

    “If I had to guess at NiV’s point, it would be that society in general has prohibited and discouraged and punished speech throughout history – e.g., the porn examples – but this audience feels it more keenly now that we’re the squelched ones. Same as it ever was, just differing details.”

    Yes, that was my original point.

    When people argue and true to pick holes in what I say, additional points are often made along the way!

    “But I’m still left with, to what point? What conclusion shall we draw from your argument? That speech has been quashed in the past, so shut up and live with it? That we should fight for free speech always, and should have been fighting for it in the past when we weren’t the targets?”

    Definitely not the former. Much closer to the latter.

    My argument is with people who only kick up a fuss about free speech when it’s them being silenced. One of the big signs of that is when they think the censorship threat is something new, something only just now in the process of developing. People like Milton and Mill would not have been writing about it over a hundred years ago if this was something new. But the problem is that each group of campaigners for free speech is only interested in particular sorts of speech. So they are always campaigning to change the target of the censorship, never to set some general principle that can be applied to all future cases as well. So you get this endless cycle where with each revolution the oppressors and the oppressed switch places, and nothing fundamentally changes.

    Until people recognise the general phenomenon for what it is, and not just the applications to their own partisan case, the cycle will never end. Censorship of current right-wing views may be new, but censorship is not. We have made much progress over the centuries, but we were still not all the way there. This is a continuation of the ongoing war, not the start of a new one.

  • Guido feels that many will be surprised when they contrast the Met’s decision to not pursue the conduct of an established political party who intended to take part in future elections, with their repeated actions towards an individual in his 20s who has not taken part in any further elections.

    I can’t think why Guido feels that. 🙂 My impression is that almost no-one on this blog will be surprised by this information.

    Some might be inclined to think double standards have been applied…

    Anyone who lacks a strong inclination against thinking it, that is – or so I suspect Guido sensibly means to imply.

  • Some might be inclined to think double standards have been applied…

    Someone who (I’m guessing) does think that has now drawn police attention to a month-old programme: BBC, FRANKIE BOYLE’S PRODUCER & DIRECTOR REPORTED TO POLICE OVER “KILL WHITEY” COMMENTS. At the time, the programme was merely described as torturously dull woke viewing, but it seems no-one suggested such BBC-inflicted torture could be an offence in law. However the Met’s zealousness over Grimes/Starkey has made someone aware that the same law would have to apply to the BBC and the producer as much or more than Grimes (and, I would assume, Ms Kill Whitey, like Starkey).

    Guido’s take: “Even so, this is an unwelcome tit-for-tat move after the Darren Grimes nonsense with the Metropolitan Police. The law as it stands needs amending to stop this nonsense and protect freedom of speech…

    I’ll cheer the second sentence without reserve. As regards the first, I expressed my opinion last year.

  • Events just keep prompting Guido’s suspicion that “double standards have been applied” – and offering opportunities to prove otherwise if only the authorities would grasp them. 🙂

    The latest is a new-Labour/old-Labour spat. I quote [with my additions].

    An impressionable young interviewer [the BBC’s Lewis Goodall] publishes a discussion with a well-known controversialist [trade union leader Len McCluskey], who comes out with a phrase widely understood to be racist and historically used to stir up racial hatred [a suggestion that Jewish-descended Peter Mandelson should ‘go away and count his gold’]. The young interviewer doesn’t directly challenge him on it. There is an outcry [but of course not nearly so much about an anti-semitic remark] and the controversialist later apologises [sort of]. How soon can it be before the woke police summon Goodall for questioning? [Don’t wait up for it.]

    Of course, given Mandelson’s open and notorious corruption, one could argue that, just as David Starkey can truly say that there are indeed many more blacks than genocide would have left, so Len could truly say that Mandelson has indeed got a lot of ill-gotten gold to count.

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