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April 13th 2017 print

Anthony Dillon

Nothing Disempowers Like a Gag

The business of taking offence is a necessarily subjective affair, one person's insult being another's knee-slapping jest. Yet the survival of Section 18C in the Senate allows this contradictory principal to remain enshrined in law -- a handy tool for keeping censorious bureaucrats employed and liberties suppressed

gagged speechOne solution to prevent skin cancer would be to turn off the sun. Ridiculous? It certainly is, but no more other-worldly than government logic seeking to “protect” people from hurt feelings occasioned by the thoughts and words of those with whom they disagree. While the defeat in the Senate of the proposal to change Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act is unfortunate, Liberal Senator James Paterson and Labor MP Linda Burney have been reported as suggesting that it does not mark the end of the debate. Thank goodness, I say.

So illogical is the stance of proponents of 18c they need to mis-label the free speech debate as a contest to promote ‘race-hate speech.’ As someone with Aboriginal ancestry, I could easily play the game of hurt feelings and claim that some cartoon, speech or opinion hurt my feelings and left me offended. But that would further disempower Aboriginal people. Any law founded on “the best way to protect your feelings is to silence others” is very disempowering.

Just as people can take measures to reduce the risk of sunburn so can the risk of hurt feelings be reduced without the need to gag others. It’s about taking personal responsibility, not making others responsible for your feelings.

If we were to lift the hood of Section 18c and strip away its legal and political baggage we would see that the engine driving it translates to ‘others have more power over my feelings than I have over them myself.’ How does that empower minority race groups? It doesn’t.

Proponents of 18c use a pathetic argument along these lines: “White and ‘privileged’ males shouldn’t be allowed to push their racist agendas.”

The correct response: “Those who are so fragile that they need to claim being offended as a way of silencing those who express ideas they don’t like should not be allowed to be society’s thought police.”

If not for freedom of speech, minority groups would be far worse off today. Consider, for example, that at one time groups like Aboriginal people, women, and LGBQTI, were seen as having far fewer rights than they enjoy today. It was only by challenging the prevailing orthodoxies — yes, through freedom of speech! — that such prejudices were dispelled. Bertrand Russell’s words ring true here: “Every great idea starts out as a blasphemy.”

I have no doubt that many people have hurt feelings after being exposed to some event, image, or opinion they deem as the cause, but is it really the case that the hurt feelings were caused by something external? A simple example makes the point. Consider two brothers who hear a joke where their race is a significant feature. One brother might laugh and the other could cry. Hurt feelings and offence are subjective responses to any given event. Maybe the choice is not conscious, but it is a choice nonetheless.

For those who claim that any modification to 18c will open the floodgates to racism, please provide evidence or, at the very least, a reasoned argument. Speaking more generally of all speech, even speech where race is not a significant factor, I am not suggesting that all speech should go without consequence. Certainly people should be held to account if their words undermine a person’s reputation or pose a threat. For example, if I am accused of committing a heinous crime, such an accusation could affect my chances of employment, and my accuser should be asked to justify those claims.

I want to see change so as to prevent people being hauled before the Human Rights Commission’s firing squad whenever someone claims their feelings have been hurt, especially on the basis of race. I also want to see change, so that members of minority racial groups are not further disempowered by a law that reinforces the myth that they are so fragile their feelings need to be wrapped in the cotton wool of legislation. I also want to see a society where people can be free to criticise and discuss contentious topics without the fear of being branded a racist.

As Frank Furedi said recently: “The institutionalisation of the policing of speech compromises the quality of public life.”

Comments [13]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    It’s got to the stage that putting pen to paper – or finger to keyboard – to advocate for the abolishing of 18c and for truly free speech is becoming almost as futile as Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills. There seems to be nothing left to be said that hasn’t already been said ad infinitum. All the more commendable when someone of Anthony Dillon’s stature has yet another go, trying to affect the mindset of the perpetually offended cohort. What passes for counter argument is nothing but cheap virtue signalling or simply stupidity, very often both.

    • AlanIO says:

      With so much philosophy there seems to be a lack of Australian Common Sense. The Anarchists are driving out any reasonable comment as our Dear Departed Bill Leak said. Any news on a replacement? AlanIO

    • ianl says:

      > “What passes for counter argument is nothing but cheap virtue signalling or simply stupidity, very often both”

      Which is why this mindset is so widespread. One cute argument for Political Correctness is that it is simply good manners. This is meant to be disarming, as trying to argue against good manners is a guaranteed loss but what it really means is that “being nice” is more highly valued than truth. There is no way to overcome that; venting simply affords the wowsers amusement at such impotence.

  2. Keith Kennelly says:

    Wow someone else has read Bertrand Russel. Impressive.

  3. Warty says:

    There’s a bloke called Eddie Betts who plays a rather strange game, where opposing players crash into each other, fall on top of each other, run around in very short shorts and footy jumpers without collars or sleeves, apparently.
    Now, the last I heard, he was stoically unaffected by being called an ‘ape’ by a rather obese looking working class young woman.
    We have an Andrew Bolt engaging in a rather inconsistent (for him) PC tizzy fit rant, about how unacceptable it was for her to him an ape, and to do so deliberately, by typing and posting it on Facebook. The trouble with Facebook is that Big Brother can often pick these things up and throw the Serious Crime Force at you. Serious bloody crime, you’ve got to be bloody joking.
    Now, I checked the ABC News, on line this evening, and they are now suggesting that Eddie Betts and his family are now thoroughly put out by the comments, and are saying such racism must stop, whilst Sky News seem to suggest he was handling it all like a champion. Where the truth lies, heaven knows, but it seems there may be a bit of the fake stuff floating around.
    My own feeling is that we live in a complex, less than perfect society. The inner city elites are happy to allow the South Sudanese youth run amok, but are more than happy to throw the book at some poorly educated, insecure white woman for abusing a black man.
    My own thoughts on this is that one should take care of one’s own behaviour, to be as honest as one can, and not to be too free to judge, knowing one doesn’t bear scrutiny oneself.
    The whole thing about ‘virtue signalling’ and finger pointing, is that it deflects all attention away from oneself.

  4. Patrick McCauley says:

    Unfortunately … ‘virtue signalling’ and the ‘good manners’ argument with regard to PC … are also very ‘feminine’ qualities, reflecting the rise of ‘feminism’ (women) in the ‘voice’ of liberal western democracies. Appeasement rather than confrontation – silence that will not be contradicted – no bad language or swearing at all … are also unstated feminine qualities (‘rules’; demands) which are certainly to be admired … and maybe the best approach in almost all circumstances … but they definitely are ‘female’ and reveal the world through a feminine’ lens which may be better or worse than the usual way of white male logic – adhering to the laws of thought and non contradiction … through which in only the recent past -we have learned to view the world – the male lens. However, it has become so ‘politically incorrect’ to say something like this … that I find myself choking and searching for the right way to say it …. because it is an important observation … to note that ‘Political Correctness’ was invented by the feminists (according to Beatrice Faust) …being first known as – ‘ideologically sound’. That PC virtue signalling is a female/feminine strong suit that men may mimic but never really excel. That a politically correct environment is one which many men cannot tolerate, but one in which women thrive.

  5. Keith Kennelly says:

    Passive Agression

  6. Keith Kennelly says:

    Relies on silence.

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    Just like bullying

  8. en passant says:

    I remain confused by the definition of racism. calling someone ape, nigger, coon or boonie is rude and ignorant, but not racist as in doing so I have in no way discriminated against them, merely shown my own lack of class. Surely true racism is when I refuse someone a job or even just an invitation to a social event based on their race, colour or religion (though even here there are logically sound caveats!)?

    The application of racism to name-calling widens the scope of ‘racism’ enormously, while at the same time demeans the debate. What next: kindergarten thought police? Oh, we already have them … I suggest a visit to the cinema to see the film “Hidden Figures” or just watch the advert that precedes this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jnnfnnw1MRA

  9. Lawrie Ayres says:

    18C can be challenged only when proponents of it are challenged in court. Bill Shorten says that 18C prevents hate speech so he is acc using those who oppose it of preparing to launch hate speech the moment 18C is recinded. That offends me. There are many examples where leftists say really offensive things about conservatives so why don’t we take the Clemrentine Fords and Johnathon Greens to court under 18C. It is only when they feel their own lash will they ban it.

  10. en passant says:

    I tried that and launched a complaint with the AHRC and received a very nice reply saying that they could not see how my being offended (and I was) fell under the powers of the Act.