This past weekend, I read a review of free speech in Australian universities. Take a gander if you must, but do so knowing that it was produced, as are all documents by the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), for a very particular sort of chap. If you (a) are a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and/or (b) have outsourced all management of your views to the Liberal Party of Australia, you may find the report, which focuses on our Stalinist schools and their snowflake trigger warnings etc., satisfying.
If, however, you’re someone with a sincere wish to nut out this whole Freedom of Speech thing, give it a skip. And, no, Milo Latham, this is not a command effectively prescribed by Helen of the Humourless Lesbian Stasi. It is simply her recommendation. You want to spend the hour with a report whose specious conclusions were prepared less with recourse to research and much more with uncritical newspaper coverage in mind—something the “left” does almost as often as the right—be my guest.
Just to safeguard your freedom: here’s another link to the report. Here’s another. Here it is again and here’s a picture of Milo in a golden gown. Published by Breitbart! Enjoy your freedoms, while you may. Someone is coming to get them.
When “the left” calls for little besides cultural regulation and chooses to represent itself as entirely ratified by all the best and most powerful institutions, it should think hard about adopting a new name.
Our freedom to express ourselves is endangered. We hear this all the time. Tim Wilson, an Australian MP, has had a good deal to say on the matter. Chris Kenny is another commentator to whom freedom of speech is the most fundamental right. Andrew Bolt is famous for fighting for the right to speak without injunction. He is also famous for strategically naming himself as one of this silenced majority. Hear Andrew’s silence, particularly on the matter of being silenced, at volume and in corporate media outlets daily. Hear Lionel Shriver complain, for a fee and to a large audience, about her struggle to be meaningfully heard. Lest We Forget.
Now, none of this is to deny that prohibitions, acts of censorship etc. can be imposed by the powerful. Australia has endured a particularly long and tedious history of it. The part of the Wilson/Kenny/Bolt argument which rails against legal or institutional prohibitions to speech cannot simply be ignored. If we are to truly think about freedom of speech within our borders, we must also think about the power we are prepared to give to the state.
This thinking is not a lot of fun. It may lead you to momentarily agree with persons you find disagreeable. If you’re a progressive person who thinks too long about the concept of unlawful speech, you might find that Kenny, Bolt, Devine, Panahi etc. have some sort of a point in opposing such state power. If you’re a conservative person who thinks too long about the surveillance to which all Australians are potentially subject, you might start agreeing with a lady like me that metadata retention laws are a bunch of anti-freedom arse.
Or, you could be torn, as I was this weekend, between revulsion for the IPA—one of many think tanks whose chief work it is to make the moral case for the unequal distribution of wealth—and the sense that universities have become bound by stuffy morals. While you may not agree with the author of the IPA report that a university’s failure to host a free screening of The Red Pill is one of the worst things to happen this year and is “seriously imperilling the discovery of truth”, you may wonder about the University of Sydney Union’s decision.
Pease let’s be honest about this—some of the persons often referred to by Chris Kenny et al as “the left” are, in fact, very fond of Big Daddy State.
After reading the Union’s rationale for withdrawing its funds for the screening, I wondered. Mostly if the document had been produced by a machine. Surely, no human who has ever had contact with other humans of typical undergraduate age would use a soothing parental tone and expect it to produce anything but tantrums. The Union explains that screening the documentary, one funded and made by “Men’s Rights” enthusiasts, was (a) against regulations and (b) potentially harmful.
So: this film is against the law, and probably no good for society. Have teenaged persons really changed so much that such advice no longer functions as incitement? I made it my business as an undergraduate to consume as many prohibited or shady things as possible. If someone told me I could or should not have it, then I made fucking sure I got it.
Of course, there were always those kids who preferred to side with institutions. I envied them at times, and not just because I knew they’d end up with better jobs, but because their spare hours were not filled by the terrible films of Larry Clark. This “question authority” thing was no picnic in my day. It still isn’t.
I imagine that some of the students who protested The Red Pill screening that did eventually take place knew this very well. Certainly, amid the chanting, “Not MRAs and not the state. Women will decide our fate,” there would have been anxiety. It is tough to make a case against one real authority while acting with the endorsement of another. The “fate” of women had already been decided by the “state” of the mini-moralisers at the student union.
Just to be wearyingly clear about the whole thing: no. We do not conclude that masculine authority is done simply because one minor authority says it should be and, no, not all young protesters are twits who seek permission above self-determination. But—please let’s be honest about this—some of the persons often referred to by Kenny et al as “the left” are, in fact, very fond of Big Daddy State.
It is common to see “the left” claim publicly and clumsily that they have scientific authority on their side in all matters. It is common to see “the left” celebrate its close alliance with establishment figures. It is common to see “the left” accept finance industry support, make exaggerated claims of intelligence authority support and give its own support without question to a militia with expensive PR.
When “the left” calls for little besides cultural regulation and chooses to represent itself as entirely ratified by all the best and most powerful institutions, it should think hard about adopting a new name. Even if just for the sake of those frustrated USyd students to whom it has absolutely denied the possibility of true protest.
Of course, the cultural right is more obnoxious than the thing that views itself as “the left”. That these Australian freedom boys are doing more damage to mass consciousness than their “opponents” at Fairfax, though, is not so certain. Unless “the left” fucks off very quickly with its published moral prescriptions and authoritative friends, the cultural right will continue to falsely function as the era’s political rebels.
Who else will occupy the territory that rightly belongs to Occupy? For as long as “the left” demands order and compliance like some cheerless middle manager desperate for promotion, your Kennys or Wilsons appear not as they truly are: unsurprising thinkers as committed to the maintenance of present order as the IPA that informs them. They appear like they’re fighting for freedom.
When a citizen finds herself without the wage sufficient to pay several of her bills, the freedom to speak becomes an academic matter, ergo not a “right”.
They fight solely for freedom of expression, of course. Wilson has written that, “Arguably freedom of speech is the most important human right”. He also says it “is the human right most being neglected.”
There are plenty in the nation and the world who are denied some of those less important human rights, including the right to work. When a citizen finds herself without the wage sufficient to pay several of her bills, the freedom to speak becomes an academic matter, ergo not a “right”.
Do you feel me, freedom boy? I am suggesting that if only a few have the means to enact a “right”, then we may think begin to think of it no longer as a right, more as a serving suggestion for the party room. If one cannot freely use the internet or the alphabet, then one might not believe, so ardently as Tim does, that the truest barrier to one’s free expression is Gillian Triggs and her PC Police etc.
Freedom of speech is the right most being neglected. A university’s failure to fully cater a Men’s Rights mixer is an assault on the truth. These are absurd claims, absurdly gaining support. We cannot leave it to “the left” to counter this absurdity. They too, are able only to make the absurd case that speech is the only thing that matters.
Speech does matter, of course. But it matters less when no new thing is spoken, and even less when we utter very little about those who have no voice at all. Who will speak for those and with those to whom “freedom of speech” is currently a dream? Not Tim Wilson. Not the legitimacy-loving “left”.