“my offence at your satire of [thing I care about] is so great that you must be censored”

So, there’s official censorship (which these days, outside questions of national security) scarcely exists in the west. And then there’s unofficial censorship (you publish that and our advertisers/backers would be very displeased).

There’s also whistleblowing (no one in the sector will ever work with you again), and there’s downright intimidation (I’ll put your lights out/windows in).

All of these activities limit not only free speech but the very diversity and pluralism that real democracy (power to and from the people) requires to do it’s job properly.

In general terms censorship, particularly self censorship, strengthens the bubble thinking of those in power (including the Fourth Estate). It also strengthens a sense of alienation amongst minorities whose voices are, for one reason or another, marginalised.

Sunny Hundal has these useful reflections

When I explain or justify any of these principles in front of sceptical Muslims, I generally get a good response. I’ve done it a few times so I’m confident of this. The other day I posted my speech to a group of Muslim students on why they should want to live in a society where people have the right to insult their prophet, and they got it.

Firstly, it’s not that they dislike the argument, it’s sometimes more that they don’t believe others are interested in free speech in the first place.

Secondly, the problem is that many liberals aren’t interested in convincing others who are sceptical, but merely interested in stating that they are right and Muslims should lump it.[emphasis added]

Nick Cohen back in November also noted:

The same people who scream “censorship” and “persecution” when one of their own is targeted lead the slobbering pack when the chance comes to censor and persecute their enemies. They want them fined, punished and sacked.

Or as one of our readers on the Slugger Facebook page put it:

Dear satirists, while I have always supported your right to rip the piss out of [thing I don’t care about] and am quite happy to change my FB profile pic to je suis charlie for a couple of days in support of free speech,my offence at your satire of [thing I care about] is so great that you must be censored.

But we have the Scottish Police to remind us that in the UK there isn’t actually the degree of free speech we often think we have:

It’s also worth noting too Stormont’s refusal to update (ie liberalise) Northern Ireland’s libel laws, and the Equality Commission’s activist stance on the #Cakegate controversy suggest that freedom of speech is a very long way down the domestic agenda.

Chris identifies something he calls “the outgroup homogeneity effect, or the they are all alike; we are diverse bias”.

We see it, for example, when: some feminists claim that all men are rapists; when critics of orthodox economics fail to see how diverse the subject is; when lefties attack “greedy bankers”; when people think they are experts on a country because they have visited it a few times; when right-wingers think that because I’m a Marxist I somehow endorse Stalinism; or when torture is claimed to be “inconsistent with our values” when our side does it but typical of “them”. And so on.

This continuing failure to convince non liberals that a liberal commitment to free speech and dissent is an intellectually and politically consistent proposition is just one of the emerging weaknesses of wider contemporary democracy.

In Northern Ireland’s solid state democracy where, despite some daft murmurings about the conditions required for an opposition being met in in the Stormont House Agreement, outgroups really are out. And, permanently.

Curtailing the right to expression of unpopular minorities through a selective means of the law and a distributed use of disorder undermines serious our long term progress towards the peaceful society promised in the Belfast Agreement.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “Curtailing the right to expression of unpopular minorities throuigh a selective means of the law and a distributed use of disorder undermines serious our long term progress towards the peaceful society promised in the Belfast Agreement” TWADDELL ?

  • aber1991

    “Liberals” are very often selective in their “liberalism”.

    In yesterday’s Irish Times a Una Mullally was speaking up for free speech. A few months ago she was suggesting curbs on those who are opposed to same sex marriage.

  • Clanky

    The problem with offence is that it is so subjective. To claim that people should alter their behaviour based on the fact that someone else finds it offensive is ridiculous as saying that restaurants should refuse to serve beetroot because I don’t like beetroot.

    If something I say is offensive to someone I really don’t give a stuff, let them be offended. Why should (for example) a christian’s offence at a t-shirt I choose to wear bearing a picture of the crucified christ and a funny slogan, or a muslim’s offence at a caricature of mohamed be somehow more valid than the fact that I disagree with some of the fundamental points of christianity and islam.

    If I am expected to not wear my funny t-shirt or a humorist is expected to not produce cartoons of the prophet, because someone finds it offensive then can we please have laws to stop the preaching of the concept of sin, which I find incredibly offensive?

    The original FB comment which was quoted was about a story where people were protesting about a satirical show based on the famine, how many of those who think that the famine should be protected from satire think that the ridicule of Mohamed is perfectly acceptable? If we support the right to free speech when it is aimed at something we don’t care about then surely we must also support it when it is aimed at something which we do care about.

    I think the most glaring example of hypocrisy that I can remember on NI social media recently was a poster on either the slugger or LAD FB page with the user name of William Flegzer, complaining about “relentless satirisation” of Gerry Adams.

  • Martyn

    “If something I say is offensive to someone I really don’t give a stuff [about], let them be offended”.

    There are only two reasons in life to do anything. The first is because it matters to you. The second is that it matters to someone who matters to you.

    The first reason, the purely selfish one, is the one that drives all the species on the planet that don’t cooperate, either with close kin or the wider membership of their species.

    The second reason is the foundation for all cooperation, cooperation between two individuals, among kin and, especially, cooperation between those who don’t even know each other.

    All partnerships survive on each partner doing some things that matter only to the other. It is the basis for romance, caring, cherishing and maintaining a deep relationship. As soon as one partner ceases doing the things that don’t matter to them, but do matter to the other, the relationship is in trouble. It will certainly fail entirely if the partner persists in this behaviour.

    Good neighbours and good neighbourhoods and good international relationships work on the same basis. Effective teams are also dependent on each member doing things that matter to the other team members, compromising where needed and even, in the very best teams, giving in where it is not even expected.

    So, if your relationship to any/all other member(s) of the human race is a factor in the co-operation that distinguishes us from most other species, then you always have to give a stuff about others. It is the judgement of just how much that is the trick.

  • Martyn

    “”We see it, for example, when: some feminists claim that all men are rapists; when critics of orthodox economics fail to see how diverse the subject is; when lefties attack “greedy bankers”; when people think they are experts on a country because they have visited it a few times; when right-wingers think that because I’m a Marxist I somehow endorse Stalinism; or when torture is claimed to be “inconsistent with our values” when our side does it but typical of “them”. And so on.””

    My experience is that any attempt by one grouping to blame another grouping for all their misfortunes is never more than a part of the truth. Whether it is females blaming all males, blacks blaming all whites, Irish blaming all Brits or residents blaming all immigrants, it is an oversimplification that avoids the complexity of the whole truth.

    My experience is that in the great majority of human interaction a small minority (generally but not exclusively male) set out to dominate everyone around them, regardless of gender, race, religion or nationality. The dominating Brits did equally dreadful things to other Brits as they did to the Irish. Dominating Irish did the same to other Irish.

    The main purpose of democracy is to give the majority who might be dominated, a way of preventing a potential dominator from ever getting well enough established to become a dictator. Whatever else are the weaknesses of western liberal democracy it is precious for this function alone, a function that protects and preserves civilised society.

  • Zeno

    “The main purpose of democracy is to give the majority who might be dominated, a way of preventing a potential dominator from ever getting well enough established to become a dictator”

    Well you could say that, of maybe one Dictator has been replaced by the Boys from Eton,

  • Tacapall

    “Curtailing the right to expression of unpopular minorities through a selective means of the law and a distributed use of disorder undermines serious our long term progress towards the peaceful society promised in the Belfast Agreement.”

    We are all born with a blank slate Mick, it is our parents, teachers and peers and even the media who install our virtues predijuces and opinions towards others, would you support freedom of expression to minors and young teenagers and if so at what point does freedom of expression become a threat to the rule of law.

  • barnshee

    “We are all born with a blank slate Mick, it is our parents, teachers and
    peers and even the media who install our virtues predijuces and
    opinions towards others”

    I would venture to suggest that our own direct experiences might have a bigger influence

  • Tacapall

    Indeed Barnshee, depending on wheather your the one experiencing anothers freedom of expression or your the one actually doing the expressing both have different outcomes.

  • Zeno

    “We are all born with a blank slate Mick, it is our parents, teachers and peers and even the media who install our virtues predijuces and opinions towards others.”

    Or you could think for yourself when you reach an age where you are no longer under the influence of your Parents or peers.

  • Tacapall

    “Or you could think for yourself when you reach an age where you are no longer under the influence of your Parents or peers”

    By then its already too late Zeno like accepting genital mutilation as an expression of ones religious belief, to us that is horrifying and a expression that should be outlawed but to others this would be an erosion of their culture and a denial of religious beliefs.

  • Exactly, free speech is not free speech if it only applies for people who agree with you.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oligarchy, its called, Zeno. A kind of collective dictatorship, something that’s been the rule (literally!) in England ever since 1688 and the Whig Junta who brought in the Dutchman. Most of the Etonions I’ve known have been charming and generious companions, but, as its so often said, they were, in the end, “solid veneer”.

  • Martyn

    The Boys from Eton are far from established and, judging by their early campaigning, they are very conscious of being disestablished in May.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Mick, the list of censorship catagories is still lacking one important area, censorship of comment as required by the laws of defamation. Not that I’d be that interested in a free for all, with no legal constraint whatsoever, having been seriously calmunised myself at times However, there are numerious situations, such as rape, that I’ve come across where the survivor is inhibited in presenting an accusation, even of mentioning the experience to others, by famous and sucessful people who can bring high powered legal expertese to bear down on them, threatening a defamation action against accusations because their political or media careers may be damaged if their good reputations are in any way threatened. I have it anecdotally that this has been employed here to inhibit discussion of financial links between various parties in politics and finance also.

    This is as serious a threat to the exposure of important information, whose airing might be in the public interest as the several varieties of threat you mention.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Martyn, they are always there, always will be, holding pretty permanent key positions in banking and financial services, the media and academia, and through every publically funded body from the civil service down, so holding pretty minor positions such as elected political office, is hardly that important a matter.

    As it was said when James I & VI ennobled so many persons in the first year of his reign, “Is that man in any way important?” “Oh no, he’s simply a knight.”

  • The Firemen

    A very good point re. hypocrisy Clanky. On LAD a great many commenters with ‘humourous’ nom de plumes are only too quick too register outrage when the page dares step out of line from it’s imagined ‘nationalist’ or ‘republican’ stance (the creators of the page have often stated they are “equal opportunity satirists” and are on record as saying they are generally pro-unionist and pro-loyalist http://sluggerotoole.com/2014/06/30/ladfleg-we-are-pro-union-and-pro-loyalist/). The same applies on Twitter when a great many of the same people were quick to spring to the defence of the great leader in the wake of the Mairia Cahill scandal.

    On the other side of the fence those who have consistently attacked satirists like LAD (the Jamie Brysons and Gareth Coles of this world etc) are suddenly all pro-free speech – as long as it’s THEIR free speech they and their ilk they are talking about. Dare question the very marked difference between free speech and hate speech and you’re in trouble!

    As someone who has blogged for both LAD and Slugger I speak from personal experience.

  • Zeno

    Indeed, I sometimes think that the only reason the people were given the vote was because the boys realised that they could do nothing with it except change one suit for another every so often.

  • Barneyt

    When religions can be more easily tied to a specific race, we end up in difficult territory, as debasing a religious belief can more easily be portrayed as an attack on a culture. Instead of having a point of view, you potentially can be criminalised in the minds of the offended.

    At home we can look at the level of offence taken with respect to the 12th and other marches. Are the residents more sensitive? Are the marches more provocative? The truth perhaps sits somewhere between the two statements.

    We seriously have to worry when we can laugh and mock one religion and not another. There is a difference between issuing a publication in France and performing a leaflet drop in the middle-east. I believe Europe may need to take measures to protect freedom of expression, and I can see the right pushing for more stringent measures i.e. outlawing any conduct in accordance with Sharia.

    However, Islam affects its followers lives more intensely that Christianity does these days. Roll back a few hundred years and you will find equivalent levels of intolerance (perhaps) within the Christian church leadership. Western society and laws were much more entwined and informed by religious ethos that they are today. Perhaps the main difference is where Christianity and Islam sit on the timeline?

  • Clanky

    the [about], which you added was not an omission on my part, it simply wasn’t there. If something I say is offensive to someone, I don’t give a stuff.

    It was not that it was someone who I didn’t care about, it is that I don’t care about anyone’s offence.

    People choose to take offence, there offence is based on there feelings rather than my words.

    That does not mean that people should be allowed to say anything without consequence, there are obviously laws which govern what is acceptable to say and what is not, it is quite rightly illegal to say something which incites hatred, but the law cannot prevent me saying something which someone may or may not chose to take offence at, because the law cannot predict what will be offensive.

  • babyface finlayson

    We do tend to put restrictions on our own behaviour though.
    Would you attend the funeral of someone you knew wearing your hilarious t-shirt?
    If the answer is yes you would be giving needless offence to people in mourning.
    If no then I would say you do give a stuff about causing offence.

  • Clanky

    There is a difference between something which is hurtful and something at which someone choses to take offence, the problem is that the difference is not always very clear.

    I think there are things which will obviously be hurtful to someone, rather than something at which someone will choose to to take offence and that (wearing the t-shirt at a funeral) would be one of them. When I say that I don’t give a stuff if someone chooses to take offence at something that I say it is partly because I have already considered the possibility of people being offended and decided that I don’t feel it is justified.

    I would not, as you say, deliberately cause needless hurt, but neither would I refrain from saying something which I feel needed saying because someone may choose to be offended by it.

  • babyface finlayson

    Thanks for clarifying. I would not disagree with that I think.
    Mind you, what needs saying is open to wildly varying interpretation

  • Kevin Breslin

    We don’t have liberals, true liberals are a myth, the most liberal you’ll see someone get is confessing they might get passionately authoritarian when provoked but wished they had the means to be more tolerant.

  • aber1991

    In Eire, the word “liberal” means “anti-Catholic.” Conor Cruise O’Brien was considered a “liberal” – the same Conor Cruise O’Brien who tried to bully the Irish Press from publishing letters which were supportive of the struggle of Northern Ireland Catholics.