Wednesday, 21 October 2009

willing mischief

Others, I am not the first
Have willed more mischief than they durst

If the thought is father to the deed, and it certainly seems that way to me; and if the deed that is the logical consequence of that thought is immoral or illegal or just plain wrong; then how free should you be to express that thought?

This came up in the discussion over my previous post, with Carolyn Ann wading in in defence of freedom of speech as covered by the US First Amendment. I have difficulty with the notion of total freedom of speech. The Jan Moir piece in the Daily Mail, discussed in that post, is certainly odious and offensive; plain stupid, even; but it's useful in a way, because it's alerted lots of people, myself included, to just how odious and offensive people like Jan Moir are. So it was a useful piece of information, in that sense. I don't imagine she won anyone over with the strength of her case, because it wasn't really a case; it was just a nasty little squib. And I don't suppose any of her intended audience has changed the way they think as a result of the backlash against Jan; they probably think, like her, that it's just an orchestrated campaign by people who haven't even read the article. Well, duh.

Still, as I say, letting her have her say and then responding to her is perhaps the healthiest option. What to do with Ray of Liverpool, though, who commented on the Daily Mail's story about a 'sex-change prostitute' (evidently 'woman' was not enough for the Daily Mail)...

.....Perverts are like irrepairably broken machines. Can't be fixed. Should be disposed of. Rid the world of their defective genome.
-this was a comment that had passed the moderation process, remember. (It has since been pulled, as have all comments on that story). Should Ray really be allowed the freedom to say that transssexuals should be murdered? I rather think not, but then I would, wouldn't I?

People don't really change their opinions very much or very easily, so 'debate' is really more about who can shout the loudest. Should we allow anyone to shout whatever they like? There is a quotation that usually gets dragged out at times like this, and usually attributed to Voltaire; "I may not like what you write, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I've always had problems with that idea. I certainly have no desire to defend to the death, the right of people whom I dislike to say detestable things. Because then I'd be dead and they'd still be saying detestable things. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong in that relationship, from my point of view at least.

Another problem with the idea is the assumptions behind it. It seems to presuppose that the speaker is in a position of power, and is granting permission to the detested party to say what they like. Imagine instead the position of an isolated minority being subjected to verbal abuse from the majority around them. How do you think the persecutors in this relationship would react to their victims coming out with the Voltairean line? -Heave half a brick, I should imagine.

I watched a BBC Panorama programme last night, filmed on a Bristol estate about a mile from where I live. Two reporters, British moslems, lived undercover for eight weeks, and recorded the acts of verbal and physical abuse that they experienced on a daily basis. It was truly shocking. On the plus side, two of the perpetrators have had their collars felt by the police, for an attempted mugging and an assault. On the other hand, so many of the persecutors behaved so very badly, and despite being named (not, presumably, shamed) have got away with it.

And this evening, Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, and himself a man with a conviction for incitement to racial hatred, will be appearing on the BBC.