In the public interest.
I have been inspired overnight to return to this blog and make it clear that I do not support offence given to people, it is not about being taken it is the act of projecting verbal violence onto others to disempower their sense of value. Moreover, the abuse, humilitation, offence and insult is about the sender of the message. They are dehumanising. When legislation removes words it is giving tacit consent to abuse. This is not respect. Whilst I could see Rowan Atkinson’s point yesterday in freedom of speech. Whilst I have confronted abuse, offence and insult in my own life, it did bring me great pain and those words can be like knives. In fact a life can be changed on the basis of a word. However, on the other side the test with abusive people is to know they are in pain and it is never about you. So we do need to create a shield of awareness that their insults are their own pain and refusal to face their violence. They form groups or glee clubs in order to get support to make their abuse right. So legislation can be used as a glee club to validate that abusing people is just mild criticism or toughen up. This is denial. My response to Rowan was around freedom of speech and more dialogue to solve the problem not hate the person. I really felt this come up overnight to make clear this blog does’t support abuse as it is seen as wounds crying out for healing believing the other is the problem when the issue is not resolved. Just note our greatest critics are often the very teachers that lead us to deepening what we believe in or speaking our truth. Of course that is not their intention but the adversarial conflict causes a deeper desire for peace in the end.
THIS IS WHAT I WROTE YESTERDAY.
My heart and soul tells me I was born free without government permission. I felt inspired to speak as it is healthy for me. I feel inspired to laugh as that is my nature. Yet we are in times where there are those who see openness as a threat, freedom of speech as dissent and making personal choices to say no as endangering others. We see this particularly in Melbourne right now as justified to get those numbers down. Yet the alternative views are being shutdown or called “conspiracy theories” when they are not. There are intelligent discourses that need to be heard but the mainstream media (commercially owned) is ignoring the public voice. I am for hearing the views of my society.
The constant media narrative is brainwashing people it is not informing them. The public will speak up as it gets more tough. When they start to realise things are not what they seem.
Power asserts itself not in the spirit of justice but to create fear and has a chilling effect on free expression and protest. People are criminalised for speaking truth to power.
Protest is healthy as we are not heard. People step up together as separately they are ignored. Yet when it impacts people’s lives they have no choice but to protect their families and neighbours against toxic cultures of control.
What I like about Rowan Atkinson’s speech is allowing insult. As a peace educator why would I say allow it. It is a teacher. I’ve had ridicule, insult and it led me to peace. I remember hearing people fighting and I sat there thinking why can’t we resolve conflict peacefully? So the fight raised for me the desire for peaceful dialogue and respect. I’ve seen rudeness so many times but I never desire to mirror it, it is not my nature. Obviously I do not want to see a society that is obnoxious, disrespectful and insulting but I do see bases for resolving conflict in teaching about nonviolent narratives, learning how to say the truth of what you mean. I’ve been called an idiot, a placard waving hippy but my response would be why do you feel threatened? Why do you put me down and disrespect alternative ways? Is it accurate what you said about me or am I more than a throw away line. Rowan is really speaking about the deception in fake narratives as facades to decency and intolerance towards those who may be angry. Yes they may say unkind words but really society looks more disapprovingly at them. Perhaps this is an opportunity to learn how to really say what we feel moving past hate, blaming and hurt. Owning how I am feeling but not directing hate at them. I recognise people will. In Melbourne and around Australia division is there supporting the Government narrative of lockdown to fight an infection that has to be done and those who believe COVID is a bioweapon that is collapsing the economy to bring in a new world order. How do we allow both views to coexist? Perhaps we look for where we agree as values can be mirrored in opposing discourse. So people need to express how they feel, they shouldn’t be criminalised. A person shouldn’t be arrested for not wearing a mask and then insulting the police as they feel attacked by armed men. There has to be a space of understanding their are two sides. This is where conflict resolution takes you. I’ve met uneducated drug affected people who are dismissive, who steal and yet underneath all of that I discover low self esteem and self loathing projecting as hate towards others. So when we go deeper the hate is masking great pain, suppression won’t solve it only understanding that all anger is a call for help. That is how conflict resolution reframes situations. I look for common ground. I see teachers helping me learn things. Even if I have suffered greatly I am not tempted to harm them, I will always speak what is truthful for me. As that is my birthright.
Rowan Atkinson speaks of free speech and the allowance of insult.
He says: the second most precious thing in life is to express your self. The first is food in your mouth and the third is a roof over your head. (I vote for him as a person who has experienced homelessness). Rowan speaks of enjoying free expression all his life.
He states: laws exist to contain free expression. He believes he is highly unlikely to be arrested because of the privilege position afforded to those of a high public profile. His concerns are less for himself but for those more vulnerable because of their lower profile (that would include me).
- Man arrested for calling a horse gay.
- A teenager arrested who called the Church Scientology a cult
- Café owner displaying passages from the bible on a TV screen.
Ludacrous. He speaks of Not the 9 O’clock News. A racist police officer who I am dressing down for arresting a black man for walking on the cracks in the pavement, walking in a loud shirt in a built up area during hours of darkness, favourite – walking around all over the place. Urinating in a public convenience and looking at me in a funny way. Life is imitating art.
Cases were dropped, refused to pay fine, cases dropped due to publicity not justice. The police sensed ridicule around the corner, withdrew actions. What about thousands of other cases that didn’t get publicity, not ludicrous enough to attract media attention.
The law was not working properly, it was intimidating. It has a chilling effect on free expression and free protest.
Parliaments Joint Committee on Human Rights summarised the issue very well, stating “…while arresting a protestor using threatening speech or abusive speech may depending on the circumstances be a proportionate response we do not think language or behaviour that is merely insulting should be criminalised in this way.”
The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is construed as insult, construed as ridicule, construed as sarcasm stating an alternative view to the orthodoxy can be interpreted as insult. so many things can be interpreted as insult.
Although the law under discussion on the statute book over 25 years it is indicative of a culture that has taken hold of the programs of successive governments that with the reasonable and well intentioned ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society has created a society of extraordinary authoritarian and controlling nature. You might call the new intolerance, a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent.
I am not intolerant say many people, so many softly spoken, highly educated, liberal minded people. I am only intolerant of intolerance. And people nod sagely and say wise words wise words. If you think about this supposedly inarguable statement for longer than 5 seconds you realise that all it is advocating is the replacement of one form of intolerance with another. To me doesn’t represent any kind of progress at all. Underlying prejudices, resentments or injustice are not addressed by arresting people. They are addressed by the issues being aired, argued and dealt with preferably outside of the legal process.
The best way to increase societies resistance to insulting or offensive speech is to allow a lot more of it. As with childhood diseases better resist those germs to which you have been exposed. We need to build our immunity in taking offence so we can deal with the issues that perfectly justified criticism can raise. Our priority should be to deal with the message not the messenger…
As President Obama said in an address “laudable efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics or oppress minorities, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech.”
That is the essence of my thesis, more speech, he says. If we want a robust society we want more robust dialogue that must include the right to insult or to offend.
Even if the freedom to be inoffensive is no freedom at all.
The repel of this word in this clause (anti-Discrimination legislation) is only a small step but will be critical one in a longer term project, to pause and rewind the creeping culture of censorious, it is a small skirmish in the battle to deal with, with what Sir Salman Rushdie refers to as the outrage industry. self appointed arbiters of the public good encouraging media stoking outrage to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react. A newspaper rings up Scotland Yard someone has said something slightly insulting on twitter about someone we think is a national treasure what are you going to do about it. The police panic, scrabble around then grasp the most inappropriate life line Section 5 Public Order Act that thing where you can arrest anyone for saying anything that might be construed by anyone else as insulting. They don’t seem to need a real victim they only need make the judgement that someone COULD HAVE BE OFFENDED if they had heard or read what had been said. The most ludicrous degree of latitude. The storms around Facebook and Twitter comment have raised fascinating issues around free speech we haven’t come to terms with. Firstly we have to take responsibility for what we say, secondly we have learned how appalling prickly and intolerant society has become by even the mildest adverse comment. The law should not be aiding and abetting this new intolerance, free speech can only suffer if the law prevents us from dealing with its consequence.
I offer my wholehearted Support for the Reform Section 5 Campaign.