December 31, 2012

Our grinding march to totalitarianism

It was not a good year for writers or language, and a particularly bloody one for journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders, it was the deadliest on record since its first yearly report in 1995. Eighty-eight journalists killed, 2000 threatened or attacked and 144 bloggers dead because of their work. The murderous spike has much to do with Syria and Bashar al-Assad's unholy crusade against his people, though if you're a journalist in Pakistan or Somalia your life expectancy isn't great either.

Back home, thousands of journalists lost their jobs - or were told they would - as the industry slouched towards reinvention but couldn't shake the smell of death. The coming year will yield more signs of the forms and success of that reinvention.

Meanwhile in Parliament this year, rancour trumped truth and eloquence, proving that our leaders are capable of saying things sillier than ''we are us''. Elsewhere, Fifty Shades of Grey - which works neither as pornography nor storytelling - became drearily ubiquitous. Pericles and the Marquis de Sade rolled in their graves.

Mortality takes its toll in a grim year for language lovers

Meanwhile, in a triumph of censorship over ideas, Nicola Roxon is shoring-up the Federal ALP's ambition to silence any thought they don't like - which is pretty much everything - with a law to prevent hurt feelings and general insults.  This is couched in terms of human rights and preventing discrimination.  Obviously not the human right to think and speak for oneself.  Don't worry, though, our political pipsqueaks will still be allowed to toss around their personal idiocies under the banner of parliamentary privilege.  It's only the rest of us who won't be privileged 

Roxon and her government are trying to slide the new legislation into the ill-fitting guise of anti-discrimination, which has become so elastic a concept it now encompasses most thoughts that you'll have in any given day, even if you only verbalize a half dozen of them.  The perpetually outraged are finally being rewarded, now that their small and fearful thinking coincides exactly with that of the Federal Labor Government.  

(Where will this leave Twits, who are alarmed over the most trivial of matters and go in like a pack of starved vampires several dozen times a day, over everything from breast feeding to binge drinking?)

This is not a path to a more litigious society, nor is this an "attempt" to curb free speech.  No, this is actual curtailing free speech, for which the speaker must prove that their inner thoughts, motivations and emotions weren't discriminatory.  Yes, that's right, the non-brainwashed will have to prove their innocence, rather than the accuser prove the intimidation or insult - the discrimination

The government maintains that the objective of the legislation is to simplify and consolidate five laws into one, all the while pretending that they haven't tossed in a few bells and whistles, just for fun.   

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has said that if the Senate inquiry identifies that the drafting of the legislation went well beyond the rationalization exercise, the government would "closely consider those recommendations".  Gee, sounds promising.  What a relief.

Roxon's Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill 2012 will not only extend the range of conduct deemed unlawful from matters of race to matters of religion, social origin, nationality and political opinions. Her bill also removes any notion of objectivity. It is enough that conduct by one person "offends, insults or intimidates" another person. This completes the legal slide from words that incite violence to those that merely insult. Sensible gradations of offence have been lost.
Offends, insults or intimidates?  Well, that covers-off all encounters with ticketing inspectors on Melbourne's public transport.
As James Spigelman, the chairman of the ABC and former chief justice of the NSW Supreme Court, said recently, this "significant redrawing of the line between permissible and unlawful speech" goes beyond "any international human rights instrument or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy."

Trading freedoms for feelings comes at a cost. The right to speak freely, if it means anything, must include the right to offend.

 ... this fundamental right is being replaced with a new right not to be offended. The marketplace of outrage, best described by author Monica Ali, is about to get one heck of a legislative boost. New categories of insulted people will scurry to court, vying for the title of victim, each claiming their feelings have been hurt more than others.
How many of us realise we are witnessing the Freedom Wars? On the one side are the command-and-controllers, people such as Roxon who sincerely believe in central control more than individual freedom. Ideology has trumped principles. They insist laws are necessary to "to help everyone understand what behaviour is expected".
To help everyone understand what behaviour is expected?  No, it isn't.  It's about preventing thought and public discourse, it's about taking away access to a sophisticated and accurate lexicon, taking away the right to express non-conformance.  After a while thought itself narrows, which is ultimately the unstated purpose of stopping a culture, an entire peoples, from thinking and speaking.
At this rate our human rights will be sloshing around our ankles and gurgling into the sewer
Politicians of all stripes have a very poor record when it comes to legislating for daily human behaviors and morality.  Let's not be intimidated into silence this; let's by offended and afraid of every silent and acquiescent politician. 

Coalition soft on offence laws

Nanny Roxon won't let you spit the dummy


  1. Anonymous11:33 AM

    Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

    The cathartic articulation of ignorance is far preferable to the pressure cooker of suppressed frustration.

    I've been abused by many (too often with veracity), but none ever laid a hand on me - it was the silent types who clobbered me, always when I never saw it coming, and for no good reason.


  2. I've never been a fan of brushing things under the carpet or dropping them down the back of the couch. (Eg, abuse of children, domestic violence, mental illness, and so on.) No civil society has anything to fear from knowing the world they live in; every society has much to fear from hiding the dirty linen and silencing of the population.

    Quite apart from that, preventing ordinary debate, ordinary sharing of ideas - no matter how it might ruffle some - is essential to civil society. This little law would work to suppress public discourse of the mundane type. We have to assume scientists and the Gillard gov't will be offended and insulted if anyone dares suggest that the computer modelling has not yet predicted any climate patters - as in none - for example.

    Scary stuff. People should be marching in the streets.

    Are we really such a bunch of passive dolts?