Tag Archives: free speech myth

Let’s Talk About: The Marketplace Of Ideas

First, let’s get something straight: there is no such thing as a “marketplace of ideas”. It is a fantasy of reactionaries, racists and their apologists. Ideas cannot be bought, sold or exchanged because they have no physical form. They are what they are: ideas and nothing more. They are, to adapt Engels, false consciousness (remember that the word ‘ideology’ was originally coined to refer to a ‘science of ideas’ before it was laden with considerable baggage). The notion of the marketplace of ideas is one that has been popularized by LM and its various outlets as well as the free speech fundamentalists that gather around the feet of its self-appointed sages.

To claim that all ideas deserve equal time, consideration and space is also a fantasy; a figment of the SpikedOnline imagination. The inhabitants of Spiked World and their related LM spheres believe that “dangerous ideas” should be aired for the sake of ‘free speech’, but some ideas, or discourses, are hidden for a very good reason: they are dangerous, and the fact that they are dangerous also means they’re harmful and likely to cause problems for minority groups or society as a whole.

Free speech is not absolute and anyone who says it is, is not only hopelessly naïve but quite probably working to normalise and legitimise reactionary discourses, in order to further a particular ideological agenda. So it is with Spiked and LM, whose tiresome mantra is “free speech at any price”. If people come to harm because of their airing of bad or dangerous ideas, then, in LM’s eyes, that’s simply the price that one pays for free speech. It’s intellectually dishonest and immature.

All ideas, like ideology, are a product of discourse. The recent revival of interest in eugenics, for example, is a product of historical revisionist discourses, which also come bundled with other reactionary discourses: racism for example. Eugenics, once popular among self-styled intellectuals of the Right and the Fabian Left, was banished to the wilderness of discourse after it was popularized by the Nazis. Toby Young, whose ability to think and construct coherent and logical arguments is poor and, like the fools at Spiked, is obsessed with the notion of free speech at any price. His recent dalliance with education was used a trojan horse to smuggle in his retooled notion of eugenics, which he oxymoronically describes as ‘progressive eugenics’.

Young’s fascination with eugenics comes from his uncritical acceptance of Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which posits, among other things, that intelligence, itself a contested term, is inherent to certain ‘races and social classes’, while other ‘races’, those of African origin particularly, score low on IQ tests and are thus deemed, in the eyes of eugenicists, as subnormal. This is to ignore the ethno-cultural bias in IQ testing in the first place.

Young has defended his notion of ‘progressive eugenics’ in this statement:

My proposal is this: once this technology [genetically engineered intelligence] becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite. It might make all the difference when it comes to the long-term sustainability of advanced meritocratic societies.

What Young fails to grasp, and to which I alluded earlier, is that intelligence is in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, Young takes Murray’s position and claims, without a shred of evidence, that intelligence is class, as well as, racially based. We should note that Murray isn’t a geneticist or a medical scientist, he’s a political scientist. Hernstein wasn’t a geneticist either, he was a psychologist and sociologist. Many have critiqued The Bell Curve for its research and lack of academic rigour and rightly so, and yet it still cited by right-wing politicians and commentators for daring to speak the truth about ‘genetically based intelligence’.

Young’s ‘progressive eugenics’ is underpinned by racist and classist discourses, which have been around since the 19th century. Indeed, IQ tests, which form the basis for Young et al’s concept of ‘progressive eugenics’ is little more than a justification for scientific racism, which in turn serves as a means to justify social exclusion and the marginalization of already oppressed groups of people.

As this blog points out, LM regards hate speech as free speech. What is revealing about this claim is that its proponents are mostly white people. In a Spiked article titled Hate speech is free speech, Frank Furedi, the leader of the LM cult lazily conflates hate speech with blasphemy:

Hate speech is the secular equivalent of blasphemy. Blasphemy targeted ‘evil speaking’, but in a non-religious world, censors don’t do morality. So hate speech is defined as prejudice directed at individuals or groups on the basis of their identity — be it racial, cultural or lifestyle. In our era of identity politics, criticism of a cultural practice can now be interpreted as an instance of ‘hatred’ towards a group.

LM’s basis for ‘free speech’ hinges on what it sees as ‘identity politics’, which has become something of an Aunt Sally for the libertarian right. You will notice that there is no criticism of identity politics when it is deployed by the Conservative Party as a means to wriggle out of its racist Hostile Environment policy or its defence of Shaun Bailey’s recent bigoted comments, when they were criticized by many on the Left. LM’s other claim is that we now live in a post-racial world, but this is nothing less than wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty – especially because structural (which the Right denies exists) and institutionalized forms of racism persist and show no immediate signs of abating.

It is baffling that people like O’Neill and Young are given so much airtime when their ideas lack as much as a scintilla of academic rigour or, indeed, erudition. The ideas that they proffer in the media are never challenged but are accepted as axiomatic by broadcasters. Yet, any attempt to challenge their bad ideas is met with defensiveness and claims that those who oppose them are “shutting down free speech”. However, this is to assume that free speech means that the other person is compelled to listen to badly thought-out arguments without having a right to reply. On the contrary, free speech means being able to challenge bad and dangerous ideas and discourses. O’Neill, Furedi and the rest of LM need to learn that.

Further reading

Butler, J. (2013). Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. Routledge.

Here’s the Manic Street Preachers.

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Filed under Bad philosophy, Ideologies, Media

Read The Independent? Don’t Look At The Comments Threads.

Most online versions of British newspapers moderate their comments or will close threads if they know they’re likely to attract bigots. Not so with The Independent, which has now overtaken the old Telegraph blogs comments threads as a magnet for racists, xenophobes and neo-fascists. Only comments that use words like ‘shit’, ‘cunt’ or ‘fuck’ are flagged for moderation and deleted; anything else is ignored and the bigots know this, hence the reason why they flock to The Independent. Therefore, it would seem that comments are not moderated in any meaningful sense and the website uses algorithms to weed out comments that use the aforementioned swear words. If you flag a comment for moderation for its racist content, it is always ignored. This tells me the website doesn’t employ moderators and if it does, they’re not doing their job.

A year ago, I wrote to The Independent to complain at the lack of moderation. I have received no reply and no action has ever been taken.

This article written by Biba Kang about Diane Abbott is typical.  In fact, any article that mentions either her, black people and Muslims attracts swarms of bigots. The article opens with these two short paragraphs.

After today’s Good Morning Britain aired, viewers have been criticising Diane Abbott for her use of the N-word, live on TV.

On Twitter, many have decided it’s their right to chastise the MP, berating her for using such “foul language” on air at 7.20am.

Some viewers were apparently offended by Abbott’s use of the word ‘nigger’ on Good Morning Britain, which was entirely in context with her description of the abuse she has been subjected to on Twitter. Many, if not most, of the comments on this article are from racists, who demand to know why they can’t say the word themselves. It’s a stupid question posed with a sly grin and a knowing wink.

This one couldn’t resist the old “you’re making it up” line that was a favourite of bigots in the 60s and 70s.

2 hours ago
DebG9999
when things go badly for Diane Abbott she always raises the subject of racial discrimination – funny that …..
The contributor below thought if the word was used as the name of Guy Gibson’s dog in The Dambusters, then it’s fine. What’s good for Guy is good for us. Worse still is his claim that it’s only a shade of black. Such notions are disconnected from the reality of history when it was coined by whites to denigrate black people. It acts, therefore, as a linguistic means of oppression.
6 hours ago
dingdong
Restricting the uses of certain words to specific races is in itself racist. I don’t have a problem with the word, or it being used by anyone. It was the name of Guy Gibson’s dog, an Agatha Christie novel and a “shade” of black. A word is a word, you can only be offended by it if you choose to do so !
The Oxford English Dictionary says that it began to be used as a hostile pejorative in the 18th century. To those white bigots who say “well, black people say it to each other, so why can’t I use it?”, I have this to say to you: “why do you want to use it”? Furthermore, not all black people use it. Richard Pryor, for example, used it in his comedy routine, but after a trip to Africa, he stopped using it, because he could see the corrosive effect the word had on others. The white bigots who ask why they can’t say it themselves are most likely already using it.
Like many others, this contributor thought it was all about free speech, which has become the battle cry for racist, sexists and homophobes. I mean, why can’t I just go around insulting people if I feel like it?
10 hours ago
Aykarralyu

Any point of view that states a group of people have no right to their own opinion is inherently wrong.

No one may deny any other person the right to think or the right to speak.

Yes, but “Aykarralyu”, this isn’t about “opinions, this is about ethnic slurs.Perhaps this contributor should go up to a black person and say it, just to see what happens. 
This comment, expressing more faux outrage got 14 up ticks.
SilentScream
Another black writer displaying her contempt for white people and the Indy laps it up

18 hours ago
Traffyman
No one is free in the uk. We are constantly meddled with. Being told you cant say that, kids are not aloud to sing barbar black sheep anymore. How pathetic. It has nothing to do with skin colour. We are constantly being kept in line so we have no fun, just work, sleep eat repeat. That is what they want from us. Oh yeah and die young so we never see our pensions. That is why no one has any respect for the government or takes no notice of them. Politics in the uk is a complete joke now.

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Filed under Media, Racism, Society & culture

Manic Street Preachers – ‘Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children’

Here’s some music to go with the last blog article. This is from the Manics’ 2001 album Know Your Enemy. When the track ends, it’s worth scrolling forward to 3.40 for their rendition of McCarthy’s ‘We Are All Bourgeois Now’.

 

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#19)

I found some terrific comments this week but my computer died and I lost the screenshots. No matter. In the week that Nelson Mandela died, one expected to find a wealth of racist comments on Telegraph blogs but all the articles about Madiba have closed comments threads. It’s only Brendan O’Neill, who I suspected would be first out the traps with an article about how apartheid was good (the RCP was against sanctions and was thus aligned with Thatcher) and how Mandela was a ‘terrorist’, who’s allowing comments on his thread. But rather than write about Mandela,  he’s penned this tribute to ‘free speech’ instead.

‘Free speech’ in O’Neill’s world is when people are allowed to say whatever they like, no matter how abhorrent, free in the knowledge that they won’t be challenged. Because, in the mind of Eddie Munster, if someone challenges your vile views, they are guilty of ‘stifling’ free speech. Without any trace of irony, he tells us:

Firstly, because it is always better to have dodgy extremist ideas out in the open, where they can be challenged and ridiculed, rather than festering underground, hidden away, unquestioned. And secondly, because it is only by defending freedom of speech for all – yes, even for whackjobs – that we can guarantee it for ourselves, for everyone, for the decent as well as the daft.

My bold. The views left on Telegraph blogs are rarely challenged by blog authors and those who try to challenge them are shouted down. The Telegraph has become a place for neo-Nazis and Enoch Powell worshippers to congregate and they are often attracted by the blog author’s views (I give you James Delingpole). The Lyin’ King, in another blog disputes this, but he doth protest too much.

O’Neill appears to have realized that all the comments threads on the Mandela articles are closed, so he circumvents this by titling his blog

If we are serious about freedom of speech, then everyone must have it

Eddie slyly ends his blog with a recording of Nelson Mandela ‘saying farewell to South Africa’. This was done to draw in the self-styled ‘patriots’ and give them a space to air their disgusting views.

This week’s comment is particularly vile and appears to have been left by someone who could easily be a member of The World Union of National Socialists.

Vitaly Klitschko

Brendan O’Neill is absolutely correct. Historical facts must be separated from PC re-writing of history. History uses the same scientific method as the natural sciences.

The FACTS about WW2 must always be remembered; for example, that far from being a dictator, Hitler was an extremely popular politician. Hitler was democratically elected as Chancellor and supported by an overwhelming majority of Germans. It is a huge mistake to demonize National Socialism as “extremism”. Such derogatory labels simplify history, hamper rational analysis and can easily be used for censorship. Demonizing National Socialism means that you fail to understand it.

“FACTS”, eh? In spite of what he says, you won’t find Eddie challenging these views.  This reader believes that Hitler was “an extremely popular politician” and that Nazism has been demonized. Really? But it’s the final sentence that’s the most ignorant. “Vitaly” claims that “Demonizing National Socialism means that you fail to understand it”. Really? Tell than to the millions who died in the death camps. It seems to me that those who clam the Nazis were “demonized” have failed to learn their history or have chosen to ignore it for ideological reasons – like our boneheaded friend,”Vitaly” here.

Here’s part of Hannan’s mealy-mouthed protest:

Now there’s a new variant of the phenomenon: judging a blog by its comment thread. Again, the absurdity should be obvious. Bloggers are not responsible for what happens after they have posted.

Here’s a tip, Danny: if you don’t want to attract the comments of nutters, then don’t write blogs that appeal to them. You could, of course, challenge such views but instead, you’d rather blame it on ‘trolls’ than accept responsibility.

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Filed under Media, Telegraph Comment of the Week, Tory press