Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Abbott uses society’s vulnerable as means to an ideological end

2 May

It seems to me that it’s a core conservative tradition to use  the most vulnerable people in society as a means to an ideological end. There are endless current examples of this: threats to pensions, restricted access to Newstart for unemployed youth, destruction of universal healthcare, proposed reduction of the minimum wage and a cap on that wage for the next ten years, all part of the Commission of Audit’s recommendations to the Abbott government prior to its first budget in a couple of weeks.

None of these measures will affect anyone as disastrously as they will affect the poor, and while middle class journalists  on a good wage, some of whom are Abbott’s most vocal supporters,  scream like stuck pigs about the flagged “debt levy” on incomes over $80,000, nobody much is pointing out the ideologically-based, systematic crippling of the lives of those who struggle hardest to keep poverty from their doors.

Conservatives seem to hold the ideological position that poverty is a moral failing, for which the individual is solely accountable, and if that individual has been incapable of taking care of her or himself and his or her family, they’ve no one to blame but themselves. If they do sink into a morass of underprivileged misery then they ought to be able to find ways to redeem themselves. If they don’t manage this feat, they obviously only deserve what little they get, and the conservative will do his or her best to take even that away.

This unexamined belief that the less financially fortunate are immoral and a drain on the prudent is, it seems, impossible to eradicate from the consciousness of the privileged and entitled, who lack any ability to comprehend context, and the myriad forces at work in society that affect the course of a life. This, coupled with the conservatives’ traditional love of a good clichéd stereotype, works to reinforce their sense of entitlement, and their contempt for anyone less blessed than are they.

The conservative disregard, some may even allege contempt,  for those other than (lesser than) themselves, allows them to use rational agents as a means to an end, contradicting the Kantian position that to use others as a means, and not an end in themselves, is to flout the fundamental principle of morality.  Perhaps this is nowhere as starkly obvious as in the current and previous governments’ treatment of asylum seekers. Both major political parties have, for many years now, used boat arrivals as a means to achieve political success, and not as rational agents deserving of consideration as ends in themselves. In this sense, the ALP finds itself on the same side as conservative politicians, something that should chill the heart of any ALP supporter.

There is no point in decrying the lack of humanity and compassion in conservative ideology. Both qualities are regarded as belonging to the bleeding hearts of the left, hindrances to freedom, obstacles to profit. So we find ourselves in the bizarre position of having a Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, who recently claimed that McDonalds has “human rights to own property” and that “spending” is an expression of free speech.

It’s a dangerous situation when a Commissioner for Human Rights equates the ability to spend with the right to freedom of any kind, including speech.

It makes no sense to take any measures that prevent or discourage people from taking care of their health, such as co-payments for doctor visits for example. This will increase the pressure on accident and emergency departments, already stretched beyond their means, and result in people becoming chronically ill, at much greater expense to the taxpayer.

It makes no sense to continue to spend billions of dollars incarcerating a few thousand asylum seekers, for example, when there are many less expensive options  such as allowing refugees to live in, work, and contribute to the community.

It makes no sense to waste billions on a paid parental leave system when the money could be much better invested in increased child care for parents who want to work, but find it difficult to access adequate care for their offspring. Good child care is also an investment in our future: children can benefit enormously from early education and socialisation, a child care centre doesn’t simply “mind” them, it educates them.

However, none of the above is of any consequence to a political party driven by ideology. Humans are, to such a party, a means to an ideological end, not an end in themselves. Obviously, it is much easier to treat the less financially blessed as a means to an end, and if you already believe poverty and disadvantage to be  indicators of lack of morality and worth, why would you care anyway?

You may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but there is something very dark about the Abbott government’s willingness to impose harsh circumstances on those already doing without in this wealthy country. It is easy, Mr Abbott, to make life more difficult for those without the power to protest. It is more of a challenge to work towards an equitable society based not on ideology, but common sense, and respect for everyone’s humanity.

Note: It’s with my tongue firmly in my cheek that I use this conservative image of Jesus.

conservative-re-write-conservative-values-politics-1361875456

Jenny Craig stoush: conference sponsor responds to Sheep

29 Mar

Dannielle Miller, Random House Image

Dannielle Miller, educator, author, business woman, children’s advocate and co-founder of Enlightened Education, left the following comments on yesterday’s article on the Jenny Craig situation.

To provide some background that may assist as things do seem somewhat confused here.As an educator and sponsor of the Alliance Conference, I initially raised concern over having the leader of a diet industry speak at a conference for leaders of girls’ schools with a polite email, and when my concerns did not seem to be understood, I sent the Alliance a more detailed letter of concern which you may read at this link:http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org/2012/03/22/alliance-of-girls-school-conference-2012-say-no-to-diets/.I also decided to withdraw my company’s sponsorship of the conference.Interestingly, in the context of freedom of speech, I was then told I by the Alliance that I was “unprofessional” for raising my concerns publicly on my blog and that this reflected “poorly” on me. Censorship indeed.

Rest assured many health practitioners did then also send polite letters and make polite phone calls. It is my understanding it was only after Lydia Jade Turner’s polite phone call was dismissed ( Ms Turner was claims she was told the matter would not be discussed and she was then hung up on by the Executive of the Alliance) that as a last resort an on-line petition was created.

I don’t think that Jenny Craig, part of the global giant Nestle, with their multi-million dollar marketing budget, will struggle to find an audience for their messages, do you? I admire individuals who also stand by their beliefs and chose to speak up against BIg Diet Inc. Why must they be told they cannot speak up? Isn’t belittling their genuine concern censorship too? Wasn’t the whole point of protests like Occupy to encourage people to stop being complacent sheep and to be active?

I decided I would sign the on-line petition too but I will admit I did wrestle with some of the concerns you are expressing here before doing so as I agree calling on speakers to be banned can be a slippery slope. I was asked to justify my stance in light of freedom of speech on my blog:

“Yeah, it’s really enlightened to try and ban someone because you don’t like the company they work for.
Is that what you preach to the people you claim to be helping – if you don’t like their views shut them down.
You should rename your outfit as the Unelightened Thought Police.”

After considering this carefully, for it raises a valid point, I came up with the following:

“I will state that I have never aimed at banning Amy Smith or Jenny Craig. I understand that Jenny Craig is a legitimate business and have made it clear I appreciate Ms Smith is a highly accomplished woman. My letter (in link above) expresses my concern over the selection of the leader of a diet company being selected as a speaker at a conference for leaders of girls’ education.

As an educator, author, media commentator, and advocate for girls I felt I had a professional responsibility to voice my concerns ( which may I add was not easy to do given the Alliance is made up of women I deeply respect) . As a friend to many young women struggling with eating disorders, and a mother to two young girls, I also felt compelled to speak my truth. Under freedom of speech, I also have the right to do this. As a sponsor of this event, I also have the right to withdraw my funding if I do not wish to see my funds spent spent legitimizing the diet industry in this way.

A colleague, Nina Funnell, offered me feedback which I think also raises a valid point: “If a respected expert in the field such as yourself can’t offer feedback and raise concerns without risking attack how on earth can girls- who often feel disenfranchised and powerless- be expected (let alone encouraged) to stand up for the things they believe in. The teenage girl in me is cheering you on.” Teen girls have incredibly radars for inauthenticity. I would feel quite the hypocrite talking to them about standing up for what they believe in if I didn’t model that I have the courage of my convictions.

In terms of what Enlighten (my company) teaches young women I can assure you we do not preach anything, nor would we ever act as thought police. Our company’s mission statement makes this clear: “ Enlighten encourages girls to reach their own conclusions 
and to know their own minds. Rather than telling girls what to do, we focus on informing, inspiring and empowering them. We
 encourage girls to be discerning consumers and critical thinkers and to find their own voice and power in a complex world.” Education is the key. In fact, in much of my writing on young women I warn of policing and patronizing.

In all honestly, based on the Alliance’s response to the expressions of concern they have received to date, I do not think they will reconsider their choice of speaker. However, my goal in making my concerns public was to illicit vital conversations on girls and dieting and body image. This issue has absolutely achieved this.

This morning a teacher at a girls’ school posed a query of what girls in schools learning about freedom of speech might make of the protests. I encouraged him to get his students to read widely from both perspectives and debate the issue. Debates like this, that will now begin happening in our classrooms, also are an absolute win.”

May I also add Jennifer that there are surely plenty of other successful business woman out there who could be asked to speak – women who do not have their current success linked to the diet industry, an industry that relies on generating body dissatisfaction? Keep in mind that body image angst is a HUGE issue for young women. If Ms Smith still worked at Honda, I would be the first to roll out the red carpet for her. If she was to speak at a business summit, I may well attend to hear her. But mixing Diet Inc and girl’s education in the current climate of body image angst and disordered eating patterns simply cannot be helpful.Anyway, great to see discussion happening.

Free speech from the coal face: Update

14 Mar

Update: I’ve just been made aware of yet another article alleging I lied about Reist’s religious affiliations, and that a bullying campaign of lies is being conducted against her on the Internet.

The fact that there is a comprehensive record of her involvements with a variety of conservative Christian groups, based almost entirely on their own literature and available both on line and in libraries, makes these accusations and the people who make them look very dishonest or gullible, to say the least.

Along with the conservative Baptist group the Salt Shakers, Reist was also involved with the Endeavour Forum, formerly Women Who Want to be Women. The motto of this organisation, run by Babette Francis, is  “A feminist is an evolutionary anachronism, a Darwinian blind alley.” These people are seriously anti feminist and anti choice. Their stated aim is to “outlaw abortion.”  Their connection with Reist is   confirmed in their literature.

If Reist has changed her views and moved away from these groups and their philosophies, why not simply say so? Denying any connection with them is absurd – the sourced and referenced evidence is available for anyone to see.  Are Reist and her supporters claiming all these religious groups have falsified their records in a conspiracy to discredit her?

Most of us understand that people can change their views and their affiliations. What is more difficult to understand is why anyone would attempt to deny those affiliations, and co-opt others into publicly supporting them in that denial to the extent that they put their own reputations on the line when it is apparent  that the affiliations existed.

As I’ve said before, there are areas of Reist’s work that I agree with in part, and I applaud her determination to bring these to public awareness, even though I don’t always agree with her methods. It seems to me that her determination to deny her past is only doing Reist and her cause harm, and quite frankly, I can’t see the point of it. Suing me isn’t going to make her history go away.

We all change allegiances about something during the course of our lives. It’s no great offense. But it becomes a problem if we deny the allegiances ever existed, and that anyone who states otherwise is a liar.

The more Reist and her supporters persist with this farce, the less credible they appear. No doubt Reist’s supporters do their own work well, so why risk their hard-earned reputations?

While I don’t doubt Reist has been the recipient of unsavoury commentary, this is a separate issue, and has nothing to do with me. I have used reliable sources, the religious groups themselves in most instances, and I have not abused Reist. So it might be time to leave me out of the claims of bullying, lies and on line abuse.

This may sound bizarre, but when I learned that I can’t be forced by the law to apologise and retract my opinions about Melinda Tankard Reist, I experienced the most profound relief. She can still bankrupt me. But she cannot make me lie.

This caused me to consider what it means to take away someone’s right to speak freely, and the conditions under which it might be justified. There are not many, I concluded. I will defer to Russell Blackwell on what these might be.

I don’t know what it does to someone to be forced into publicly professing a position they do not hold, out of fear that otherwise something dreadful will happen to them. It sickens me to think about it. I also wonder what could be the satisfaction in wresting a false apology from an opponent, in the full knowledge that they don’t mean it and have only proffered it to avoid the trouble you’ve threatened them with if they don’t comply.

Impasses caused by wildly differing opinions and interpretations are not unusual. Civilised people must find ways to deal with them that don’t require one party to compromise themselves out of fear.

In the weeks since I received the defamation threat, I’ve read some dreadful things about myself, some written by people one would expect to know better, some written by people who are pitifully uniformed, some downright threats such as the one that advised me to dig my own grave. I’ve been hurt, angered, saddened and disgusted. I’ve also taken on board what seemed to me like intelligent critical commentary, and I’ve learned from it.

Much as I would like to be able to silence those whose observations have caused me distress and even anxiety, I can’t, and I’ve had to find other ways of dealing with my discomfort. It’s called standing on your own two feet, and my grandmother taught me all about it. Threatening legal action is the easy way out. Finding the resources within yourself to deal with what somebody says about you that you hate them saying is far more challenging.

What I’ve also learned is that determining what causes “harm” is complex. For example, many things that have been written about me leave me entirely unaffected, while some cut me right to the heart. This in itself is an opportunity for learning. What is it about certain attacks that hurt so badly while others, that someone else might find intolerable, are irrelevant?

The answer of course lies in the individual psyche. In psycho babble terms, some attacks push buttons and the buttons they push are to do with personal history. Whenever my buttons are pushed, I’m compelled to ask why, and to track down the origins of the sensitivities. The good thing about this is once I’ve identified them I can defuse them, if only to the degree that when I next bristle I know why. This gives me better control over myself and my reactions, rather than yielding up that control to those who want to make me squirm and will be gratified if I do. It’s a long process. I expect to be in it for the rest of my life.

If I can get the law to just shut everybody up what have I gained? In my terms, nothing, and in the end one can only live by one’s own lights, no matter how bizarre they may seem to someone else. Demanding the law take care of something one can quite easily address oneself is like running to a parent when somebody’s said something mean. It’s fine for a certain phase of childhood, but after that it’s sad.

The moneyed (because it is only the moneyed who can embark on these actions, they are inaccessible to those without ample funds) who cannot deal with feeling offended, misrepresented, badly done by, wrongly described, wrongly judged, affronted, and so on ought not to be able to turn to the law in an attempt to resolve their injured feelings. There aren’t many of us who get through life without suffering these indignities, especially if we have any kind of public profile. To believe that we have the right to deny free speech to anyone as revenge for injured feelings is narcissistic overkill.  “You hurt me and I now have the right to destroy you, because I can afford to destroy you.” Or ” You hurt me and I will make you take it back by threatening to destroy you, because I have the money to do that.”

Mmmm. Wouldn’t a grown up just handle it?

I love free speech. I don’t love it blindly, and there are circumstances in which the speaker must be held legally accountable for his or her speech.I would like to imagine that anyone who is considering defamation action thinks deeply about what they are doing because what is certain is that one threatened action is like a pebble cast into a pond – the ripples are endless, and people not immediately involved are also silenced or restricted in their speech, out of fear. I would not like to be responsible for casting such a pebble without very good reason.

I can’t imagine a world in which everyone is always nice and inoffensive. It isn’t one of my dreams. What I do imagine is a world in which people stand strongly on their own two feet, because they’ve been taught how to do that. A world in which offense is dealt with by drawing on inner resources, because people have been taught from childhood how to develop the strength and character do that. A world in which something as precious as freedom of speech is not threatened by the disgruntled wealthy, but where there are legal safeguards for when it is dangerously abused.

Helen Pringle’s hypocrisy

12 Mar

For the second time in  matter of days, Helen Pringle has published an article in which she claims I did not get my facts right and used “unprincipled reasoning”on which to base my January 10 post on Melinda Tankard Reist.

This is in spite of me commenting on the first publication, and correcting her  misinformation.

At this point, were I Tankard Reist, I would call in the lawyers to threaten Ms Pringle with defamation action unless she withdrew her claims, apologised, and paid me money. Pringle knows, however, that I don’t believe in such action as a means to resolving anything, and she feels quite safe to continue making false claims, in the full knowledge that they are false.

Neither does Pringle disclose that she is a contributing author to Tankard Reist’s latest book. In fact she explains nothing, her reference to me being as follows:

[Leslie] Cannold and others like Jennifer Wilson can see these considerations clearly in their own case, and in cases to which they are (rightly) sympathetic, such as that of the Bolt complainants. But they seem unable to take a stand based on principle in regard to those with whom they are not in sympathy. Unprincipled reasoning like this about freedom of speech is rife in what passes for public debate in Australia.

So in an article entirely about freedom of speech, Pringle neglects to advise her readers that I am being threatened with defamation by her colleague, Tankard Reist, in an attempt to silence my freedom of speech. Instead she describes me as “unprincipled”, offering no context at all for that accusation and no links to any context either so that her readers may evaluate the situation for themselves.

Had Pringle bothered to check her facts, she would have discovered that the sources on which I based my piece of Jan 10 2012 are fully referenced.

I can think of little less principled than continuing to publicly disseminate information after being made aware of its falsity. Pringle has further lowered the tone of public debate in this country .

Her article concludes:

So let’s have vibrant debate and disagreement about exercises of speech in our polity and our culture. And let’s have it in a context marked out by considerations about the inviolability of the person…

That is the inviolability of all persons, isn’t it? Including those with whom Pringle  is not in sympathy?

Pilger’s “The War You Don’t See” censored in the US

14 Jun
John Pilger NS head shot

Image via Wikipedia

(Thanks to PW for telling me about this.)

John Pilger‘s 2010 documentary The War You Don’t See has been banned from a planned screening at the US Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe.

The film is an investigation into the media’s role in war; the ethics of “embedded” journalism, and the rise of the electronic battlefield. Pilger investigates the media’s role in promoting government propaganda such as the weapons of mass destructions claims used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The Lannan Foundation is a private family foundation dedicated to financially supporting projects that encourage freedom of inquiry, imagination and expression. Pilger was due to attend the screening of his doco in Santa Fe, and then to speak on US foreign policy, censorship and free speech. He was notified that his film screening and his appearance had been cancelled only 48 hours before the event, and has been given no explanation by the foundation as to why this decision was taken.

Speculation round the blogosphere is that the doco is far too close to the bone, embarrassing the US and other governments. However the Lannan Foundation has not been squeamish in supporting dissenting voices in the past, and they are renowned for their support of liberal causes.

Those who would repress and censor debate always fail to realize that in the West this is impossible. We have the Internet and we have bloggers. Any attempts to silence only make everybody more noisy. I understand half of Pilger’s doco has appeared on YouTube since the Santa Fe ban.

This action has tarnished the Lannan Foundation, and made something of a mockery of their claims to support freedom of inquiry. One can only speculate on the kind of pressure and the sources of that pressure, that have caused this extremely wealthy private organisation to take this action.

It’s only outcome will probably be to arouse much wider interest in the film, and further  aggravate anyone who cares about free speech, like bloggers, who will chatter on about it just like this.

All power to the blog!

What gay activists and Melinda Tankard Reist have in common

7 Feb

 

 

 

 

 

Bearman via flickr

 

Whether it’s the petition by Christian activist for women and girls Melinda Tankard Reist, aimed at banning rapper KanYe West’s latest video, or the efforts by some gay rights activists to close down the e-journal On Line Opinion, the price of freedom of speech and expression for those who care about it certainly is eternal vigilance.

The author of the offending OLO article expressing anti gay marriage views, (some of them written by gays) is Bill Muehlenberg, spokesman for the Family Council of Victoira, and a religious ethicist.

Some gay activists, enraged at his article and subsequent forum commentary, have successfully lobbied the ANZ bank and IBM to withdraw advertising from OLO, leaving the popular blog about politics and society in a critical financial state.

Tough if you’ve loved reading and writing for OLO,folks. Some gay activists are trying to take it away from you. Rather than addressing the commentary that offends them, they’re just pulling the plug on the whole deal, and who cares if anybody else suffers, and if many other serious issues don’t have a airing in the future?

And this regardless of the fact that there are more articles in OLO that support their position than against (including two written by me), and that the forums are also full of supportive commentary that confronts the prejudices and ignorance of discriminatory comments.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

These two apparently disparate causes, “family “values and pro gay marriage,  have at least one thing in common: they want to silence those who disagree with them, and they want to ban that with which they disagree.

They want to tell all the other adults on the planet what it’s acceptable for them to read, watch, discuss and write about. They want you to see everything through their eyes, that is, if they tell you something is offensive, you have to share their perception. Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t seem that way to you. Or even if it does seem that way and you don’t choose censorship as a means of addressing the offense.

You don’t have a choice anymore, because they’ve made it for you.

This is going to be difficult for humanity. The perceptions of a Melinda Tankard Reist and the perceptions of pro gay marriage activists are not always in sync.

The ANZ bank has apparently capitulated to the threat of the removal of the pink dollar from their business, as has IBM.

I doubt that the petition against KanYe West will have the same success. I don’t see the music industry capitulating anytime soon. I’m glad about that, because no matter what I think of his music video, I don’t have the right to tell other adults they can’t watch it.

If you should feel moved to express your opinion to the ANZ bank, here is the link to their complaints form. You don’t have to be a customer.http://www.anz.com/common/forms/default.asp?intID=174

What is always under threat is freedom of speech and expression. It comes at times from the most unexpected quarters. Who would have foreseen this attack on OLO?

Is this a rite of passage for some gay activists? They now have the economic power and influence to bring about the financial destruction of one of the most popular online journals in this country? Does this mean the marginalized  have arrived at the centre?

What better way to demonstrate their arrival. Censorship. A tool of the hegemony.

Oh, brave new world, that has such people in it!

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