Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Why I don’t have to be offended by the same things as somebody else

29 Jun

 

offending people

 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) classification and diagnostic tool. In the United States the DSM serves as a universal authority for psychiatric diagnosis.

A friend of mine sent me a public tweet listing the DSM 5 criteria for one of the borderline personality disorders, with the wry observation that Tony Abbott’s public behaviours seemed to fulfil them all.

I thought this was pretty good on several levels, the most imaginative being that I know both my friend and I regard the DSM 5 as a frightful load of bollocks, and using its criteria to categorize Abbott, whom we also think of as a frightful load of bollocks, made a satisfying little irony.

However. Within hours we were set upon by two blokes who stridently accused us of using mental illness as a political tool against an opponent, and in so doing, being unbelievably disregarding of other people’s pain. One of them was a psych student. The other said we had no right diagnosing Abbott when we hadn’t ever treated him. Which is true, of course, except that my friend wasn’t diagnosing Abbott, she was pointing out the self-evident truth that the DSM 5 criteria bore a striking resemblance to Abbott’s way of being in the world, a way of being we can all daily, even sadly hourly, observe.

I am very sorry that I have never treated Abbott. I would give my right arm to treat Abbott, and to what, I will not, at this point, say.

I should say here that both my friend and I have our battles with mental ill-health, and we both feel comfortable with finding certain characteristics in the DSM 5 that seem to scream at us: Abbott. I do not feel using such criteria to describe Abbott is a personal insult to my mental health or lack thereof. That everyone will not share my view is inevitable, as I pointed out to the angry blokes, and I see no reason why they should. However, I insisted, I do have the right to express a differing opinion without incurring abuse, as do they.

What I understood afresh after the increasingly abusive exchanges we were treated to on Twitter, is that there is apparently an expectation that everyone with, say, a mental illness, will feel the same as everyone else with a mental illness, react to stimuli in the same manner, be offended by the same things, and that if you don’t you either aren’t really suffering mental illness, or you are a traitor who cares nothing for the suffering of others. In this mindset, there appears to be little distinction between mental illnesses: they’re all the same, apparently.

This, to my mind, is offensive. The assumption that there is a stereotypical mentally ill person offends me profoundly.

It doesn’t matter to which situation this totalitarian perspective is applied. I’ve heard it used about survivors of child sexual abuse, and  survivors of all kinds of trauma. If this has happened to you, you will think, feel, and behave in these ways. At its source, it is a typical right-wing nut job argument, and Tony Abbott employs it better than anyone: if you don’t think like we do you aren’t one of us, ergo you are bad because we are good.

The totalitarian mind cannot bear variation: what offends it must offend everyone.

Defending against the mindless stupidity of this argument is what got me embroiled in the Twitter fight in the first place: one cannot, in this zeitgeist, pass up any opportunity to take on these hive minds who believe that if you do not think as they do, you are a very bad person in urgent need of re-education. These minds turn up in the most unexpected of places: they are as common amongst the so-called Left as they are amongst the Right. They are why the victorious revolutionaries always become the bourgeoisie.

While there are definitely characteristics common to certain human experiences, reactions to those experiences are as individual as the human beings involved in them. Even within the individual reactions to trauma will change over time, and what brings us to our knees initially will, hopefully, lose much of its force and its ability to hurt.

Everyone has, to my mind, the inviolable right to deal with their mental illness, or trauma, or physical illness in ways that best suit them, within the parameters of everyone’s safety. So I sat in a cafe with my friend who’d just lost a testicle to cancer and we told one another cancer jokes someone else might very well find extremely offensive: does this mean we can’t tell them, even though for us, black humour is a central part of how we cope with our circumstances?

I understand you are offended by my friend’s tweet, I told one of the angry blokes. I am not offended. I do not have to be offended to please you. Are you intending to attempt to bully me into pretending offence, because I will not do that. I have the right to not feel offended. I have the right to be true to what I feel, and I do not feel offence.  Would you like to shoot me, because this is where the continuum you are on eventually leads.

We have a terrifyingly secretive government, and a useless opposition. We are, as citizens, being controlled and silenced to a degree many of us have never before experienced. Our freedoms are being eroded, bit by little bit. There is no freedom without the freedom to offend. There is no freedom without the freedom to decide what is offensive to you, and what is not.  I can imagine a future in which if we are not overtly expressing offence at circumstances the government decrees we must find offensive, we could well find ourselves in all kinds of trouble.

There is no I in team, yet without I, the team is nothing more than a herd.

 

 

The freedom to offend

13 May

 Freedom of Expression

 

This morning I’m thinking about Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson’s infamous “Occupy Melbourne” tweet; this piece I wrote about Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s tyrannical demand that public servants “dob in” workmates they suspect of speaking ill of the government, and the fantasy of the “freedom to be heard.”

Wilson’s Timsplain on the “civilising” and “regulating” goals of curbing freedom of speech, specifically in employment contracts, can be read here.

The tweet:

@timwilsoncomau Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons

While sending in water cannons certainly serves to “regulate” behaviour, it is not in itself a civilised reaction to citizens exercising their right to speak freely about the principles and actions of governments. It still disturbs me to know that the Australian Commissioner for Freedom advocates state violence to suppress what he regards as “time-wasting” dissent, and considers such action “civilised.”

There is no such thing as the freedom to be heard. It’s impossible to make someone hear if he or she doesn’t wish to hear: they may give all the appearance of listening, but that doesn’t mean they’re hearing. It’s part of the vulnerability of being human that we can’t make anyone hear us, we can only hope that the other will care enough to bother.

Exercising the freedom not to hear is not a license to forcibly silence, whether by the use of water cannon or by implementing laws designed to protect those who don’t want to hear. For example, if Mr Wilson doesn’t want to hear protestors he doesn’t have to: he can take an alternative route, turn up his iPod, ignore news reports, in short, he can take responsibility for protecting himself from what he doesn’t want to hear, rather than depending on the state to do it for him.

While there is no right to freedom to be heard, there is no right not to be offended either. The increasing demand for the state to protect individuals from what is regarded as “offensive” across the entire spectrum of human behaviours is alarming, and crippling. It is paradoxical that conservative politicians and public figures make much of their desire for “small government,” while simultaneously seeking to prescribe state enforced restrictions on a wide range of attitudes and behaviours in their attempt to establish a society in which no one behaves in a manner determined by them to be “offensive.” To “offend” someone has become a significant, well, offence.

It goes without saying, one imagines, that to commit any crime against another is inherently offensive, and our laws already have crimes covered. Offence is subjective: I am offended by Mr Wilson’s use of social media to advocate state violence against protestors, however, even if I wanted to, I have no means available to me to turn the water cannon on him because he does not have the freedom to be heard. I can ignore him. Block him on social media. Complain about him on my blog. In other words, take responsibility for regulating and civilising my own world without calling upon the state to do it for me.

The only citizens the state will protect from “offence” are those with whom it is in agreement. All others it will seek to silence, one way or another. Even in a liberal democracy such as ours, the state will and does seek to silence dissent. It is in the nature of political power that those who have it seek to retain it, by any means available. The courts are hog-tied by whatever legislation the government of the day manages to implement.

For an insight into this demand for protection from the “offensive” on a popular cultural level, it’s worth reading Helen Razer’s piece on how difficult it is to be a “bad girl,” and the effort now required if one is to be at all transgressive, and why.

Transgression is impossible without causing offence. Transgression is by its very nature offensive to someone. A society that punishes what it considers offensive, making the offensive a crime in itself, is a society in which transgression of all kinds  is increasingly curtailed and silenced. The current dearth of satirical political comment in this country is but one example of this curtailing of transgression on the grounds that it is “offensive” and, as Mr Wilson would have it, uncivilised.

There is no human right that promises the freedom not to be offended. It is to say the least extremely unfortunate that we have in this country a Commissioner for Freedom who advocates turning water cannon on those who offend him. The protestors did not attack him. They did not threaten him. They merely spoke what he did not wish to hear. If we are entering or have entered a period in which another’s free speech is just cause for advocating state violence in order to silence them, we are in very dangerous waters indeed.

(I just looked out of my bedroom window to see snow falling. Ah.)

 

 

The arbiters of taste: who will control society?

14 Jan

security-vs-liberty

 

In his blog for The Monthly on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Mungo McCallum concludes his Readers’ Digest argument that laughter is the best medicine by observing that even those wielding automatic weapons can’t fire them if they’re doubled over with mirth.  “After all,” he writes, “even the most rabid fanatic would find it hard to aim a Kalashnikov while guffawing.”

McCallum’s piece is about the lines that are or should be drawn between satire, humour, and offence, but what he fails to address is who exactly is to determine those limits, and what criteria they are to employ in order to arrive at their judgement.

This is another aspect of the battle for societal control so relentlessly fought by groups such as Collective Shout and individuals such as Melinda Tankard Reist, with whom I have locked horns on more than one occasion. See the Category Defamation Threats on this blog if you want to know just how hard these people will go after you in an effort to shut you up and impose their views.

I know people who find Seinfeld cruel and unfunny. I know others who find The Simpsons offensive to their sacred notions of family. I’ve heard arguments that the HBO series Breaking Bad, in which a regular high school chemistry teacher morphs into a drug lord after learning he has terminal cancer, has led to an epidemic in the manufacturing of methamphetamines. I find McCallum’s line quoted above offensive in its casual dismissal of the profound seriousness of rabid fanaticism. I don’t find it satirical or humorous, and I suspect it could only have been written by someone who has little first-hand knowledge of any kind of terror.

The point is, something will always offend someone. There are those who are outraged because every cliff top in the country is not fenced off to protect us from falling over it and sustaining injury, or death. There are those who want to kill every shark in the ocean because now and then one of them eats someone. There are those who believe being hurt and offended is so great an injury laws can and should be passed to prevent their emotional distress.

There are those who take out their Kalashnikovs because they believe being insulted and offended are justifications for murder. There’s very little that can be done about someone with that particular mindset, and if all other provocations are denied them through censorship of potentially provocative commentary they will still kill, on the spurious grounds that an entire mode of existence is offensive to them and it’s their right to eradicate it.

The fight for the power to wield societal control is constant, and it takes a myriad of forms. In general, our liberal democracy is controlled by the values of the bourgeoisie who are, also in general, obsessed with issues of law and order, affronted by graffiti, entirely precious about their right not to be offended, insulted or otherwise emotionally ruffled, and consumed by notions of decency and what they determine to be appropriate. Look at our politicians if you don’t believe me.

There is no doubt that words can damage. Vilification of any kind causes hurt and damage and destruction. Rather than impose legislation that seeks to prevent and punish the utterance of damaging and destructive words, satirical commentary, unfair criticism, racial and religious abuse, I would prefer that we instead focus our attention and resources on education and remediation. I think this because largely legislation has no effect at all in everyday situations, and in many instances can make resentment against the other, whoever the other happens to be at any particular time, even worse.

In my opinion, legalisation that seeks to control who can say what, when and where is driven by bourgeois desires to exercise social control and create a perceived utopian culture in which proponents of bourgeois ideology feel most “comfortable.” While the bourgeoisie have not yet resorted to firearms with which to impose their vision of the world, they have instead demanded a level of surveillance and state control over language and how it may and may not be used that is astounding.

While I do not agree with Attorney-General George Brandis that everyone has the “right” (whatever “right” means in his context) to be a bigot, it seems to me that legislation attempting to prevent the expression of bigotry is doomed to fail, except in very rare high-profile situations.

The battle for societal control will not be won by silencing. It is a wrong-headed and prejudicial battle in the first place. We cannot, for example, silence the Murdoch press and even if Andrew Bolt came a cropper with his racist views what was gained in the larger sense by his stumble? He hasn’t shut up, he’s just as offensive, if not more so, and he gained an inordinate amount of support and sympathy. In general, his name is remembered as a consequence of those events, and not the names of those vilified and insulted, or the nature of the vilification and insult.

I know from my own experience of being threatened with legal action if I didn’t retract and shut up that it only made me more determined to express views I believed to be worthy of expression and that I had the right to express, because why shouldn’t I? My views were extremely offensive and insulting to some. So what? Theirs were equally offensive and insulting to me. Neither of us should have been silenced, and only one party (not me) had the financial wherewithal to threaten the other with silence or ruin.

What we need to do is think about is what can be done that will actually achieve fundamental change, instead of focusing on window dressing and  band aids that at best do nothing and at worst incite those who are silenced by legislation to even more devious expressions and behaviours.

McCallum is wrong, laughter is certainly not the best medicine when faced with a Kalashnikov, or being otherwise silenced by punitive measures employed by the state at the behest of the hegemonic bourgeoisie.

The best medicine is to resist and refuse efforts to silence, to be subversive, to transgress, to contest, to challenge, to protest, to be civilly disobedient, to refuse to be shut up by those who are “uncomfortable” with certain forms of expression. Your discomfort is not my problem, tell them. It’s yours. I’m sorry you feel it, but there are ways you can deal with it if you have the courage, and silencing me is not one of them.

I laughed my head off, said someone taken hostage by murderous ideologues never.

 

 

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?

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