Friday, 16 December 2011

A Modest Proposal

Before you make that joke you're just itching to make about Christopher Hitchens meeting god, stop for a moment.

I have a modest proposal for you.

If the joke you're about to make would not raise a smile from the man himself, please, keep it to yourself.

There is something awfully repugnant about the idea that, now Christopher is no longer around, it's licence for all the witless to begin spreading around the humourless thoughts in their head that they'd never have gotten away with while he was here.

Christopher Hitchens loved and appreciated humour, even that which he was the butt of. His only stipulation was that it be genuinely funny.

Be true to the man, won't you?

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Truly one of the greatest voices to have contributed to the world has departed it.

Christopher Hitchens died today.

I wrote this blog post about him before I knew he was sick, and I will always refer back to it to remind myself of how it felt to have him on 'our side'.

Thank you, Hitch, for teaching me to notice that which I might have always ignored.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

We need to get a couple of things straight...

Meryl Dorey is back on the scene. For those that do not know, she is the president of the Australian Vaccination Network and, though the name would tell you otherwise, advocates an anti-vaccination position for children. She is, more or less, the Australian Jenny McCarthy.

Left: Dorey.  Right: McCarthy.
See the similarity?
This time, Meryl is coming to the Woodford Folk Festival. You can find good summaries of the issue here and here and here, so I won't repeat them ad infinitum. If you're reading this blog, chances are you agree that Meryl Dorey is a big silly idiot and being allowed to speak at a festival like this poses a danger to public health. Agreed? Good. (Not agreed? Comment section is below. Go nuts!)

I need to mention two things really quickly, because the institution of Free Speech is being bashed about the head with a great big misconception stick and I really think we should set a couple of things straight.

The overwhelming Meryl-Supporting reaction in the comments sections of the blogs tackling this issue has been to express that removing Meryl from the program is tantamount to destroying her right to Free Speech. There are lots of reasons why this is not true.

  • The Woodford Folk Festival is a private function. The concept of free speech means that the government may not dictate what you say or when you say it, provided it is not an incitement. Within the confines of a private enterprise like this, you may tell people exactly what words may issue from their mouths. In the same way you can set a dress code, you can set a speech code. That's the way it works. Clear?
  • Free Speech does not mean that you are entitled to a broadcasting platform. You are free to spread your message however you want to, but nobody is obliged to provide you the means by which you spread it. If Meryl Dorey is entitled to a speaking slot at a major festival then so is literally everybody else. Seeing as they haven't offered me the chance to get up and espouse my ever-controversial and dangerous Ron Is Dumbledore theories, I guess that means they don't have to. And it means they don't have to do it for Meryl Dorey, either.
  • Removing someone from a speaking line up due to overwhelming public outcry is far from a limitation of free speech - it is democratic free speech at its best. The people who wanted Dorey off the program? The way they express this is through the medium of speech, unrestricted by interference. You can't say that Meryl's free speech matters, but the free speech of everyone that wants her gone does not. Once she's off the list of speakers, she's free to voice herself against these people in the same manner that they did. She doesn't need a podium & an appearance fee for it. (Disclaimer: I do not know if Meryl Dorey is going to recieve an appearance fee).

And that is the end of the first thing. If Woodford decided to remove Meryl Dorey from their program, it wouldn't be a violation of free speech. Get it? Got it? Good.

Now, the next thing...

Skeptics, rationalists, parents and all-round good people have been on this. I mean, I have considered making blog posts about it but...did you read those ones I linked to? What could I possibly add? A 900-plus comment thread over at Mamma Mia? So many people have got this covered that talking about it seems almost irrelevant at this point.

But there's one tiny little niggling thing I want to take issue with. When (quite correctly) deflecting the issue away from 'Free Speech' and back to Dorey's dangerous claims, I think some of us are being just a tad short sighted. There are two arguments against this being a Free Speech violation that, I think, have the potential to be more harmful than good.

  • Saying that Free Speech is moot in the face of false information - even dangrously false information - isn't quite true. The old "Yelling fire in a crowded theatre" maxim is just so devoid of nuance and foresight that it really is troubling to see it cited so many times by well-intentioned people. Dorey is spreading dangerous misinformation, but the solution to this is the overwhelming application of positive, accurate information - not silencing her altogether. We've already been through why this particular case is not a violation of free speech, but none of us should be willing to admit that, given the chance, we'd have her views edited out of the spectrum.

    You can yell fire in a crowded theatre when there is none. Seriously, you can - but people are not going to like it. And when the day comes that there's a real fire, little boy who cried wolf, you're fucked. But consider: if you're going to outlaw yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre, what happens when there actually is a fire and the person who sees it is so terrified of a false alarm that he stays quiet? It's not the right road to go down. Meryl can keep yelling fire all she likes. It's up to us to say, even louder, 'No, actually, there isn't.'
  •  Many people have made a point of the fact that Australia has no bill of rights and, hence, no enshrined right to freedom of speech. Quite correct. But my goodness, why on Earth are we making a fuss about that? We have the implied right to free speech and, given our democratic state, I rather fancy that it is a right that we can claim despite its literal absence. I should like to think that, were we to find an instance of the government attempting to silence dissent against the principles of free speech, that we would all be outraged and offended and take action. If Meryl Dorey - yes, even she - were being forcibly silenced, I'd be compelled to speak out on her behalf about the wrongness of the situation.

    Taking refuge in the fact that there is no enshrined right to free speech in this country is a dangerous thing. Even though it doesn't apply to this situation, I really don't think it's a good idea to keep bringing it up. The day may easily come that all of us are faced with a legitimate infraction on our right to speak freely, only to have some smug anti-vaxxer turn to us and say 'Oh, but, there's no right to free speech in this country - you said so!'. Don't let it happen. Stop using this one as an answer to people who have free speech concerns. It helps nobody - least of all internet bloggers, commenters and writers.

That's all! Sorry if I was long winded and/or incoherent.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this pans out. I'll post updates here, but they'll likely just be links to people who know better. Until then!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Free Speech: A Boxing Ring, not a Shooting Gallery

This is a re-post of an entry I made in a different blog. I'm posting it here for reference purposes.

Okay, maybe if I say this often enough in enough comments sections of enough blogs and newspapers, it might stick.

A quick precis of the situation I’m referring to: Jim Wallace of the ACL posted some comments on twitter about ANZAC day. He referred to the idea that ANZACs didn’t fight for muslims or gay marriage, asserted this as a fact, and then apologised for ‘the timing’ of what he’d said, claiming he didn’t mean to ‘demean ANZAC day’.

Outrage was swift. Which is great. It came from many quarters, including Christian quarters, which is also great. But where I run into a problem is with the defenders of Mr Wallace claiming something along the lines of the following:

‘Whatever happened to free speech?’

Oh my. Oh my, oh my. Please, follow the jump if you’d like to hear me lecturing on exactly why this is the most juvenile and uneducated argument anyone can make in any argument anywhere, ever.

Bill Muehlenberg made a post about how Political Correctness is a free speech issue. Over here on Chrys’s Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear post, you can see a collection of comments opining, “Oh my! What’s this? Jim expresses his opinion and is pilloried for it? What ever happened to FREE SPEECH? Only exists for some, it seems!”

I see where they are getting confused. They are mixing up a free market of ideas and an exchange of free speech with cowardice.

You see, offering your opinion is easy. Anyone can do that. In this modern day, I have offered my opinion on the subject of Jim Wallace of the ACL on about five different platforms. Can I stress that enough? It’s so easy that literally anybody can do it multiple times in an hour.

What is difficult - what is worthwhile, brave and admirable - is defending your opinion once offered.



 [kou-er-dis] –noun lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.

If you’re willing to face opposition to your point of view, then you are worthy of having it in the first place. Once some opposition is offered, the test of cowardice comes from your willingness to stand by and defend it on its own terms in the face of (yes, sometimes overwhelming) opposition.

So when I see comments that demand ‘whatever happened to free speech?’ crop up in relation to something like Jim Wallace’s disgraceful tweets, I am left dumbfounded. What happened to it?? We are exercising it right now, is what happened to it!

Freedom of Speech is a boxing ring, not a shooting gallery. You trade blows, you give and take. You do not sidle in, camouflaged, take pot shots at sitting targets, and then disappear to the pub. Either you stand ready to defend yourself, or you get immediately knocked out. If that doesn’t suit you, can I suggest that you really shouldn’t be advocating a free speech position.

What these people are trying to do has nothing to do with free speech. They are trying to use free speech like a shield from negative criticism. They seem to be labouring under the impression that if someone disagrees with an opinion, they must remain respectfully silent, which is categorically untrue. What these people are trying to do is play a coward’s game, whereby they can take pot shots at sitting targets free from return fire.

Your opinion is the most precious thing, even if you are Jim Wallace. But you cannot simply declare that it is what it is, and anyone who disagrees is being a big meanie who is trying to bully you. Grow up. By all means, throw down the gauntlet of your opinion! But don’t try to tell me that you won’t get into the ring because there’s other people in there. Those are the words of a coward.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Growing Up Straight v. Growing Up Gay: The Subtle Differences.

People have wondered aloud to me in the past: just how is being gay any different to being straight these days, anyway? Is there any need for all of this activism and whatnot that seems to be going on quite a bit? It's cutting in to the real news, you know, and I desperately want to hear more about what the Kardashians are up to.

Well, perhaps not quite in those words. But there are more than a few people out there who really aren't aware of the subtle little things that make life a bit more bizarre for the average gay man or woman. I'm going to list a few differences here from the point of view of a male because I happen to be one.

What your typical heterosexual is told by his parents about the topic:

Always practice safe sex, son. You might get a girl pregnant and have to pay child support. Or worse, raise it.
What your typical homosexual is told:

Always practice safe sex, son. Or you will die of AIDS.

Spot the difference? Unprotected sex is financial suicide for a straight guy. For a gay guy, it is literally suicide.

Here is a young heterosexual couple showing the level of caution about their open displays of affection that they have been taught by society:

"I hope everyone is watching this so that they can see we are totally in love"

A homosexual couple demonstrating same:

"I sure hope nobody bashes us for this"

Affection awareness is learned in early life and never really overcome for many people. Everything from holding hands upward requires a complete situational analysis before being approved by both parties to said affection.

A heterosexual boy approaches a girl in a bar because he finds her attractive. She reacts in the worst possible way:

I cripple your ego with my derisive laughter!

A gay boy tries the same thing with a man he finds attractive. He reacts in the worst possible way:

I cripple you, physically, with violence!

Pick-Up Risk is directly proportional to the establishment you're in and sounds far more promiscuous than it actually is. I'm not talking about trying to crack on to everyone you see, I'm simply talking about tentatively asking someone on a date.Taking a chance on asking out someone you like, in high school, in a bar, at university, in your workplace, anywhere, comes with the risk of a black eye.

This is the one they don't really tell you about as you're going through all the harder stuff mentioned above, but there's something you're getting yourself in to by virtue of the fact that you're gay. You now have a second job.

It looks a little like this:

And this:

And this:

Yes, you now have to work hard to justify yourself to a great many people. It might not be a problem, except that these people are the ones who are in charge of your life. They are government people, and corporate people, and higher-up religious people, and they like things just how they are. Slowly, one begins to realise that things are not right, and need to change. You take up the keyboard, and the placard, and the pen, and you write blogs, you protest, and you sign petitions. All in the hope that, maybe, the people that come after you won't have to do those things.

Being gay is not hard, it is just different. All of the things mentioned here are nobody's fault, per se. They're just things that we have to learn to live with that most other people do not. Changes are happening and need to happen. It's not a fantastic idea, for example, to teach parents that their gay children might as well be playing russian roulette every time they have sex. It's a sad indictment that gay couples feel the need to hide displays of affection above and beyond that which other couples do. It's an almost inextricable trait of the heterosexual male that he is not used to being hit on, and will react undesirably in some circumstances.

Seeing things from the other side of the fence can help with those changes. Hopefully, this will help people understand that gay activists aren't just making a big deal of things that shouldn't be made a big deal of. 'Near Enough' isn't good enough in this particular case.

Equality will come one day. Until then, it's back to the second job.

Tips for Anti-Equal Marriage campaigners

Dear Anti-Equal Marriage proponents: When you insist on arguing against a position that has the overwhleming high ground from a social justice point of view, not to mention majority support from a population, you begin to sound much like this goat.

It's uncanny, really.

So I've got a few tips for you to make this whole equal marriage debate less of a PR nightmare for everyone involved.

  • Stop referring the 'Gay Agenda' like it's a thing. Literally everyone knows that there is no such thing as a gay agenda. Repeating it a million times will not make it so, it will only make you sound like a crazy person.


  • Stop pretending that you, personally, have no issue with homosexuals, but are just not convinced of one of the following things: (a) it's the best environment to raise children, (b) it's an important issue when compared to other things like the economy, (c) that the end result doesn't justify the huge job of altering the law, and so on and so forth. Because when you do that, you will invariably use the phrase, 'Look, a lot of my friends are gay! I'm not homophobic!'. This is a falsehood. Allow my friend, Mr Rex, to illustrate just how ludicrous this sounds.

I'm not dinnerphobic!

  • You are also not Mrs Lovejoy. Everyone has already thought of the children. The children are fine.
  • Most importantly, please stop repeating the problem back to me when I ask why it can't be changed. The conversation winds up going in circles, and nothing is accomplished. Thusly:

Prime Minister! Why do you not support changing the definition of marriage?

"Because I believe the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman."

Okay, but we are asking if we can change that. Please?

"But the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman, so no, we can't change it."

But why can't we?

"We can't change the definition because the definition is between a man and a woman."

There! A few simple tips that will really help raise the level of discourse from nonsensical bleating to something meaningful and constructive. I hope you've found this guide useful, and that you enjoy your newfound ability to converse with your fellow humans.

I, for one, am looking forward to the brave new world of logical debate and sound reasoning informing just social policy decisions.

I'm also looking forward to this.