Freedom of Expression and Its Discontents

By   /   February 8, 2017  /   33 Comments

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The liberal tradition of responding to the expression of ideas with which you disagree with a reasoned, evidence-based argument in rebuttal no longer seems to fall within either the ideological of intellectual repertoire of today’s left-wingers.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION has long been regarded as the cornerstone of liberty. Indeed, without the ability to speak our minds freely the whole notion of liberty begins to unravel. Freedom of expression is vital in at least one other respect – it helps us to arrive at and recognise the truth. This is important because, as many philosophers and religious leaders have observed, it is the truth that sets us free.

The Left’s relationship with freedom of expression has never been an easy one. Ever since the French Revolution of 1789-93 the desire to maintain the purity of the revolutionary message has weighed-in heavily against those who dared to raise objections concerning the Revolution’s means – if not its ends.

The relaxation of state censorship is the first and most important gift to any revolutionary cause. Historically, the sudden appearance of posters, pamphlets, newspapers and books authored by those whose voices had hitherto been suppressed is always the surest sign that the old order is crumbling. In today’s repressive regimes it is the unfettered use of social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogs; which signals the arrival of the revolutionary moment. Think of the Arab Spring.

In its youth the Revolution hails freedom of expression as sacrosanct. The revolutionaries know that without it the power of the elites cannot be challenged. As the Revolution matures, however, and new power structures begin to replace the old, the criticism and analysis which freedom of expression makes possible seems less and less like an unqualified good. To the new occupants of these new structures, it is the protection and consolidation of the Revolution’s gains that should take priority. There is no surer sign that the Revolution is over than when the new power elite begins to punish people for exercising their right to free speech.

By this analysis it is clear that the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 70s have well-and-truly passed their expiry date. The great provocations of the Hippy era: think of the Broadway musical “Hair”; the proliferation of revolutionary underground comics; the human “Be-Ins” and “Love-Ins”; Ken Kesey’s “Acid tests”; would today be dismissed as “inappropriate”.

Only last week, in Berkeley, the birthplace of the “free speech movement” which touched off the student revolt of the 1960s, the world was treated to the spectacle of furious students doing everything in their power to prevent the Alt-Right provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, from exercising his right to (yep, you guessed it) free speech.

In discussing these sorts of incidents with contemporary leftists, I have been staggered by the consistency of their responses. “What you’ve got to understand, Chris,” they reply, “is that while people have the right to express themselves, they have no right to expect that the things they say will not have consequences.”

Just what those consequences look like can be seen every hour of every day on social media. Relentless incivility; extraordinary personal abuse; the issuing of threats to attack (and even kill) those whose expression is deemed offensive to, or transgressive of, the great revolutionary “truths” of the once “new” social movements; this, sadly, has become the norm on what passes for the “Left” in 2017.

The liberal tradition of responding to the expression of ideas with which you disagree with a reasoned, evidence-based argument in rebuttal no longer seems to fall within either the ideological of intellectual repertoire of today’s left-wingers. The only form of argument they seem capable of deploying is the abusive and circumstantial “Argumentum ad Hominem” – attacking the person rather than his or her ideas.

In his celebrated treatise, “On Liberty”, the nineteenth century English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, states: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

In the ears of far too many contemporary leftists this oft-quoted passage will sound either incomprehensible or offensive. (Mill does, after all, use the sexist noun “mankind” rather than the more appropriate and gender-neutral term, “Humanity”.) To their way of thinking it is entirely right and proper that those who give voice to offensive or hateful opinions should be silenced. If they would rather not endure the consequences of exercising their freedom of expression, then they should STFU.

“Those who defy the self-evident truths of the new order,” thunder its uncompromising defenders, “must endure the consequences – humiliation and pain!”

What tyrant king or totalitarian dictator could possibly disagree?

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  1. David Stone says:

    When people seek to stifle comment or subject a commenter to ridicule or shame, can they be thought of as “left”?
    The left / right identity is very hard to analyse ; I’ve no idea where I am on the spectrum, but I had the thought the other day that might work.
    It’s a game of hide and seek.
    The left is constantly seeking the truth.
    The right is constantly trying to hide it.
    Cheers D J S

  2. Andrea says:

    Oh, Chris.

    It’s not just the left.

    It’s people. Frightened short-fuse people. And, en masse, that equals ‘rabble’.

    Evolution, not revolution. Gently raise the status quo otherwise natural homeostasis will return us to the old ways – or slightly worse.

    Doubt me? Check out the gym memberships in April when the autumn is setting in and the New Year fervour is truly gone. Big effort=big backlash.

    ‘Twas ever so.

    • cagey says:

      True. People no longer engaging in discussion but “you are wrong full stop, no matter what you, or even often the facts, say”. Though I would also say part of freedom of expression is also the abilityto say I don’t like what this guy’s saying” (but I will uphold his right to do so).

    • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell says:

      It is, overwhelmingly, the Left. Labels like “racist” and “Nazi” are applied to people who are neither for the sole purpose of not having to listen to their views.

      • Strypey says:

        Rubbish. Labels like “Stalinist”, “socialist”, “communist”, “watermelon” etc are applied daily by the “right” to ideas that challenge them, so that these ideas can be safely ignored. The lack of respect for dissent has become epidemic in all political circles.

      • Sam Sam says:

        It matters nothing that the left are doing it wrong on many levels because they are justified. We all see the multi solar system of debt and want it gone even if no one really understands it or wants to understand it

      • Priss says:

        No, Gormless, it’s not “freedom of speech” that is being critiqued, it’s what people are saying with it. Freedom of speech is not a free get-out-of-jail card, and my freedom of speech allows me to call someone a racist or sexist pig when they deserve it. And usually they do.

  3. frank says:

    as ever quiet wisdom will be drowned out by the cries of self righteous indignation….human existence is truly baffling.

  4. Grant says:

    “Just what those conseqences look like”…
    So why did so many commentators with agendas and ‘ The Right ‘ play the man and not the ball when David Cunliffe , who had every right to do so, expressed a very worthy opinion regarding the plight of ‘Womens Refuge’.
    Was that very relevant and important message discussed and teased out ?
    No it was not!
    What we got instead was a lot of immature childish puerile schoolboy bullying type nonsence all aimed at the messenger .
    Glass houses…stones…

    • Strypey says:

      Glass houses indeed Grant. You seem to have jumped to the conclusion that because Chris is criticizing the “left”, he is defending the “right”. Which kind of underscores his point. When did it become unacceptable in “left” circles to point out perceived flaws in our own movement, so much so that to criticize the “left” automatically places the speaker on the “right”, regardless of their political history or anything else they have ever said?!?

      • Grant says:

        Well , if that were truly accurate you would be correct.
        But if you listen to, (for example), the ‘political panel’ with Chris and Rodney Hide (the perk buster who himself got busted for perking), on Radio Live , you will not only hear with clockwork predictability the relentless rubbishing of Labour combined with glowing accolades of National’s performance.
        Not once in the many times I have listened have I heard a positive word about Labour….this is not possible considering Labour make all the running with creative policy ideas and National steal them.
        Have I ever heard National criticised for stealing policy ideas and having no solutions ….never .
        He has given both John Key and Bill English ‘politician of the year’ when poverty and house prices were and still are at astronomical disgraceful levels .
        Just last week he was defending Bill English for being a hypocrite.
        Would he be so magnanimous with Labour …never.
        I am definitely not averse to well placed rational criticisms of anyone, but credibility is lost when balance is not found .

        • Stephen Franks on Jim Mora’s panel on Radio NZ is equally cringe-worthy. His right-wing knee-jerk moralism is suggestive of a personality who sees the world in black and white terms. Everyone should be a millionaire. If not, what’s wrong with them?

          The man may be intelligent (using the term in it’s broadest sense), but his wisdom and insights are sadly lacking.

          • Grant says:

            Totally agree ! I heard that panel discussion and he was just hideous.
            He definitely has something missing and has a very simplistic unimaginative take on things.
            I think that’s it . People like Franks are born with retarded imaginations…There’s no hope for them!

  5. It’s been hard for many of us, but our eyes must be open. Since the election of Trump, our side has been violent, censorious, and intolerant in response. Figures like Milo Yiannopolous or Gavin McInnes are conservatives with comedic, populist, and shock-driven humour in their delivery, but pretending they are neo-nazis like some snowflakes have is just appalling. It’s like when those silly old right wingers in the 90s used to call Helen Clark a communist. Polemics which don’t help.

    And now it’s our side being ‘that guy’, like at the Milo event in Berkeley you mention, where anarchists in masks went crazy and even pepper sprayed the girl with the bitcoin hat. And ordinary non-revolutionary leftists went along with it. We can’t let the partisan straw men of extremists turn us into brown shirts.

    • Strypey says:

      “anarchists in masks went crazy and even pepper sprayed the girl with the bitcoin hat”

      Careful. We can’t rule out that people in masks are actually agents provocateur, or that we are being served up fake media to distort our impression of what actually happened at Berkeley. Have you seen the documentary ‘Berlusconi’s Mousetrap’?

      What the left urgently need to understand is that we face at least two oppositions. The corporate-funded, climate-change-denying “right”, and the Hilary-style deep state “left” who pretend to be on our side. Both of these oppositions use polarizing polemic and provocatively militant tactics to ensure that principled activists coming from different backgrounds never get to have respectful debates that might reveal what we have in common, and what we might gain by working together instead of taking sides with the fake “left” or the fake “right”.

      • This occurred to me, but I’ve also studied a lot of the video out there on youtube. And not to sound like Milo, but I notice the guys in hoodies tend not to have the build of Trump supporters. I guess they might have selected the ones who look a bit vegan, but I found in the past that when the US cops tried to infiltrate anarchist groups to provoke violent protest, you could always spot them by the beefcake build and the inauthenticity of their costuming. Cops playing dressup rarely nail the anarcho-crusty authenticity. They end up wearing shelf-new Vibram soled patrol boots instead of second hand combat boots; flashy new 5.11 tactical cargos instead of military surplus store BDU pants or an old pair of black jeans which smell of BO and cider; slick undercover patrol pattern conceal carry hoodies from Propper International instead of shoplifted American Apparel or a cheap one from Kmart, etc. Tend not to have dirty and poorly sewn on patches from 90s Profane Existence bands & crusty classics like Conflict, Assuck, His Hero is Gone, Tragedy, Amebix, etc.

  6. WILD KATIPO says:

    Seems ok at first, but on closer inspection those 1960’s demonstrations moved very quickly from ‘ peace , love and natural food and idealism to rampant activism.

    Lets not forget the old footage of rioting students bloodying each others faces over the Vietnam war , and of the anarchistic movements it spawned.

    Movements such as the Black Panthers were not entirely always peaceful either – nor were the Red Brigade , or the Weathermen for that matter. And what you saw in microcosm happening during the 1960’s consolidated rapidly into violent action – hence no longer the ‘ Hippy’s ‘ … but a new breed dubbed the ‘ Yippies’.

    So what was once the peaceful bucking of the system became in a very short space of time the frustrated and in many cases deadly underground movements to topple the establishment.

    The point being that it can happen more rapidly than we think – and – once we take of those rose tinted glasses that 2017 is any different from 1969- 70 ,… we can start to see that Lyndon B Johnson actually ESCALATED the war in Vietnam .

    And the political movement of the Left wasted no time in exploiting that.

    Hence the myriad of civil rights issues it spawned.

    And it is true that Donald Trump has not advocated escalating any war- in fact he seems more inclined to break with Washington tradition and actually make friends with their erstwhile traditional cold war enemy , Russia.

    And yet the fanaticism of hatred – often encouraged and bankrolled by the so – called Left… fits neatly into what your article is all about.

    However… here’s the difference. The REAL culprits behind this anger over Trump isn’t really the Left at all. The real culprits who are bankrolling this agitation are none other than certain among the globalist bankers. These ,.. are the ones who see their empires being threatened.

    The very same ones who opposed the BRIC nations … and why? – because they threatened to print their own interest free money that cut the western banking elites out of the loop . They were literally escaping the same system that forces the USA to pay interest on every dollar that the US borrows.

    AND THAT ,… is the very origins of the globalist neo liberal ideology.

    The very same globalist neo liberalism that Trump is pitted against . The same global elitists who own the major media outlets. The same ones who have financed every major war since the French revolution.

    And we are talking none other than the Rothchild banking family’s of Europe and England – who incidentally own the Federal Reserve Bank of America – and forced that on the Americans with the Federal Reserve Bank Act of 1913 – signed into existence by President Woodrow Wilson when most of Congress was absent because of the Christmas festivity’s.

    One only has to do a small amount of digging to understand Frankish extreme Zionism , European Freemasonry and the Illuminati of Adam Wieshaupt and just how their ideology has evolved over the last 100 years and how that has influenced and shaped not only western politics but eastern as well.

    This is not about some ragtag bunch of young , impressionable university students with restless youthful and idealistic energy who simply want an issue with which they can then rage against the machine…. this is an organized , bankrolled attempt at using and manipulating a very very powerful network to influence public opinion to make sure it shifts back into the accepted political control of the globalists.

    And they will stop at nothing to maintain their hold. Despite BREXIT . Despite Trump.

    The sheer lunacy of Obama signing off on drone bombings for 8 years killing men , women and children – indiscriminately.

    Thousands were killed and Obama gave the OK for it.

    Hillary Clinton using the Clinton Foundation as a conduit for funds from Saudi Arabia , Morocco and Qatar to purchase American manufactured arms and munitions – with which those nations then redistributed back into the hands of ISIS…


    Trump hasn’t signed off on ANY drone strikes as far as we know – and he certainly hasn’t made noises about starting any new wars either – but somehow hes the big nasty fascist villain of the modern age according to the corporate newsmedia , – and the demonstrators ( from the supposed ‘Left’ ) who , incidentally ,… (at least in this country ) , were only one year ago on this very blog site railing bitterly against , – and now are agreeing with .

    It amazes me – would these so called people of the ‘ Left’ prefer Obama to still be in power and signing off on drone bomb strikes that killed civilians in thier thousands?

    Is THIS ,… what the ‘ Left ‘ is really all about?

    Using peoples lives as mere expendable political footballs and sanctioning the killing of innocent people when it suits – and then turning around and then screaming bloody blue murder at a guy who gets voted in and who is not interested in ‘adventures’ on foreign soil or signing off on drone bomb strikes to indiscriminately slaughter civilians ?!!?

    Is THIS who you really are , people of the ‘ Left’ ,… is THIS the sort of thing you really support ?!!?

    You are deluded!!!

    Go watch the John Pilger interview with Julian Assange ,- here’s the link:
    ( short version explains the e- mails that show Clinton knew exactly what she was doing)
    ( full version )

    You are not even aware of the very forces and organizations that are driving this – and when it IS mentioned , – you write it off for fear of being laughed at , or because it is so hard to draw the links and would rather go after the easy targets.

    Or bleat and moan on a blog site.

    Go do some research into the Bilderbergers, the Trilateral commission , Club of Rome , Council on Foreign Relations ,- then read up about who Adam Wieshuapt was , and how he subverted European Freemasonry at the The 1782 Congress of Wilhelmsbad.

    Read it . See for yourself how far back it goes.

    Learn about Mayer Amschel Rothschild – and read on into the 19th century and just what he and his 5 sons did to the European banking system.

    And learn just how that set the pace for world events including World War one, the Bolshevik revolution , World War Two , the founding of Israel ( Balfour Agreement – designed to bring the USA into the war against the Kaiser Wilhelm ) – right up to the political and economic hijacking of the IMF and World Bank during the 1960s by exponents of far right wing neo liberalism … encouraged by think tanks and lobbyists such as the Mont Pelerin Society and Milton Friedman – get an education!

    That economic and political ideology didn’t just fall from the sky or come into being with Ronald Reagan – its forerunner was 100 years before that – the Austrian School of Economics.

    And how does this affect us?… well for a start we could stop being such a bunch of willing stooges and realize weve been played royally .

    Its not being ‘ right ‘ or ‘ left’ that’s the problem – its neo liberalism that’s the damn problem ! Its neo liberalism that we are at war with !!! That and a globalist New World Order !!!

    And identity politics has been subverted easily to deflect from the REAL issues – that of CLASS politics !!!

    There’s your problem right there !

    And when George Bush Senior stated time and again before and after the First Gulf War about their ‘ New World Order’ … did you really , honestly , truly believe for one fleeting minute that it was all just meant to be figurative and merely the semantics and wishful thinking from a politician who JUST so happened to be a Skull and Bones member , and who JUST so happened to be the President , and who also JUST so happened to be the head of the CIA for a very , very long time….?

    And do we remember the premise for that war?

    Weapons of ‘ mass destruction ‘ ring a bell? – weapons that didnt exist and they knew damn well didn’t exist?

    And by the way ,… freedom of speech comes in many forms and there are also many forms of shutting it down.

    So STAND WITH PIKE ,… there is a local example in our own backyard that is a graphic example of how closed govts operate to downplay , discredit and divert attention from an issue that has a lot more going on than meets the eye of the public – and its wider ramifications for all of us if we let this govt get away with sealing up that mine.

    • David Stone says:

      Great stuff

    • Bert B says:

      Spot on Wild Katipo, well written.

      What if Trump is the anti-elite, anti-globalisation…anti-hero?

    • CosmicRay says:

      Brilliant. Every time I dare to mention that Trump might actually try and stop this I get shouted down. Was thinking today, this is how it will pan out. 1. Sessions is in so the arrests can begin. 2. Because the public has been primed to see Trump as Hitler, he will be accused of locking up his political enemies. 3. Hopefully, the rule of law will prevail, but it will take time, so in the meantime, expect more of the ‘Nazi’ stuff. If you watch the meeting Trump had with the Sheriffs right through (not the 10 seconds the MSM showed you) you will note that they are all asking for the rule of law with backing to do their job properly and put crims behind bars, which they haven’t had for the last 8 years at least. Watch it – very interesting.

  7. Zack Brando says:

    Hopefully here in NZ, good media outlets like The Daily Blog will continue informing the citizenry. Knowing the TRUTH is very powerful and freeing. Believing the lies cause much social harm.

    The French revolutionary printing presses published many lies aimed at provoking the public to violent actions. I’m sure this happens today. The men who started the French revolution became pariode tyrants and many did indeed lose their lives.

    There are many similarities between current world events and the spirit/mood of the French revolution.

  8. Afewknowthetruth says:

    It goes WAY BEYOND the left, Chris

    The entire structure of NZ society is now utterly dependent on the silencing ‘truth-tellers’ by all kinds of organisations and ensuring the masses are not informed about numerous irrefutable facts, such as:

    1. The financial system is a Ponzi scheme which will collapse in the near future as a consequence of interest being charged on money created out of thin air.

    2. Global extraction of conventional oil peaked around 2007 and is in decline, and the globalized economic system is dependent on short-lived unconventional oil which will fail to meet demand within a few years and then go into decline in absolute terms -taking down industrial civilization with it.

    3. Global warming has gone beyond the point of no return (as a consequence of over-use of fossil fuels and over-population) and the Earth is in the early stage of Abrupt Climate Change which will cause much of it to become uninhabitable within decades.

    4. Commensurate with the rapid overheating of the Earth, icesheets are melting and (with thermal expansion of the oceans) will generate multi-metre seal level rise within decades.

    5. Much of what is sold by supermakets as food is actually harmful to humans in anything other than very small doses and causes severe imbalance in biochemical systems that lead to disease and early death.

    The public space has been morphed into a truth-free zone. Thus, public comments to local council are deleted, mayors and council officials decide who can speak on what subjects and for how long, and people are served with trespass orders to prevent them speaking or acquiring information.

    We live in a covertly fascist police state which is rapidly morphing into an overtly fascist police state, and which is controlled by global corporations and banks. Politicians and bureaucrats act as agents of banks and corporations, and pursue policies of sabotage or everyone’s future. And ‘nobody’ knows and ‘nobody’ cares.

    • Blake says:

      As usual I agree with all you affirm.
      I assert that there is a bit of silencing here at TDB of ” Truth Tellers ” as well. I have experienced it on a personal level and it will be a miracle if this reply goes through. Biased journalism is almost everywhere now.

    • Afewknowthetruth says:

      Typing error.

      ‘sabotage of everyone’s future’

  9. Blake says:

    Where is my comment ?
    I keep asking knowing I will not get a response but also to make others aware of the biased journalism and censorship that exists here.
    Seems all left wing internet blog sites are not as open and free as we thought.

    • David says:

      I am glad they released your comment. Often, there is a long delay in releasing counter arguments on this blog.

  10. Jays says:

    What you describe Chris is pure zealotry. I am right, there for my ends justify the means.
    You seem to imply that reasoned argument and support for free speech is the traditional domain of the Left.
    This is plainly false. Whether you are left or right has no real impact.

  11. […] The relaxation of state censorship is the first and most important gift to any revolutionary cause. Historically, the sudden appearance of posters, pamphlets, newspapers and books authored by those whose voices had hitherto been suppressed is always the surest sign that the old order is crumbling. In today’s repressive regimes it is the unfettered use of social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogs; which signals the arrival of the revolutionary moment. Think of the Arab Spring. […]

  12. Zack Brando says:

    Not sure about silencing the truth, I’m more concerned with the lack of lovers of the truth. I think propagating a cultural value that being informed is necessary, attractive and valuable would go a long way for us Kiwis.

  13. CosmicRay says:

    Those trying to shut down the conservative right need to be careful. I’d never heard of this Milo chappy, but I came across his interview on Fox news (linked from someone I follow) and thought he was really funny. I then watch a clip of one of his talks. Yes, it was quite shocking what he said about Muslim women, but to be honest, he was verbalising what many think. The progressive left forget that silencing debate, does not lead to a change of hearts and minds. While feeling shocked at what Milo was saying, I also felt that it was quite refreshing to hear someone not hemmed in by political correctness. I hear his book is number one on the Amazon bestseller list and it’s not due out till March.

    And no, he didn’t organise the riot himself. Those idiots were the same paid anarchists sent out to riot during the inaugeration. Brain dead morons.

    • Yeah I think this is right. I find when I watch Milo that his economic arguments are, from a social democratic standpoint, fairly easily refuted and challenged – though I’ve only seen a few people actually stand there and debate him properly. I recall a Scottish-Pakistani dude take him down pretty well on Scotland and its place in the UK economy for instance.

      But on issues like free speech, the challenge of Islamic moral values to western nations’ endorsement of marriage equality and women’s liberation, why you’d have borders if you’re not going to enforce them, he’s actually pretty sharp in terms of both general principle and backing his claims with genuine research – which is interesting given that his economic views don’t hold so strongly in terms of principle or research.

      Some stuff he says is just polemical trolling designed to shock or gain attention, but when it comes to making the argument for free speech and challenging some of the prevailing clichés in the current political environment, he’s pretty spot on.

      Here’s his response to Berkeley, for instance:

  14. andrew says:

    First off: Well done Chris! This really needed saying.

    Second: Good response CosmicRay

    I’ve watched Milo quite extensively and can find nothing inherently racist nor sexist in what he’s saying. If you disagree with that, please enlighten me with a quotation or video link to make your point.

    So exactly who is trying to stop Milo talking? I suspect those black-clad rioters are just cannon fodder. As always, the real movers and shakers are behind the scenes.

    It’s no surprise to me that one of the organisations present in the riot at Berkley was sponsored by non other than George Soros.

    It’s also no surprise to see radical college academics out there cheering them on. These are the professional man-haters and white-haters whose pay cheques rely on identity politics.

    Could it be that they’re afraid of what Milo has to say? Afraid that his intellect, logic and humour could be their undoing?

    In the end the rioters lost. The videos went viral and the general public was appalled at their behaviour. Attitudes are hardening fast.

    More importantly alumni will be reconsidering their next donation and parents will be looking elsewhere to send their impressionable children.