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September 3, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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“Freedom vs. Force”

“Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man’s mind. … A gun is not an argument.”—Ayn Rand

What a feeding frenzy the smelly Saddamites have had with my “Death to Islamo-Fascism!” articles! How characteristic, their clamour for censorship! How intellectually and morally bankrupt, their attacks on my sexuality, weight, hair loss, etc.—anything but the argument!

At these verminous grotesqueries I alternated between seething disgust, oxygen-threatening hilarity, and curiosity as to whether any of them might be given pause by a moment’s reflection on free speech’s long, tortuous history—of which history they are such unworthy, ungrateful, uncomprehending beneficiaries.

Those magnificent Greeks had more than an inkling of the value of an open contest of ideas—yet they infamously put Socrates to death.

The Enlightenment resurrected it after centuries of heresy-hunts and burnings at the stake. John Milton’s celebrated speech to the English Parliament, later published as the Aeropagitica (in deference to the Greeks), was an attack on Imprimatur, the literal stamp of approval one had to obtain from state censors on documents one wished to publish (One could not obtain Imprimatur on anything attacking the Church of England or the Government). Censorship of ideas, Milton said, was “the greatest discouragement and affront that can be offered to learning and to learned men.” Unfortunately, Milton made an exception of Catholics, since they were supposedly in thrall to a foreign power (the Pope).

Then came John Locke, who did brilliant, original work in developing the concept of rights, including freedom of expression—except for atheists! Freedom of religion, it seems, did not extend to freedom from religion!

Locke did tumble to a vital distinction underpinning the case for free speech—the distinction between force and persuasion. Force he equated with governments; persuasion he equated with books.

Persuasion cannot force, he argued; coercion cannot persuade. “Such is the nature of the understanding that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force.” The use of government force as an instrument of persuasion, he believed, was wrong; for the Government to censor the content of books (except atheist ones) was improper.

One hundred years later, the United States’ first Congress sent off to the states, for ratification, the following Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” What an achievement! From primordial slime through countless millennia of grunting evolution and brute force to such magnificent words as those!

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the French playwright and anti-Catholic Church polemicist Voltaire, who in 1770 had penned the following in a letter to a priest: “Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” This later became popularised as the classic affirmation, “I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But what of John Stuart Mill, widely regarded as one of free speech’s foremost advocates? “If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.” Note, though, Mill’s over-arching view of when government force is justified: “… the only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others.”

“Harm to others”? What does that cover? Well, there’s the rub. It could subsume hurting the feelings of others. Would the exercise of governmental power then be warranted to protect people’s feelings by banning certain types of speech? The contemporary incarnation of primordial slime—university lecturers and students—gleefully answer “Yes!” … as they applaud politically correct “speech codes,” demand “hate crime” legislation, and so forth, heedless of the shining truth proclaimed by Flemming Rose, publisher of the Danish Cartoons: “There is no such right as the right not to be offended.” And there is nothing in Mill to justify one’s saying “No!” to such censorship.

It’s a short, barely discernible step from “harm to others” to “injurious to the public good”—the indefinable notion that in one form or another underlies censorship legislation around the world.

The imprecision of Mill’s argument has contributed to the dead-end of post-modernism whose pin-up boys like Stanley Fish write books with titles such as “There Is No such Thing as Free Speech—and It’s a Good Thing Too.” Free speech, says Fish, is a contradiction in terms; all speech is coercive. This is what, 300 years after Locke, 200 years after the First Amendment, we have been reduced to—as though Locke’s crucial insight distinguishing force from persuasion, so admirably crystallised in the Ayn Rand quotation above, had never happened.

But it did happen—and the pomo-wankers and the femi-nazis and the conservatives and the “liberals” and all the other wannabe censors know it. They also know that if they can sell persuasion as force, they can justify force as persuasion. That is exactly what they want to do. Unfortunately, they are succeeding.

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  1. Robert Downston says:

    Atlas shrugged, and so did I after reading this. Keep fighting the good fight, or something.

  2. Adam says:

    Couldn’t agree more where has censorship ever gotten us as a society? a great example of censorship damaging society is the dark ages when religious nutters made science heresy and killed those who dared to expand their horizons and try to better humanity. where are the examples of censorship helping society?

  3. Lindsayrox says:

    You go Lindsay girl! It’s great to have a confident right-wing young woman columnist who is not afraid to show those fascists the door! Continue your bold fight against those who would silence the brave voices of the enlightened few!

  4. Mike says:

    Right wing chicks are fucking hot. Lindsay – call me. Call me whatever you want.

  5. Tucker Tapooh-ee says:

    No their not – their often ugly, stinky, mean-spirited, non-put out bitches who are hardcore tight when it comes to puttin out…no wait a minute…that’s the wimmin of VUWSA. Now, right-wing woMEN, woooh, yeeehaw, loose and sloppy, just how I like my beeeearches.

    Tucker Tapooh-ee

  6. George Bayor says:

    I have a problem, I think I might be a women in a mans body.

  7. Tucker Tapooh-ee says:

    George, a woMAN in a MAN’S body.

    You mean like that Maori bloke who used to wear skirts in parliament? The one that’s left the Labour party? Is this actually Georgina Beyer? Are you just being silly? Or is this really a bloke questioning his sex-style? Ist OK Georgina, you’re allowed to have fun. But I draw the line at sucking you off.

  8. Tush says:

    As I have commented on Perigo writing for Salient in the past, I will make myself clear once again. I don’t have an issue of Perigo having an opinion, and don’t want to quash it, no matter how shit it is. I believe that he should not be allowed to be published in Salient. This is not a matter of his freedom; it is a matter of what student money is being spent on. In economic terms, Salient has a limited to number of articles it can publish each week, and therefore should be an excludable resource.

    He has many avenues to express his opinion, including a national radio show, a magazine, and blog. It is clear that his opinion is expressed widely. Why should student money go towards him expressing his opinion in a student magazine? A page every week for Perigo means one less page for a student to publish their own work. Student media, written by students, for students.

    Perigo, this is not a matter of your freedom, it’s a matter of student money being wasted on your opinion, as opposed to students having the option and right to express their opinion in THEIR student magazine. I know you are reading this. What makes me unhappy is my money being wasted on you.

  9. Evee says:

    Likening yourself to Socrates now…

  10. Phillipa Box says:

    Tushina,

    Salient isn’t that great as a student magazine anyway. It hasn’t had any impact for a number of years. Lindsay Perigo may have a view that many disagree with but at least he has a view, and quite an interesting one – one in which people can argue with if they choose to.

    While VUWSA certainly steals most students monies to fund Salient, Salient has NEVER been available to all students. It is NOT the students paper – its VUWSA’s paper, with VUWSA’s interests represented and thats it. Always has been. And no, VUWSA doesn’t represent ALL students.

    Thank Devi, Krishna, Shiva, Murti, Ganesh and certainly all Wellington dairy owners that the Editor Steve is reasonable enough to allow a range of diverse opinion. Its all about ‘difference and diversity’ isn’t it girrrrl?

  11. S says:

    Wait, any minute Alexander Neilson will appear spouting about editorial freedom…

  12. Michael says:

    I totally represent VUSWA’s interests every time I write about Tana Umaga.

  13. Michael says:

    VUWSA, too.

  14. Tush says:

    Philipa, it doesn’t matter what people think of the quailty of Salient. It is a student magazine, it is funded by students, and most of the people writing for Salient are students. You still havn’t made an arguement against my post, why should student money go towards expressing Perigo’s point of view. I would be much happier if a student of a similar view to Periog’s, wrote for Salient.

    VUWSA steals Salients monies, REALLY, this is a lie. Salient being a VUWSA magazine, another lie- if it was, most of the things that have been writing in Salient , would never have seen the light of day.

    This that dairy owner comment some kind of rasist attempt.. that is really lame, much like your post.

  15. Mr Tears says:

    Salient should stop publishing Perigo’s ravings because they are derivative, unoriginal and entirely unfunny.

  16. J.I.P says:

    I don’t see this as an issue of Perigo’s freedom nor of Salient’s position as a magazine which prints content from students. Salient is a magazine read by young people in a cloistered environment. It’s good to have a tie with the way a lot of people think. Call it diversity. Objectivists are a cloistered minority in much the same way a lot of students are. The magazine is doing a great service by bringing Perigo’s arguments to students. Even if you don’t agree with the man (and on most issues, I really, really don’t), it’s good to know what tunes the devil is playing…

  17. Matt Nippert says:

    Insisting on quality control does not equate to censorship.

    Quoting Ayn Rand, referring to critics as “smelly Saddamites”, and repeated use of the exclamation point should only be found in genuine parody.

    Perigo probably has his place, but it’s probably as a blogger and certainly not in a student magazine for which I have great affection.

    Editorial freedom isn’t a license to print any old rubbish, and it’s sad to see the pages of Salient resembling landfill.

    Cheers,
    Matt

  18. Michael Oliver says:

    They now have someone writing a formal “counterpoint” to me. Hahahaha! How flattering! Some pomowanker ejaculating about persuasion being force, just as I said. Hahahahaha!

    http://www.solopassion.com/node/3059#comment

    See, Linds, I’m trying here. I’m trying really hard to understand your perspective, because, quite frankly, it sounds juicy. You remember those iceblock thingies you buy from Pak’N’Save made out of juice concentrate and a variety of other impossibly delicious ingredients, that you had to leave in the freezer overnight before eating, even though the best part about them was sucking the residue juice/stuff that had melted out of the packet? That’s how juicy this liberal-minded gambit sounds. The idea of loosening the strings of coercion and censorship, while allowing people to revel in the joys of a liberalised society sounds fun — cool beans, even.

    But while I’m by no means adverse to your abrasive “eye-jab” style of prose (anyone who’s ever been drunk texted at 4:15am should feel the same way too), it’s just… hard, ya’know? It’s hard to look to you as a beacon of alternative, free-flowing politically incorrect tell-it-like-it-is rhetoric when you’re, well, such a dick about it.

    Now, now, now, now, hold your fire, Perigo fans (or Perigo-go Girls, as some might like to call you – me, mainly), I’m not railing on your man, man. I’m just confused. University’s are a veritable smorgasbord of alternative opinions and discourses that not only invites we, the docile university masses, to sample them, but to do so instead of picking another bowl of thoughts and ideas. We’re taught to question and critique, indulge our curiosities and seek out new and different points of view. Salient, I believe, does play an active role in introducing and entertaining different perspectives, and allowing students the opportunity to open their peers’ eyes to whatever schools of thought have struck a chord with them.

    Unfortunately, diversity breeds contempt, and as evidenced by the utter clusterfuck the previous column’s comment section turned into, a lot of people aren’t open to the idea of ragging on ragheads, or indeed, counterpointing the ragging of the ragheads (god, that sounds like a Rand novel title right there…). It’s painfully easy to whip out a difficult-to-digest platitude, or resort to porn imagery when noting a counterpoint, I think you’ll find it far more invigorating to convey with intent to convert, to introduce, to liberalise, rather than convey with intent to unapologetically bash the living daylights out of all who choose to disagree with you.

    Although I get the feeling that Salient has become something like a petri dish for you, and you – the wily old scientist – are adding droplets of this that and the other thing just to see how we microbes here at Vic respond. This is either satire of the most perverse and ridiculous nature, or a rather peculiar (albeit affective) attempt at causing a stir for a publication that’s had a relatively quiet year by its usual standards.

    Anyway, pomowanker? Dude, you’ve gotta slap some numbers in there if you want to hammer home the offensiveness of that burn. “p0moW4anka PWNED!” would be much more inflammatory. Students hate being PWNED!

  19. Phillipa Box says:

    Tushina, daaarrrling, don’t be a silly willy….

    RE: This that dairy owner comment some kind of rasist attempt.. that is really lame, much like your post.

    Im not a racist you PC bureaucratic thugette. It was just a little bit of affectionate mocking…

    C.A.M.P

  20. Evee says:

    Thank Devi, Krishna, Shiva, Murti, Ganesh and certainly all Wellington dairy owners that the Editor Steve is reasonable enough to allow a range of diverse opinion.

    That’s pretty racist.

  21. Evee says:

    AND it’s got Steve’s name in it.

  22. Tush says:

    ‘PC bureaucratic thugette’… don’t act like you know me buddy. I am just saying that your racist bit of “affectionate mocking’ is just really lame.

    You still haven’t made an argument yet. As they say, you are playing the man, not the ball. Why should student money go towards paying for this arsehole’s opinion being published every week? If you really want to hear/ listen to it, there are plenty of avenues. I am not saying his opinion should be quashed, I am saying that students should not pay for it. (Therefore perigo, it aint a question of ‘freedom’ of what the fuck you think, it is a question of who is paying for it, arsehole).

    All you have done Phillipa, is tell lies (VUWSA stealing money from Salient) and make a lame attempt at mocking me…

  23. Matt says:

    For years people like Lindsay have been arguing that students should not have to subsidise magazines like Salien or student associations like VUWSA if these magazines express opinions which those students disagree. For this whole time the left wingers at VUWSA have rejected this argument. Conservatives and rightwingers have been forced to put up with this.

    Now suddenly the argument is valid when its a libertarian who writes.

    Give me a break.

  24. Jake says:

    Matt, you again. You are very sad. So it’s okay for ‘people like Lindsay’ to use this argument, but not ‘left wingers’. I know Tushara, he is not a left winger. You make these assumptions.

    You misunderstand his argument (probably on purpose). I get it, student mag for students, by students, not by Lindsay a non student).

    I think you will find that Salient this year has been fair and balanced for both left and right wing opinions. I think is sad that you have to get involved with this argument.

    Yes you need a brake, how about stopping trying to get involved with student politics

  25. Madeleine says:

    Student politics has an extremely underestimated affect on wider NZ culture. As such, whilst it remains legal to express and opinion and take an interest in the issues of the day I think you will find that Matt will not be taking your advice anytime soon.

  26. Matthew says:

    Jake

    No I think both should use this argument. If people object to funding Lindsays comments in Salient then they should (a) ban all views someone disagrees with from Salient or (b) allow people who disagree with their views to not fund it either.

    What no one should do is claim its unfair for them to have to fund a view they disagree with and then demand others who disagree with them fund their opinions.

  27. Tushara says:

    No Matthew (I remember how you ruined Waikato Students Union). The argument I am using here, is that there should be a preference should be given to fee paying students. For every page that Perigo gets, means that a student loses out. A page that student has paid for. Matthew, aren’t you an advocate for the market and users pays. What don’t you get? It is not about banning Perigo (as I have said before in my last post, he has plenty of opportunity to express his opinion elsewhere), it is about allowing students a right to publish something in their paid for student newspaper.

    I bet you still want get it though.

  28. Matthew says:

    Tushara

    I did not ruin the WSU.

    As to your claims,well fine, provided every person who is not a fee paying student whether on the left or right is also treated the same way. Are they?
    I have never seen this argument raised in any other case.

  29. Tushara says:

    Oh, that’s right Matt; you are the guy that has no problem spending student money on protesting in the USA. Why should you care about what student money is spent on in regards to Salient?

    In regards to ‘every person’, well if ‘every person’ was given a page every week, well I would have a problem. Considering that perigo’s article is rather tripe, and he is starting to get obsessive, he is starting to get sad.

    It is funny how he writes “That claim is false – about what I’d expect from someone who makes a taxpayer-funded (student funded) living teaching about untruth systems” – WOW… if only he applied this to himself, when he wrote about climate change.

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