[This began as a response to one of our Blogmaster’s more pessimistic comments. On reflection, it should be a main posting.]
We live in a remarkably free country. Bad things happen, but bad things have always happened. There never was a time when there were no persecuted outsider groups in this country.
Look at how full the lunatic asylums used to be – not all of people who were mad by any reasonable definition. Look at the anti-homosexual witch hunts – dozens of men were hanged for Buggery every year until the 1820s. Look at laws like the Contagious Diseases Act, or at the Sedition laws, or the anti-Catholic laws. Look at the anti-Jacobin panic and prosecutions of the 1790s, or the harrying of the Jacobites, or the Popish Plot mania.
The main difference between then and now appears to be that power was misused in the past in misguided attempts to protect the community. It is now misused to destroy the community. This is a considerable and a worrying difference.
Even so, we still have as much effective freedom of speech as anywhere in the world. There is probably nothing you cannot say in this country. There are things it is legally ruinous to say in certain forms of expression. There is a smaller class of issues that are best avoided altogether because of informal penalties. Except that the ideas not to be expressed are different, no change here from the past.
Indeed, if you look at the people who have got into trouble for opening their mouths, they have spent years asking for it. Of course, they should not get it. We can agree that it is disgraceful that Joshua Bonehill got sent to prison for sending out some antisemitic cartoons, or that Anjem Choudary may go to prison for suggesting that suicide bombing may be rather a good thing. But these men had spent years annoying the authorities. At any time up till their arrest, they could have said sorry and shut up and been left alone. Again, no change here from the past. That is how things have always worked.
Yes, Nick Griffin nearly got sent to prison for making those comments on Islam. But he was a noted dissident – and he did get off. He did better than other dissidents who were done for Blasphemous Libel or Seditious Libel as late as the 1820s. Yes, Emma West was done over for speaking out of turn on a tram. But she was lower class and a bit mad. People like her have never had entire freedom of speech. If she had spoken up on a tram c1910 for abortion on demand or a republic, she might have been spat on, or even committed.
We are spied on as we go about our business. But hardly any of the information harvested is ever used. One of the reason the authorities keep asking for more catch-all laws is that whatever they pull in after the last set of laws is never of any use to them. Bearing in mind all the IT procurement scandals, probably everything they harvested before about 2010 is as easily available as whatever data we may still have on 3.5″ floppies.
We may do well to see state oppression as a searchlight. It often shines today on things that were ignored in the past. But it has always been there, and it shone just as brightly in the past on other things. It may have a larger cover nowadays. Or it may not – we cannot say for sure.
For the avoidance of doubt, I have never done any of these things, and I do not advocate doing them. But there seem to be workrounds for virtually every apparently draconian law. If you want drugs, find a reliable supplier – there are thousands of doctors who will prescribe anything for a small fee – and consume them at home. If you want illegal porn, don’t pay for it with a credit card, and keep it on the smallest memory card you can find on E-Bay. If you want to set up a madrassa and lecture five year-olds on the joys of head-chopping, don’t advertise for students in the local paper – and keep your lustful hands off the children. If you want to deal in substantial amounts of cash, find a plausible excuse for the bank clerks, and make sure to pay a reasonable amount of income tax. If you want to evade tax altogether, try not to live like a prince.
The number of things known to the authorities is very small. The number of things known that can be acted against is even smaller. If it were otherwise, there would be less public hysteria and fewer exemplary punishments.
Speaking for myself, I find the authorities in this country notably mild. They have no legitimate right to know how much money I am earning, or to expect me to ask permission to knock down a building in my garden. But they have those rights at present. They have never been used tyrannically against me. It is a nuisance to deal with all the bureaucracy and meddling in private life. But I am middle class, and have no evident desire to suffer martyrdom. I am the sort of person who knows how to make focussed complaints in writing. I mostly get what I want, and have never yet suffered more than low-level inconvenience. Even police officers armed to the teeth call me “Sir.”
Returning to our general situation, we have much better means of outreach than ever before. Since the entire surveillance budget is probably earmarked for spying on teenage Moslems in Leicester, I doubt we are being watched, or watched with any interest. If there is any truth in what we are saying, it will gradually make its way into the mainstream. See how the global warming narrative has collapsed. See how the medical authorities eventually accepted that many ulcers were caused by bacterial infection. See how the dietary bureaucracies have quietly given up their demonisation of fat and their plugging of carbohydrate. Wherever we look, there are cases of truth prevailing over falsehood. It may take a while for truth to prevail. In the meantime, no one gets sent to the salt mines for challenging established opinions – or arrested for dissenting from them in middle class prose.
In general, every unique challenge we face is balanced by a unique means of responding. I don’t deny we are a long way from any kind of libertarian victory. But we don’t live in Airstrip One, and are unlikely ever to find ourselves there. In the meantime, we plod on, neither martyring ourselves nor going invisible.