Know Your Enemy – Charlie Hebdo and The Freedom of Speech

Know Your Enemy – Charlie Hebdo and The Freedom of Speech 

By Duncan Whitmore

In previous essays posted on this blog, I have often pointed out that opponents of private property (and of capitalism specifically) believe, incorrectly, that to advocate for a free society is to crave an orgy of individualism, greed and selfishness in which each person grabs as many riches for himself as possible while leaving those less fortunate to starve.

Empirically, of course, we know that private property orders have solved the problems of poverty and hunger more than any other socioeconomic alternative, for the reason that the wealth accumulated by the rich takes the form of capital goods that produce more and more consumer goods at lower and lower prices for ordinary people. In other words, even if someone wanted to accumulate as much wealth as possible for himself his only avenue of doing so is to serve the needs of others.

That aside, however, the theoretical error of the anti-capitalists is to confuse permissibility on the one hand with promotion on the other. Yes, capitalism and freedom give you the right to be selfish and greedy, but they do not demand that you be so – you are just as free to give away all of your wealth as you are to accumulate as much of it for yourself as possible. Thus, libertarians are advocating only for your right to choose your actions. They are not stating that any conceivable action within your range of options is necessarily a good and beautiful thing, nor should anything you do be immune from criticism simply because it is peaceful and voluntary.

For instance, a libertarian would say that a person should have the legal right to smoke three packets of cigarettes a day. But he is not saying that a person should smoke three packets of cigarettes a day, nor that such a heavy volume of smoking is a wise and beneficial choice. True enough, there will be libertarians who, out of either naivety or a personal commitment to libertinism, do indeed reason in such a fashion, seeing nothing morally wrong with any possible choice one may make so long as it does not breach the non-aggression principle. Libertarianism itself, however, entails no such advocacy – it is the foundation upon which wider moral problems should be solved, not the final word. Continue reading

The “Big Tech” Problem

The “Big Tech” Problem 

By Duncan Whitmore

“The legislature, were it possible that its deliberations could be always directed, not by the clamorous importunity of partial interests, but by an extensive view of the general good, ought, upon this very account, perhaps, to be particularly careful, neither to establish any new monopolies of this kind, nor to extend further those which are already established. Every such regulation introduces some degree of real disorder into the constitution of the state, which it will be difficult afterwards to cure without occasioning another disorder.”

                  –  Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

The debate over the power of social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook has intensified this past week when both platforms attempted to restrict the distribution of reports concerning allegations of corruption made against Democrat Presidential nominee Joe Biden. The precise details are unimportant; suffice it to say that the reports are likely to prove damaging to the Biden campaign if disseminated widely amongst the electorate. Both Twitter and Facebook restricted the sharing of the New York Post’s story on the matter, while the White House Press Secretary was locked out of her Twitter account. All of this, of course, takes place against the backdrop of “cancel culture” and the censorship of information (even from authoritative sources) that challenges the official narrative of lockdown and restriction in response to COVID-19.

Although, in this particular instance, the social media companies may end up succumbing to the “Streisand Effect” – the phenomenon whereby any attempt to ban or censor information increases its allure and, thus, leads to a greater degree of exposure overall – those on the right have responded in at least one of two ways to this latest betrayal of the apparent leftist bias that pervades Silicon Valley. Continue reading

Online Harms – A Bill of Rights for the Censor

Online Harms – A Bill of Rights for the Censor
Alan Bickley
8th April 2019

Perhaps the most overlooked effect of the Brexit Crisis is that new legislation of any kind in Britain has dwindled from a flood to a trickle. Since new laws and bad laws amount to much the same, this is to be celebrated. For this reason alone, I might hope for the crisis to continue at full tilt until at least 2022. It will not, but the respite has been welcome.

Something particularly nasty that will now have to wait its turn in a long queue is any Bill inspired by the Online Harms White Paper published on the 8th April 2019. This proposes that Internet sites should be fined or blocked if they fail to tackle “online harms,” such as terrorist propaganda and child abuse. To achieve this end, here are the suggested means: Continue reading

Corporate Censorship (Interview with Sean Gabb)

Sean Gabb on censorship…and how to stop it

Listen HERE

Sean Gabb is one of the UK’s leading libertarians. In his new article “State Censorship Corporate Censorship”  he argues that even though the UK and US protect “speech about alleged matters of public fact,” these protections are inadequate and eroding. Though no fan of Alex Jones, Sean Gabb says that “his being swept from large areas of the Internet is worrying.”

Perhaps the biggest threat to free speech, Gabb suggests, is corporate censorship. And while some libertarians join the apologists for censorship who argue that private corporations such as YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and Google have the right to censor anyone they want, Sean Gabb disagrees. He argues persuasively that limited liability corporations are not private, but quasi-governmental entities, and should therefore be required to follow the same norms of free speech and transparency as the government does.

I agree, but I think Sean Gabb doesn’t go far enough. It’s obvious that these internet fora are today’s equivalent of the “town square.” OBVIOUSLY they must respect the First Amendment and other free speech norms and protections! Additionally, they are monopolies, which are supposed to be illegal under American law. If they don’t want to be seized by the government and either broken up or run as public utilities, they need to rigorously respect content neutrality and honor—not censor—controversial speech.

Peter Tatchell and the Total State (2018), by Sean Gabb

Peter Tatchell and the Total State
Sean Gabb
13th January 2018

Peter Tachell
Source: Wikipedia

I have some respect for Peter Tatchell. He campaigned against the anti-homosexual laws before this was a safe thing to do. He has shown courage on other issues. This being said, I am troubled by his latest set of recommendations. Writing on the 8th January 2018 for The Friends of Europe blog, he declares that “equal rights are not enough.” It is not enough for people to be treated equally before the law. It is also necessary for children to be brainwashed into agreeing with him. He says:

To combat intolerance and bullying, education against all prejudice – including racism, misogyny, disablism, xenophobia, ageism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – should be a stand-alone compulsory subject in every school. Equality and diversity lessons should start from the first year of primary level onwards, with no opt-outs for private or faith schools and no right for parents to withdraw their children.

…. These lessons should be subject to annual examination, ensuring that both pupils and teachers take these lessons seriously; otherwise they won’t. A pupil’s equality grades should be recorded and declared when applying for higher education and jobs, as it is in the interests of everyone to have universities and workplaces without prejudice.

To see what Peter means, let us take a number of issues: Continue reading

State Censorship, Corporate Censorship: A Libertarian View

State Censorship, Corporate Censorship:
A Libertarian View
Sean Gabb
6th September 2017

Every age we have so far known has been one of censorship. This is not to say that opinion has been equally constrained in all times and places. Sometimes, as in the Soviet Union, it has been oppressive and omnipresent – even extending to an imposition of orthodoxy on the natural sciences. More often, it has been focussed on perceived criticisms of the established political and religious order. Sometimes, dissent has been permitted among the intellectual classes – especially when expressed in a language unknown to the people at large, and only punished when communicated to the people at large. Sometimes, a diversity of political orders has limited any particular censorship to an area of just a few square hundreds of miles. Sometimes it has been limited by a general belief in the right of free expression. But I can think of no time or place where publication has been absolutely unconstrained. Continue reading

Freedom of Speech: A Brief Defence

Freedom of Speech: A Brief Defence
Sean Gabb
25th August 2017

Every age we have so far known has been one of censorship. This is not to say that opinion has been equally constrained in all times and places. Sometimes, as in the Soviet Union, it has been oppressive and omnipresent – even extending to an imposition of orthodoxy on the natural sciences. More often, it has been focussed on perceived criticisms of the established political and religious order. Sometimes, dissent has been permitted among the intellectual classes – especially when expressed in a language unknown to the people at large, and only punished when communicated to the people at large. Sometimes, a diversity of political orders has limited any particular censorship to an area of just a few square hundreds of miles. Sometimes it has been limited by a general belief in the right of free expression. But I can think of no time or place where publication has been absolutely unconstrained.

If I look at modern England, I cannot say that censorship is as oppressive and omnipresent as it was in the Soviet Union. I cannot think of any opinion that cannot somehow be expressed. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not wish to do any of these things. However, if I want to deny the holocaust, I can. If I want to argue for sex with children, I can. If I want to claim that the coloured races are intellectually or morally inferior, I can. If I want to say that homosexuality is a dreadful sin that will be punished by everlasting torments, I can. The law punishes what are regarded as inflammatory expressions of such belief. It punishes expressions of such belief when they are regarded as affecting known individuals. But I am not aware of a law that makes it a crime to publish sober and abstract expressions of any opinion.

This being said, the law, during the present century, has been stretched to the point where expressing disapproved opinions in everyday life has become dangerous. Statements that do not involve threats against known individuals are being punishes as if they were threats. There is also the fact of what is called social pricing. It may be legal to publish any of the above opinions. But anyone who does publish them will find it hard to secure employment in the state or corporate sector. And, even when there is no censorship, there is a continual propaganda in one direction by the State and its associated institutions. I think here of the various evolutionary hypotheses. For myself, I find it hard to see how any impartial objection can be raised to the claim that the living world as we know it developed by some process of natural selection. At the same time, I am disturbed by the propagandistic tone of the relevant documentaries, and by the misrepresentation of the objections. Or there is the biassed or even lying nature of any establishment utterance on climate change.

We do not have, in England, anything approaching a regular censorship. Even so, speech is less free than it used to be, and far less free than it ought to be. Let me, then, give a brief argument for greater freedom of speech than we enjoy. This covers both direct action by the authorities and many kinds of social pricing.

I am a libertarian. I believe that people should, at the minimum, be free to say whatever they please about alleged matters of public fact. I am sceptical about the justice of the laws covering libel and confidentiality and copyright and official secrecy. But, so long as these are confined to achieving their traditionally stated ends, I will, for present purposes, leave them to one side. I will also leave aside photographic displays of sexual activity not limited to consenting adults. Yet, even at its minimal definition, the right to freedom of speech covers many of the classes of utterance that the British Government wishes to see driven from the Internet.

I turn to the Government’s war on “hate speech.” The term is designed to bring into mind ideas of inarticulate screams, or of simple orders to kill or to hurt. In fact, once we exclude direct, personal threats of the kind that have always been covered by the common law of assault, every act of “hate speech” I have seen punished by law or by social pricing has involved the same combination of propositions and inferences I see anywhere else.

Let us, for example, take these two statements:

  1. Bearing in mind differences of population and wealth, the Great War was less destructive to England than the civil wars of the seventeenth century. Proportionately, fewer men were killed, and the economic costs were lower. Yet the physical effects of the Civil Wars drop out of view after 1660, and those of the Great War were a national obsession until 1939, and are now widely seen as the greatest single cause of our national decline. Therefore, anyone who accepts the consensus view of the Great War as a catastrophe is mistaking symptoms for causes. Whether or not going to war was an error, a fundamentally healthy nation could have shaken off the losses of the Somme and Passchendaele in a decade at most. That we did not indicates that there was already something wrong with us by 1914.
  1. There are measurable differences between racial groups. Some of these are of intellectual capacity. Others are of propensity to crimes against life or property or both. Even otherwise, there are differences of outlook that show themselves in how the members of one group relate to each other and to members of other groups. These differences have been uncovered and confirmed by more than a century of research. They have also long been accepted as matters of common sense. Therefore, racially homogenous countries are well advised to keep out immigrants of other races. Where a country is already mixed, it makes sense to segregate each racial group so far as possible, and to govern each by different laws, or to apply the same laws with different effect to each group.

I give no opinion on the truth of these cases. The first is one side of a current academic debate. The second I have distilled from my reading of various nationalist blogs and journals. Whether either is true is beside my present point. My point is that each case begins with factual claims, from which inferences are then drawn. If you disagree with either, it seems obvious to me that the proper mode of disagreement is to show that the factual claims are untrue, or that the inferences are not validly drawn. Calling in the police, or getting someone sacked from his job, is at best unlikely to advance our understanding of the world.

It may be argued that the first case, if accepted, will have no obvious effects on what is done in the present, but that the second, if accepted, will lead to ethnic cleansing or apartheid. It may then be inferred that laws or other prohibitions against advancing the second case are needed to stop a great evil from being committed.

I agree that, if we accept the racial nationalist case, difficult questions come onto the agenda. In the same way, however, if my gold crowns wear out this year, I shall not be able to afford a family holiday. The unpleasantness of the apodosis has no bearing on the truth of the protasis. Suppose the racial nationalists are right. Suppose that what they advocate is the lesser of evils in the long term. Or suppose that they are right in their factual claims, but that there are alternative and less alarming inferences to be drawn from these. This would surely be worth knowing. Or let us suppose that the claims are wholly without merit. In this instance, a refutation gives us a better understanding of the truth. I do not know, for example, how to prove that the world is round. It might advance my understanding of the truth to see an open debate between a flat-earther and a physicist.

I say generally that, once a case has been stated with any show of evidence, and certainly once it has gained any body of support, it needs to be contested in open debate, not silenced by or on behalf of the State.

Furthermore, where written arguments are concerned, readers are generally alone and have ample time to think before taking action. This must be considered a new intervening cause in any course that leads from the communication of ideas to actual violence. If the opponents of “hate speech” only wanted laws against street agitators, they might have a case. Censoring the written word, however intemperate it may be, is plain suppression of debate.

The natural result of laws against “hate speech,” or of heavy social pricing, is to shut down debate on every claim that legitimises the present order of things. It would at least constrain dissent on the nature and extent of climate change, or on what is happening in the Middle East, or on how dangerous drinking and smoking are to health.

Indeed, we seem to be at the beginning of a change in the consensus on diet and health. For about forty years, we have been told that fat is bad for us, and that we should eat a lot of carbohydrate. It may be that we are about to be told that fat is good for us, and that sugar is the main cause of obesity and diabetes. Had Dr Atkins and others like him been accused of “hate speech,” this potentially valuable debate would have been flattened by claims of “social danger.”

Let us, therefore, have greater legal protection of speech than it presently enjoys in England. Let us have some equivalent of the American First Amendment. Let us also have greater tolerance, where the law does not enter, of dissenting opinion. If someone want to argue in the abstract for the achievement by violence of an Islamic caliphate, let him do so, without being sent to prison or losing his job. If someone wants to argue for the expulsion of Moslems from England, let him do so with the same legal and personal security. Truth is a value that always emerges from open debate, and at best by accident from the unquestionable pronouncements of those in authority.

Sean Gabb’s book, Freedom of Speech in England: Its Present State and Likely Prospects, is available on Amazon.