Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Wot he said.

Wot he said.

We thoroughly enjoyed the recent TV mini series on the life of John Adams, second President of the United States, Dear Reader, not least because of the joy of watching the marvellous Paul Giamatti give it his all playing the title role.

In fact, we tend to enjoy anything which looks at the soaring ideals behind any major change in society that affected the course of history – the revolution against Charles I is another era where we voraciously consume both drama and documentaries.

We were pondering the life and thoughts of Mr Adams today who floated briefly across the environs of our internet world wide webby consciousness thingy, and were minded to look up some of his more brilliant aphorisms. And lo and behold, some of them as as valuable today as a few hundred years back.

On “Innocent before proven guilty”

“It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

A very good point, well made, right there.

On “Facts”

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

We need to remind more than a few of today’s politicians of that comment. And while we’re about it, this one, too:

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

John AdamsWhen one witnesses the lengths so-called democratic Government today goes to keep information away from the Governed, (you and me), this strikes us as a huge issue.

Do we, indeed, enjoy the liberties that for many decades now we have believed we do, or has the pendulum swung back the other way in so many gradual movements that we haven’t noticed the change?

Given the challenges faced by “liberal democracy” in the world, I must admit I found the next quotation rather chilling for a number of reasons.

On “Democracy”

“Democracy … while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Hmm. Is democracy inherently more bloody than authoritarian rule? There are many humanists and respected philosophers who have wondered so, despite their instinctive affection for democracy.

We have oft heard it said, for example, that “Left-wing Governments start more wars”, and our reading of history supports that notion to a degree. People of a progressive mindset tend to believe more passionately that things can be “fixed”, if necessary by the use of force, whereas the conservative mindset tends to preserve the status quo more deliberately.

Why would anyone prefer a powerful central government to democracy? Well, if one stifles dissent, one also stifles the painful struggles that invariably accompany dissent. But if one accepted that uncomfortable notion for a moment, then how would one ensure that any dictatorship is “benign”? And in any event, does not the very nature of a dictatorship mean that it cannot be benign, because it’s essential throttling of dissent is an act of violence against free expression?

Interesting stuff.

Decision making in a centralised system is also faster and more dramatic than in a democracy. Then20071025_JohnAdams again, that is something of a mixed blessing, is it not? Slower, more cautious decision-making processes can often lead to better decisions as well as worse ones. Not for nothing has the world been advised to Festina Lente since Roman times.

He destested anti-intellectualism.

On “Knowledge”.

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” And also:

“I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough … the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.”

And then again, ever the lover of liberty, he also saw the danger of over-cherishing the knowledge of the elite.

On “Power”

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.”

Quite so. We can list a dozen or so major world leaders off the top of our heads who exhibit that failing in spades. As communications is our lifelong obsession, when we were actively involved in politics (many, many moons ago) we never tired of counselling our colleagues thusly: “Never under-estimate the understanding or wisdom of the common folk: they may not speak in our sophisticated political language, that doesn’t mean they don’t know the answers to what ails them.”

Indeed, as a brilliant and inspirational (albeit somewhat irascible) wordsmith himself, he railed against politicians that used smart language to obscure or mislead.

On “Language”

“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”

But it was two of his longer and more thoughtful mental meanderings that really caught our eye. The first was on the very nature of American society, which Adams understood as a “work in progress”, a great on-going experiment. He said:

“While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice our local destination.

But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

It has always been our belief that America is both the worst of times and the best of times. For example, it is easy to forget that (despite turning up late, twice, as my sainted Mother always pointed out) the country made huge sacrifices in the cause of freedom in both World Wars. Yet did any country ever engage in a more brutal series of quasi-colonial adventures that have (usually entirely predictably) resulted in the impoverishment, injury and death of millions? It is easy to forget that America is hugely generous in terms of foreign aid just as it can simultaneously appear to be an economic tyrant, raping and pillaging its way across the globe. Internally, it is a country engaged in a permanent and roiling debate about the nature of society itself, and it’s civic discourse can reach depths (heights?) that are breathtaking in their profundity, and yet it’s everyday political discourse can be as mind-numbingly idiotic and ill-informed as an unsupervised kindergarten full of chimpanzees. It produces more “high art” than any other society on earth, and more dross, as well.

It seems Adams clearly saw both the opportunity and the risks.

The last, which is absolutely fascinating, refers to the relationship between America and Muslims.

If only ...

If only …

The relevance to today is obvious. In submitting and signing the Treaty of Tripoli more than three hundred years ago, Adams wrote:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims], and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

If only he’d been as right on that one, too.

(Partly sourced from Reuters)

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Security forces arrests pro-Mursi female protesters during clashes in Alexandria November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Two high-profile Egyptian trials, both arising from years of turbulent protests, have delivered sharply contrasting sentences in the space of just a few months.

In March, a policeman was convicted of shooting at protesters, deliberately aiming at their eyes, during demonstrations in November 2011.

The man dubbed the ‘eye sniper’ was sentenced to three years in prison.

This week, 21 women and teenage girls were found guilty of obstructing traffic during a pro-Islamist protest last month. The 14 women were imprisoned for 11 years, while the seven under the age of 18 were sent to juvenile prison.

You read that right. 11 years in an Egyptian jail for peaceful protest. So much for the democracy of the “Arab Spring”. Yet despite this palpable injustice, the West, and other power blocks, have remained very cautious about criticising the Egyptian military too strongly, obsessed with the fear of another fundamentalist Islamic state being established on the broken bones of what has been in recent years both a key Western ally and in earlier decades a co-operative partner to countries like Russia and China. Everyone seems to prefer a military crackdown to another Islamist Government to deal with.

The verdicts stunned local opposition and rights campaigners, even by the standards of a crackdown in which security forces have killed hundreds of Islamists and arrested thousands since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July.

“The ruling was shocking. We could not believe that Egypt would lock up its girls with the excuse that they are a threat to security,” said Ramadan Abdel Hamid, whose 15-year-old daughter Rawda and wife Salwa were among those sentenced. One can only imagine his anguish.

“Is this what is going to calm Egypt?” he asked. The answer is surely “no”.

As army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implements a promised roadmap towards elections, the United States and other countries are watching closely and has repeatedly urged the interim government to treat its opponents with restraint.

Since Mursi’s fall, the US has frozen some military aid to Cairo. The European Union has been encouraging political reconciliation in a bid to stabilise Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal.

PARDON SOUGHT

The security forces have been lionised by state and private media which denounce the Brotherhood as terrorists. But convicting women and girls who peacefully back Mursi has raised the campaign to a new level that could risk provoking a backlash.

So far there have been no street protests against the sentences, but criticism has appeared on social media.

Even leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi called for a presidential pardon, even though he is a fierce opponent of the Brotherhood.

The sentences could give the unpopular Brotherhood some political ammunition as it tries to recover from the crackdown that has all but decimated the movement.

In a statement, an alliance of pro-Brotherhood parties said: “The judiciary rules against the girls of Alexandria within days and goes at the speed of a tortoise in the trial of Mubarak and his gang.”

It said the verdict “proved that the independence of the judiciary has passed away”.


In the picture above, An anti-government protester waves a flag with a picture of youth activist Gaber Salah, during a rally against a new law restricting demonstrations, in front of Egypt’s Parliament in Cairo. Photo: Reuters.

DELICATE ISSUE

women protestingStreet protests are a highly sensitive issue in a country where people power has led to the downfall of two presidents in less than three years, beginning with veteran autocrat – perhaps kleptocrat would be a better phrase – Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The sentencing of the women and girls coincided with tensions over a law passed on Sunday that tightly restricts demonstrations.

While many Egyptians support Sisi and his roadmap, and while Mursi could never be considered to have ruled with any great skill nor restraint himself, even non-Islamists are becoming more critical of the military, suggesting the authorities may have to tread more cautiously.

“I was surprised by how quickly this case was decided,” said Anwar El Sadat, a former member of the People’s Assembly and chairman of its Human Rights Committee. “I was hoping they would show some mercy, especially because it’s women and girls.”

Tamara Alrifai of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch described the case as “shocking”.

“The seven girls are underage and considered children,” she said. “It is part of a wider campaign to put a halt to protests. People seized the right to protest in 2011 and they are trying to take it away from them.”

Relatives of the women and girls have condemned the court ruling, but said it would strengthen their resolve against what they call the military coup to remove Mursi.

womenSohanda Abdel Rahman, 13, said she could not believe her mother was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

“This is an oppressive and political sentencing,” she said after visiting her in prison. “But we began the path and know what will happen to us and we will not retreat.”

Those words should cast a chill through the collective consciousness of the Egyptian military. Here at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we would simply like to advance some arguments that invariably seem to be ignored time and again by politicians and military men the world over, with the same inevitable effect, and the same inevitable suffering for innocent people. As sure as night follows day:

  • History shows that the will of a people cannot be overcome forever.
  • People who disagree must eventually be brought to peaceably agree, no matter how far apart their opinions seem to be.
  • Peaceful protest can never be wrong.
  • Jailing innocents solves nothing.
  • Persecution is sooner or later served back ten-fold to the persecutors.
  • Local conflicts become civil wars in the blink of an eye.
  • Civil conflicts spill beyond a country’s borders like water finding its own level.

 

As many warned with Iraq, as we warned on this very blog with Syria – a conflict that we said was about to hurtle utterly out of control when the dead still numbered in the dozens not in the hundreds of thousands – Egypt is a live powder-keg and the fuse is lit. Anyone who thinks that moderately advanced countries with modern cities cannot stumble into chaos is ignoring Greece after the Second World War, they’re ignoring the Balkans, they’re ignoring Lebanon. Hell, they’re ignoring Europe in 1939.

And if a major conflict breaks out in Eqypt, one can see an Al Qaeda (and fellow travellers) fuelled insurrection right across the top of northern Africa, and spilling down into countries like Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Sudan … essentially a brushfire that could rapidly become uncontainable, setting Africa back a hundred years, destroying the trade its people need to live, with potentially millions of casualties, and cruelling fledgling moves to democracy. Meanwhile the Syria, Iraq, Iran situation continues to destabilise that region – with Israel uncomfortably co-existing between warring Sunni and Shia tribes, then Afghanistan without a sufficient American and Allied presence descends into turmoil, then Pakistan, then India …

Welcome to World War 3.

Over alarmist? We suggest you Google “Gavrilo Princep”.

Gestures can change perceptions. They can affect the public mood. Dramatically.

So: time to release those women? Well, that’s what we think. And fast.

corruption-corruptionblog-blogspot-comIn a minute, you will find a link to a must-read article by blogger Valentine Logar.

But first: wedon’t care what your politics is. This woman is right.

Yes, of course, Val is coming from a Democrat perspective, but she is actually speaking for all Americans who care about the quality of their civil society.

About a truly participatory democracy, with freedom and justice for all.

It’s this simple.

Democracy in America is for sale, and the last chance to prevent it becoming completely corrupted is right now.

If you’re American, read this. Read it now. If you are living anywhere else in the world, but you value a vibrant and growing American democracy as a key bulwark against totalitarianism, read it now. Click now:

Wake Up Citizens.

There is a concerted effort by the extreme right in America – by which I mean the extreme corporatist right, “big business” that is – the 1% – to BUY the American government. Legally. Under the “cover of law”.

corruptionAll of it, not just the Republicans, but Democrats too.

The Republicans apparently could care less – or maybe they are already so controlled they can’t fight back – although I strongly suspect many Democrats are equally compromised – but the people of America, those who value the land of the free, it is the people that must wake up and realise what is happening to their democracy.

The shadow men that have always circulated behind the seats of power obviously no longer think they need to fear people realising what they’re doing. They are using the froth and bubble of the debate over healthcare, and the upcoming possible debt default, to mask far murkier moves.

The land of the free. For all our sakes, bury your differences, before you become the land of the bought and paid for.

Which would make the whole world tremble.

Please, America, the reforms you need are not that difficult:

  • Stop your election funding laws becoming an international joke
  • Stop allowing political parties to gerrymander boundary changes – create an independent electoral boundaries review commission
  • Insert a circuit breaker in your Constitution so that governmental logjams cannot persist forever.

 

PS On a related issue: if you do default on your debt ceiling, America, and throw the entire world economy into chaos again, just please remember who did it. As trade dies, as your jobs disappear, as your prices rise, as your programs are cut, as you can’t afford new roads, or schools, or your armed forces, please remember those politicians who really refused to negotiate. And remember this, too: some people make money in a recession just as easily as they make it in a period of growth. They have the levers, they can throw them whichever way they want, and still buy and sell at a profit.

Just remember, as you hurt, they won’t be.

In Michigan, the Republican-controlled legislature succeeded in passing a new “right-to-work” law, which weakens unions’ ability to negotiate and has serious negative implications for all workers in the state. They had no public meetings, no debate, no time for review, and most offensively had Republican staffers sit in seats in the gallery to block interested citizens from even being in the room to hear about it.

So this guy decided to say something about that.

Whatever your view of the legislation, (and I think it stinks), don’t you just ache to have someone representing you who speaks from the heart like this, eschewing all the weasel words and obfuscations?

This man will go far. Brandon Dillon, Democrat, Grand Rapids. Remember the name.

If you want to tell him what you think, try tweeting with the hashtag #brandondillonrocks, or tweet him direct @brandondillon75.

In case you hadn’t noticed – and Dear Reader, if you had not, then exactly where have you been? – the Guinness Book of Records just officially announced that Asia-Pop artist Psy has just officially become the most watched video ever on video-sharing site YouTube. Ever. Phew.

I really like the song. The original (very funny) video can be seen here:

And a live performance here:

But the really fascinating story is that the first video has now been watched – get this – 879,634,089 times. 

And the live performance is already over 150 million views, too.

As one of the posters put it on the YouTube of the first video, “let’s aim for a billion hits on New Year’s Eve”. A billion views? Of one pop song? A BILLION? Really?

Now as at June 30 this year, this was the breakdown of internet users in the world.

Two billion and four hundred and five million and some users worldwide. Getting on for half of them are dancing with their legs like John Wayne and waving an imaginary lasoo in the air ...

Two billion and four hundred and five million and some users worldwide. Getting on for half of them are dancing with their legs bowed like John Wayne and waving an imaginary lassoo in the air … Er, well, why not?

That means, essentially, that about half of the world’s Internet users have viewed the video on YouTube, let alone seen it on TV, on other websites, heard it on the radio, danced to it in a club … now that’s a hit, eh? I even have a vague memory of myself waving my arm around one night at Fusion nightclub at Crown, but honestly I was a bit over-trained by that stage so I might have just been waving my arms around aimlessly anyway. Pop music and I have an interesting relationship after I’ve had a few beverages. Think Rowan Atkinson on speed.

And now look at that big red wedge. That’s Asia. 44.8% of world Internet usage.

So can anyone still think that the 21st century is not going to be the Asian century? They are taking Western culture, merging it with their own, creating something vibrant and new, and then selling it brilliantly, both to their fellow Asians, and to the West.

Somehow, you know, I really don’t think my passable schoolboy French, which I have always been so proud of, is going to be much of an achievement – or of much use – in my declining years. Quel dommage.

At least, thanks to the abundance of brilliant Asian restaurants of all types in Melbourne, I can now say “thank you” in about a dozen nearby languages.  Cám ơn. Xie xie. M goi. Arigato. Komapsumnida. Terima kasih. Khawp khun. Khawp jai. Istuti. Shukriya. The effort is always greeted with a polite smile and sometimes genuine pleasure. The fact that the people serving us all speak my language – often near-perfectly – is never lost on me.

Somehow though, I think that the way things are headed, “please” may very well end up being more useful word to know … it is hard to imagine that the West can ever now catch up with the sheer exuberance and hard work, not to mention massive human resources, of Asia.

The Australian government just announced yet another push to get us “Asia ready”. But it’s too little, too late, I fear. We are a massive country with a tiny population, and already decades behind Asia itself in genuinely understanding the potential of the area. We have inadequate knowledge of their languages, their customs, their culture, and their needs. Faced with a considerable degree of disinterest from the West until recently, they have simply decided to “do it for themselves”.

Apart from the resources under our land and sea I strongly suspect we are already largely irrelevant to the coming century. I don’t think Asia will take us over. I simply suspect we will become largely irrelevant. A social, cultural and business backwater. Europe is broke, and confused. America appears mired in debt, out of energy, and incapable of pulling together as a nation any more. In short: I am beginning to suspect that the West, as a whole, is really rather yesterday’s news.

Which is a shame, because Western culture is, we often forget, thousands of years old, (as we are constantly reminded Asian culture is), and it is a fascinating amalgam of influences stretching back to pre-history.

Whilst it is popular to denigrate Western culture (and it has been a curate’s egg, for sure) it has also been responsible for some of the most important advances in human history – specifically, the evolution from feudalism, anti-authoritarianism, rationalism, science, humanism, the rule of law, democracy, and that’s just to name just a few.

It will be a sad day indeed if those things gradually come to mean less and less to the world’s population.

So let us hope that Asia takes up some of those principles as enthusiastically as they have made short shirts, tight trousers, and syncopated pop music their own. We can only hope, as it is no longer our place to demand.

Does this man now “own” the Republican Party?

Did billionaire David Koch bribe the Romney campaign to put Paul Ryan on the ticket?

If this allegation is true – and if it is, it is presumably illegal – will anyone do anything?

If this is illegal – and the story has been very widely covered – will it be investigated?

Will charges be laid?

And ultimately, what does this do for Romney and the Republican Party’s credibility?

Watch the story here. It is a story ALL Americans, indeed all who believe in freedom and democracy, wherever they may live, should watch and make up their own minds.

If you can’t see the video, here’s the story in essence.

On Friday night’s edition of “The Young Turks,” host Cenk Uygur highlighted a report by controversial Republican political operative Roger Stone. The report alleges that vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) arrived at his place on the ticket through the machinations of David Koch, half of the powerful billionaire Koch brothers.

Stone claims to have heard from sources inside the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney that the governor was approached at a fundraiser in the Hamptons (the notorious “We are V.I.P.!” bash) by David Koch and his wife.

Koch, who has worked cheek by jowl with the Wisconsin Republican cabal that launched the career of Gov. Scott Walker and famously stalled out that state’s government for months in 2011, reportedly offered Romney an additional $100 million in campaign donations to C-4 and super PAC organizations dedicated to Romney’s election on the condition that Romney take Ryan as his running mate.

“In other words,” said Uygur, “a flat-out bribe. Now, I give you a $100 million for your campaign, and you give me the VP selection that I want. Now this is not a Democrat or a reporter reporting this, it’s a Republican, and that’s fascinating. If it’s true, by the way, 100 percent illegal.”

Uygur specifically points to one key piece of Ryan’s platform as a possible motivation for the billionaire conservative’s investment in his own vice president. Ryan wants to lower the capital gains tax — already low at 15 percent — to zero, which would bring David Koch personally an estimated $187.5 million per year. ($750 million over a four year term.)

“That’s why they bribe the politicians,” Uygur said. “What’s outrageous is that we allow them to do it.”

20120818-234012.jpg

The sort of young person that Vladimir Putin should be drafting in to help him run the country – virbant, toughtful, well-educated, unselfish. So what does he do? Throw her in jail for daring to criticise him. How much longer will the world tolerate this petty tyrant turning Russia back to the days of Stalin, and before that, the Tsars … how much longer?

I am indebted to mishato for posting thisinformation as a response to my earlier piece on Pussy Riot, the music group being disgracefully persecuted by the morons in the Kremlin.

Religion Dispatches has posted an English translation of 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statement in their trial for singing a song, which saw them jailed for two years having already spent months in jail. Please: read it. It’s long, but read it. It was spoken by a woman facing an unknown period in jail simply for daring to speak her mind – and nothing else.

Please: read it.

I was literally moved to tears by her words – tears of sympathy, tears of rage – and very impressed by the breadth and depth of the arguments she puts forth. Please: take the time to read this, and then join the fight to free these incredibly brave women, which even the might of the Russian pseudo-democratic dictatorship will not silence.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/theeditors/6295/pussy_riot_members_sentenced_to_2_years_for_offending_russian_orthodox_church/

I confess I really have a hard time finding common ground with those on the right, even though I know that civility demands that I do – and possibly the survival of liberal democracy insists that I must.

It’s not that I think all right wingers are bad and evil people – clearly they are not. I mean, I have right wing friends.

(Why does that feel like you could add the word “Black”, “Jewish” or “French” in there?)

It is just that my experience of right wing politicians and their apparatchiks is that they never truly compromise – that they have no concomitant respect for the other side of politics, and any accommodations they arrive at with people like me are merely tactical, and never of the heart.

Putting it simply, they are not to be trusted. They hate progressive thought, and they despise those who engage in it. They mistrust innovation, they dislike equality, and they don’t really believe that anyone but them should be running things. Ever. It’s been called the “born to rule” mentality, and I have seen it everywhere for as many of my 55 years as I have actually been attuned to such things. I prefer “born to exploit”, but then, that’s me*.

And then I came across this little cartoon and it explained it eloquently, and simply, and, er, well, forever I guess. Recent right wing opposition to healthcare reform in the USA, to the mining super-profits tax and carbon pricing in Australia, and to rescuing the planet from man-fuelled climate change generally around the world, have merely confirmed me in my view.

So I don’t expect I will be offering much compromise anytime soon, unless the right changes its stripes, which I am frankly not expecting. So much as I love my right wing friends, please don’t ask me to change which side of the barricades are on. Because until we are met halfway, I won’t.

And to my left wing friends, the message is “Maintain the rage”.

Er, yup. That’s about it, right there.

*I exclude genuine entrepreneurs from this judgement, those who actually make something, make it at a price that can be afforded, and sell it to people who gratefully receive it. They are the lifeblood of liberal democracy, and I salute them.

Protect free speech

An historic moment looms

As British blogger Cranmer (aka His Grace) discusses here http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/2012/01/we-must-be-free-to-insult-our-neighbour.html, Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 outlaws ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ words or behaviour if they are likely to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’.

The matter is also discussed by civil freedoms campaigner Old Holborn here: http://bastardoldholborn.blogspot.com/2012/01/pay-attention-your-last-chance.html

Whatever you think of His Grace’s religious views, (or Old Holborn’s ruminations, for that matter), he argues persuasively that this is increasingly being used by certain people to get the police to arrest and silence Christian street preachers, prosecute hotel owners for chatting about their faith with a Muslim hotel guest, and to prosecute a teenager for calling the cult of Scientology, well… a cult. (Which it is. So sue me.)

The Home Office is conducting a wide-ranging online consultation to help them decide whether or not to introduce an amendment to clarify the situation in the proposed Protection of Freedoms Bill, and the Christian Institute, along with others, is campaigning to have the word ‘insulting’ removed from this Act.

The campaign has cross-party support, including Edward Leigh (Con), Tom Watson (Lab), and Alan Beith (Liberal Democrat), along with very many others inside and outside of Parliament. They believe that the freedom to disagree and to challenge received wisdom lies at the heart of a democracy, leave alone healthy religious discourse.

My thoughts on this are simple. When we remove the right for people to make pejorative remarks in defence of an argument or position because they could be considered insulting (as opposed to threatening, or abusive, where abusive clearly means many things, but to my mind primarily meaning an insult unsupported by facts, argument or logical principle), then we weaken democracy, and perhaps irretrievably.

For example, if I call an idea idiotic, or an action (say bad driving), am I therefore also referring to the proposer/practitioner of that idea as an idiot?

And if I am construed as doing that, should that person be entitled to make a complaint against me for being insulting? And should I then be liable for prosecution?

In a robust democracy, ruled by commonsense, my answer is “No, of course not!” Ideas are frequently idiotic. Indeed one of the most insulting activities around – racism – is, in itself, is an inherently idiotic idea. And those that propose racist ideology are, in my considered opinion idiots. Should I not be permitted to call them such?

But what if there were safeguards? Should a court be allowed to decide what is reasonable and what is an insult? Would reasonableness be a defence to such a charge?

Quite apart from the infringement on one’s rights as a free citizen to be forced to defend the matter in court (with concomitant costs) the answer is again “No”, because it arrogates to the courts the right to decide what is reasonable, instead of using our own commonsense as free individuals.  It is just another drift to a centralised, nanny state where freedom of expression (and freedom to scrutinise the actions of others) is curtailed.

Imagine it. Eventually a body of case law builds up on the question of reasonableness. Then one day, dismayed by the matters clogging the courts, Government decides to legislate all the possible situations where one using the word idiotic can be used reasonably.The courts then continue to further develop case law. Eventually, rather than risk prosecution, we the People simply stop saying “that’s idiotic” for fear of prosecution.

And now multiply that effect by a hundred words, or a thousand.

Alarmist? Perhaps. But words are the currency of freedom. They each have vital nuances of meaning. They allow us to freely participate in discourse, with each other, with those who influence our lives, and with our State. The very complexity of English is its strength, it is why it stands head and shoulders above other world languages in its ability to explain, reveal, illuminate and inspire. Anything that reduces our right to revel in its range of expression is lunacy.

I am on record as saying that I support rules that prevent us racially abusing one another. Consistency demands that I here explain why. The history of the world, especially in the last hundred years or so, reveals racism as a uniquely pernicious habit of human behaviour, the genesis of which is speech, and the result of which has been unimaginable suffering. It is also the least supportable bias, when analysed through any prism, that we humans are prone too. Under these circumstances, I believe it justified to curtail our right to racially abuse one another, as a deliberate exercise in mass opinion and behaviour moulding, just as I believe poor driving can be legitimately curtailed by speed limits and the breathalyzer.

When the laws to prevent racial vilification were initially formulated, in the UK and elsewhere, the most common argument against them were that they were a slippery slope towards a general curtailment of freedom of speech. At the time, I recall clearly liberals of all political persuasions vowing to prevent that slippery slope from becoming a reality, myself included. This far, and no further, was a clear agreement amongst politicians and commentators of varying ages, backgrounds, and political hues.

Which is why I raise my voice now in support of the campaign to have “insulting” removed from the law. It is far better to have a ruling principle in a free society that people have recourse to other, civil arenas to resolve feelings of distress. Apart from continuing the conversation, which is always an option, of course, strong libel and defamation laws (at least in the UK and Australia, albeit less so in America), also protect people from being the object of obviously unreasonable aspersions.

Take the survey yourself, but hurry

You are welcome to take the Home Office survey yourself, but I warn you that you have less than a day to do so. It ends on Friday 13th. (Spooky, or what?) And you don’t have to answer all the questions if you don’t want to, just answer the ones on insulting words, and then skip to the end.

https://www.homeofficesurveys.homeoffice.gov.uk/v.asp?i=41428bwhlr

But in any event, internal consultations of this kind are very rarely of any major use in either promoting greater freedom of or preventing infringements of civil liberties, as they are usually a cynical PR exercise.

What works best is the white hot glare of publicity when laws are actually formulated.

So feel free to re-blog this article, Facebook it or whatever. And then keep an eye on the news for the moment when consultation turns to law making, and the restrictions placed on us are re-legislated. And when that happens, defend, with every fibre of your being, my inalienable right to call you an idiot. And to be called an idiot.

And if you don’t agree that’s right and proper, then frankly, you’re an idiot, and slippery slopes were made for people like you.

Those lovely people over at at Fox News just don’t get it.

They smear Obama for three years … secretly a Muslim, giving in to the Ay-rabs, wrecking the economy, not born in America, actually a Kenyan, a secret socialist (lol) … and all the rest of the crap that they actually make up, or blithely re-report, with innocent gleaming denti-white smiles.

Then suddenly, the American people pretty clearly seem to think that Obama is going to get re-elected in the 2012 election. Something to do with the fact that the Republicans are busy chasing around promoting a bunch of complete turkeys, you reckon?

Watch their suprise – nay, disgust. It’s hilarious.

I think they started to believe their own publicity, poor saps.

Fox News – Rich people paying rich people to tell middle class people to blame poor people. Only they forgot the poor people get a vote, too.

Gotta love democracy, sometimes.