Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Taking Huxley over Orwell: I have seen the Star Chamber upon your soul!

Initially one is encouraged that so much of the commentariat seems united in its belief that: while we might disagree with our neighbour's opinion, we will defend at all costs his right to say it. Recent examples of this, apparently admirable, ideological whip-round can be found here, here, and here.

What is distressing about the movement, however, is its failure to correct the very habits of mind that paved the way to the abuses that it has decided, now, to condemn.

Observe what is characteristic of each of the above given examples:

Each of the authors rejects the authority of government to censor speech. Each condemns the Human Rights Commissions as illegitimate--as, essentially, kangaroo courts ... But each, also, accepts that the accused in the given cases (i.e. Mark Steyn and Stephen Boissoin) have said something "hateful".

Now, don't get me wrong: this would be just fine ... except that none of these columnists--as per journalistic convention--spends so much as a sentence demonstrating what, exactly, makes the opinions in question hateful! They are united in their easy posturing to the effect that assholes should be allowed to spout nonsense, but they do not so much as dare to doubt that Steyn and Boissoin are assholes and that theirs is nonsense.

What should concern us is not the political toadying at work here, but the trend of journalistic incompetence. (And let there be no doubt that if the latter goes uncorrected then there can be no hope of a genuine victory for free speech or for a free press.)

My point being: that if it is so that Mark Steyn cherry-picked his facts, that he fiddled his numbers, that he left gobs of relevant stuff out, then there might be a case to be made for the characterization of his piece as "hateful" (though I think "mistaken", or if you prefer "completely erroneous", would be the more reasonable judgements, given the impossibility of determining intent). Instead--and for all their mockery of the tribunals' deference to the power of "tone"--an examination of the factual accuracy of Mr. Steyn's MacLeans piece remains to be the last thing anyone in the MSM wants to undertake. They condemn the prosecution of "hate", but are quite happy to perpetuate the smear--indeed, the slander--of "hate".

Ultimately, the effect upon free speech is the same. Indeed, it seems to me that it is a great deal worse. For while the HRCs only flout the conventions of law, the mentality exhibited in the columns cited above goes further: it flouts the conventions of inquiry.

Let us be careful that we do not replace our 1984 with a Brave New World.