Right-wing vs Left-wing Libertarianism

MoronWatch came into existence to take snarky aim, on Twitter, at right-wing stupidity, religious/superstitious fundamentalism, bigotry and state brutality – a mish-mash of interests which all come under the umbrella of “moron-watching”. Those who have followed my blog for a while will realise the wheels began to come off this objective a couple of years ago, as my eyes were opened to immense depths of stupidity on the left as well as the right. Having been active on the left for a while in the 80s, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the intellectual decline that has taken place on the left while I’ve not been paying attention.

I’ve had to acknowledge the hypocrisy of attacking science-denial among fundamentalists (evolution) and conservatives (climate change) while ignoring science denial on the left (GMOs, nuclear power vs fossil fuel, biological determinism). Even more deeply, I couldn’t continue to comment on right-wing attacks on freedom while ignoring that the left has become every bit as authoritarian – or often even more so.

The intellectual collapse of both right and left has been met with an anti-politics trend that is mostly even less intelligent than the mainstream. The idiotic idea that “it’s all broken” and needs smashing is brutish and dangerous, and is as prevalent on the Farage-supporting old-white-man right as among the infantile Russell Brand “revolutionaries”. Smashing everything appeals to the ignorant and the elitist, but risks making things far worse, and turning back the clock on centuries of progress.

A New Enlightenment

The problems we face today have been faced repeatedly before. The solution lies in crowd-sourcing, to use a modern word for an old idea: people power. Not the power to storm parliaments in masks (that inevitably appeals to an elitist few who think they have all the answers), but the power to apply intellect and provide answers. How can our 7 billion brains (as well as our man-made thinking machines) be best applied to finding solutions to problems?

The answer is centuries old, and was provided by the most powerful thought revolution that has shaken humanity: The Enlightenment, which laid down a set of simple principles:

Liberty and Free Expression: The fewer restrictions there are on expression, the greater the variety of ideas that can enter the shared meme pool. A free marketplace of ideas, allowed to flourish, will allow the best ideas to triumph over the rest. No elite can be allowed to restrict the flow of ideas based on its own idea of right and wrong. Expression must be protected on principle: all of it. No individual or group has the right to suppress ideas. The antidote to bad ideas can only come in the form of better ideas. Censorship is a fundamental obstacle to human progress.

But how will such a process select the “right” answers among all the wrong ones? The second principle is:

Reason: Non-scientists tend to see science as a list of disciplines, each with their own lists of facts. But at its core, science is a method for allowing good ideas to float up, while the bad ones sink and die. In place of censorship, there is reason. In place of dogma, there is objective examination of evidence. Ideas are measured, not based on their popularity at any given time, but on the strength of the reasoned argument that backs them. Right answers always begin as minority positions, but given the application of reason, and the maintenance of a free marketplace of ideas, they will become majority ones in time.

Liberty and reason cannot thrive in a society without a commitment to…

Equality: A free marketplace of ideas cannot work without equal access. While plenty of lip-service is paid to equality, in practise it comes under attack constantly. In the recent past, equality was mostly threatened by the unfair treatment of women, racial and other minorities. But following the great political and cultural battles of the 1960s, laws were enacted against discriminatory behaviour, and the culture rapidly changed in response. But increasingly, denial of equality comes from the left rather than the right.

Where Has the Left Gone Wrong?

Today’s left has largely abandoned the very Enlightenment values that led to the birth of left-wing ideas in the 19th century.

On liberty, the left is worse, if possible, than the right. Sexual freedom – once the preserve of the left – now comes under more frequent attack from the left than the right. Recent attempts to ban prostitution in Europe have come about via a bizarre alliance of feminists with the religious fundamentalists. Similarly, music videos (especially by black artists) have been deemed “too sexualised” (with vicious slut-shaming attacks on Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, among others), and there are regular calls for music videos to be censored. The banning of “offensive” speech is championed with equal enthusiasm by Daily Mail readers and Guardianistas. Student Unions have taken deeply censorious approaches towards what can or can’t be said on campus. The last Labour government introduced some of the most draconian censorship laws ever seen in the UK, to deal with the phantom problem of “extreme porn”. In practise, these laws have been used to attack the sexual activities of consenting adults. The Exhibit B art exhibition was closed down in London on the (almost certainly false) grounds that it was “racist”. Free expression – including bad, offensive, hateful expression – must be defended on principle.

On reason, the left appears to have lost its mind. Last week, the EU sacked a senior science adviser for telling the truth; a truth that upset an alliance of left-wing and environmentalist campaigners: that genetically modified foods are not harmful. Science that disagrees with left-wing dogma is attacked viciously.

And the left has largely abandoned its quest for equality. Instead, special rules are put forward for “oppressed” groups. Thus, non-whites are deemed to be incapable of racial bigotry, and women – as with children – are to be given special protections that men don’t need. The fact that male bodies are considered “safe” for public display, but not female ones, is one of many examples of where the left has quietly abandoned the quest for equality. Special treatment has replaced equality, and comes in the form of privileges in response to “oppressions” that are ill-defined. The left is increasingly stuck in the swamp of identity politics, determined to find oppression where none exists, and to rectify it by creating new remedies that deepen rather than solve inequality.

A Cross-Spectrum Libertarianism

Fascism could be defined as a nationalistic, ultra-conservative movement that rejects Enlightenment values. On that basis, today’s left and right have both become tainted with fascist ideology. Ironically, in UK politics, it is the Conservative Party that has tried to shake off its most backward instincts (inadvertently helping build UKIP), while the Labour Party has collapsed into a new conservatism.

Today, libertarianism is associated with right-wing attitudes – but it doesn’t have to be so. In response to the new rise of fascistic attitudes in Europe, the response must be for the left – as well as the right – to rekindle the Enlightenment. Thus, the left-right political spectrum has become relatively unimportant – what instead matters is a commitment to liberty and reason across the political spectrum. Cross-spectrum libertarianism would establish Enlightenment values as the foremost goal, to stop and roll back the spread of fascism, with differences between left and right to be treated as a secondary “problem”.

What is Left-Wing Libertarianism?

Right-wing libertarianism uses tricks of language that first need to be unravelled. The “state” is seen as a uniformly bad thing, but in fact libertarians tend to use the word loosely to mean three separate things:

The Security State: The state is the apparatus for maintaining control of society, and typically acts to maintain the status quo: the rule of the wealthy. The state includes the police, prison system, army and bureaucracy. To libertarians of left and right, the state must be seen as a necessary (or perhaps unnecessary) evil, and shrunk to the maximum extent possible. It’s fine for left and right libertarians to argue among themselves as to how quickly, and to what extent the state should be rolled back.

The Welfare State: In hindsight, the naming of the welfare state was unfortunate. It allows right-wing libertarians to blur it with the security state. Left-wing libertarians should separate these two things: one can accept that police powers should be reduced without needing to believe that universal healthcare or education are bad things. In fact, one can construct a libertarian argument for providing universal services, where the market has failed to deliver: using a pragmatic idea of liberty, rather than a dogmatic “liberty is the absence of a state” one, it’s clear that universal healthcare, efficient public transport systems and street lighting (for example) enhance rather than reduce individual liberty.

Government: Libertarians dishonestly confuse the state with government. All groups of people, left to themselves, will find that communities are better to live in with a set of shared values and services, and will naturally create their own governments to manage things. Government, so long as it is democratic and subservient to the will of the people, is not the same as the state. Government requires funding. The libertarian mantra that “tax is theft” is a near-religious mantra, not an intelligent policy position. Even the most libertarian village would eventually require every member to contribute to shared services. A pure libertarian society would last until the first cholera outbreak revealed the need for a collectively funded sewage system.

So it is quite possible for left-wing libertarians to defend the National Health Service, the welfare state, universal education, mass transit, etc. while defending Enlightenment values of liberty, reason, equality.

From a libertarian position, the left can show the flaws in right-wing libertarianism: for example, many libertarians are climate change deniers; not because the evidence is in doubt, but because they oppose coordinated government action on principle. Denying scientific fact that is inconvenient to your beliefs is a rejection of reason. The right must learn that markets are not the panacea to every problem, and that community action is sometimes necessary. But the left must also accept that market solutions are the best in many cases.

We need to stop worrying, for now, about our left/right identities and instead unite to reawaken the Enlightenment. This isn’t a luxury: it is the only antidote to fascism.

How the Middle Classes Appropriated “Oppression”

When I were a lad (yes, even Londoners had northern accents back then), and a left-wing activist, we were greatly concerned about oppression; and in the 1980s, there was no shortage of examples. The South African police had shot dead schoolchildren in Soweto in 1976, and continued to gun down innocents on a regular basis. In Latin America, US-backed dictatorships kidnapped, tortured and murdered thousands of activists. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, US-backed terrorists attacked civilians on a wide scale, with a special love of atrocity. In Africa, civilians were slaughtered in proxy wars between the US and USSR. Asia saw brutality on an unimaginable scale.

The left stood for the rights of oppressed peoples, but understood clearly that oppression is primarily a function of economic means, not of race, sex or sexuality. While we also opposed prejudice on these grounds, and supported women’s rights, gay rights and anti-racism causes, we knew that ultimately, oppression and poverty were inextricably linked.

But the left slowly died as the Cold War came to an end, and capitalism (coupled with social democracy) proved itself more resilient than Marx had predicted. The death of the British left can be located to a particular date: 3rd March 1985, when the miners sadly walked back to work after their long strike. For me, and many of my friends, this marked the point when our activism ended and we drifted away to live our lives.

But the organs of the left remained, and were rapidly taken over by a new breed: overwhelmingly white, middle-class and rooted in academia rather than trade unionism. This new left failed to understand the economics of poverty and oppression (never having witnessed these things themselves), so set about writing themselves a new ideology. So we found ourselves thrust into the era of identity politics.

The new left lacked the intellect of the old, and found itself making the most fundamental of all mistakes: confusing correlation with causation. So the left now sought out new groups that appeared to oppressed. Because white people held the most economic power, the moronic left reasoned that skin colour was a cause of oppression, and labelled all non-whites as victims. And since laws had been rigged against women, the left decided that mere possession of a vagina was equivalent to oppression.

While paying lip service to the oppression of the poor, the overwhelming white, academic, middle-class left no longer had any links with the working class, and so they focused on rescuing the oppressed groups they knew best: themselves. Largely, this meant that the individuals with the most “oppressions” (yes, I’ve really seen it used in the plural) were fast-tracked to the top. Those who screamed their self-pity the loudest became the most powerful, fast-tracked into political power.

But the rise of gay and black (often both) individuals was orchestrated by the white people who kept a firm hand on the reins. Black people would only be allowed into the hierarchy if they accepted that they were oppressed. Gay and non-white people who didn’t see themselves as oppressed by their colour or sexuality were labelled self-haters, and side-tracked. Non-white activists like Linda Bellos, Lee Jasper and Diane Abbott were only acceptable because they echoed the view of the white, middle-class establishment that they were oppressed.

In the intervening years, the self-pitying rhetoric of “oppression” and “privilege” has only gained further ground, to the extent that the meaning of these two words has been twisted almost beyond recognition. Almost comically, white, middle-class women appear to have decided that they are the most oppressed of all. Now, oppression isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something that you are. Now, oppression isn’t having your children shot dead, or a daily struggle to feed one’s family. No, oppression is a white middle-class woman, with a good job, having to endure the fact that men like looking at pictures of breasts. The following is a genuine tweet from just such an oppressed woman:

On tube sat next to a man reading The Sun and thus I start my day feeling a continuing sense of oppression

One wonders if Prozac might be the solution to this sort of oppression… or perhaps just a nice spliff. But I digress.

The old left tried to overturn oppression, but to the new left, this is pointless. Rather than fix inequalities, the left has decided to cement inequality into place permanently. Now, anybody labelled Oppressed must be given special privileges as compensation. In a deeply Orwellian twist, the more oppressed one is deemed to be, the more privilege they must be given in return.

Thus, the woman who finds Page 3 imagery objectionable need not merely boycott the Sun (as I’ve done my whole life). Now she has the right to demand that Page 3 is removed from the Sun. As an oppressed woman, she has won the privilege of censorship. Don’t Page 3 models also have a right to work? Apparently not – the rights of the oppressed middle-class woman are far greater than those of the working class one.

The “black community” (an almost meaningless phrase) is also deemed to be oppressed. Those black individuals who accept their oppression (and scream loudly about it) are welcomed by the left. Black individuals who doubt their own oppression, or who see the dangers in teaching black children that they’re automatically oppressed, are screamed down as self-haters.

This was most clearly shown by the recent London art exhibition, Exhibit Bwhich was forced to close after the “black community” (or rather, a mob of 200 people) blockaded it. Thus, black people are SO oppressed that they too are granted the right of censorship of anything that offends them. Never mind that the exhibition had been critically acclaimed in multiple cities before reaching London, or that black people were far from united in hating it, or that those who protested against it had never seen it.

The irony with Exhibit B is that the mob was enabled by the white elite. Their oppression (and thus, their privilege) was granted to them by white people. Their language of “oppression” and “privilege” was forged by the white middle-classes in universities around the country. Far from being “conscious” or liberated, this black minority is determined to follow a white agenda to the bitter end. The left is determined to tell black people that they are doomed to fail; and give them a handy excuse for failure – their skin colour.

So now, the left doesn’t expect black people to conform to the rules affecting whites. And so, politics has turned full circle. In accepting that black people, women, and other groups, are oppressed, the left has attempted to destroy the very thing it used to fight for: equality. Now, groups deemed oppressed by the white elite are granted special allowances. And the fight for equality takes a huge step backwards.

So is it any surprise that groups have sprung up on the right to declare men and white people oppressed? Sure, these people are laughable – but no more laughable than the claims of oppression by the left. Self-pity is the new black.

If you’re born into a middle-class existence in the UK, you aren’t oppressed. This is true regardless of your skin colour, who you choose to fuck, or the shape of your genitals. It’s genuinely sickening to watch the pity-fest that has replaced left-wing politics in the 21st century. Get over yourselves.

Free Speech, “Rape Threats” and the War on Twitter

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

British leaders often invoke the idea that Britain is a “beacon of freedom”. Anyone paying attention though, will note that free speech has always been strongly restricted in the UK: far more so than in the United States, where it is constitutionally protected. Sadly, most British people seem to have a vague understanding of what free speech is, or why it is so important. This lack of love for free expression runs across the political spectrum; of the three large parties, only the Liberal Democrats show any real interest in protecting it.

But the rot isn’t just within the political parties. By demoting free speech behind “security”, “protecting children” or simply “protecting against offense”, our political leaders are merely reflecting the attitudes of their supporters. I’m regularly told, by both righties and lefties, that “free speech doesn’t mean all speech” or “free speech is all very well, but there must be lines in the sand”. Thus demonstrating they don’t understand the basic meaning of the word “free”. Protection of free speech must include “bad” speech, by definition. After all, the ideas that women should get the vote or that homosexuality should be decriminalised were once “dangerous” ideas.

Despite the regular self-congratulations about how free we are, Britain has always had a censorious, paternalistic culture towards “protecting” its citizens from the menace of genuinely free expression. Our television is the most censored in Europe, and our government regularly blocks bigoted loud-mouths from entering the country (as if we didn’t excel in creating our own bigoted loud-mouths). This situation was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of the consumer Internet around 20 years ago, which brought truly uncensored expression to British people for the first time. With the later appearance of Web 2.0 – meaning tools that allowed non-technical people to easily publish content – true free expression accelerated further.

So the powers that be – government, police and media corporations – have always had an unspoken desire to rein in online free speech; to take us back to the 1980s, when they could largely control the flow of information to the masses.

Twitter, a classic Web 2.0 creation, is quite probably the most free mass medium of them all. It represents America’s First Amendment distilled and productised. It allows people to publish what’s on their minds in an instant, and for popular ideas to be rapidly propagated. Twitter is the great leveller: it favours the unknown over the famous. Well-known individuals will always find themselves the butt of jokes and personal attacks, simply because they’re famous. On Twitter, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Needless to say, British authoritarians, control freaks and the fascist-minded hate Twitter. Our authorities have tried to keep American free speech at bay since the US Constitution was written, but now it has invaded our country: and we should be pleased of that. Since Twitter’s birth, it was only a matter of time before war was declared on the platform. The police have been flexing their muscles for some time. Since Paul Chambers went to court in the infamous Twitter Joke Trial in 2010, authorities have increasingly tried to take control of online speech. But Chambers attracted great public support; the authorities had chosen the wrong target.

The real War on Twitter began in mid-2013, when a well-orchestrated moral panic was launched. The clear aim of the panic is to create support for the idea that Twitter is a dangerous medium, and must be controlled. And sadly, many people – conservative and liberal – have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. The word “troll” – which originally referred to deliberately provocative posters in online chat forums – was appropriated by the media and redefined to mean “someone who is offensive online”. This now appears in a variety of contexts such as “abusive Twitter troll”, “misogynistic troll”, and so on.

Twitter has a block button, which easily hides future tweets from people one doesn’t want to see. I try not to ever use it (it would be pretty hard to watch morons if I did), but the mechanism works well for those who do. This means that the more delicate souls can forget that there are rude, foul-mouthed, abusive people on Twitter, if they want to.

The panic had clearly been primed and ready to go for some time. It found its perfect moment when a campaign was launched in 2013 to keep women on British banknotes, following the announcement of a new £5 note to be launched in 2016. A journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, tweeted in support of the campaign, and received a number of offensive tweets in response: some of the abuse reportedly featured rape threats. Criado-Perez is an attractive, middle-class, young, blonde woman; the War on Twitter had its perfect victim, and operations commenced.

Another female journalist, who followed events on the day, tells me that Criado-Perez only received a handful of abusive tweets; and yet the event was picked up by the press and massively exaggerated. The tweets, from a handful of morons, became a “torrent”, and a “barrage”. A number of female journalists began an ironically patriarchal campaign, the subtext of which was that women are more delicate than men, and should not have to tolerate the nasty language that men do. Online death threats to men (of which I’ve received, and laughed off, many) are just boys being boys, but rape threats to women are beyond the pale.

Over the past six months, the campaign has been pumped up by the media on a regular basis. Learning from the Criado-Perez experience, the bulk of the coverage is dedicated to the online abuse of attractive young women. Feminists of the Women’s Lib generation might spot the misogynistic message being deployed here, but it appears not to have been widely noticed, with many self-declared feminists attacking “sexist Twitter trolls” rather than the sexist concept that women, unlike men, can’t handle nasty words being thrown in their direction.

Eventually, two young morons – a man and a woman, came to trial for abusing Criado-Perez. Yes, a total of two, despite the “torrent” of abuse reported at the time. The trial’s coverage was riddled with misogyny and class snobbery. Photographs of the overweight, unattractive pair were juxtaposed with the blonde demureness of Criado Perez. “Look at these oiks, abusing such a nice, middle class lady”, the news outlets (almost) screamed.

The hysterical coverage of “Twitter trolls” has set out to demonstrate that the problem of unregulated speech is real, harmful, and getting worse. The prosecution stated that:

“Caroline Criado-Perez has suffered life-changing psychological effects from the abuse which she received on Twitter”

The poor, delicate little thing (did I mention she’s blonde?)

I’m probably being unfair to Criado-Perez here; the Crown Prosecution Service were clearly desperate to get a conviction and extend British law into controlling what people can say in public. The prosecution may well have misrepresented and exaggerated her true feelings in their lust to increase their power over public discourse.

In my 25 or so years of online discussion, I’ve experienced far more abuse than I can remember. It includes threats of harm, anti-Semitic and racist comments, and endless personal attacks. And yet the idea of people being prosecuted for mere speech – however ugly the speech – horrifies me far more than the worst Holocaust joke I’ve seen. One of the preconditions for the Holocaust to take place was to silence Jews and other minorities. Free speech protects the most vulnerable in society. The idea that police should have any role in controlling expression is a horrific one, and can only have horrific consequences; and yet those who should be defending our free speech have fallen at the first hurdle because – shock horror – free speech means people might say nasty words to nice people.

It is tragic that, centuries after the Enlightenment, liberals still need educating in why free speech – even including nasty, bigoted, hateful speech – must be protected. Women, minorities and the poor are never protected by giving increased censorship powers to the state. In 1789, America’s founders recognised this and outlawed censorship in their Constitution. 235 years later, it’s about time Britain followed their example.

Britain: Land of the Cowardly

Watching from the UK, America’s gun control debate seems bizarre, archaic, outlandish and fascinating. Like most progressives, I come down firmly on the side of greater gun control; but I’m not American, and don’t claim a right to participate in the decision making. But I do claim my right to help influence the decision as best I can. America’s guns aren’t just America’s problem.

They leak out, fuelling the Mexican and Central American drug war. And in buying so many guns, Americans have greatly increased the size of the global small arms industry, bringing down gun prices and creating a wealthy industry with immense lobbying power that can be used to modify the will of the people. A gun manufactured in Russia is as likely to be sold to an American consumer as to the Russian police. Without legal weapons in America, guns would be less numerous and more expensive globally. Wars in poor countries would be more difficult to fund, if only marginally.

And the “debate” over whether guns lead to an increase in violence is laughable. International data are now available at the click of a Google button. Any American can now quickly compare the murder rate in their country with that in any other, and discover that America is far more violent than any similarly developed country. America has 4% of the world’s population, yet the vast majority of mass shootings happen in the United States – more than 200 since 2006.

The pro-gun “liberty” argument is deeply flawed. The prevalence of guns tends to discourage, rather than encourage, free speech – as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gabrielle Giffords and many others have inadvertently demonstrated. With so many guns, it takes a brave person to stand up in a public place and espouse a controversial idea. Minority viewpoints are violently suppressed in the United States, usually not by the state, but by lone men with access to fire-power. One of the greatest limitations to the First Amendment is the Second.

And yet, watching the arguments from the UK, I also experience a genuine and strong respect for the importance that many Americans attach to liberty. Britain pays lip service to liberty, and yet this country appears to almost completely lack the libertarian attitudes that exist on both the left and right of American politics. Britons are far more accepting of state intervention in our lives than Americans, in many forms. The merest hint of a threat will trigger a moral panic in the media, and Britons are repeatedly happy to accept the need for a little more police power without considering the cost.

The gun libertarians may have picked a dumb fight, but at least they stand and fight for (what they believe to be) liberty. Meanwhile, over the past decade, the state has rolled over British liberties, cheered on by the media and both of the main political parties.

Last weekend, thousands of Americans demonstrated against spying by the NSA. Meanwhile in Britain, we discover that GCHQ is spying on us and sharing the information with the NSA. Here in the UK, we don’t demonstrate for our right to privacy or free speech. Nor do our leaders have the backbone to criticise the secret police; instead they issue threats against newspapers that dare reveal the erosion of our freedom.

It’s easy to draw up a long list of liberties lost in recent years, but what is most shocking is that these were taken without opposition.

  • Laws drawn up against a “terrorist threat” have routinely been used to attack other targets. When police brutality started to be routinely exposed by photographers, the police responded by using terrorist powers to harass photographers.
  • Carrying a knife is an offence punishable with prison time. The change in law came about following a moral panic over a “knife crime epidemic” which never happened. I’m not a huge fan of people carrying knives, but I’m even less of a fan of a police state with endless justification to stop and search people in the street, which is where we now live. We don’t need police stopping and searching our teenagers at their whim, especially since they choose to direct their actions against young black and Asian men – such police behaviour was a prime cause of the 2011 UK riots.
  • Possession of “extreme pornography” is punishable with prison time and addition to the sex offenders register. Possession can even constitute receipt of an “extreme” image by email. What constitutes “extreme” is the decision of puritanical politicians and regulators who seem never to have had sex lives of their own. This law is now to be extended to include “rape porn”. In practise, although sold as a law to “protect” people, this criminalises the recording of legal, consenting sex acts between adults.
  • We allow video and TV to be more tightly censored than most other democracies; now we are also ready to watch our free Internet access slip away, under the guise of “protecting children”.

Through moral panic after moral panic, draconian law after draconian law, British rights are eroded. But it seems the British people deserve this treatment. We fail to protest. We re-elect the Labour/Tory duopoly that competes to be “toughest” against the next non-existent threat to our safety. To their credit, the Liberal Democrats exhibit at least paper support for civil liberties; for this reason, it’s better that we elect Lab/Lib or Tory/Lib coalitions than either simple Labour or Tory governments.

We live in one of the safest societies on Earth. Crime in all forms has been falling for decades. And yet the average Briton seems more afraid and more prepared to surrender liberty than ever. We have become a nation of cowards (if we were ever anything else – our belief in our “glorious and courageous history” seems to largely be based on the courage of one man: Winston Churchill).

Liberty is often ugly. It means allowing people to do things that many people dislike or even fear. We’ve forgotten this in Britain, and unless we re-learn it, we will deservedly continue our slide towards living in a sham democracy where everything is monitored, and many harmless acts can result in police intervention in our lives. America, with its endless wars and regular suspension of democratic values, may not deserve to call itself the Land of the Free, but it has more right to do so than Britain does.

Online Free Speech: Sticks And Stones…

Barely a week goes by in which the British “left” doesn’t display its increasing disdain for free speech, but this past week has been especially troublesome. The idea that only free speech and rational thinking can allow civilisation to advance isn’t exactly new; it descends from the Enlightenment. And yet, however many times mankind has to relearn this lesson, it gets forgotten again.

The thing that much of the left can’t grasp is that free speech (in practise, encompassing free expression in any form) really means Free Speech. Including – brace yourself – speech that you might find offensive, disgusting or just plain unnecessary. As the Enlightenment thinkers explained, only in a truly free market of ideas can the good ideas be separated from the bad. Any attempt to coerce speech in any direction, by any means, even for the best of reasons, can only distort and suppress, and will crush good ideas along with the bad ones.

What’s even more annoying (to me, as an ex-tribal leftie) is that parts of the right grasp this concept better than the left. The Telegraph (which I’ve spent most of my life loathing) today defends free speech far more stridently than The Guardian (which I’ve spent most of my life reading). Free speech is a progressive idea – how dare those righties take it from us?! But then, the left doesn’t seem to want it any more.

So, for example, here is how I started last Sunday:

A little explanation: last week, idiots in the UK government and Home Office decided to send vans to immigrant areas carrying a pleasant message to illegal immigrants: “Go Home or Face Arrest”. How lovely. The vans were designed to appeal to the racist vote that might be shifting from the Conservatives to the even-more-racist UKIP. The word “wog” is pretty much extinct now, but was a favourite of racists in the 1970s, referring either to black people or all non-whites, depending on preference.

I had sent the tweet on Sunday because I was planning to spend the day at Jamaican independence parties, including one in Brixton, south London.

My tweet had two replies of any substance: a black follower kindly pointed out that Jamaican independence day was actually on Tuesday 6th, not Sunday; and a PC follower objected that the tweet was offensive. Yes, because it included the word “wog”.

Sigh. Let me just point out, again, that offence is taken, not given. Words are not offensive, or harmful, though they have the power to cause offence in some, especially in the more delicate souls among us, the poor fragile dears. And, as we all learned in school, “sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt me”.

Easily offended Guardianistas are on the rampage against any form of expression that they consider to be offensive. “Free speech doesn’t mean you can cause offence”, they lecture. But yes, morons, it does! The legalisation of homosexuality required speech that offended many people. The abolition of slavery could not have been achieved without “offensive” speech. If you accept that offensive speech can be policed, then all speech is policed. And if you think minorities will actually benefit from such a system you truly are a moron. Censorship only benefits the powerful.

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter is the most tolerant of free speech. While my “wog” tweet remains on Twitter, Facebook not only removed it from my page, but banned me for 12 hours. Yes, a post satirising racism was considered racist because it contained a word considered (by the unthinking) to be offensive. What clearer illustration is needed that censorship is not the solution to racism, or any other nasty attitude?

Given Twitter’s defence of speech, it is no surprise therefore, that well-orchestrated outbursts of rage against Twitter are becoming frequent. The latest anti-Twitter panic also came last week, when some very nasty tweets, including rape threats, were sent to a number of high-profile women. Although I was raised with the feminist idea that women are just as capable as men of looking after themselves, modern-day feminists apparently agree with 1950s women’s magazines that women, like children, need special protection from their benevolent menfolk. Threats against men? No problem. Threats against women? SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

Threats of violence are as old as mankind, and I can testify that I’ve seen them online for over two decades, and indeed have received many myself. The beauty of free speech is that, left to itself, it allows the good to overcome the bad. High-profile female journalists with many Twitter followers have the perfect solution to abusive tweets: no, not the block button, but the retweet button. Transmit an idiotic comment about rape to 50,000 adoring fans, and the abusive tweeter will soon wish he had kept his mouth shut.

No black person was ever kicked in the balls by the word “wog”, although many black people have been kicked in the balls by police officers, who now (according to some morons) should be preventing people from being offended online. No Jew was ever gassed by a swastika, and no woman was ever raped by a tweet. The most dangerous enemies of free speech are those who argue persuasively that the world will be a better place if just these few words, these few symbols, these communication platforms were just a little more policed.

Of course, censorship advocates are a little more sophisticated, and try to prove that some speech is actually harmful. Rape tweets feed into “rape culture” (they tell us) which leads to actual rapes. Do they provide evidence of this process actually happening? Of course not. They ignore the fact that rape tweets can generate anti-rape tweets in far greater numbers. They forget the lesson, provided to us by Jimmy Savile, the Catholic Church and their supportive police forces, that the greatest victory for rapists is to suppress speech. Only the powerful benefit when some subjects are deemed unworthy of public discussion.

I find it a little annoying when I’m referred to as a “fucking Jew”, as has happened recently, and not for the first time; but I’ll get much more worried when the authorities ban the term in order to “protect” me from being offended. Minorities know better than to trust somebody else with our protection. So long as “offensive” words are allowed, I can defend myself. The moment they are banned, supposedly in order to protect my feelings, is the moment Jews and other minorities can really start to worry.

Under David Cameron’s new Internet filter (aka Internet censorship), this blog will probably find itself blocked to households that have chosen not to see “hate speech”, because it contains terms that the authorities consider hateful. Discussion of hate speech is being crushed under the banner of stopping hate speech. We need to go back and learn again the lessons of the Enlightenment, before we all live in a benign dictatorship that protects everybody’s feelings. Because there’s no such such thing as a benign dictatorship. Surrendering one’s right to free speech by attacking somebody else’s is about the dumbest thing any person can do.

The Moronic Ban on Khat

It will come as little surprise to British readers that the UK government is to introduce yet another pointless, damaging and downright stupid ban on another safe drug. We’ve been here many times before, and the procedure is standard.

The target this time is khat, a plant with mild stimulant properties, popular among East African communities – which, in British cities, means the ban will primarily affect Somalis. It should go without saying that the government, as ever, ignored advice from its own drugs experts, who announced in January that there was insufficient evidence of harm to society or to the users’ health.

The reason given for the ban by Home Secretary Teresa May was even more astoundingly stupid than the standard “drugs are bad” mantras usually given. She said that it wasn’t clear whether khat was being re-exported from the UK to other countries where the drug is banned. Or in other words, because states like France have already banned the substance for no apparent reason, Britain will too.

Khat is consumed in Somali cafes in London, just as another habit-forming stimulant, coffee, is drunk in Starbucks and Costa Coffee chains; except that, unlike caffeine (which is responsible for some sleep problems among its users), khat’s active ingredient quickly leaves the body after consumption, leaving no ill effects.

The main effects of the ban will be that African farmers will lose a valuable export market, and British-based East Africans will lose their stimulant of choice. A black market will of course develop, prices will rise, and some khat users will switch to other, possibly more harmful drugs.

Why do these moronic bans happen? With the Metropolitan Police already reported to be out of control, and still riddled with racism, this gives police a new excuse to pick on Somalis, just as they have long exploited cannabis prohibition to pick on West Indians. It gives a thumbs-up to the alcohol and coffee industries, who maintain their “government approved drug of choice” status.

Khat is not just a drug: just as with previously banned safe substances (far safer than tobacco and alcohol, at any rate) – cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, mushrooms and mephedrone – it represents a subculture. Like all these other drugs bans, the prohibition on khat represents the action of small-minded bullies in authority who seem to enjoy stamping out niche cultures, just as disturbed teenagers enjoy torturing animals. Bullied at school? Why not join the Home Office and get paid to attack people who seem to be enjoying life more than you? Or join the Labservative party, become a Minister, and get your revenge on the cool kids?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the New Zealand government has done something astonishing: it has introduced a sensible way to regulate recreational drugs. The policy is so blindingly obvious that the British government could never have thought of it: the drugs industry will be allowed sell substances so long as they can demonstrate they are safe. This puts the onus (and the cost) onto the drugs suppliers. In turn, users will be given the choice of safer, legal drugs, and consumption of more dangerous substances will diminish.

And while the New Zealand government shows concern for the health of its citizens, at least five British people have died from consuming pills falsely sold as ecstasy. This is the price of moronic drug laws: users cannot buy a clean supply of a safe drug, and end up taking something different instead. It’s time for drugs sanity; but sadly Britain is determined to be a follower, not a leader.

Why Maggie Won’t Have a Respectful Send-Off

Perhaps the United States once really was “the land of the free” – but I see no historical evidence that it deserves this label (unless it refers simply to the freedom of white people to grab land, in the early, pioneer days). An illustration of the power of US corporate propaganda is the way in which Ronald Reagan, a global terrorist and domestic criminal, who redistributed large chunks of the US economy to the super-rich, is today seen by many Americans as a hero; or at least, a nice old man. He even has a provincial airport named after him. This Stalinist-style rewrite of history is an American speciality. The truth is dead – long live the propaganda.

Reagan’s loyal sidekick, Margaret Thatcher, died last week, and the right immediately tried to begin another rewrite of history; the media has pushed a largely establishment view, and the old lady has been given a state-funded funeral, with military escort, to take place this Wednesday. The British establishment is trying to airbrush one unfortunate fact out of history: Thatcher is widely loathed by much of the British public – probably by more people than ever supported her. Unfortunately for the Conservative party, right-wing media and wider establishment, the British people have less of a tendency towards amnesia than our American cousins, and, it appears, less of a tendency to lie down and let the state roll over us.

Thatcher, I commented on Twitter, was the most hated Briton of the 20th Century. I only received one dissenting reply, which suggested Ian Huntley (the murderer of two young girls) as an alternative. Perhaps he was right – but reaching for a child killer underlines my point rather than destroying it.

The point of most of the protests, blogging and anger is deadly serious: to prevent Thatcher from getting the Reagan treatment. It’s important that the long series of tragedies that marked the Thatcher era is kept in the public memory. Even the combined might of the right-wing media has failed to hide that Thatcher is hated by millions of people.

Some clever person thought up a way to reveal the extent of Thatcher-hate: by suggesting that people buy the Wizard of Oz song, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. The single rocketed up the iTunes chart to number one (before mysteriously settling back to second place in the hour before the count closed on Saturday night); the right, still failing to comprehend the truly mass nature of the anti-Thatcher feeling, tried to replace it with a pro-Thatcher song, “I Love Margaret Thatcher” (which was actually satirical – there are no known pro-Thatcher songs). This effort was promoted by the right-wing media – and still flopped dismally, reaching a pathetic 35th position. Despite what the media was telling us, there was no groundswell of pro-Thatcher feeling to rival the anti-Thatcher feeling.

The BBC and Capital Radio both decided to censor the charts. You see, it’s fine for the mass media to tell people what tunes to buy, but when the public choose the top single for themselves, to make a statement? That’s dangerous sedition. We now have an established precedent: when a fact (in this case, the extent of hatred for Margaret Thatcher) is inconvenient to the British establishment, the media can and will impose censorship.

Anti-Thatcher banners were displayed at football matches. Plans for a minute’s silence at stadiums were shelved, because football fans would have refused to stay silent. Every attempt to paint a picture of a nation in mourning failed.

The right resorted to snivelling: “An old lady has died… Think of her family.” But then why is such a hated woman awarded a state-funded funeral that is bound to generate anger and protest? Why is there a military presence, and why are the chimes of Big Ben to be silenced? Because then future generations can be taught that she was a national heroine; that her vindictive and deliberate destruction of Britain’s social fabric was actually done in the national interest. The fact of the funeral itself can be used to write history – how different is this from the state-sanctioned worship of North Korean leaders? These tyrants can prove how “loved” they are by showing videos of cheering, flag-waving crowds. Tomorrow’s event is made-for-TV. The pictures will show the burial of a loved woman, not a hated one. Millions can express their hatred for Thatcher on the streets, online, at football matches, by buying singles; but the final story that the establishment wants to tell is a different one altogether.

This is why the protests this week have been important. This is a battle for memes: a struggle to control which version of history goes into the history books. Because for all the praise over Thatcher’s legacy, the British people have not forgotten:

  • Thatcher’s “economic miracle” never happened: British GDP has grown in line with Germany and France – and this happened at the time of a North Sea oil boom in the UK.
  • Thatcher therefore didn’t create wealth with her policies – she merely redistributed it, from poor to rich, as shown by the Gini coefficient.
  • And the long-term economic legacy? According to Thatcher fans, we now have a country of opportunity for hard workers. Yet Thatcher actually made it harder to succeed – social mobility fell, and is among the worst in Europe, with only Portugal lagging behind us. This fact, more than any other, destroys the central myth of Thatcherism.
  • Thatcher’s one true economic achievement was to turn London into a global financial centre; but this happened at the cost of losing Britain’s position as a manufacturer, leaving Germany to soar ahead; and the 2008 crash showed that the City boom was far less valuable to the nation than had been previously assumed. It had been built on sand.
  • Some “libertarians” have declared Thatcher a fighter for individual liberty – these people clearly don’t remember the most authoritarian regime of the post-war era, probably even beating New Labour’s control-freakery after 9/11. The police were given a blank cheque by the Thatcherites: as a result, police corruption and violence soared. Deaths in custody were ignored. When young people turned away from politics and embraced rave culture, the police were even there to stop them dancing in fields. Thatcherism did not approve of dancing. “Free” people must consume, not dance.
  • Despite the rise in brutal policing (or more likely, because of it) violent crime rose throughout the 1980s, peaking in the mid-90s before starting to fall again (see “Trends in Crime” graph in this BBC article).
  • Thatcherites spread the myth that privilege is now about hard work, not birthright; yet when Thatcher’s moron son Mark attempted to engineer a coup in Equatorial Guinea and was arrested, strings were pulled on his behalf, and he was fined and released.

So Thatcher’s death is being used by conservatives to reinvent her life. Don’t these people have any respect for a frail old lady who has died, or for her family? Despite a torrent of media lies and censorship; despite the police acting to prevent peaceful protest; despite the tabloid wailing about “leftie extremists”, the British people have acted to stop history from being rewritten. The British love of free speech wasn’t given to us from above; it’s deep in our culture, and it’s the people who claim to defend it who most want to take it away.