Defending the Indefensible

What are the current limits on free speech? Where should they lie? Why should we defend the rights of another to say the unsayable? It is simply for these reasons; that the freedom to speak is the freedom to learn and that, without it, there is tyranny. If we do not defend the rights of others to speak their minds, who will defend our right to develop, express and debate an idea?

The attack on freedom of expression

Have you ever been told “you can’t say that”? I have, and sufficiently often to have formulated a set response. This is to pause, and then reply: “Yes I can, in fact, I just did. Did you not hear me? Listen, I will say it again”. I then repeat the objected-to phrase and smile.

Then I ask, “and why did you think I could not say that?”. This is an invitation to a more meaningful discussion, an invitation rarely accepted, for the “you can’t say that” brigade do not seek an examination of issues. They seek a cowering of opposition. My response is a polite but firm declaration that cowering is not an option. If this has lost me a few friends I’m OK with that. They were friends that I needed losing.

The curtailment of free speech is something I have been dimly aware of for perhaps 20 years. I cannot recall when it started. I suspect that is because it started before I was born and has been gaining ground imperceptibly for most of my life. In recent years, the gains for the opponents of free speech have not remained imperceptible. Quite the contrary, they have been obvious, shrill and aggressive. In 2016, they met with a reaction, a glorious, stubborn and mighty reaction. The result is a war of ideas, freedom of speech versus political correctness. If you plan to fight in this war, you need to know the other side fight dirty. You need to be prepared to defend the indefensible.

“Why,” you may ask, “must I defend the indefensible? My views are not indefensible; my views are mainstream.” There are two reasons. Firstly it is because what was mainstream a generation ago is viewed as indefensible now. Therefore, if you plan to hold firm to any beliefs, you had better get some practice in, as, soon enough, you will find yourself on the outer reaches of what can be said in polite company. The second reason is the nature of the tactics used by the opponents of freedom. They can only silence you by controlling how you think. To do so, they must create a situation where you keep your outrageous opinions secret.

It used to be said that, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, the only time you could speak freely was to whisper a word to your wife in the dark of the night. But the Soviet Union fell. Those whispered words kept liberty alive, if only barely. What we fight is worse. It seeks the control that Orwell wrote of when Winston Smith realised he loved Big Brother. It seeks to prevent those whispered words or to ensure that your wife will be appalled at your heresy. But it does not start with such control; it cannot impose such constraints all at once. Gradualism is the way it is done: just ask the Fabian Society. Your road to controlled thought must start with a single error, a banality, as Hannah Arendt described in her excellent work on the Eichmann Trial – A report on the Banality of Evil.

And what is this banality? It is the proposition that you accept that one thing is unsayable, believe there is just one idea that is so toxic that it cannot be fought on its merits but only by excluding it from all minds on the planet. If you can be convinced of this, you are now on that road to mental serfdom. Principles matter and the other side know this. If they can force the proponents of free speech off the firm high ground of the position that ideas, all ideas, can be discussed, then they will have pushed us on to the marsh of relativism, fashion and poorly-informed fad. 

Let us be honest, we encourage this tactic. We encourage it because we fear their other weapon, social stigmatising. We all know how that one works. People with views deemed beyond the pale will be cast as holocaust deniers, white supremacists and Nazis. In America, the slur word is 'neo-confederate'. The slur may vary with time, the tactic is always the same.

This is how the game is played. Some extreme view is suggested as a straw man. It may be a view held by only a handful of powerless, marginalised people in the entire country. It may be a view that exists only in the fevered imagination of the social justice warrior (SJW) who poses the challenge; it might in fact be held by no one at all. You will be asked to condemn it. You will be asked to agree that the viewpoint in question is so appalling that is should never be heard. If you do not agree to this proposition, you will be condemned yourself as a supporter of that marginal or imaginary viewpoint, or an apologist for it. You will be called nasty names.

For a full list of nasty names, please read the opening paragraph of any Guardian article concerning President Trump. The most popular weaponised names are Misogynist, Antisemite, Homophobe, Conspiracy Theorist, Racist, Fascist, Nazi and, funnily, "Literally Hitler".

Let us be honest: that paints a pretty unappealing picture. There are few of us who would not be hurt and offended to be called such things. So we yield instead, just a little. We move off the high principle of freedom of speech, we condemn the marginal in our society, for they are weak after all and can do us no harm. We live another day without being condemned and socially shamed. We move a little closer to the swamp; we become a little more cowed; a little more cowardly. The process is repeated daily, even hourly, via the BBC, the Guardian, the Times, and the Independent. It is echoed in the street and in the pub. It is reinforced by celebrity tantrums at glamorous award shows. If all else fails, it is defended by the sticks, stones, boots and fists of the black clad thugs who take to the streets to “protest” against “hate”. Incrementally, little by little, freedom dies. Truth, a difficult concept which needs oxygen to thrive, is suffocated in such conditions.

Andrew Wakefield

We have had a master-class in truth suffocation this week with the reaction to Vaxxed, the Movie, the documentary about the fraudulent manipulation of data on vaccine safety by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC). The Telegraph headline was:

Disgraced anti‑MMR vaccine doctor Andrew Wakefield gets invitation to university in London

They continued their piece with:

David Robert Grimes, a University of Oxford scientist who has long opposed Mr Wakefield, said that he was no more deserving of public attention than a far-right idealogue. "Wakefield is a long-debunked fear merchant whose attempt to paint himself as a Galileo-like figure is at once completely narcissistic and utterly dishonest.

So are we clear: Wakefield is a liar, suffers from mental problems and is the equivalent of a neo-Nazi, if not literally Hitler? Wow! If anyone is playing insult-bingo they must have called 'house' by now. The full set, and delivered by an Oxford Don for extra benefit of argumentum ad verecundiam (argument from authority). And, in case you were wondering, the expert is not an expert in either vaccines or autism but these are mere details. The Times weighed in with:

MMR fraud doctor’s film was shown under cloak of secrecy

and commented:

The organisers had taken the kind of precautions normally used to protect Holocaust deniers or Salafist hate preachers. Yet the headline act was no David Irving or Abu Hamza: he was a struck-off doctor.

So we get the message: hate preacher, anti semite, holocaust denier,. Not that the Times is saying the mild mannered Andrew Wakefield is any of these things; it is just that he is the sort of man who might be, in secret, prone to such nastiness. It's a bucket of slime poured over the doctor, but in a manner feigning accidental discharge of the weapon. And it gets worse. Quoting David Grimes again (don’t they have another “expert”?):

Whether by oversight or intention, giving Mr [note the pointed refusal to call him ‘Dr’] Wakefield a platform on vaccines is a grievous mistake, given that we’re still reeling from the damage his falsehoods inflicted on public health. Not only are his claims devoid of evidence, they are vividly disproven by the overwhelming scientific data to date.

When the evidence points in only one direction there is no debate, yet by hosting someone so notorious [the university] gives the perception his assertions might have merit. They do not.

Here we see the basic approach: These opinions are a disgrace; To allow them to be discussed gives the opinion the appearance of merit; We must therefore give no platform to this odious man; You must not listen, for to listen is to give the appearance that the ideas are worthy of a hearing. And to round it off we had the Independent:

MMR fraud doctor Andrew Wakefield ‘returns to UK for secretive screening of anti-vaccine film'

The 60-year-old conspiracy theorist, who now lives in Texas, attended the ‘UK premiere’ of Vaxxed, a film in support of his discredited study, reported The Times.

As they no longer do journalism, just copy other people's, the Independent resorts to trawling twitter for further information. They find a 2014 tweet from Donald Trump

Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!

To any who can withstand this barrage and who do give the film Vaxxed, Andrew Wakefield's books or his lectures a hearing, the effects are eye-opening. They are also unreported by the mainstream print (and no longer print, such as the Independent) media. The question of 'where are the double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that show the current vaccine schedule is safe and effective' is never asked. Instead they liken the gentle Doctor to a holocaust denier and summon up the populace for a two-minute-hate.

And they expect, even demand, that we comply. We must hate this doctor not because we have looked at the issues and reached our own conclusion, but because the press chooses the hate trigger words for their headlines. This is mindless hate, and it fills the pages of our "free" press.

David Irving

There is something of the bully about all of this; in the way as we will pick on the weak kid so the bully will leave us alone. I’ve never liked bullies. Let us look at one; it is called The Sunday Herald. This is one of two Scottish-circulation broadsheet Sunday papers. It has a small circulation but is read by those who matter in Scottish society. It supports the SNP and the break-up of the United Kingdom. It supports the official, politically correct line, as now defined in our cosy one-party state. A week ago, they devoted their front page and pages 6 and 7 to an all-out attack on a 78 year old historian. It is interesting to note how this was done:

David Irving made a series of “disgusting” remarks about Jews at the event in the city’s DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. He also said that he liked living in the north of Scotland because it reminded him of the England he was born into, when “England was white”.

Jackson Carlaw, the deputy leader of the Scottish Tories whose constituency has a sizeable Jewish population, said: “He [Irving] is a disgrace and the peddler of a deeply hateful message which Scotland and the world can well do without.”

Dressed in a scruffy blue jumper with a hole in it, the convicted Holocaust denier delivered a speech about his life that was heavy on self-pity and vile comments.

As with the case of the “Vile Vlogger” Millennial Woes (Colin Robertson) which we reported on several weeks ago, there is plenty of condemnation and few quotes. We are told to hate this man; we are told to pick on this man. The attack was repeated in better papers than the Sunday Herald. Other Glasgow papers seized upon it. The often excellent Haaretz picked it up and did several blogs about the fringes of Jewish thought. The descriptions offered of David Irving pay scant regard to the truth. He is called a "Holocaust denier", even though he agrees that the conventionally claimed Jewish death toll – six million – is of the right order and is approximately correct. In one blog, he is described as “an English author who has written several books about World War II”

"Several"? Here is a partial list: The Destruction of Dresden (1963) - an international best seller that prompted debate about the morality of the WWII saturation bombing campaign; The Destruction of Convoy PQ17 (1967) - another best seller covering events around the worst of the Arctic convoys; Accident – The Death of General Sikorski (1967) - an examination of the controversial 1943 death of the head of the Polish Army; The night the Dams Burst (1973 and 2011) - an account of the famous Dambusters raid; Hitler's War (1977) - a major and controversial work, described by historian John Keegan as "Irving's greatest achievement... indispensable to anyone seeking to understand the war in the round"; Rommel; the trail of the Fox (1977) - a biography of Erwin Rommel; Uprising! (1981) - a study of the Hungarian uprising against communist rule; Churchill's War - a multi volume and, once more, controversial history of Winston Churchill's role in WWII; Goebbels; Mastermind of the Third Reich -a biography of Joseph Goebbels (1996); Nuremerg: The Last Battle (1996) - a study of the war crimes trials.

“An English author who has written several books about WWII” makes David Irving sound like a hobbyist. That is a plain lie. He is a serious historian who has devoted his life to this study. Why paint him as a hobbyist? Because it is necessary for the narrative. The tale being told here is that David Irving is some-one motivated by hate who tells lies. If we admit we are dealing with one of the foremost authorities in the world regarding the documentary evidence for what was going on in the Third Reich, then it would be necessary to refute BY ARGUMENT any views that Mr Irving holds with which we do not agree. Argument is not to be permitted however, so his record as a historian is misrepresented to make refutation seem unnecessary.

The pattern of the attack on free speech

This little lie reveals the ugliest side of this fight, for those who seek to suppress the truth and prevent discussion taking place are forced by the logic of their own position to treat their opponents as somehow untouchable. They cannot be civil, ask questions, and challenge ideas. To do that would be described as giving them the “oxygen of publicity”. No, SJWs must treat those they disagree with as unworthy of giving the time of day, as less than fully human, as outcasts from society. In short, they treat them as pariahs; as though they were Jews in Nazi Germany. The irony of this position is totally lost on them, I suspect, for they operate from ideology, not from principles. Not for them "Thou shalt not kill", instead they state that the killing of the innocent can be worth it.

Not for them freedom of speech, for they see some speech as a crime called “hate speech” and routinely call written articles "violent". In their world-view, everything is relative, and most things are increasingly "problematic". It is a worldview where emotion rules and the other guy must be silenced by any means necessary, all for the common good you understand.

In Glasgow, Conservative Politician Jackson Carlaw said:

David Irving, a minor and discredited historian, has spent a lifetime maliciously and notoriously seeking to deny The Holocaust. No platform should be offered to this man by anyone who cares about either the truth or wider humanity.

In London, Grimes said:

Whether by oversight or intention, giving Mr Wakefield a platform on vaccines is a grievous mistake

A doctor looking at vaccine safety and a historian stalked by the shadow of the Holocaust have little, if anything, in common other than the fact that they are English and, whether you agree with them or not, courageous. Yet the same insults are thrown at both. There is the same shout for them to be "no-platformed". Odd, isn't it?

Overcoming self-censorship

And what is the purpose of this bullying and hatred of doctors and historians who choose to follow their own path, whatever the consequences? In part, it is obvious: to silence their views to prevent the public considering their merits. But it is more; it is a lesson to the rest of us: do not step out of line or this will be you! It is a head on a spike at the gate of a city. This warning to the rest of us does not only concern our speech. It concerns our thoughts. The message is, “Do not think for yourself about these matters, this man did and now his head is on a spike! Think only what we tell you to think." Our response, when faced with such oppression, such cruelty, should be to think of ten unthinkable thoughts before breakfast. It should be to explore exactly those areas we are told are untouchable. In response to the intimidation, we should simply smile, say thank you for the signposts, and merrily stroll down the road marked “closed”.

Once the political correctness mindset is thoroughly eliminated, things look different. When I see a 78-year-old-man, with a hole in his jumper, ploughing a difficult and lonely path in his pursuit of understanding, I wonder why we are meant to hate him. I consider it is not right to do so. I wonder if a man who has met and received the confidences of all of Hitler's inner circle might not be interesting and possessing important knowledge. When I see a physician who was prepared to lay down his career to defend what he thinks right, spurred onwards by the suffering of the children affected by autism, I see the love (not too strong a word) that the parents of those children feel for this man. I see much to admire.

And with that, gone are those frightening ideas that we must run from. If you want to discuss vaccine safety, whatever your view, I will be happy to do so. If you want to discuss early 20th-century German policies towards the Jews, whatever your view, I will be happy to do that too. If your views are wrong and my knowledge inadequate to demonstrate that they are, I will try harder, and think longer, until the matter is settled. That is called inquiry, and it was once viewed in a positive light. It was what our universities were founded upon. It is how we learn.

Finally, where is the line?  

The line is where the common law draws it. You cannot incite someone to murder or urge them to commit a violent act against a person or property. Apart from that, words are words. I don’t care what you believe or say. I will defend your right to say it. I do so, not because it is right, but because it is essential, for, without free speech, there is only tyranny. I do it so that I too can speak.