OPINION: Evidence to support censorship as a tool for social cohesion is paltry. I Read the NZ Human Rights Commission website, and 99% of their ‘evidence’ is anecdotal. When asked why we need hate speech laws, a common go-to for Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt is that ‘groups are asking for them’ as if this proved not only that they are needed but that they are effective. People seem happy to operate solely off hunches in the pro-censorship space.
The cohesion argument also ignores outright that politics is reactionary. Your pinstriped conservative isn’t opening any door to Hard-Right ideology: the fringes of the Left and Right radicalise each other. Regardless of how you feel about abortion, it was Roe V Wade that invited the Evangelical movement into American politics during the Reagan era. The Neo-Conservative school that called the shots in the early days of the ‘War on Terror’ would end up embedding some pro-fascist sympathy within the anti-war Left. Anyone truly concerned about an ascendent far-Right should therefore address the excesses of the other side, and vice-a-versa.
I say all this as a preamble to my own story of being radicalised - by the free speech movement.
Yes. I will freely admit it. The last few years spent as a member of the Council of the Free Speech Union, advising and working on an assortment of cases, policing local government, and mobilising supporters against dangerous censorship programs out of the Beehive, changed my politics. Or more accurately, took me full circle, back to the politics of my youth.
Raised in Otahuhu, South Auckland, during the late 70’s and early 80’s, I would often disturb the late-night kitchen table meetings of my father – a meat worker – with friends of his like ‘Alex the Red’, ‘Gary the Red’ and ‘Mark the Red’ (no relation). I was my union (steel workers) delegate at 18, and, while I only represented myself and one other guy, I foresaw a protest song being written about my vengeful organising ghost to be sung by generations of workers to come.
Yet, by the time I was 20 I wasn't very political at all. In fact, I was anti-politics in that I detested anyone who had the chutzpah to call themselves my leader. I resented Bolger for ripping $80 a week out of my pay packet, equally hated Clark for not giving it back, and just didn’t get Key at all. I would go on to work in documentary for a decade and profiled many grassroots community initiatives, all of which seemed to be doing a better job than our respective, stinking governments. I was still a worker’s rights guy but felt the less state the better. You’d only get this out of me if you pressed, however. I was most concerned with consuming copious amounts of alcohol, meeting women and navigating a perilous journey through the arts.
Joining the Free Speech Union Council meant that I would be working with people on the Right and Left. Advocating in this space is a real discipline because your personal politics doesn't add much to it, in fact it only really get in the way. Being forced to look at this issue up-close, without the ‘they’re right’/ ‘they’re wrong’ judgements had a profound impact on me.
A few things became readily apparent. As a South Aucklander, raised dirt poor, I started to recognise a familiar tone among the pro-censorship crowd. They were – in the main – ‘financially blessed’, let’s say. Having come from a community that was frequently denied a voice, and to this day is still denied a voice, I started to see my battles with the woke as a continuation of the age-old battle between rich and poor.
I’ve found being Jewish comes in handy for smoking-out irony and hypocrisy in many a movement. The complete disregard for antisemitism – if not the outright promotion of it from my would-be censors – told me this was never about protecting minorities at all. We were tools that offered a veneer of morality for a wealthy class increasingly frustrated by democracy and the pesky need to have to make a case for their positions. We were simply a bus-ticket that they could use to travel to a censorship regime that would guarantee their views would no longer suffer any meaningful challenge.
I also started engaging with many genuine Marxists again as part of my Free Speech Union work, all of whom supported free speech. Karl Marx never got to oversee a communist experiment in his lifetime, of course, and most of his daily conflicts – being a journalist and editor - were free speech battles. This is why people seriously need to stop calling the faux-Left Neo-Marxist. The sad truth is, with their rampant identitarianism, and frequent flirtations with neo-segregationist thought, they are much closer in complexion to the far-Right
We have serious issues in our society – unaffordable housing, low-wages, an under- funded health system, not to mention a completely derelict mental health system. Yet a so-called ‘progressive’ Prime Minister has at least four MPs dedicated to various censorship projects. I could only conclude that, without the will or talent to address any of our real problems, a well-promoted censorship regime devised to protect the luxury causes of our upper classes is serving as a distraction from the concerns of the bothersome poor.
Thus, I was radicalised by the free speech movement. It made me a ‘progressive’. A ‘Red’. It made me hyper-aware of the social issues a certain faction wanted to hide away from us all, which directly affects my class. My people.
Rather than being drawn to anything remotely Right-wing, I was able to identify the Right-wing impulses in our current government – their dereliction of duty to some of our most vulnerable. The free speech question is what got me back there; what took me home.