How loaded and vitriolic the conversation is about the weather. Too loaded.
George Brandis describes how the left have stopped arguing for free speech and instead do everything to silence different views. He was shocked, he said, at the deplorable attitudes in two particularly white-hot topics: climate change and racial discrimination. Australian Senator Brandis is the Attorney General of Australia, and at the center of the debate about the noxious 18C legislation on hate-speech and whether we Australians have to make sure we don’t say anything to offend anyone. Curiously, this interview has got The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald talking. Commenters at The Guardian are doing their best to say why Brandis is wrong (“he is a lunatic”), while at the same time proving nearly everything he says about their tactics is true. Brandis, after all, explains that he agrees with the climate consensus, but doesn’t see why asking questions about the science should evoke a shocking form of authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism. He speaks of the emergence of a habit of denying the legitimacy of any other point of view.
Commenter “scuzzlebutt” says: “I’m starting to believe that Brandis may just be one of the most dangerous people in Australia.” Later he or she added: “The worst part is that he claims to be in agreement that climate change is real, yet turns such a matter in to a political football that he and his nasty party can exploit.” (And so it goes: saying you “believe” is not enough, you must also shout down the heretics too.) Meanwhile Jim Lakely at The Heartland Institute is already being deleted from The Guardian comments for the sin of posting links to NIPCC. There is no Gospel but the IPCC!
Brendan O’Neill writes up this excellent interview at Spiked Online. It’s packed with quotable quotes. It should spread, and rampantly. The home truths are very well said.
Brandis says… “there were two recent, specific things that made him realise just what a mortal threat freedom of speech faces in the modern era and that he would have to dust down his Mill, reread his Voltaire, and up the ante in his war of words against, as he puts it, the transformation of the state into ‘the arbiter of what might be thought’. The first thing was the climate-change debate; and the second is what is known down here as The Andrew Bolt Case.”
“…rather than winning the argument [they] exclude their antagonists from the argument.”
He describes the climate-change debate – or non-debate, or anti-debate, to be really pedantic but also accurate – as one of the ‘great catalysing moments’ in his views about the importance of free speech.
He isn’t a climate-change denier; he says he was ‘on the side of those who believed in anthropogenic global warming and who believed something ought to be done about it’. But he has nonetheless found himself ‘really shocked by the sheer authoritarianism of those who would have excluded from the debate the point of view of people who were climate-change deniers’. He describes as ‘deplorable’ the way climate change has become a gospel truth that you deny or mock at your peril, ‘where one side [has] the orthodoxy on its side and delegitimises the views of those who disagree, rather than engaging with them intellectually and showing them why they are wrong’.
“The science is settled?”… It was ignorant, it was medieval”
He describes how Penny Wong, the Labor Party senator for South Australia and minister for climate change in the Julia Gillard government, would ‘stand up in the Senate and say “The science is settled”. In other words, “I am not even going to engage in a debate with you”. It was ignorant, it was medieval, the approach of these true believers in climate change.’ Wong, whom Brandis tells me is ‘Australia’s high priestess of political correctness’, is far from alone in suffering from what the American journalist Joel Kotkin recently described as ‘The Debate Is Over’ Syndrome. Throughout eco-circles, and among the political and media elites more broadly, the idea that the time for debating climate change is over, and now we just need action, action, action, is widespread. And to Brandis, this speaks to a new and illiberal climate of anti-intellectualism, to the emergence of ‘a habit of mind and mode of discourse which would deny the legitimacy of an alternative point of view, where rather than winning the argument [they] exclude their antagonists from the argument’.
“the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as ‘throwbacks’, when actually ‘they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view…”
The great irony to this new ‘habit of mind’, he says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as ‘throwbacks’, when actually ‘they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion’. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing ‘new secular public morality’, he says, ‘which seeks to impose its views on others, even at the cost of political censorship’.
“the best way… for wicked opinions to be exposed…, is to get them out in the cold light of day”
John Stuart Mill, particularly in chapter 2 of On Liberty, made the case better than anyone has made it before or since that the best way for the public to be enlightened, for wicked opinions to be exposed for what they are, is to get them out in the cold light of day and let there be a contest of ideas. Let people judge, having heard the contest of ideas, what views are right and supportable, and what views are wrong.
Indeed, in a recent TV discussion here about Section 18C, one firebrand leftist described free speech as something that only serves ‘old white rich men’.
this kind of new secular public morality, which seeks to impose its views on others…
… this is something new, …the left’s turn against freedom of speech is a pretty recent thing: ‘It’s a complete inversion. The right, until maybe the 1970s or 80s, used to be on the side of censorship, and the left used to be on the side of liberation. That has inverted in the last 20 or 30 years. Now it is the left, in the name of political correctness, in the name of this kind of new secular public morality, which seeks to impose its views on others, even at the cost of political censorship. And it is the right, traditionally more authoritarian than the left, which has become the custodian of classical liberalism.
The test of free speech are the people you profoundly disagree with:
‘…if you are going to defend freedom of speech, you have to defend the right of people to say things you would devote your political life to opposing. Your good faith is tested by whether or not you would defend the right to free speech of people with whom you profoundly disagree. That’s the test.’
Read the whole interview there is much more.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and currently scholar-in-residence for the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney.