Wednesday, 13 January 2021

The Big Freedom of Speech Debate.

You have to hand it to the COALition: when it comes to denouncing double standards, they are champions.

So, these last few days we’ve heard COALition pollies tell us all about Twitter’s double standards: fact-checking and censoring Donald Trump, while refusing to censor China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian’s tweet displaying a fake photo of an Australian soldier threatening an Afghan boy.

Fair enough. Malicious bullshit is malicious bullshit, no matter who its author is or who promotes it. Censor one, censor all; otherwise, don’t censor anybody. The COALition scores a point.


Then the COALition has been asked to stop creeps like Craig Kelly and George Christensen from repeating locally the same crap which led to the suspension of the Pussy-Grabber in Chief’s Twitter account. No can do, is their answer. It’s a matter of principle: freedom of speech is sacred; censorship is a mortal sin. They may not agree with those two deranged buffoons obese crackpots, but they will defend their right to rave irresponsibly about things they are patently unable to understand. You know, Voltaire and all that.

Which would have been fair enough as well, had Scotty from Marketing not asked Twitter to censor Zhao Lijian’s tweet, during a virtual press conference last November 30 (transcript hosted here)
Journalist: Josh Butler from the New Daily. Can I ask you about, you’ve said that you want Twitter to take action on this. On what grounds have you appealed to Twitter and are you confident they would actually take action on this considering that Twitter has consistently decided not to take action against Government accounts in this way in the example of Donald Trump’s tweets, for instance? Would you hope that they will take action on this?
Prime Minister: Well, I certainly would. It is absolute falsehood. It is an absolute outrageous and disgusting slur and it wouldn’t be the first time that social media have censored posts. In this case, I would think that in the interests of decency, they should take it down.
Today, it’s freedom of speech and the rest be damned, that day it was decency and freedom of speech be damned.

I am sure this will be no revelation to any moderately informed reader: these people have no principles. In fact, for them, to be principled is to be “dogmatic”. But it may help to put this in black and white.
For them “freedom of speech” and “decency” -- in this most recent example -- are no more than expedient buzzwords, meant to impress, and all the more useful because they can be employed or disregarded at one’s discretion. What yesterday was sacred, today deserves not even a mention. 
The name of the game, dear readers, is persuasion come what may, not honest exposition of  one’s ideas. There isn’t much room for truth-telling there.
That is not a monopoly of COALition pollies. Nor is that, in reality, limited to pollies. That’s how lawyers make a living and; indeed, that’s what they were trained to do. That’s also the job of “opinion-makers” and it explains their astounding flip-flops (like one I described in detail last time).
But economists provide perhaps the best example, to the point that their dishonesty is the stuff of old jokes:
A mathematician, an accountant and an economist apply for the same job.

The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks "What do two plus two equal?" The mathematician replies "Four." The interviewer asks "Four, exactly?" The mathematician looks at the interviewer incredulously and says "Yes, four, exactly."
Then the interviewer calls in the accountant and asks the same question "What do two plus two equal?" The accountant says "On average, four - give or take ten percent, but on average, four."
Then the interviewer calls in the economist and poses the same question "What do two plus two equal?" The economist gets up, locks the door, closes the shade, sits down next to the interviewer and says, "What do you want it to equal"?
Marx referred to such economists as “vulgar”, but vulgarity is much more widespread. It’s what debate in liberal democracies boils down to.

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