Moral high ground and other thoughts

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The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, 1996

It is also not attacking someone presenting fallacious ideas. It is not punching a Nazi.

There is a nearly infinite number of things, of current events that one could try to break down and discuss. The Muslim ban, alternative facts, Sally Yates, and whatever else is going on at the moment. A slight sense of dread rises every morning as I check the Guardian newsletter on my email. At least one of the headlines is always about Trump – and it’s never good. If it wasn’t crystal clear before, it sure is now, that his appointment has had and will continue to have global consequences to the lives of already disenfranchised people.

The reinstatement of the so called “global gag rule” takes away family planning resources from vulnerable women in economically unstable areas across the globe. US government dollars will no longer support family planning programs if those programs mention abortion as an option for their clients. The “pro-life” movement has always been a disgusting hate group in my eyes since they unambiguously value an unborn, unconscious, barely sentient foetus more highly than its actual living mother who may simply have been unlucky with contraception, or you know, raped. There are pregnancies that become life-threatening for the mother, and there are situations where the child is unwanted for other reasons. To force a woman to carry a child against her will is a vile act of oppression. And it’s not like making abortions inaccessible or even illegal will stop them – it will only make them more dangerous.

This was not supposed to be an abortion rant.

Let’s get back to punching Nazis.

Richard Spencer who is a nefarious and vile piece of human garbage, and an outspoken ethnic cleansing advocate, got smacked in the face during a TV interview after Trump’s inauguration. And the Internet loved it. Apparently that was the second time his face took a battering that day. I can’t say that I feel sorry for him as he really is as much of a Nazi as a human being can possibly be.

However, at a time when a nation that once represented the good guys, and rode the wave of freedom and democracy, is now being lead by a narcissistic orange 2-year-old, those of us on the side of universal human rights, religious freedom and free speech have to preserve the moral high-ground. It’s frustrating, I know.

As an isolated incident this isn’t interesting in any way. People get punched for saying disagreeable things all the time. Many European countries condemn the kind of hate speech that routinely pours out of Richard Spencer’s mouth, and perhaps that’s why it is easy to think that he got what he deserved. And honestly, if anyone deserves a beating for stupid shit they say, it is Richard Spencer.

But.

In the wake of the Trump presidency where facts are challenged by “alternative facts” issued by none other than the White House, and an Attorney General gets fired for following the constitution rather than the unrestrained temper tantrums of the President, the pillars of democracy have to stand their ground. One of those pillars is the criminal justice system whereby individuals are punished by the institution after they have been found guilty by the proper process – not by street vigilantism.

We must remember that in their eyes those abortion clinic burning dipshits (official term, trust me) think they are doing the right thing just as much as we think we are doing the right thing when we assault a Nazi. This is why civil societies have law enforcement that takes care of stopping and punishing for criminal acts. Needless to say that it is nowhere near a perfect system but if the alternative is that each person acts as a judge and deals justice as they see fit I will happily take the first option.

If we commend random beatings of well-known Nazis on the street, we are unwittingly commending suppression of any speech by violence. As a liberal, feeling victimised by the rise of the far right and the likes of Donald Trump, it is easy to feel entitled to going rogue and taking down the bad guys that have sneaked into our governments. But if we do that, then we are no better than our opponents. In a free society, all opinions can be voiced. It doesn’t mean that they are all equally valid, but a society based on principles of the enlightenment and democracy can withstand a multitude of voices without turning to censorship and propaganda.

Violence is but a short-term solution to silence harmful and discriminatory speech, and the better and only way to counteract it is speaking up against it. Debating and arguing with our antagonists lacks the excitement and sense of power that simply breaking their noses and as many teeth as possible provides, but it is the only viable way forward. Violence breeds martyrs, and martyrs can be powerful.

I could go round and round this topic for hours, but I just want to say this.
It is more important than ever, for those of us who oppose totalitarianism, austerity and theocracy; injustice and bigotry, to stand our ground and not let ourselves be dragged back centuries. We must not give in to our lizard brains’ impulses to simply rip our enemies to shreds, but to speak up and do our very best to spread factual information and promote equality.

Women’s March in London gave me a sliver of hope where I didn’t see it before. About 100 000 people gathered in London to display solidarity for women in America, and to show our own government that we are serious. As cheesy as this kind of talk sounds, I believe that bringing hope to people’s lives in any shape or form is invaluable. Millions of people across all continents came together to peacefully protest the values of those in power. If nothing else, it created a sense of unity. Things like this don’t necessarily effect immediate change in the world but they do have value for they prove to each of us that we are not alone, and that we are not mindless slaves merely following the whims of those in power. We can make a change, and we ought not to let ourselves be silenced.

Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.

Christopher Hitchens

Victim of words?

blackholes copy“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
– Salman Rushdie

I talked about being offended by words and ideas in a previous post, and although I will now continue along the same topic I hope to avoid being too repetitive. A few weeks ago I came across a lengthy Facebook status by Sebastian Tynkkynen, a Finnish far-right politician, indeed the president of the True Finns youth party, which I mentioned in my recent discussion on gender. The story is in Finnish so I will briefly paraphrase what’s going on.

Following the Brussels terrorist attacks The Finnish Resistance Movement (part of an overarching Nordic National Socialist movement) organised a small-scale rally in central Helsinki to promote their anti-immigration views. Mr Tynkkynen was invited to the event as a speaker, and as he got up on the stage a bystander started yelling “Tynkkynen is racist, Tynkkynen is racist”.

“Public discussion has become taxing and those with critical views on immigration are being silenced by equating them with an ideology represented by the nazis who practised racial segregation: racism.“

Giving this premise Tynkkynen is now raising charges against his defier for slander, thereby trying to bring justice to the many immigration critics who are constantly being accused of racism. He is seeking to make his case a precedent in the public discussion of immigration; to eliminate “the racist card” because “the game has become too cruel”. Tynkkynen goes on to elaborating his reasoning for taking this to court. According to him a culture that allows indefinite slander of a person “if one knows how to do it right” – whatever that means – is growing stronger in Finland.

“It generates endless bullying and contempt which effect both mentally, socially and on one’s employability. I often get these messages from citizens and I now want to intervene. I’m not aware of a case where defamation of a citizen by the racist card has lead to a conviction – -“

“If this goes through, the ruling will have wider implications on the societal conversation at large. It follows that a citizen charging their adversary with racism would in practice automatically be convicted.”

Needless to say that I think this is ridiculous and bordering on offending free speech.
I agree with Sebastian on one point, and that is that the haphazard use of the word ‘racist’ in public discourse is 99% of the time unhelpful. The term has become so overused that it has lost its meaning, and nowadays those holding racist views tend to hide behind some version of ‘immigration criticism’. But even when calling someone a racist might be an accurate denomination based on their opinions it just doesn’t bring anything of value to the conversation. It’s a shortcut used in the place of actual fact-based arguments, and does not serve defenders of human rights one bit.

Defamation

Racist

Is it slander to call someone, who has publicly leant their voice for a known far-right group with glaringly bigoted views, a racist? Is it a false accusation to make the connection between his views and those of the openly racist organisation that he has for the moment sided with? Moreover, is pointing out this apparent connection harmful for the accused racist’s reputation?

Like I said, I don’t think it’s helpful or necessary to yell insults on either side but I also don’t think that being called out on prejudiced views, or affiliations with advocates of prejudiced views is particularly harmful to one’s good reputation. Perhaps Sebastian, and others in similar positions, don’t realise that by agreeing to dignify these kinds of groups with their presence as a public figure, one is making a statement. And should they indeed be so worried about being labelled a racist then perhaps they should reconsider what kind of events they want to appear at in the first place. If Mr Tynkkynen was being honest, we would admit that even his own party’s stance on immigration is somewhat radical and in itself grants him a role – whether wanted or not, in the debate of what is and isn’t racist. When one decides to be in the public eye one must grow a thicker skin and be prepared to defend oneself in the crossfire of comments and offences.

I’m not interested in personally attacking Sebastian Tynkkynen. In truth, I know hardly anything about him. This case merely beautifully illustrates the self-victimisation phenomenon in social media. I see it as yet another way of misunderstanding the essence of freedom of speech, and misusing the concept of it as a justification for holding intolerant views. I have said it before and I will say it again: yes, you are absolutely allowed to have your opinions and express them. But when you face resistance it does not mean that your freedom of expression has been infringed upon. Being offended does not automatically mean that you are right. This is something that many Finnish immigration critics, especially members and supporters of the True Finns party do not seem to grasp. The same can be said about the opponents of the equal marriage law who pretend that allowing same sex couples the same judicial standing as heterosexual couples somehow offends or limits their freedom to practice religion. I have no idea how this could be true unless it forced gay marriage on everyone – which it doesn’t by the way.

And let’s not forget that these champions of freedom of expression have come up with their own slander term for those who call them racist: “suvakki” or better yet, “suvakkihuora”. The first one is derived from the word “suvaitsevainen” meaning “tolerant” and in the second one the lovely word “huora”, “whore” has been added to the mix. Should all immigration liberals now start taking people to court for calling them tolerant whores? What a time to be alive.

But on a more serious note, the thought of a word being practically criminalised is rather chilling. There are obviously more eloquent ways of criticising people’s views than yelling “RACIST” but as Tynkkynen himself points out, the author of this insult was calmed down by a couple of police officers who were present at the event. No damage was done, no one’s freedom of expression was denied, no one was physically or mentally traumatised.

Understandably it is annoying and frustrating when our comments are dismissed as racist or otherwise irrelevant but instead of immediately seeking to deny the use of certain words wouldn’t it be more effective to take the time to explain why our opinions are actually relevant, to defend ourselves with intelligence rather than seeking to make resisting us a criminal offence. Criminalising certain kind of societal critique is a feature of totalitarianism which we should always fight against, in every way possible. That is, if we really want to preserve free society and liberal values, and that precious freedom of speech.
The use of force, physical or otherwise instead of intelligence only confirms the narrative of a bigoted caveman afraid of the unknown, which the word ‘racist’ is used to bring attention to. When the insult seems to do real harm to our career or image then it should be treated as a false accusation and proved wrong. When it is a random person at an outdoor event after a recent terrorist attack, who is in the end only manifesting his own shortage of temper and lack of elegant articulation, it ought to be ignored -in my humble opinion at least. By treating this incident as a valid commentary on one’s character you are only presenting yourself as a victim, lethally wounded by a word. You are saying that this slur has caused so much damage to your person that it is only right that the offender should be punished in the court of law, and that also everyone else who holds this view of you and your opinions should not have the right to call you out. How exactly does this advance our public discourse on the real issues of the immigration crisis in Europe? News flash: it doesn’t. I am no expert in this particular topic but I claim to know something about effective advocacy and communication.

Finishing with “I left with my dark-skinned friend” is also not the most convincing argument and doesn’t negate the connotations of being affiliated with a group notorious for using violence to propagate its antisemitic, anti-gay and racist agenda. If in your heart of hearts you know that you are not a racist then why would you publicly seem to support a group of known racists? More importantly, why would you care if a random bystander calls you a racist? Is it perhaps because they hit a nerve? I don’t know.
What I do know is that there are many and more people whom I disagree with on different topics but whom I still respect because of their ability and will to articulate well and think critically. Anyone who is not willing to have a proper conversation but instead just dismiss me as a feminazi or a privileged white girl or whatever else, I’m not going to bother with – let alone sue them. But maybe that’s just me.