Daily archives: December 23, 2011

Free Speech for the Unlovely

I always seem to get back from Africa physically exhausted. I now have to tackle all the organisation of a family Christmas at the last minute. It is both the charm and disadvantage of this blog that the blogging is just me – it has no staff, and no revenue. That is not to devalue the contibution of the volunteer comment moderators – who help out with other things too – and the technical help from Tim, Clive and Richard and the the hosting team. But if I am not writing, nothing happens.

When I am lacking time or energy for deeper thinking, I tend to throw out some provocative thoughts from the top of my mind to see what people make of them. I am worrying today about the attacks on people of whom I disapprove.

I blogged recently about excessive police action against a blogger who argues against the existence of man-made climate change. I think he is wrong, but I don’t see why he should be the victim of police raids. I am going to surprise you by saying that I think that the hounding of Aidan Burley is going too far. Bad taste humour around the Nazis has existed throughout my lifetime – and was brought gloriously to the screen in the brilliant Mel Brooks’ The Producers (the first one, with the fantastic Zero Mostel).

Burley’s stag party seems rather a throwback to the Federation of Conservative Students of the late 70s, important elements of which delighted in singing Nazi songs to emphasise how right wing and taboo-free they were, with an element of self-parody (I speak as an eye-witness). You always worried there were genuine Third Reich sympathies in there – as of course there were so strongly in the British elite in the 1930s. That is the underlying worry in the Burley case – but if there were any evidence of real sympathy for Nazi views from Burley, it would have been dug up by now. I think we should just take this as bad taste humour a la Producers – a play which presumably cannot be produced under French law? Burley has been punished, revealed as a twit, and we should move on.

John Terry is a man whose TV persona and reported behaviour I have always found repulsive. I don’t know what he (or Suarez in a related case) actually said. I find racial abuse absolutely unacceptable. But again, I do not think that where it occurs between two individuals, and unless it is persistent and repeated over a period, it is a matter for the state and police. Not all bad behaviour should be a matter of higher intervention, and shaming can be a good sanction in itself. Both individuals and society have ways to sort things out without always involving the state or constituted organisations within it. I doubt Terry will do it again and it has been made plain that this is unacceptable behaviour in football. It is enough.

The same goes for Jeremy Clarkson. Again, total wanker. But nobody could have seen his TV appearance on the One Show and felt that he actually believed or advocated that strikers should be shot. His body language and tone of voice made it plain he was indulging in hyperbole with the object of being humorous. Exaggerated polemic should not be banned, or even censured. The real problem here is balance. Very right wing polemicists are very often allowed free rein to mouth off on broadcast media. On TV, opposing polemicists (like, err, me) are strictly banned. On radio, George Galloway on Talk Sport is pretty well a lone example. Personally I welcome the vigour of Clarkson’s expression – if only someone equally firm were allowed on to argue with him.

Finally, I am going to defend Herman Cain. No longer a candidate, and his tax and other policies were completely barking mad, therefore pretty mainstream Republican. But I saw very little wrong in anything he was alleged to have done in his love life. One woman alleged that he made a physical advance – put his hand on her leg – towards her in his car, after a dinner where she had asked him for help. It seems to me his behaviour was perfectly normal, and the important thing is she asked him to stop, and he did stop. If men were not allowed to make such advances, the human race would die out. Desisting once it is plain your advances are unwelcome is the important thing. The long term affair alleged was entirely mutual and consenting. Chatting up employees is tasteless, but ought not be a crime.

Burley, Terry, Clarkson and Cain are all people of whom, in different ways, I do not approve and with whose views on life I am heartily at odds. But I don’t hold the view that only people who hold certain approved views should be able to wander round and function, or that we should all be limited to certain highly constrained social behaviours. They are all, in various ways, victims of galloping political correctness. I thought I would express some sympathy for them. Human beings have a right to be wrong, and sometimes foolish. It is part of the human condition.

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