Here is a wee little guide for all of you people who work for the ABC, or Get-Up!, or the Australian Human Rights Commission, or who happen to be some special interest lobby group spokesperson seeking to cordon off any and all criticism of your group’s members that might offend them, or be felt insulting. Consider this as your Bible for rebutting anyone who wishes to see Australia’s existing hate speech laws, 18C, enervated, gutted, emasculated or repealed.
Below you will find three simple fallacies that will be all you ever need to make the case for retaining these censorship laws, though whatever you do never call them censorship laws. You won’t need anything other than these three debating tools, not with a government in power that is doing its best daily to transmogrify itself into one of the world’s larger invertebrates.
Ploy One. Here you need absolutely to paint those seeking the emasculation of 18C as extremists. This is crucial. You, with your opposition to repeal and support for the status quo, are standing in the moderate middle. Yours is the middle way, the golden mean, the moderate middle. Anybody suggesting that in a democracy free speech demands that citizens grow a thick skin and take on the chin words that offend them, or insult them, or humiliate them, well no, no, no. That, you must cry, is out and out extremism. It’s over the line. We can’t have that!
Now this first ploy is invoked by virtually everyone who opposes repeal of 18C. But you must be very careful in using it. Don’t let anyone point out that for over nine decades Australia functioned perfectly well, was a seemingly civilised and well-integrated country, and yet during that time 18C did not exist. Worse, whatever you do make sure your opponents don’t point out that in the United States 330 million people live without any hate speech laws at all. None. Zero. Not one.
If they point that out your audience might wonder how repeal of 18C can be deemed ‘extremist’ when it is the norm in the world’s largest democracy, one that has better integrated Muslims and Jews and whoever else you care to mention than all the various democracies that have flirted with hate speech laws. Your audience then might ask, ‘why do so many people in the world wish to move to the US if its citizens live under laws that you are describing as extremist and over committed to free speech?’ There is no answer to that.
Oh, and it’s probably best as well to make no mention of Canada. You know, that social democratic country that is as similar to Australia in terms of history and constitutional structure as any on earth. Don’t let the debate turn to Canada because just over a year ago the Canadians repealed their nationwide equivalent of our 18C. Yep; got rid of the sort of hate speech laws you are now trying to defend. And so far the sky has not fallen up there in the Great White North. In fact, the many Canadian special interest groups that for so long painted apocalyptic scenarios should repeal proceed there have been proven wrong. Team Canada seems to be doing just fine without their 18C equivalent. So don’t mention Canada!
Ploy Two. Here you must pretend that opponents of 18C don’t believe there should be any limits on speech at all. None. Of course this is patently untrue. But it’s a terrific gambit to use. Again, you paint yourself as valuing free speech, of course you do, but then point out that you also believe there must be some limits. The ‘have your cake and eat it too’ trick here is not to give those who want 18C gutted a chance to reply. If they do, they will note that virtually everyone thinks there should be some limits on speech. Heck, just imagine that someone discovered how to make a virulent biological weapon out of stuff in an average kitchen. Would anyone be in favour of letting that person publish details of how to make that weapon? No.
The real debate between those who like 18C and those who don’t isn’t about whether any limits on speech should exist. It’s about whether these particular limits ought to exist. Should offending someone be off limits in a free and democratic society? Should making them feel insulted? The fact that near on everyone agrees that some few limits on speech must exist tells us nothing at all as to whether 18C should exist. But you never go wrong throwing in ploy two and confusing the issue. The goal is to paint your opponents as absolutists. Sure, on that score all the great liberal philosophers in the western canon would count as absolutists, and indeed extremists, as not a single one of them would have endorsed 18C. But we’re talking effective fallacies here my friends, not well-founded arguments.
Ploy Three. Fall back on this one if the first two aren’t gaining traction. Just recite ‘Now is not the time. Yes, I’m sympathetic. Yes, I share your preferences. But now is not the time.’ Of course under no circumstances ever commit yourself to saying when the right time would be. You and I might know that time will be never. But this is meant to offer to your opponents the dim prospect of success one day. The goal here is to take the heat out of their campaign. Believe me, this is a very potent fall back fallacy to carry in your arsenal.
And that will do it. Take it from me. Every single article ever written that attempts to make the case for keeping 18C will make use of one or more of these fallacies. You should too. They are indispensable in making censorship seem reasonable and moderate.
These three fallacies also have the great advantage of being equal opportunity obfuscators. Sure, it will normally be your ABC journalists, self-styled human rights crowd and special interest lobby group cheerleaders who make use of them. But later this year when the marvellous Mark Steyn is touring the country making the case for free speech, this pusillanimous Abbott government is going to be in an awkward position. Its core voters will be there to hear Steyn and yet no Minister or MP will be able to attend without risking being ridiculed.
So when questioned about their craven backdown on 18C, I recommend they make use of the three fallacies above.
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