Brown Study

Brown study

14 October 2017

9:00 AM

14 October 2017

9:00 AM

There was something touchingly naïve about the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The increasingly tokenistic and ritualistic nature of these awards has now become so ingrained in our psyche that we have come to expect the lucky recipient will either be some broken down left wing has-been or an unknown organisation that seems to preach the opposite of what the prize is supposed to promote. President Obama was awarded the prize in 2009, before he had done anything one way or the other about peace and then spent the rest of his term waging war. Not that I am complaining about what he did: the value of war is greatly underestimated, but even I would blanch as dressing it up as peace. Then there was Yasser Arafat who was happy to go around signing agreements, while doing more to prevent peace in the Middle East than anyone has ever done. And Ang San Suu Kyi has done a lot to bring peace to the sunlit uplands of Myanmar, I don’t think. After a few other oddities in the ranks of the recipients, you get to vaudeville acts like Jimmy Carter and Al Gore. The same trend is evident in the Sydney Peace Prize; this year’s recipient is Black Lives Matter (apparently because white lives do not matter); its predecessors as winners, like Noam Chomsky and John Pilger are more qualified for the Surrender Prize than the Peace Prize. But this year, the Nobel committee has excelled itself by awarding the prize to an organisation which scarcely exists, having a handful of members and achieving nothing. Then, the very nature of the cause this organisation espouses shows what a ridiculous choice it is. Nuclear weapons will not be abolished; giving them up voluntarily will guarantee that one maniac or another will turn to this ultimate solution if and when it suits him. But armed stand-off, making evil enemies understand that nuclear weapons could always be used, against them, and with extreme prejudice, have prevented nuclear war so far. Is it any wonder that the mighty Soviet Union fell apart when it dawned on them that the West had discovered two honest politicians in Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who would not surrender or be intimidated. It makes me think we have a deserving recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize this year, namely Donald Trump. Everyone knows he will defend the West at all costs, has the firepower to do it and will never surrender or compromise; he would never commit the cardinal sin that Dr Strangelove warned us against: ‘The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is that everyone knows that you have it. Vy did you keep it a secret?’ Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to wimps like ICAN just gives war a bad name when, properly handled, it can give us a lasting peace.

I was thrilled the other day to head off to a seminar at Melbourne University on the US Supreme Court decision in The Slants case. Four young Asian Americans applied for a trademark on the name The Slants to promote their band. The trademarks office knocked them back, on the ground that the name disparaged Asians, because of the connotations of ‘slants’ and ‘slant-eyes’, so the boys appealed to the Supreme Court. Their argument was that they were reclaiming the word ‘slants’ as their own, just as the ‘N word’ had been reclaimed; by reclaiming the word they would be draining it of its derogatory effect and in any case the trademarks office rejection denied them their First Amendment rights to free speech. The court agreed unanimously that to ban the use of a disparaging word was unconstitutional. Justice Alito, in a striking rebuff to the trademark office and the very notion behind our own notorious s.18C said: ‘We have said time and time again that the “public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers”.’And ‘we now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the 1st Amendment. It offends a bedrock 1st Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.’ So this Asian dance-rock band is now officially, and legally, The Slants. No doubt, I thought, the seminar I was heading for would celebrate this milestone of free speech. Who knows, it might even be the beginning of a new campaign for the repeal of 18C. After all, if it is unconstitutional to ban speech simply because it disparages, how can we justify banning speech that merely offends. And surely someone will point out that while the Americans are busy dismantling at least one restriction, we are busy imposing new restrictions for the same-sex marriage debate. But I was disappointed yet again. The whole tone of the discussion was that the US decision was not only ‘worrying’ and ‘troubling’, but ‘free speech gone wild’, and that it should be restrained. If not, the dreaded floodgates would open and swamp us with hate speech. Just look, we were told, at what you get with freedom: Donald Trump saying that both sides, not just one side, took to violence in Charlottesville; and look at all those Confederate flags! There were also uplifting examples from overseas that we could follow; trademarks can be banned in NZ if they ‘offend Maori’, decided by a committee with a ‘Maori worldview’. In China, trademarks can be banned if ‘detrimental to socialist morals’ and in Thailand if they disparage the royal family; there is a smorgasbord to choose from. Not much doing for free speech here. Perhaps universities are no longer the bubbling cauldrons of free speech they used to be. I walked carefully away from the venue, in case I tripped on a trigger point.

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