Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Gerry Eckhoff: Free Speech


Evolutionary science has identified that the most distinguishing feature of human beings is their capacity for complex language. Inherent within the use of language is the right to freedom of speech which is widely accepted precept in the western world’s cultures. It is also well established that we humans have used language in the political sphere for the singular purpose of advancement of a cause or ideology. The politics of the environment is one such more recent example.

 Free speech today cannot be constrained or quantified as it once was. Those freedoms, inherent in our society to speak or challenge without fear or favour -  are paramount.

The use of abusive language is regrettably now being refined to such a degree that acceptance of our traditions of freedom of speech is being undermined by the few using a personalized form of hate speech.  Free speech carries with it a huge legacy cost which western civilization has been willing to pay. Abusive or hate speech carries no sanction but to quantify the user. The Greek philosopher Socrates died for his belief in free speech. He was sentenced to death by poison for corrupting youth by encouraging them to question authority. The Gutenberg invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century prompted further controls over the freedom of expression.

Both Joseph Goebbels and Stalin believed in free speech - if they agreed with what was said. The consequences however of them not agreeing were terminal. Goebbels used language to appalling effect in the 1930s to vilify the Jewish race to unimaginable effect.  It was hate speech.

There is today a form of hate speech being directed at a most unusual target -primary industries.

Wannabe eco warriors with no particular understanding of the issues, declare that they have had enough of the “rape of the land”. Such words are grossly offensive to all who have spent a life time in stewardship of their land only to be now accused indirectly of the rape their land. The deliberate connection with the physical rape of a natural person -usually women and the “rape of the land” cannot be justified under any circumstance. Rape denotes not just an illegal act but purposeful violence against both women and the land. The use of the expression – “rape of the environment” (which is always rural land) is now designed to challenge any justification for the continuance of intensive primary industry. Dissenting voices are subject to vitriolic abuse for daring to question, whether it is global warming or the place of agriculture within the eco system.

It is perfectly reasonable to hold the view or infer intensive land use as inappropriate and needing of further scientific investigation on certain soils types but it is indefensible to parallel violence against women in the same breath. The air conditioned saviours of the natural environment now see irrigation as maltreatment of a once barren but so called “natural” eco system. Language, not facts, is used to inflame uncertainties of genuine concern which should rightly be considered and debated.  It must however be off set against gains of national income for public goods such as roads, hospitals, schools, welfare.

Dairying has borne the brunt of hitherto unheard of language of condemnation used by those to advance their own beliefs that natural is good – production is bad. There may well be many examples where over intensification of land use is inappropriate. Any civil society can resolve these matters where principled negotiations are enacted. It does society no credit to read or hear in the media -    “Water bodies have been so badly abused and neglected” unquote - which conjures up images of child neglect and abuse. A Waiapu resident stated that the council quote – “allows people to rape and pillage the land”.  “The rape of the Coromandel has begun” said another. Sheep which graze the grass lands of NZ have been described as -  quote “maggots on the hillsides”. More recently viticulturists (wine growers) are described by some environmentalists as “alcohol farmers.”  

Sticks and stones…….. some may say, yet a farming family recently found $40,000 worth of tyres of a centre pivot (which sprays water in a controlled manner to parched cops) slashed beyond repair. This action was an unprecedented wanton act of violence against a family in the first instance but also against an entire industry. It is also a manifestation of the hate speech against farming which unbelievably and regrettably is so common place today. The casual brush strokes of society’s indifference to the use of abusive and highly offensive language through deceit and half-truths should only characterize the speaker of  poor words - but it doesn’t. The public start to believe the abusive is justified just as they did in Germany during the 1930s.

Mark Twain noted the right to freedom of speech was of supreme importance. He also suggested we should possess the wisdom to rarely exercise that right.

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