Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Karl du Fresne: The snarling and hissing of the illiberal Left

It’s hard to imagine now, but censorship was a cause celebre in the 1960s and 70s.
The banning or restriction of movies, books and even records was never far from the headlines. Post-war liberalism was colliding head-on with traditional morality and the official censors were struggling to draw new boundaries between what was acceptable and what wasn’t.
The film censor featured in the New Zealand media so often in those days that he (it was always a “he”) became virtually a household name. Between 1957 and 1973, cuts were made to 37 per cent of films because of sex, violence or bad language.
Even without the film censor or Indecent Publications Tribunal standing over them, some government agencies took it on themselves to act as moral guardians – including the monopoly New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, which refused to play any record deemed subversive (for example, the pacifist protest song Eve of Destruction) or sexually suggestive (the Rolling Stones’ Let’s Spend the Night Together).
It was the era of the indomitable Patricia Bartlett, secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards. The former Catholic nun became the scourge of movie distributors and book publishers, pouncing on smut – a word almost never heard these days – wherever it raised its lubricious head.
Why am I recalling all this? Because in the censorship battles of the 1960s and 70s, it was the liberal Left that led the push for freedom to choose what people could see, read and hear.
Ultimately they won the battle against the moral conservatives. But at some point in the intervening decades, something strange began to happen.
The New Zealand Left executed a gradual 180-degree turn. Now it’s the Left who are the self-appointed censors, mobilising to shut down any ideas and opinions that offend them.
The old term “liberal Left” has become a contradiction, because many of the strident voices on the Left are frighteningly illiberal – not on questions of sexual morality, where anything is now permissible, but on matters of politics, culture and ideology. Their antennae twitch constantly, acutely alert for imagined evidence of racism, misogyny and homophobia.
This is especially true of the social media generation, who block their ears, drum their feet on the floor and hum loudly to block out any idea or opinion that upsets them.
This is a generation of New Zealanders who never experienced a sharp smack when they misbehaved, were driven to school every day by over-indulgent parents and were taught by teachers and university lecturers who lean so far to the left that many need corrective spinal surgery.
The threat to freedom of speech and opinion no longer comes from bossy government agencies (although the Human Rights Commission makes a sterling effort to deter people from saying or thinking anything it disapproves of) but from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where digital lynch mobs indulge in snarling, hissing gang-ups against anyone who challenges leftist orthodoxy.
An example was the hysterical outcry against Sir Bob Jones over a column written by him for the National Business Review, in which he suggested that Waitangi Day should be renamed Maori Gratitude Day and marked by Maori doing nice things for Pakeha, such as bringing them breakfast in bed and weeding their gardens.
It was obviously satirical – a classic piece of Jones mischief – but humour is lost on the prigs and bigots of the new Left. Someone launched a petition to have Jones stripped of his knighthood and NBR, to its shame, removed the column from its website, using the weasel-word justification that the column was “inappropriate”.
Public discourse has reached the point where almost any mildly right-of-centre opinion is liable to bring forth frenzied denunciations and calls for the offender to be silenced, fired or boycotted. The silly, melodramatic term “hate speech” has come to mean anything that upsets someone.
New Zealand has so far largely been spared the extremes of intolerance shown on overseas university campuses, where violent protests force the abandonment of lectures by anyone the Left doesn’t like.
Could it happen here? Of course it could. Only last year, University of Auckland students tried to exclude a pro-life group from campus activities, Yet 50 years ago, New Zealand student newspapers were at the cutting edge of demands for free speech.
I wonder what the old-school liberal Left make of all this. It took generations for New Zealand to mature into a tolerant, liberal democracy and now it sometimes looks as if we’ve not only slammed on the brakes, but engaged reverse gear.
Karl du Fresne blogs at First published in the Dominion Post.


Brian said...

Illiberal Left is still the Left.
I guess as one who grew up in the shadow of the “Great Depression” in the U.K. thirties; I am classified as “An old Fossil who remembers”. Actually the trouble with memory at my age is that there is precious little else left for it, the present looks bloody awful, and the future isn’t one!
Censorship when I read History has always been with us down the eras, and the ups and downs it brings are the ones we should learn from...but being humans we don’t.
Karl, the Left since Marx wrote “Das Kapital” changes daily, that is how it survives, and why it appeals to the young and idealistic, and always will I hope. The real winner is time itself, as my Grandfather so aptly remarked when I joined the Communist party at 17. “If a man is not a Communist at your age my boy, he is probably inhuman. But remember if you are still one at 40, you will probably be insane”.
As for that lost word “smut’, perhaps we have grown so use to living in it, we never see it, and certainly journalism has more than its fair share of the stuff.
What is the real danger with the Left is that it has copied very successfully Hitler’s propaganda greatest weapon “Tell them (the people) what you want them to believe over and over again until they believe it...and they will”.
The revision of early Colonial History is being subjected to the whims of ideology on the indigenous altar of Maoridom, a divine right that must never be challenged. (King Charles 1st would have given anything for such a power; even the Long Parliament or perhaps his head?).
It typifies just what is happening to the freedom of speech in this country and it’s once greatest bastion the Media, which long ago fell victim leaving the public without a defender. Regretfully even those Constitutional lawyers remain strangely silent on the subject; but perhaps that is the price we all have to pay for allowing Politicians to elect their nominees to the High Court.
What then is the solution? Don’t ask me, I am an old fossil who just remembers. Brian

sp769 said...

Their old ways don't work anymore! There are too many Gen X of the cynical loser generation both employed and not, researching every waking hour. Web censorship will be a minor hiccup, as the best hackers/programmers are in that GenX.