‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
- Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking Glass’
The Government’s proposals regarding the changes to the law governing incitement and discrimination are so loaded I decided to not complete the ‘consultation’ form.
According to the Wikipedia entry, ‘a loaded question is one that contains a controversial assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt)… The question attempts to limit direct replies to be those that serve the questioner's agenda.’ Take the very first one: ‘Do you agree that broadening the incitement provisions in this way will better protect these groups?’ The assumption built into this question is that the respondent agrees with the position that any arbitrarily defined ‘group’ needs ‘protecting’ by the State from opinions expressed about it that may not be complimentary.
It’s all a matter of the meaning of words, and the words used throughout this proposal and the associated ‘consultation’ form have been exhibiting considerable ‘mission creep’ over the past years.
Proposal 1 reads ‘Change the language in the incitement provisions so that they protect more groups that are targeted by hateful speech’.
‘Incitement’ in law refers to encouraging another person or persons to commit a crime. Now even if I am ‘inciting’ a dislike (‘hatred’ is such an emotive term) for a particular group, that should only have legal consequences if I am calling for a crime to be committed. ‘Hateful’ speech in itself is not, or should not be, an offence unless it can be shown that the intention of the speaker is to get others to commit a crime – which is a tall order, unless the scope of the word ‘crime’ is expanded.
In my younger days I came across NZers who said they ‘hated’ Dutchies – maybe they had a Dutch boss at work who revved them up when they were slacking – and openly opined that we should go back to where we came from, by deportation if necessary. That was not actionable then and wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be now.
I doubt whether the writers of the proposal in question had us Dutchies in mind, although I see no reason why we couldn’t be covered – maybe I should try instigating a class action against those awful types who said those terrible things about lovely people like us. Yes, I’m being facetious, but hey, this is serious, folks!
Of course, if ‘discrimination’ is a crime, then my objections may be dismissed. This term too has been broadened in meaning to include any negative opinion uttered about a given ‘group’. There was a time when ‘discrimination’ involved treating someone disfavourably on the basis of extraneous factors such as sex, race and physical disability. This addendum is an important one as it allows for ‘discrimination’ under certain circumstances. Someone with low vision will not be allowed to fly an aeroplane as visual acuity is not an extraneous factor when applying for a pilot’s licence. Opining that only people with excellent vision should be allowed to fly aeroplanes is not being ‘discriminatory’ in the pejorative sense of the word.
Proposal 4 reinforces the case that this is all about rewriting the conventional legal lexicon – ‘Change the language of the civil incitement provision to better match the changes being made to the criminal provision’. Proposal 5 (‘Change the civil provision so that it makes 'incitement to discrimination' against the law’) closes the circle. ‘Hateful’ speech is to be criminalised because it has been conflated with both ‘discrimination’ and ‘incitement’ as redefined – an insidious package deal from the point of view of freedom of expression and the right to engage in frank and vigorous democratic debate.
Proposal 6 specifically targets sexual minorities: ‘Add to the grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act to clarify that trans, gender diverse, and intersex people are protected from discrimination’. I have no problem with that until the new definition of ‘discrimination’ is applied.
In a discussion on marriage law, I tell someone that I disagree with the amendment of the Marriage Act to allow two people of the same sex to marry. I have rational, secular reasons for that, although that is beside the point – in a democracy, one does not have to agree with the law, and may lobby for it to be changed. But the character I am talking to does not agree with the concomitants of democracy so s/he reports me for ‘hateful speech’ (of which that neologism ‘homophobia’ is now a subset) and ‘discrimination’ and I am now in deep you-know-what.
I am not exaggerating. This sort of crap is going on in our universities and in government departments. If this is what you want, support the proposals being put to you by this Govt. And kiss democracy and all its associated gains over the past quarter millennium goodbye.
Dr Barend Vlaardingerbroek BA BSc BEdSt PGDipLaws MAppSc PhD is a retired academic. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.