Monday, June 24, 2024

Damien Grant: Free speech is about protecting ideas and values

Why did Caroline marry you? It’s the one question left unanswered after I’d finished Toby Young’s delightful 2001 book; How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. So I asked him.

He seemed unsure, recalling how he’d pursued Miss Brody with relentless and often obsessive determination, which I already knew because, well, it’s in the book. Given the publication was about what a drunken fool he’d been, what prompted the young lady to relent?

“Maybe” he finally concluded “Stalking works?” More on that in a moment, but…Toby who?

Toby Young being interviewed about Toby Young is possibly the most fun Toby Young can have; and he’s had a lot of fun. His book is reminiscent of Hunter S Thompson with less cocaine, but he’s come a long way from crashing Hollywood parties and hiring strippers to liven up a slow day at the office.

Young began his career in London by establishing a magazine; The Modern Review, with the mission statement; Low culture for high brows.

It ended after four years, in acrimony and high dudgeon. A format Young was to repeat; working hard to create an opportunity for spectacular self-immolation. And yet; after each self-ignited pyre a more interesting version emerges.

Young recalls his adventures as an Anne Hathaway figure toiling away at Vanity Fair for an impossible boss while getting hammered, acting badly and desperately searching for a way to get laid and get rich in the rotten apple. He fails, magnifically, yet along the way collects a fiancé and enough material for his book. It all evens out.

I’d become aware of Young because he writes for the Spectator, a conservative-leaning British publication. It was through his own commentary that I knew of his cancellation in 2018 when a few ill-considered drunk tweets forced him out of polite society and into penury.

In reaction Young established Britian’s Free Speech Union because, in part, when he found himself having to work out how to respond to the outrage archaeologists he was forced to wing it. “And I didn’t wing it very well.”

The New Zealand Free Speech Union, inspired by its British parent, came into being in response to Auckland Council cancelling a venue for controversial speakers, Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern in 2018, on the premise that there was a risk of violent disruption. The Free Speech Union took the matter to the Supreme Court. We lost.

In one sense, the Court decision makes sense if you believe in property rights. Auckland Council owns the property and didn’t want the hassle. It’s possible, but denied, that the real reason was that the Mayor, Phil Goff, didn’t approve of what they were going to say and was willing to defend to the last ratepayer’s dollar his right to prevent them from saying it.

Nor did then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said at the time; “I think you'll see from the reaction that they have had from New Zealanders that their views are not those that are shared by this country and I'm quite proud of that.”

Ardern is consistent. In reaction to the 2019 Mosque terror attack she has been looking for a mechanism to reduce online hate-speech. Since leaving office she has continued her work with the Christchurch Call.

A revealing moment was Ardern’s 2022 address to the United Nations; “After all, how do you successfully end a war if people are led to believe the reason for its existence is not only legal but noble? How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists?”

The problem is that she has defined the objective. How do you achieve the correct outcomes if people do not agree with her starting premise? She does not consider that her prior assumptions could be wrong, and that is the foundation of the worst form of censorship; where it is being done for our own good.

Legislation follows culture which is why organisations and individuals like the Free Speech Union and Toby Young are important.

Young is visiting the Antipodes on behalf of the Free Speech Union, which is how I was able to corner him for an hour. He is an articulate advocate against the restrictions Ardern and others had sought. He believes that what the nascent regulators really object to is the ideas and values being expressed, and they know better than you or I what we should be allowed to say, and to hear.

Toby Young isn’t, as his first book portrays himself, a disorganised shambles looking for a puddle to fall into. At least. Not anymore. He is a thoughtful, charming, self-depreciating individual who possesses something that few of us manage to find; a sense of purpose.

Perhaps it is these qualities that has made him so effective in maintaining and expanding free speech both in his country and in ours.........The full article is published HERE

Damien Grant is an Auckland business owner, a member of the Taxpayers’ Union and a regular opinion contributor for Stuff, writing from a libertarian perspective

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