Friday, November 09, 2007

The futility of making the unacceptable illegal

Rowan Atkinson had an excellent letter in The Times, on the theme of the proposed legislation to outlaw ‘gay hatred’, the essence of it being that an intelligent society can be left alone to police itself:

Sir, I have spoken to a number of gay friends who, like your columnist Matthew Parris, are a little perplexed by the Government’s proposal to introduce a measure to outlaw the incitement of hatred against homosexuals, proposed as part of the new Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. In announcing the measure, the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, declared that “It is a measure of how far we have come as a society . . . that we are now appalled by hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality.” Precisely so. “It is time for the law to recognise this.”

Why do we need a law to “recognise this”? Society seems to have recognised it pretty well and, as Mr Straw acknowledges, is working things out without any legislative interference from him. One can’t help thinking, with legislation of this nature, that the point at which it becomes politically possible for it to be enacted, is precisely the point when it becomes unnecessary.
It will be interesting to see exactly what words or actions the Government considers should be criminalised that would not already fall foul of public order or incitement laws. A worrying aspect of the initiative is that it appears to be infinitely extendable: witness the fact that the Government has invited two additional groups — the disabled and transsexuals — to “make the case” for the proposed legislation to be extended to them. I am sure that they could make a very good case, as indeed could all those who can claim that they cannot help being the way they are. Men, for example. Or women. Or people with big ears.

This “tick the box if you’d like a law to stop people being rude about you” is one way of filling the legislative programme, but there are serious implications for freedom of speech, humour and creative expression.

The devil, as always, will be in the detail, but the casual ease with which some people move from finding something offensive to wishing to declare it criminal — and are then able to find factions within government to aid their ambitions — is truly depressing.

Rowan Atkinson
London W1


If both Christians and homosexuals assert their ‘right’ to freedom of speech, then there will inevitably be disagreement. This is healthy, for it is the stuff of life. But the Government is intent on proscribing one in deference to the other, and this is not merely an infringement of the rights of one party; it is a manifest injustice. Homosexuals may not particularly like hearing from Christians that their sexual practices are deviant, and Christians may not like hearing from homosexuals that they are homophobic bigots, but that is what free speech is all about. It may indeed cause offence, but a law to protect people’s (over-)sensitivities is an abuse of the law. And, as Mr Atkinson observes, where should such laws stop? A law to protect people from being called ‘big ears’ may be something of a joke, but consider a recent survey which found that 43% of the general population (26 million people), have experienced prejudice on more than one occasion. Of those who have experienced prejudice:

36% of responds say it was is linked to their gender
34% to their age
31% to their ethnicity
26% to their body weight
19% to the way they dress
17% to their attractiveness/looks
17% to their class
15% to their economic status
12% to a disability
10% to their religion
9% to their hair colour
5.2% to their sexual orientation
12% other reasons

If the Government is intent on legislating for the smallest group of a mere 5.2%, then a fortiori should legislation be passed to protect the sensitivities of the blonde, the poor, the ugly, the fat, those who wear flared trousers, or those who went to Eton College.

And Cranmer has just found this nugget from Rod Liddle:

Under the Religious Hatred legislation, Islam must be afforded our respect as a valid and noble belief system. And yet at the same time, a Muslim who espouses one of its fundamental tenets - that homosexuality is wicked and a sin - might find himself banged up by the old bill for inciting homophobic hatred. And if I were then to say what I believe - that, partly because of its attitude towards gay people, Islam is a vindictive, bigoted and repressive ideology - then I might be banged up too. This is surely ludicrous.

Ludicrous indeed. And even moreso when one considers Leviticus 20:13 and the stance of the Roman Catholic Church. It appears that quoting Scripture on this issue, or advocating the teachings of His Holiness, may soon be against the law of the United Kingdom. And all because New Labour is intent on repaying its Muslim and gay constituencies, in the hope that they will continue their traditional allegiance.

6 Comments:

Blogger Wrinkled Weasel said...

As I have said before and will say again; liberal humanism will eat itself.

It does not even conform to its own internal "logic", let alone provide a basis for moral authority.

No, this business is about gaining a place in the pecking order - it is about cultural hegemony. Gays shout loudest right now so it Gays who get to the top - except that liberal luvvies just adore Muslims - and Muslims hate Gays, and of course Wimmin love Gays, but Muslims treat Wimmin as second class and they hate Jews, but that's okay because the BBC loves Palestinians but hates Israel and it should never be suggested that blacks are less intelligent than whites, even if their elected leaders believe HIV can be cured by eating vegetables or that oil can be magically produced from rocks (South Africa and Zimbabwe)

Of the truly great prospectus' for the conduct of humanity is as follows:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Political Correctness

does not promote equality - or rights.

It Merely

replaces one scapegoat

with another

and encourages

the weak and morally dubious to tyrannise

the majority.

9 November 2007 at 22:34  
Blogger Man in a Shed said...

The problem is socialism is intolerant.

It is intolerant of the freedom to make bad choices. It is fundamentally against the free human spirit.

It seeks control over our thoughts, words, deeds and we can forget about property.

When they tried spelling this out directly ( before focus groups ) the results were carnage at the ballet box. So now socialism must be built by stealth. Tangential issues must be used to justify control over peoples lives - being over weight, smoking, insulting a client group of the Labour party, detention without trial because of terrorism, forcing employers to adopt certain working practices.

Bit by bit socialism is built out of sight, until it is too late - as it may soon be.

10 November 2007 at 09:59  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Hmm Your Grace, I am not sure I agree.

1. New Labour does not make such decisions to gain votes. They do so because their instinctive liberalism leads them to think in this way.

2. While Rod Liddle is sharp and has an agile tongue, he exaggerates to make his points. An example of this is the very clever move he makes in saying that Islam is a vindictive, bigoted and repressive ideology. This is not the same as saying that Islam is homophobic, or incites homophobic hatred, for which he would never be banged up. Frankly, he would not be banged up for any of it, but his claim is no more accurate of Islam, than it is of Christianity.

3. Atkinson makes some good points and of course laws like these can be particularly problematic in the arena of comedy. However, this is not an argument to ban all such laws. Atkinson can flaunt his homosexuality precisely because he is Atkinson. Other people, for a variety of reasons, as your list shows, cannot just be themselves.

Atkinson's main argument is flawed: that because society is coping quite well with difference, we should not have laws to back it up. In the same way that it is difficult to judge at what point such laws should intervene, it is just as difficult to judge the point at which one can claim that society is coping quite well with difference. The argument is far more complex than Atkinson makes out I think.

10 November 2007 at 14:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well put snuffleupagus.

Just a quick note to point out a flaw in cranmer's ridiculous example, people with big ears may be insulted on the basis of a characteristic they have little control over. This is far removed from the extent of hatred directed at gay people in this country, today. You seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that things are just dandy for gay people in the UK. No you idiot, there are still homophobically motivated attacks in the UK, occurring on a regular basis.

"we are now appalled by hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality" -except those in the UK who still direct hatred at people on the basis of their sexuality.

11 November 2007 at 21:34  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Why do morons always post anonymously?

'Cranmer's ridiculous example' was, in fact, Mr Atkinson's example. And His Grace said nowhere that things were 'dandy' for gay people in the UK: he was simply pointing out that things a far from 'dandy' for Christians in the UK either, not least because of the Christianophobia emanating from certain gay quarters.

One might expect a group that has known persecution over the decades would not begin itself to persecute a group that has known it over millennia.

11 November 2007 at 21:49  
Blogger Prodicus said...

Atkinson is not gay. Married with two children. And he's right.

13 November 2007 at 14:44  

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