Comment:

There is an old fable of various forms, known most famously as "The Frog and the Scorpion".

The scorpion, who cannot swim, asks the frog to carry him across a river. The frog politely declines because, well, it's a scorpion.

But the scorpion reasons with the frog. "If I sting you we both die," he says. "So why on earth would I do that?"

Advertisement

The logic is inarguable and so the frog agrees. Then, when they are halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog and they both sink to their deaths.

READ MORE:
Covid 19 coronavirus: No new Covid-19 cases for ninth straight day
Covid 19 coronavirus: Ministry of Health to update on latest cases
Covid 19 coronavirus: NZ's chief scientist - when can we re-open our borders?
Covid 19 coronavirus: NZ has just one active case, social gatherings increase to 100 guests

"Why did you do that?" asks the frog with his dying breath.

The scorpion shrugs. "It's in my nature."

The same might be said of Clementine Ford, a firebrand feminist who seems programmed to self-destruct at every opportunity – usually in an attempt to destroy someone else in the process.

Strangely, perhaps even refreshingly, she does not present as a martyr. Indeed she often seems surprised when her fury implodes. She is like an out-of-control heat-seeking missile that lands upon a target only to realise too late that it is the end of them both.

I have been targeted by Clementine on more than one occasion and it is both a derailing and damaging experience.

The first time was several years ago when she generated a Twitter storm around her enthusiastic use of the C-bomb, a word I – like her – have never had a problem with.

Advertisement

The bizarre part was that while she was flying thick and fast with it in the public exchanges she was privately messaging me joking about how silly the whole thing was.

Much like the frog, I mistakenly thought we were friends.

This was underscored by the fact that we had a friend in common, someone very dear to me. We even bumped into each other at his wedding a year or two ago and exchanged cheery hellos.

I was therefore a little surprised but not particularly concerned when Clementine pitched a column to Ten Daily, my own network's news website, to rebut some comments I'd made on Studio 10. She would not, she assured the editor, be disrespectful.

Indeed, the same editor ran the pitch by me as a matter of courtesy and of course I did not object – censorship is hardly in my nature – however that doesn't mean I was happy with what was to follow.

By way of background, there had been a horrible killing in Melbourne and the Victoria Police response had been to say that this was "absolutely about men's behaviour". I described the comment as "nonsensical". It quickly emerged there were far more salient factors in the case, including homelessness and mental illness. Maleness seemed the least of the accused's problems.

Advertisement

But let us leave that to one side.

Clementine's opening line was "Joe Hildebrand is trending again" and every part of it was directed specifically towards me. To be fair, the piece was not disrespectful – at least not by Clementine's colourful standards – but it was certainly personal.

And the vitriol, abuse and threats it provoked from her followers was both limitless and acute.

Last week it was Clementine Ford who was trending and, as she well knows, this is rarely a good thing. She had tweeted the words "Honestly, the coronavirus isn't killing men fast enough" and the response was everything you might expect.

Of course, medically speaking, she could not have been more wrong. In fact the coronavirus kills far more men than women and kills them quickly – as has been repeatedly reported.

Perhaps Clementine was aware of this and joking about it. Let us hope not.

Advertisement

And of course it is a pretty dumb thing to say, but the whole "kill all men" routine is a pretty staple part of Clementine's act. I'd be less surprised if I'd found out the guy who ate the bat in Wuhan was Ozzy Osbourne.

And of course it is tempting to say that karma is a bi**h, another word which Clementine has become familiar within the sewer of social media, where she is both violator and victim.

But if you believe in freedom of expression you either support it or you don't. You either believe in the right to be provocative and profane no matter how much it offends or up-ends you or you believe in censorship and sanitisation.

In Australia there is no explicit document or law to uphold that right – it exists only in the hearts of those who believe in it. And holding on to that belief is often tough and ugly and agonisingly frustrating.

There is nothing more hypocritical than screaming thought police trying to deplatform free discourse while defending the most appalling abuse. And there is nothing more nauseating than people who claim to be on the side of tolerance and compassion spitting out the most violent language imaginable – including threats of violence itself.

But calling for Clementine Ford to be shut down or sacked is hardly the answer. If Melbourne City Council wishes to be associated with her, that is their right and voters can deliver their verdict on it at the next election.

Advertisement

More importantly, if Clementine herself wants to be associated with the extreme and often ridiculous views she puts on social media that should be up to her, not the government or the Twitter mob.

Deplatforming people isn't just a pastime of the new authoritarian left, it is their very ideology – a backwards and bone-chilling belief that only certain views should be permitted.

Cancel culture for them is not just a weapon, it is a world view, and it is a view that must be utterly rejected by anyone who values diversity and liberty.

So when the moderate left or libertarians or conservatives seek to censor the censors they are not using the woke left's weapons against them, they are becoming them. Idiotic and even evil opinions need to be exposed, not expunged.

There is a big difference between shutting down debate and winning the debate and it is those of us in the rational world who are supposed to understand that.

Yes, it is frustrating, but frustration is the price of freedom. We fight for those we love but we must still protect those we hate.

Advertisement

And that means taking the scorpion on our back even though we know we might get stung.

• Joe Hildebrand is editor-at-large for news.com.au and co-host of Studio 10, 8am-noon weekdays on Channel 10