The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.
So said George Orwell (1903-1950). And hasn't that come true in New Zealand in 2018?

The aborted speaking engagement in Auckland for Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, which began with the Auckland Council denying them a council-owned venue and ended with a private venue, the Power Station, offering a stage then changing its mind, launched a phenomenon that some have labelled rule by thuggery, a highly successful technique for silencing those who wish to express ideas supposedly from the (alt) right.

A phenomenon that is widely, and rightly, regarded as the most egregious affront to freedom of speech that this famously tolerant country has ever seen.

And it isn't only the rabidly intolerant who are giving this phenomenon credence. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern credited the 120 protesters who helped put the wind up the Power Station with speaking for New Zealand, in defence of principles that she was proud to share.

Advertisement
'We shall not be allowed to listen to anyone whose views fall outside what is deemed to be acceptable. We must not enter into discussion or debate.'

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Really? Some were quick to say that the 120 did not speak for them, and our Prime Minister should have been among them.

One could not help but notice that those who so loudly stated that there was no place for hatred in this country were themselves espousing hatred, hatred of racism, fascism (while behaving precisely like fascists), and all sorts of other "isms".

Without professing an encyclopaedic knowledge of Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux's philosophy, it is difficult to find any evidence of them preaching hatred for anything.

Their crime was to stand in defence of Western culture, and that, to some, is intolerable, although, as was no doubt the case when the TPP was all the rage, most of those who protested probably didn't have a clue what they were talking about. All that mattered though was that their protest put the willies up those who might have been expected to defend a more important principle.

Massey University's decision, or more accurately the decision seemingly made by Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas, to shut the door on former Reserve Bank Governor and National Party leader Don Brash was even more outrageous. At first we were told that the decision had been made in response to threats of violence, but that was quickly cast into doubt.

Given that the alleged threat had been sufficiently credible to warrant cancellation, it seemed odd that the police had not been informed. From that point the story changed, the more likely explanation being that Ms Thomas personally had no time for Dr Brash and his views on various subjects, and used her authority to silence him.

Dr Brash, who must be the only person in the history of mankind to be vilified as racist for arguing that all people should be treated equally, subsequently took part in a debate at Auckland University, where another small group of protesters did their best to shout him down.

Obviously it did not occur to those students, who will probably never come to any sort of prominence again, that they should treasure the tolerance that until recently gave every one of us the right to express our views, in the hope of persuading others to agree. If they can't, no harm done.

The irony is that two very small groups of people made the most of their right to be heard in the process of denying others exactly the same right. And that right was denied, then challenged, at two universities, the one place within any civilised society that should defend the right to express ideas.

Massey University's charter actually states its mission as being to promote free and rational inquiry. Not a bad ideal for a university to have, albeit hardly revolutionary, but meaningless.

For the record, Dr Brash had been invited to address the university's Politics Society on his experience as a former leader of the National Party. Ms Thomas subsequently announced that the engagement had been cancelled because of security concerns, Dr Brash's involvement with Hobson's Pledge and his views on Māori wards on councils, which she regarded as dangerously close to hate speech and failing to recognise the values of a Treaty of Waitangi-led organisation.

She was also reportedly unimpressed that he had supported Southern and Molyneux, although Dr Brash's public stance had been to support their right to speak, not endorsing their views.

The media hardly covered themselves in glory either. One television journalist pondered on camera whether the best response to Southern and Molyneux would have been to ignore them, or to present both sides of the issue. There's a novel concept. In the end they did neither.

A colleague of said journalist, who had met the Canadians, said silencing them had been a win for "us" (the media, presumably), and for New Zealand. He also offered the profound assessment that if they had been allowed to speak, New Zealanders would have seen through their "shallow" arguments.

So why shut them up? Because intolerance rules. We shall not be allowed to listen to anyone whose views fall outside what is deemed to be acceptable. We must not enter into discussion or debate, even though at least one media organisation believes that if we did, we would reject what we were told.

As a correspondent points out on page 6 of this edition of the Northland Age, the world has been here before. And look what happened.

The silencing of Brash, Southern and Molyneux was not unprecedented though. In April, Nelson man Bruce Moon, who corresponds with this newspaper on occasion, was told he would not be welcome at his local library, where he was to speak on the Treaty of Waitangi. It would be fair to say that Mr Moon's views on the treaty, and how he sees it being used to advance detrimental political agendas, do not coincide with current 'mainstream' thinking.

He had just put the finishing touches to his address when he received an email from the Nelson Institute, saying that that organisation, Nelson City Council and the library had met to discuss his talk.

All three organisations had been contacted bypeople saying he should not be allowed to speak there, and the council and the library had come to the conclusion that his address could disturb the peace and become a health and safety issue.

"I made as strong a case as I was able to go ahead, but there were too many dissenting voices, and it is, after all, the library who has to make the final decision as to who may talk in their rooms," the email added. "Perhaps one day we may be able to find a venue without such restrictions."

Good luck with that.

These are perilous times for freedom of speech. We need to recognise and be concerned about that. Intolerance will be with us forever, but the enthusiasm with which those who should be protecting our rights are abandoning them, are prepared to cave in to anonymous threats of violence (which we are expected to take their word for), and even to deny the right to speak because of personal prejudices, is frightening.

It needs to stop. Now.