I am putting it out there: I want Peter Singer to speak in Auckland.
Before last week, I was unaware the renowned philosopher was due to visit in June. However, his highly-publicised "deplatforming" from Auckland's SkyCity has piqued my interest.
First introduced to the Princeton professor's work at 19, I found his arguments around the treatment of animals, euthanasia, disabled infants and altruistic living righteous, fascinating, terrifying, misguided and even hopeful.
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A captivating spectrum of reaction to gnarly and pertinent topics. Some I saw sense in, while others reinforced the Sahara-sized chasm between mine and Singer's idea of happiness.
To summarise, the extremes of my Singer spectrum are something like this.
Yes, I follow exactly what you are saying about combating poverty and its devastating impacts in poor countries through charitable contributions. And no, you have an unfounded and incredibly narrow view of disabled persons, their quality of life and the profound contribution they have in communities and wider society.
Perhaps more relevant is my commitment to thinkers like him. Pick out any point on the spectrum and I will say I am better for having examined his argument – regardless of my level of agreement.
Herein lies the nuance in defending someone like Singer, and the link it has to freedom of speech and informed debate. The Australian ethicist lends his voice to a range of topics, and his views on certain issues continue to offend and diminish the rights of certain individuals, significantly members of the disabled community.
Why then give him space? And how is he any different to Canadians Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern?
Here, context is king.
For the past 20 years, Singer has been the leading bioethics professor at Princeton University. He has also held positions at the University of Melbourne, Monash, NYU and Oxford University. Often referred to as the most widely-read contemporary philosopher, his catalogue of work over the decades is constantly revered and debated.
Read any of them and/or listen to him speak and it is clear his views are substantially more profound and qualified than the YouTube offerings of Molyneux and Southern.
Despite this, comparisons are being drawn between his deplatforming and the Canadian duo. Both are freedom of speech issues and we should not make the same mistake now as we did in 2018, right?
Similar to understanding Singer's work, closer examination is required to distill the issues.
In this instance, SkyCity's role is particularly important. According to ThinkInc, Singer's tour promoter, the company cited fears of "reputational damage"as its basis of withdrawal.
The announcement followed a Newshub story on Singer's planned visit. In the piece, three members of the public are captured on-camera as people who "want his event axed".
Notably, disability rights' advocate Dr Huhana Hickey did not take this stance, citing Singer's right to freedom of speech, SkyCity's right to host and her right to protest and counter his views on disability. Other disability rights' advocates agree, and have reiterated plans for peaceful protest.
First, SkyCity is the country's biggest casino complex. Its website states it has more than 2100 "gaming machines". In November, the company also requested to increase gaming machines in its Hamilton casino to 399.
Hamilton Mayor Andrew King summarised opposition views. "SkyCity wants to capitalise on a high-earner harm product by requesting 60 more misery machines," he said. That sentiment is backed by plenty of evidence demonstrating the harm and addictiveness of gaming machines, concentrated in poorer communities.
If SkyCity fears reputational damage from hosting Singer, could it please also address its status as New Zealand's gaming machine mecca?
Second, Singer is not a trendy headline-setter. He has appeared in New Zealand before and his perspectives, including the controversial ones, are backed by years of work. He is also open to debating and critiquing them in a productive manner.
It is his fundamental point of difference to the Molyneuxs and Southerns of the world. Further, while SkyCity's withdrawal last week could be considered a victory for Singer's objectors and protest movements, it is the ally established in SkyCity which makes me uneasy.
A commercial entity in the gambling and hotel business choosing to reverse its commitment to a world-renowned thinker because of bad PR undermines principles of informed debate in a free market and open society. In similar vein, failing to distinguish between YouTubers and a leading ethicist professor diminishes our collective intelligence.