Trigger warnings have arrived at Australian universities

The anti-intellectual and seriously dangerous phenomena of trigger warnings has arrived at Australian universities.

The Age reported late last week that Australian lecturers have begun warning students about potentially graphic or sensitive content:

Australian academics are issuing so-called “trigger warnings” for confronting material in classrooms at the start of each semester, and before classes, to give students the chance to opt out.

These types of warnings encourage academics to not teach ideas, for fear of facing complaints, and students to ignore confronting ideas. And, as has been noted in the United States, there are serious mental health concerns about trigger warnings: they have the potential to establish fears students would otherwise not have, and encourage individuals to avoid addressing their fears.

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The Greens soft drinks tax: illiberal, ineffective, regressive

Yesterday the Greens announced an illiberal, ineffective and regressive nanny state tax on sugary drinks.

I argued in The Spectator Australia’s Flat White blog against the new impost:

Taxing soft drinks, using the coercive power of the state to manipulate individual behaviour, is patently paternalistic.  The policy treats parents as fools who are unable to raise their own children, and adults as mugs incapable of making their own consumption decisions.

It would also prove ineffective at addressing obesity issues:

Although increasing the cost of soft drinks may reduce their consumption, it does little to change overall dietary decisions. If we make one product more expensive, individuals looking for a sugar hit can, and will, swap to other unhealthy drinks and food.

However perhaps the bigger injustice is who it will impact the most, the poor:

A study of French dietary habitspublished in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found that fat taxes are “extremely regressive”. That is, they have a far bigger impact on lower income households who have the least capacity to pay for the additional impost.

Read the full post here.

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Metadata mission creep? Who would have thought?

Victoria_Police

The latest proposal from Victoria Police to monitor mobile phone use highlights the danger of mission creep under mandatory metadata retention laws:

The so-called textalysers… are able to analyse metadata to determine whether someone was using their mobile phone at a specific time – while driving, for example.

… The model proposed by New York authorities involves the analysis of a mobile device’s metadata after a road incident to determine whether the device had been used in the lead up to the event.
… Privacy laws are slowing progress of the proposed new legislation, although Israeli company Cellebrite, which produces the technology, claims that the textalyser system doesn’t have the ability to read the content of text messages and social media updates, but rather to determine whether the device was used at a certain time to send text messages.

However, Australia’s new metadata retention laws, which allow for the time and basic surface details of every message sent to be stored and made available to law enforcement agencies, could speed the technology’s introduction here.

While the government justified the introduction of metadata laws largely to fight terrorism, the inherent danger with gathering mountains of personal data (beyond privacy and data security issues) is that once it exists other entities will inevitably demand access (see that list here).

In fact, the IPA’s Simon Breheny predicted this as early as 2012, and the IPA’s Chris Berg warned about the likelihood of the compulsorily acquired metadata being used for purposes other than national security at the time of its introduction in 2014:

A lot of opponents of data retention have pointed out that this creates a very real risk of unauthorised access. It’s hard to keep data secure.

Yet just as concerning is authorised access. Once these databases have been created they will be one subpoena away from access in any and every private lawsuit.

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WHO are they kidding?

The headline from a recent statement by the World Health Organisation:

WHO Representative urges stronger tobacco control in Syria

That’s just embarrassing. As Christopher Snowdon notes at his blog:

If you ever doubted that the WHO has lost its way, here is the proof. It has been taken over by western idiots who obsess over micromanaging personal lifestyles and waging war on Big Tobacco, Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol’ while the developing world literally burns.

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Queen’s Birthday Honours 2016

One particular honour stood out for me in the Queen’s Birthday Honours:

The Honourable Roman FINKELSTEIN QC… For distinguished service to the judiciary and to the law, to legal education as an academic, to jurisprudence in the fields of commercial and competition law, and to professional organisations.

As Sinclair Davidson notes at the Catallaxy Files:

Ray Finkelstein – the man who tried to introduce media censorship in Australia at the behest of the previous Labor government – has been honoured with the Order of Australia by a Coalition government.

Simply astonishing.

On a brighter note though was the Knighthood awarded to conservative intellectual Roger Scruton in the UK’s Queen’s Birthday Honours. Among many other things, Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at the IPA’s 2014 Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium, on liberty and democracy:

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The state has no business policing emotion

Brendan O’Neill in Spiked on how the state has no business policing emotion:

We should bristle and balk as much at the idea of ‘hate speech’ as we do at the idea of thoughtcrime…

… the category of hate speech is an extremely elastic tool for the repression of ideas. It has spread from curtailing ideas of racial superiority to suppressing expressions of religious hatred. Some Scandinavian countries want to outlaw misogynistic speech. On campuses there are clampdowns on transphobic speech. Anyone who says that a person with a penis is a man can now be branded a ‘hate speaker’ and find himself No Platformed. So even saying ‘men are men and women are women’ has been encapsulated in the ideological category of hate speech. Normal, widely held beliefs are casually rebranded ‘hatred’.

… Once you accept that some ideas are beyond the pale, once you cross that rubicon, then ultimately no idea is safe, because every idea can, at some level, be considered as offensive or experienced as hateful.

… Hatred is an emotion. It might not be the best emotion, but it’s an emotion nonetheless. And when we allow figures of authority to control emotion, to fine people for their emotions, to imprison people for their emotions, then we enter the realm of tyranny. It completes the state’s control of the individual. It expands state power from the public sphere of discussion into the psychic sphere of thought and feeling. It invites policing not only of political sentiment but of deep feeling. It is a profound assault on the freedom of the individual.It’s time to get serious about freedom of speech. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of ideas. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of hatred. ‘Hate speech is not free speech!’, people say. But it is. By its very definition, free speech must include hate speech. Speech must always be free, for two reasons: everyone must be free to express what they feel, and everyone else must have the right to decide for themselves whether those expressions are good or bad. When the EU, social-media corporations and others seek to make that decision for us, and squash ideas they think we will find shocking, they reduce us to the level of children. That is censorship’s greatest crime: it infantilises us. Let us now reassert our adulthood, our autonomy, and tell them: ‘Do not presume to censor anything on our behalf. We can think for ourselves.’

Read the whole article here.

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Even The Economist is acknowledging the global free speech problem

economist-front-page-smThis week’s Economist has an important expose on threats to free speech across the world.

The edition explores multiple dimensions of attacks on free speech: repression by governments, non-state actors enforcing censorship by assassination, the colliding of the American mind on campus, and the idea that certain people and groups have a right to not be offended.

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ACT exclusions zones target silent prayers

The Canberra Times reports the ACT’s restrictive “exclusion zones” passed last year are being zealously enforced:

Police have fined a pro-life supporter for the second time for breaching the protest-free zone around Canberra’s abortion clinic in Civic.

… the ACT government announced it had expanded the exclusion zone, to include Rudd Street, West Row, the alleyway of Odgers Lane, and surrounding roads, footpaths, gutters, outdoor areas, and underneath a “building’s facade”…

[Kerry Mellor] said that when he and other pro-life supporters went to the Moore Street clinic at 8am, there were already six police officers there.

The rest of his group dispersed, he said, but he remained in place outside PJ O’Reilly pub and was again fined $750.

“The moment that I produced my rosary and made a sign of the cross, they were on to me right away,” he said.

Mr Mellor says that he will challenge the laws, arguing that merely praying does not amount to prohibited behaviour under the Health Act 1993.

However, the courts may be of limited assistance. The laws –  put forward by Greens minister Shane Rattenbury – are a blatant attack on free speech. Section 85(c) of the Act prohibit “a protest, by any means” within an excluded zone determined by the minister.

Note: Professor Neil Foster of the University of Tasmania examines the constitutionality of exclusion zone laws at his blog, and is worth reading.

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“Freedom of speech is a good in and of itself. It has intrinsic value”

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Flemming Rose

From Danish journalist Flemming Rose’s remarks upon receiving the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty last week ($):

We easily get into trouble if our defense of free speech is premised on whether it contributes to truth-seeking or not, or whether it serves democracy or not, whether it is blasphemous or not, whether it offends or not, whether it undermines the war effort or not or, whether it is a threat to the common good or not—all these arguments are used every day to silence people all around the world.

They are all instrumental or utilitarian arguments. They claim that we need free speech to achieve something else that is more important than free speech. If our speech contradicts these goals of higher value, democracy, theocracy, communism, dignity understood as the right not to be offended, the historical truth, religious sensibilities, the need to eradicate hate and so on and so forth—then it is perfectly OK to criminalize that kind of speech.

This is the fundamental nature of the “I am in favor of free speech, but” position.

Thus we need a non-instrumental or non-utilitarian argument for free speech. Freedom of speech is a good in and of itself. It has intrinsic value.

Viewing free speech as an individual right rather than a mechanism to achieve a goal will lead to the conclusion that there are too many restraints on this liberty, while the “I am in favor of free speech, but” point of view always will be able to justify further limitations on speech.

The argument from autonomy means that human beings are morally self-governing individuals that are able to make up their mind about the speech of other people and decide how to respond. No politician or public opinion should have the power through criminalization and bans to hide opinions and speech from us, implying that we are not able to handle it in a reasonable and responsible way. It takes away our dignity because it is based on the assumption that we cannot be trusted to listen to certain kinds of speech. As Lincoln assumed in another context, free men should not be free to choose unfreedom for others. This is where the arguments from autonomy and dignity are grounded and where they come together in a sustainable and enduring defense for free speech.

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