Our aversion to extreme-right dogma is giving rise to an alarming intolerance

by Bill Ralston / 11 August, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Free speech

Illustration/Getty Images

Curtailing free speech is not the answer.

Wandering through the local office of MSD (or WINZ or whatever it is called these days), as I weaved my way through a welcoming phalanx of security guards, I took in a huge expanse of tidy but largely empty desks and computer screens across the vast room. There were relatively few social workers on site, just enough to take care of the few folk waiting to do something about their benefit or pension.

Perhaps MSD knows something we don’t and has the extra infrastructure laid on for a cataclysmic depression that is just around the corner. Hence the desks and computers waiting for a battalion of fresh social workers to handle the coming legions of the destitute.

I was there because I face a significant birthday and, bearing in mind the perilous state of the media industry, figured it would be wise to accept the extra money the government was offering, even if I had to put up with being called a “senior”. The few younger people who waited to see a staff member looked genuinely in need of some support, and I reflected on the fact that we were a lucky country to have polite and respectful folk caring for those in need.

That view, of course, would be complete anathema to two troublesome Canadians who came for an extremely short but boisterous stay. You will recall Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, visiting evangelists for the politically extreme right wing. No? How soon we forget.

What struck me about the brouhaha over their abortive visit was not their half-witted views on race, diversity and whatever else but the sheer intolerance of some folk in this country for people who hold views divergent to their own.

There is a plethora of laws in this country constraining what can be said in public and, if the pair had crossed the line into inciting hatred or violence, they could have been arrested and charged. It seems most of their opponents, such as the one who claimed on Twitter to have phoned a bomb threat to the venue they were scheduled to speak at, simply did not like what they had to say and wanted to stop them saying it. It is a mood that follows on from the “punch a Nazi” movement on social media, although the definition of what constitutes a Nazi to be punched apparently relies on the alleged Nazi saying or doing something you violently disagree with. Curiously, the punch-a-Nazi crowd sounds a little fascist in nature.

Anyway, Southern and Molyneux thankfully departed, frustrated in their intent, whatever that was, in a flurry of angry social media posts.

Of more concern was an incident that followed. Don Brash, former National Party and Act Party leader, once governor of the Reserve Bank, organiser of Hobson’s Pledge and more recently a supporter of the Canadian pair’s right to express their views, was invited to speak by the Massey University politics club.

Moves began to stop him speaking, with one activist writing ungrammatically to the vice chancellor, wanting to know what steps would be taken “to ensure the safety of those attending. Remember in the light of their type of ‘Free Speech’ does not come Free of Consequences [sic].” The vice chancellor capitulated and banned Brash on security grounds.

Universities, supposed to encourage the free flow of ideas and debate, should be one place where there are no consequences for indulging in free speech. Tolerance, it seems, is a forgotten virtue.

This article was first published in the August 18, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Win an Oscar Wilde prize pack, including books and double passes
100464 2018-12-14 10:08:08Z Win

Win an Oscar Wilde prize pack, including books and…

by The Listener

Enter and be in to win The Selfish Giant, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Happy Prince and Other Stories, and a double pass to The Happy Prince.

Read more
Trends in 2018: What Kiwis searched for this year
100457 2018-12-14 09:38:50Z Life in NZ

Trends in 2018: What Kiwis searched for this year

by RNZ

Here's what piqued our interest this year.

Read more
The curious connection between these new celebrity biographies
100448 2018-12-14 09:13:59Z Books

The curious connection between these new celebrity…

by Russell Baillie

Our reviewer wades into a flood of celebrity biographies and memoirs and finds they’re all connected in some way.

Read more
Hop to it: The best Kiwi beers for summer
99461 2018-12-14 00:00:00Z Dining

Hop to it: The best Kiwi beers for summer

by Michael Donaldson

Here's what to crack open on a hot day, from our very own Kiwi brewers.

Read more
Te Atatu's new cafe The Sugar Grill celebrates local history and family
100443 2018-12-13 16:46:27Z Auckland Eats

Te Atatu's new cafe The Sugar Grill celebrates loc…

by Jean Teng

Nickson Clark's new cafe The Sugar Grill is a project 19 years in the making.

Read more
Time Magazine’s Person of the Year recognises the global assault on journalism
100431 2018-12-13 11:36:23Z World

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year recognises the …

by Peter Greste

Time Magazine has just announced its “Person of the Year” for 2018, and for once, it isn’t one person.

Read more
The devastating effect of discarded Christmas plastic
100417 2018-12-13 09:31:47Z Planet

The devastating effect of discarded Christmas plas…

by The Listener

Over the European holiday season, the Mediterranean Sea’s plastic load rockets by a whopping 40%, as people buy then simply ditch plastics like lilos.

Read more
The worst humanitarian crisis in the world that no one knows about
100384 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z World

The worst humanitarian crisis in the world that no…

by Todd Pitock

A country rarely in the media spotlight, here's why we can't ignore Chad.

Read more