I have a confession. The Escape Artist is not a self-made man…I didn’t do it on my own.
There’s a saying it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it certainly takes a society to become wealthy. I grew up in a society with the building blocks to allow people to get rich.
If you’re reading this in the UK, the rest of Europe, the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, Japan or in any other democracy then you’ve inherited an incredible gift. What is that gift? It’s a society that draws on the wisdom of your ancestors. This was not something you made, this was something you inherited.
We benefit from ~100,000 years of human evolution, ~10,000 years of the agricultural (and then industrial) revolution and ~1,000 years of political progress. Landmarks in that political progress include the Magna Carta in 1215, the Bill of Rights in 1689, the American constitution of 1789 and universal suffrage (everyone getting the vote) in the twentieth century.
We know how to create a wealthy society. When people co-operate and trade freely, it makes the economic “cake” bigger for everyone. We make the cake bigger and stop fighting over the crumbs. This happens when the following building blocks are in place:
- Free speech
- Free trade
- The rule of law
- Property rights
- Protection of minority rights
- A legal system independent of government
I put free speech at the top of the list for a good reason. Its the meta freedom. In other words, free speech is the freedom that safeguards all the others.
We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. The giants include the leaders and thinkers of the past that figured stuff out that we today take for granted. People like Aristotle, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, George Orwell, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela (to include a variety of giants over different times and places).
The giants are also the ordinary people: our ancestors that fought and died in wars to preserve freedoms that we take for granted. It includes the generation of men that got wiped out in the trenches of Northern Europe in places like Ypres, The Somme, Paschendale. And the generation who stormed the beaches in Normandy. These people understood that it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
Free speech is like good health. We take it for granted. We don’t even notice it until its gone. But when its gone, EVERYTHING IS FUCKED UP. So it’s important to talk about free speech and to understand what happened in history when its gone. History teaches us that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Free speech is currently under attack. Its under attack from from politicians, bureaucrats and vested interests. Its under attack on university campuses. Bizarrely, its even under attack from much of the mainstream media.
I’ve seen this as a blogger. If you contradict their worldview, keyboard warriors don’t just disagree with your opinions, they try to stop you with personal attacks. In football, this is called playing the man not the ball.
But the real problem is not clowns leaving angry comments on the internet. The real problem is the “death by a thousand cuts” attacks on free speech by politicians and special interest activists. This has been incorporated into UK legislation and is now coming back to bite us.
Regular readers will be aware that The Escape Artist does not follow The News because its mostly alarmist bullshit. But sometimes things DO happen that you need to know to be a good citizen and use your vote wisely in elections.
You need to know that someone called Mark Meechan (aka Count Dankula) was recently convicted in the UK (under the Communications Act 2003) for making a joke. Yes really. His crime? He had posted a short (3 minute) film on Youtube in which we see him teaching his girlfriends dog (a pug) to raise its paw in a Nazi salute. Take a look for yourself.
Some background on Mark Meechan is relevant here. The guy is a call centre worker, amateur comedian and Youtube clown. He follows in the footsteps of a long line of loud-mouthed British working class comedians. He reminds me of a poor man’s Frankie Boyle. He may or may not be funny (humour is subjective) but he was trying to be.
There is definitely a class aspect to this. Meechan is not a nice middle class boy and clearly didn’t go to Eton. He’s gobby. He has facial piercings. I’m gonna be honest with you, if my daughter brought someone like that home, I’d be…errrr….unimpressed. But his charisma and social skills shouldn’t be the point here.
Meechan’s girlfriend had apparently said that everything about her pug was cute. Meechan bet that he could get the dog to do something horrible….he trained the dog to raise its paw in a mock Nazi salute when he said “Sieg Heil” and “Gas the Jews”.
I’ve read a lot about The Holocaust. I understand it as well as anyone that didn’t live through it themselves can. There is no more horrific (and therefore potentially offensive) subject. But, as Jewish comedian David Baddiel points out, there should be NO subject that you can’t make a joke about.
Humour is all about trangression of social norms: a good comedian knows where the line is and explores that. What makes the pug video comedy is the juxtaposition between the cute, innocent, dumb doggy and the appalling reality of the Holocaust. That’s the joke. You may not find it funny. Fair enough. I didn’t say it was a good joke….I just said it was a joke.
I don’t know what Meechan’s politics are and I don’t care…he should have a right to free speech. I haven’t met him but, from what I’ve seen he’s not anti-Semitic. And I don’t care if some of the people supporting him are idiots.
The test of free speech is not whether we support people’s right to say reasonable things. Its whether we accept people’s right to say things that we disagree with and even find offensive.
I would fight for his right to offend me. For example, what if he’d made a video poking fun at all FI-seekers? What if he said we deserved to get sent to Auschwitz and gassed? I would obviously disagree with that. I might find it offensive (or funny, it kinda depends on the context and his delivery). But I wouldn’t want to see him prosecuted.
But prosecuted he was. And on 24 April 2018 he was fined £800 for being in breach of the 2003 Communications Act. Meechan has refused to pay the fine and instead donated £800 to the Glasgow Childrens Hospital. He will probably end up in contempt of court and in prison.
When, back in 2003, the government was passing that legislation did you think it would be used to send comedians to prison? The politicians and bureaucrats who drafted the law probably had good intentions. But sadly, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We need to stop and think about the unintended consequences.
My daughter is currently studying the rise of The Nazis in 1930s Germany. In case you’d forgotten, the Nazis were not big on free speech. The Nazis burned books. The Nazis sent people who dissented to prison or the gas chamber.
The irony is that what starts off as a reaction against Nazism actually takes us a step closer to Nazism. When you ban offensive speech, you succeed in criminalising normal people, but you fail to encourage tolerance.
- The freedom of thought, emotion and speech
- The freedom to pursue tastes (even those considered immoral) provided they do no harm to others
- The freedom of association (again as long as no harm is done to others)
Mill argues that in contemporary and civilised societies there is no justification for the restriction of free speech. Even if what’s said is wrong.
First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.
And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.
In case you were thinking that Mill was some extremist weirdo, you should know that he was a liberal party Member of Parliament and the first MP to call for women to be given the vote.
[As an aside, some clown will no doubt read this and accuse The Escape Artist of being anti-free speech because I’ve deleted their angry comment on my blog. For the benefit of the hard of thinking, the way this works is that I say whatever I want on my blog and you are allowed to write whatever you want on your own blog or in your colouring-in book or other safe space.]
This saga has already run for 2 years. A 2 year legal battle would have destroyed the livelihood of a nice middle class person. But Meechan seems prepared to die in a ditch for his principles. I applaud him for this.
Meechan has raised money via crowdfunding to appeal his conviction (I went to donate but he’d already raised the money). But the main problem is not the judge’s interpretation…its that the legislation is so broadly drafted that it bans anything that someone perceives to be offensive.
Here’s what I’m going to do:
- I’m going to write to my MP saying the law needs to be changed
- Vote for anyone that re-introduces and protects free speech
- Get back to the business of becoming wealthy and enjoying life
I urge you to consider doing the same.