It started on Friday with a bizarre column by Deborah Hill Cone, who worries that we are becoming just like children who aren't allowed to say what we think.
When kids grow up in a family where they feel they can't express their true feelings it is called an invalidating environment. It makes them go quite wonky. That is us, writ large. We already self-censor what we say because everyone is in great fear of being jumped on if they say the wrong thing. It is not fun getting shunned in a country of four million people. Trust me, I know.And all of this of course means that we're going to hell in a handcart.
Citizens in socialist Cuba lose their own judgment of right or wrong because they have grown up in a society where they have been taught to spout lies. A lot of them try to leave. Same here. One million New Zealand passport holders don't live in this country; presumably quite a few of them have beetled off to somewhere where mediocrity does not rule. Freedom of speech is not really freedom if it means you can only say things which are tasteful and respectful and don't offend anyone. I think New Zealand just became a much more oppressive country after the Henry incident.
What Henry said might have been ill-considered, but it was a lesser evil than every citizen having to calibrate what they say to fit in with the prevailing ethos.So the million or so folk who don't live here any more have found paradise elsewhere, where cloying censorship does not prevail. But where are these places? The UK? Hardly. If Paul Henry had been a BBC presenter I'm pretty sure the boot would have been applied to his arse months ago. Australia? I doubt his idiocy would have been any more tolerated than here. The US? Well certainly not on any of the mainstream networks.
Then in the Sunday Star Times Michael Laws conducts a boilerplate attack on liberalism.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of thought. The fundamental building blocks of a functioning democracy – freedoms that have evolved over centuries of western thought and civilisation. And they are now under significant and serious threat from the prevailing orthodoxy of political correctness in this country.Laws would like to be able to say whatever he likes about anyone or anything he likes. This merely proves that this week's public apology by Laws for remarks made about the Governor General was entirely insincere.
The Henry affair has just made New Zealand democracy weaker. It presumes that only one thought pattern must prevail. And that is not democracy – that is the descent into a new fascism.On the contrary, the fact that widespread public resentment towards a public figure's bigotry has an effect shows that democracy is working pretty well. Fascism would be more like a situation where someone was able to go on air and spew hate towards other groups without any sort of consequences. I'm pretty sure that is what the Fascists and Nazis actually did.
The attack by Laws is particularly ironic. He earns his bread by attacking others, expressing disgust for people he doesn't approve of. How odd then that when a large group of people do exactly the same thing he objects and cries foul.
In the Herald on Sunday, Deborah Coddington bemoans our supposed delight for witch hunts. While Henry isn't the prime focus of her piece, she lists him as another victim of this supposed tendency to put the boot in.
Some of the "victims" she cites, however, deserve probably a great deal more than they have received by way of opprobrium. Like Dr Herb Green of The Unfortunate Experiment fame. Yes, the one who was found by the Cartwright Enquiry to have experimented on women without their consent. Or Tony Veitch, who viciously assaulted his partner. How is it that vilifying and holding these people to account should be regarded as a witch-hunt?
Coddington then wonders why we don't express our disgust for other villains in such terms.
Finally, one thing puzzles me. This week there was virtually no adverse comment when Chris Kahui calmly told the coroner that yes, he would have called a vet if his puppy wasn't breathing but didn't do the same for his babies.Well perhaps Coddington was in another country for the last four years. As far as frothing, moral outrage goes, the Kahui case pretty much tops everything. I have a theory that people are so weary with disgust for the entire Kahui clan that nothing they hear would really surprise or alarm them.
That the tiny boys weren't fed for 24 hours but he lied to police to look like a good father. And when he admitted, under oath, that he gave one story at his trial and another at the inquest.
Why no frothing, moral outrage here, do you think?
I have never bought this freedom of speech argument. All civilised societies impose restrictions or consequences on what people say in public. Most countries have defamation and hate speech laws.
But it is a sign of a free society that we are able to take action if we don't like what someone says. We can complain loudly and let our voices be heard. We can boycott TV or radio shows that allow offensive hosts to spew their hate. Advertisers can choose which shows they choose to associate their brands with. Aren't all of those freedoms just as important as the freedom to say what you like?
So I don't agree that Paul Henry's fate is an indication that our liberties are under threat. What it tells us is that if you're going to be a dick on air and say hateful things, some people are going to get pissed off. If people could say what they wanted on air without any ability to be challenged, would that mean we lived in a freer society? Free for whom?