No­body’s safe when free speech it­self is un­der fire

Ge­orge Hook be­ing wrong does not au­to­mat­i­cally make those bay­ing for his blood in re­tal­i­a­tion right, writes Eilis O’Han­lon

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News -

THOSE who live by the sword die by the sword. Ge­orge Hook will have known that as well, if not bet­ter, than any­one. If your ap­peal as a broad­caster is a will­ing­ness to shout out loud what others are afraid to whis­per, there’s al­ways the risk of over­step­ping the mark and say­ing what you shouldn’t have said at all.

His pro­nounce­ment two Fri­days ago in which he as­cribed par­tial “blame” (his word) to a young woman for her al­leged rape in a ho­tel room, link­ing it di­rectly to her ear­lier con­sen­sual sex with another man, very much fell into that cat­e­gory. I have a high tol­er­ance for provoca­tive opin­ions, but I was lis­ten­ing to the show at the time, and my jaw hit the floor. It was im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that there’d be up­roar.

Even now, I strug­gle to un­der­stand why Hook wanted to say it, or thought that he could, or should, get away with it; but it’s telling that not a sin­gle re­spon­si­ble per­son has de­fended what he said.

They’ve de­fended his char­ac­ter, as Pat Kenny gen­er­ously did, and they’ve de­fended what they hoped was his true mean­ing, namely that young women need to be care­ful about po­ten­tial dan­ger; but none have de­fended what he ac­tu­ally did say, be­cause they can’t. It was aw­ful.

That, though, is last week’s news. This week’s news is what hap­pened af­ter­wards, as Ge­orge was sus­pended by New­stalk amid gath­er­ing tur­moil.

To be ab­so­lutely clear, ev­ery­one who’s ob­jected to what Hook said was and is right to do so. If his de­fend­ers re­ally be­lieve in free speech, then they must de­fend his ac­cusers too, be­cause that’s also free speech. Spon­sors, like­wise, can do what they like with their own money. All those call­ing for his res­ig­na­tion on so­cial me­dia are equally en­ti­tled to re­ject his public apol­ogy as in­ad­e­quate and to call for his fir­ing.

It’s still im­por­tant to re­flect on what hap­pened, be­cause those who at­tacked Hook have not stopped there, but have been cast­ing around greed­ily for other tar­gets to de­stroy, in­vari­ably alight­ing on any­one who dares to have con­ser­va­tive val­ues when it comes to sex­ual be­hav­iour. That’s where it gets messy.

Re­gard­ing ca­sual sex as im­moral or dis­gust­ing or dan­ger­ous, even think­ing less highly of those who do it, how­ever prud­ishly judge­men­tal that may be, is not the same as con­don­ing rape. Hook’s mis­take was clum­sily con­flat­ing the two, and do­ing so was ut­terly wrong, as he ac­knowl­edged in his on-air apol­ogy. He’s pay­ing a heavy price in public vil­i­fi­ca­tion, and may yet pay a heav­ier one.

What’s scary is that, far from dif­fus­ing the anger, the back­lash ac­tu­ally in­creased it, par­tic­u­larly on so­cial me­dia. Get­ting Ge­orge was not enough. The ugly mood was: who can we take down next?

There’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment in which a group of peo­ple are de­lib­er­ately pro­voked into anger by be­ing, as they see it, per­son­ally crit­i­cised. One half of the group is then given a punch bag on which to take out their frus­tra­tion. The other half just have to sit qui­etly. Both sets are then asked to play a par­tic­u­lar game which tests their lev­els of ag­gres­sion.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom sug­gests that those who got to strike the punch bag should have re­leased their anger and there­fore feel calmer. In fact, the op­po­site hap­pens. Those who punched the bag are more ag­gres­sive af­ter­wards than those who didn’t. The act en­cour­aged them to ex­press ex­treme emo­tion, and so they went on do­ing it.

In a sense that’s what hap­pens on so­cial me­dia. It’s not sim­ply a re­lease for anger, it cre­ates, in­creases and re­in­forces it. Nor does it ever re­ally dis­si­pate, it sim­ply finds new tar­gets. It was in full spate this week.

One rea­son why this phe­nom­e­non is be­com­ing more com­mon is that the left has no se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal power any­where that mat­ters, so po­lit­i­cal pro­gres­sives have in­creas­ingly con­cen­trated their ef­forts on a cul­ture war against con­ser­va­tive thought, to a point where the me­dia and uni­ver­si­ties are dom­i­nated by those who all think the same way.

This has in­ten­si­fied the left’s in­tol­er­ance for con­trary opin­ions, which now finds a reg­u­lar out­let in sym­bolic witch hunts. One of the few places where they haven’t yet won to­tal hege­mony is talk ra­dio, par­tic­u­larly in Amer­ica, where the con­ser­va­tive right has cre­ated a foothold from which to chal­lenge the dom­i­nance of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. That makes it a prime tar­get for at­tack. New­stalk isn’t re­ally in that vein, but it’s all the Ir­ish left have to rail against, so it bears the brunt.

Some on the lib­eral left fi­nally seem to be fear­ing the mon­ster they’ve unleashed. It’s a won­der it took them so long to wise up, but one can only pray they keep up this new ap­petite for self-ques­tion­ing be­fore their lazy habit of stamp­ing any­one with whom they dis­agree as “ho­mo­phobes”, “misog­y­nists”, “Tories”, “Blueshirts” and “Trumpites”, is the un­do­ing of us all, them­selves in­cluded. But best not get one’s hopes up. Only a few weeks ago, many of these same peo­ple re­acted with glee­ful vin­dic­tive­ness when Kevin My­ers was fired for far less of­fen­sive com­ments.

What was orig­i­nally lib­er­at­ing, when sud­denly ac­quir­ing the power to “punch up” at those stronger and more priv­i­leged, is much less ad­mirable when you’re part of a pow­er­ful mob that is punch­ing down on iso­lated in­di­vid­u­als. How many times can you punch a bully be­fore be­com­ing the bully?

New­stalk is caught in a trap. If it re­treats into safe, bor­ing box tick­ing to avoid of­fend­ing the ter­mi­nally of­fended, then we might all as well just lis­ten to RTE, God help us. On the other hand, if it goes full hog on con­tro­versy then it risks crash­ing and burn­ing in a blaze of glory. There’s no right an­swer, but, as the Ge­orge Hook con­tro­versy steam­rollers on into a sec­ond week, it feels much bet­ter to live in a world in which a ra­dio pre­sen­ter can say out­ra­geous and hurt­ful things than it does to live in one where howl­ing mobs hunt and de­vour re­cu­sants.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.