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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Here's something you can do to support freedom of speech...

You can give some money to the IPA fighting fund. I'd be happy if you did this, as much of this seems to be activity that the IPA would not carry out under its ordinary budget. I don't think you'll be indirectly funding other activities by IPA that I'm less happy about, such as those to do with climate-change scepticism.

Knowing my readers, though, I suspect that a suggestion of giving money to the IPA will not go down well - not with most of y'all.

That's partly because the IPA is known as a right-wing think tank, taking lines on many political issues that cause me, and probably you, concern. In that regard, it doesn't help that the opening example on the IPA's page relates to Andrew Bolt's widely-publicised attack on a number of prominent Aboriginal Australians - an attack that seemed very reckless, at least to me, and might have been open to legal redress under defamation law even if the defamation law concerned were constrained considerably (as I advocate). You can track down my views about the Andrew Bolt case elsewhere on this blog.

In all, this is an economically right-wing organisation advertising in a way that is likely to appeal to people who are also on what is usually regarded as the Right. This fighting fund may not appeal to you as the best way to show your support for freedom of speech.

Fine. But here are a few points on the other side. First, whatever its faults may be, the IPA has been quite principled and consistent in supporting freedom of speech. This is not a case where someone is defending freedom of speech for a journalistic shock jock like Bolt, while opposing it for artists, creative writers, etc.

Or if I'm wrong on that, I'd like to see the evidence. While organisations have their priorities, is there any evidence that the IPA, and Chris Berg in particular, took the "wrong" side during the Bill Henson fracas? Until such evidence is shown to me, I'm going to give the IPA kudos for this one - for being on the side of freedom of speech as a matter of principle, and not merely as a matter of opportunism.

[Edit: Chris Berg sent me, via twitter, a link to this IPA piece on Henson. It has a lot of hedging and arse-covering, but so does the post you're reading. In the end, to the IPA's credit, it does, indeed, say that the police should have left Henson alone.]

On the other hand, I think there's a challenge here for the IPA to reach out to people who have my sorts of concerns about free speech, if it wants to create alliances with folks who are at least broadly on the Left.

(I do recognise that the IPA's priorities are never going to be the identical to mine - e.g. I place a very high priority on artistic expression, such as Henson's, on the freedom to criticise religion, and so on. In my opinion, there are better and clearer examples of attacks on freedom of speech than those used by the IPA ... and the fact that I think that shows, no doubt, that I, like you, probably come at all this from a different socio-political angle.)

Second, someone has to stand up for freedom of speech in this country. If you'd rather it was not the IPA, and that the likes of Andrew Bolt were not used as poster children for freedom of speech, how about taking the challenge to do something else, rather than donating to the IPA, as a contribution to the more general philosophical and political cause?

It might not involve any financial outlay. Zeus knows, I don't have a lot of money to use to support other people's work (supporting my own is difficult enough). Perhaps it will be writing letters to newspapers. Perhaps it will be blogging on the topic, or just linking to this blog (since I've been a forthright, though not especially well known, free speech advocate in Australia for many years now). Perhaps there's something you can do locally to organise. If you don't want to pay for the expenses of the IPA (you probably won't need to, to have them come to you, as they are fairly well financed), then, hey, pay for mine (I come cheap) to come and speak to your group.

Again, you can buy a friend a copy of The Australian Book of Atheism (which has my chapter arguing in defence of freedom of speech) and/or a copy of Freedom of Religion and the Secular State (which has a long, very different, though complementary, chapter on the subject - it's one of the chapters in the book that I'm proudest of). The first option in this paragraph won't make me a cent, by the way (I was paid a one-off and fairly token fee for the chapter, and that's it). The second option does, in that I do get royalties on sales of the book, so by all means discount my remarks for the fact that every copy of the book sold earns me a couple of dollars.

Whatever you do, though, whether it's supporting the IPA or something else quite different ... well, do something, please. This is an important issue, and we won't make progress unless large numbers of people get involved.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

At the Book Depository your freedom of religion and the secular state book is $26 for a softcover and $105 for an ebook. Reason for such a massive price difference?

Russell Blackford said...

It's a mistake of some kind, I assume. Hmmm, maybe you could order it from Amazon, if you have a Kindle - the Kindle price is US$16.47.