Sunday, 4 April 2010

J.Michael Cole letter to the Timid Times


J.Michael Cole's editorial last wednesday (03/31) was absolutely harrowing. The profound wrongness of this man is revealed in his very first sentence:
"There is not an ounce of doubt that in any respectable society, freedom of expression ends at the shore of hate speech or incitement of violence."
That quote contains two disfigurements of thought which I shall carefully lay bare for they may not be easily grasped at first. Let's first take the notion intended by his sentence, that there ought to be limits to freedom of expression and that "hate speech" is one of these elements. This is wrong; "hate speech" is simply an instrument by which political power may be permitted to encroach further upon the degree of movement an individual still has to think and speak for herself. A society with hate speech laws is not a society which can be respectfully regarded with the value of freedom in mind; indeed such a society is well on the way toward conceding a totalitarian span to the reach and exercise of political power. Moreover, the notion of "hate speech" is interesting itself for its anti-conceptual character. "Hate speech" is an anti-concept because it is based on the abstraction of any number of vociferous utterances away from their original contexts and quite without regard for the reasons why they were uttered and misintegrates them according to the merely incidental and non-essential feature of their emotional charge. So not only is "hate speech" a political instrument to further attack freedom of speech, it is also an anti-conceptual instrument designed to attack the ability of the human mind to grasp conceptually what others are saying. This is what is meant by the phrase "communication breakdown".

The second disfigurement in that quote above is that J.Michael Cole does not identify himself as responsible for what are, undoubtedly, his own personal opinions. Look at the sentence again:
"There is not an ounce of doubt that in any respectable society, freedom of expression ends at the shore of hate speech or incitement of violence."
An ounce of doubt according to whom? Any respectable society according to whose standards? Everybody? Nobody in particular? Or J.Michael Cole? This is a thuggish and all too common rhetorical attempt to corner the mal-educated reader's mind into a dark alley from which alternative avenues are lost from sight. And there are other avenues of opinion here - for example the opposite, that I have not an ounce of doubt that in a society respectful to the value of freedom, the only boundaries to an individual's freedom of expression are those chosen by his own courage and responsibility to himself and those he cares for.

Were I the owner of the Taipei Times, Mr Cole would be fired immediately for he is no friend to the cause of freedom in Taiwan.

Yours as ever,
Michael Fagan.

(Sent: Sunday April 4th 2010. Unpublished by the Taipei Times)

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