Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Response To J.M. Cole's Fear Of Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明)

In a Taipei Times editorial that I missed last wednesday, J.M. Cole writes:
"Some could counter that the group’s behavior is defensible under freedom of speech and that it ultimately makes a contribution to pluralism. That argument misses the point: Freedom of speech is both a right and a responsibility, and its greatest value derives from the ability to strike a balance between those two imperatives."
What he is complaining about is the Want Want China group's behaviour vis-a-vis its' critics; Cole complains that the group's chairman, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), bullies his critics by having the group's media outlets launch ad-hominem attacks and by threatening lawsuits against students and so on. This being the case, the conclusion to which this argument points, but which Cole leaves unstated, is that the government communications commission should withold approval of the group's aquisition of Next Media.

I disagree with the conclusion, unstated though it may be.

If free and self-respecting people in Taiwan cannot defend themselves openly against ad-hominem attacks, frivolous lawsuits, false accusations and so on, then surely there could be no better opportunity than this for them to learn how to do so, no? And is it not vitally important for the people of a free society, that they learn for themselves how to defend themselves and how to tell who is telling the truth and who has a mouth full of brown-eggs? If the so-called "democratic fabric" of Taiwan is worth a damn thing, then there is nothing to worry about. The lawsuits against students will fail, the ad-hominem attacks will be ridiculed remorselessly and "Danish" cartoons of Tsai Eng-meng will be posted anonyously all over the place. There are many ways to slap down a rich man, and not all of them involve litigation. And what an insult it is to accuse Taiwan's people and its' governing institutions of... that they cannot defend themselves against a two billion dollar "rice-cracker magnate"!

For f*ck's sake, he's hardly the PLA's 2nd Artillery unit is he? Am I the only one who thinks he's little more than a podgy fat kid with a cookie fortune?

As for the premise of Cole's counter-argument - that freedom of speech "is both a right and a responsibility" - this is incoherent because it is question-begging; if one person's freedom to speak is a "responsibility", then to whom and to what value is this responsibility to be understood? Are people free to speak on condition that they are "responsible" vis-a-vis other people's values? And if so, then by what just reason are those values selected and by what just authority is this responsibility decided? Or is it simply that people are only free to speak so long as they are "responsible" to the concerns of, you know, the "community"... or to certain types (shall we say... social democratic types?) of government policy?

The true complement to rights, including the right to free speech is not some contrasting "responsibility", but simply... other people's rights. To falsely scream "fire" in a crowded theatre in order to cause mahem is not legitimized by the right to free speech, and the reason for this is because that would transgress against other people's rights, e.g. the right to life (which in this case, is the right not be trampled to death in a stampede just because some idiot decided to act the twat). Although there may be an intuitive appeal to drawing a clear, polar contrast between "rights" and "responsibilities", I think this is not just unnecessary but destructive of freedom - because it is not derived from the omnilateral balance of the rights of one individual against the rights of all other individuals and vice-versa, but rather is superimposed over this balance. "Rights and responsibilities" is also, of course, one of the most obvious and cheapest of rhetorical devices in any half-wit politician's inventory of regurgitated, unexamined slogans.


  1. "The true complement to rights, including the right to free speech is not some contrasting "responsibility", but simply... other people's rights."

    Absolutely. Accordingly Tony Blair's whole 'rights reflect the responsiblities we owe' was just soft christian social authoritarianism.

  2. Well if you agree, then you might wanna tell commissar Turton that you're a "fascist" now.


Comment moderation is now in place, as of April 2012. Rules:

1) Be aware that your right to say what you want is circumscribed by my right of ownership here.

2) Make your comments relevant to the post to which they are attached.

3) Be careful what you presume: always be prepared to evince your point with logic and/or facts.

4) Do not transgress Blogger's rules regarding content, i.e. do not express hatred for other people on account of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.

5) Remember that only the best are prepared to concede, and only the worst are prepared to smear.