Hate speech has no place in the world, even online

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New Zealand is a country often associated with postcard picturesque beauty, brimming with spectacular mountain ranges, mischievous parrots and locals with unfathomable accents. That temporarily changed this week after the abhorrent acts of a single coward, armed with a hoard of weapons and a brain infected with the virus of extreme right-wing ideology, perpetuated in part by online forum 8chan, a place where like-minded individuals come together and discuss which cross-sections of society should be slaughtered, for the betterment of our race.

A natural period of enquiry usually follows such a tragic event, in an effort to prevent similar occurrences, and given that it is exceptionally difficult to identify potential mass murderers, our attention turns to factors that we can control. Gun reform is already being discussed by the New Zealand cabinet, just four days after the attack occurred, testament to their progressive government and laudable prime minister Jacinda Ardern. The terrorist’s mental health is another consideration. In his rambling, racist manifesto he claims to be an ordinary white man, as though everyday, mentally-healthy people harbour urges of puncturing the organs of innocent people with bullets. As a native Australian, the shooter had access to discounted mental health programs via their Medicare system, providing him with a limited number of appointments with a mental health professional, though it’s unclear whether these were ever utilised, or how effective they would have been in steering him away from extreme ideology.

The third major consideration, and much murkier problem, is how to moderate hate-filled discussion boards on websites like 8chan. These are hotbeds of righteous discontent, loaded with reclusive figures whose pitiful anger can develop into violent, unbridled extremism, occasionally forming a character of such severity as the Christchurch shooter, so psychologically disturbed and miseducated that he considers his actions enough to prevent Muslims from migrating to predominantly white countries such as New Zealand.

The United States, UK, Australia, and many other countries fall under the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty, which includes the prohibition of certain types of hate speech, such as inciting violence against an ethnic group. The problem is one of enforcement — given that there’s no such thing as an internet police force (thank god), is it possible to systematically and efficiently censor lunatics like the Christchurch shooter, so that their violence-inciting ideology is eliminated before it reaches more gullible and mentally-unhealthy minds?

The web is enormous — over 1.5 billion sites and growing. For this reason, websites are expected to moderate their own content in an effort to keep things in accordance with international law, often through the use of self-written codes of conduct. This method is useless for websites like 8chan, which was created as a place for people to share whatever content they wanted, regardless of its illegality. It even had chat boards dedicated to child rape. Though Google does have the power to remove illegal content from its directories (it removed 8chan after child porn was discovered), the company is understandably reluctant to ban websites that host content that isn’t categorically illegal, such as right-wing ideology. It’s up to the creators of discussion-based websites to moderate their content, including having the financial resources needed to overcome the potentially gargantuan challenges that accompany moderation. Diligent physical and algorithmic moderation of content along with constant refining of rules is needed to reduce illegal and hateful content on large websites, a mammoth, ongoing task that Facebook is gloomily familiar with. For 8chan — a website created with the purpose of allowing the most vile opinions to be shared and discussed freely — moderation is unimportant. 8chan’s owner Jim Watkins claimed that he doesn’t have a problem with white supremacists talking on his site, despite it encouraging mass murder in far-flung, usually peaceful cities such as Christchurch.

With the failure of self-moderation, one might expect the responsibility of regulating hateful content to fall to a government appointment regulatory board in the country where the website is hosted, which reviews the content of questionable sites such as 8chan, with the power to take them offline if necessary. 8chan is infamous for hosting illegal content, making it a prime target for such a regulatory board. Surely a government cannot stand by while a public, highly popular website that is hosted in their country openly discusses child rape, or advocates the destruction of the Muslim faith? While this kind of moderation will be challenging beyond belief, and probably require much free assistance from the general public, the alternative is allowing destructive, hateful ideas to perpetuate among the most depressed and disillusioned minds in the human race.

Freedom of speech is essential for a democratic, fair society in which ideas can be discussed without fear of consequence. The ICCPR tells us that the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute right. This means that platforms such as 8chan cannot have free reign to host disgusting, violence-promoting content. The ICCPR exists for this very reason.

The problem with freedom of speech is that it’s also freedom to be evil. It’s possible to protect freedom of speech and censor websites that repeatedly violate hate speech laws. The difficult part is working out how to do so. Figuring out how to regulate echo chambers of mentally-deranged hate such as 8chan is an absurdly challenging task, but also an incredibly important one, worthy of the extensive time and investment needed in order to remove the soapboxes of senseless, would-be terrorists.

The futility of punishing criminals

kyryll-ushakov-1237177-unsplashPhoto by kyryll ushakov on Unsplash

A skinny, dishevelled boy of 6 sits cross-legged on his dust-covered bedroom floor, hands clamped over his ears so tightly that his fingertips are whitened. The impassioned screams of his booze-fuelled parents permeate the house, filling every room with blackened anger. It’s no use — he cannot shut out the despairing sounds of the people who are supposed to be his role models; the people who are supposed to love him. Instead, they spend their evenings numbing their miserable existence with cold, hard liquor, expelling any remaining pain as vehement hatred. Though he craves nothing more than an evening of quiet solitude, or just a moment of peace in which this misery can be forgotten, he cannot escape the screams.

Add another twelve tumultuous years until his 18th birthday, when he officially becomes a man. At this point his upbringing has caused severe psychological damage, resulting in regular anti-social behaviour, sometimes violence. He struggles to make friends, and the few friends he does have exhibit similar behaviour, having also grown up in desperate, low socio-economic circumstances.

His turbulent life has created a consistent sense of fear and anger, and a strong desire to protect himself. He carries a knife as a result. One winter afternoon, during an escalating argument outside a pub with a former schoolmate, he pulls his knife from his pocket and stabs him through the heart, killing him.

What should happen to him at this point? How should society deal with him?

The typical answer is “prison” — he’s murdered another human being, and deserves to be punished. The public also needs to be protected. But how can we possibly justify punishing someone who has spent his entire life being punished by cruel and unjust circumstances? People who have grown up in better conditions rarely stab people. Dire situations lead to dire outcomes — the man had no control over the circumstances of his life, so as he stood before his opponent, glowering with righteous anger, to say that he should have done the right thing is tragic moral ineptitude.

Hard prison time — in which the prisoners are being punished for their actions, shielded from the public, and rehabilitated — doesn’t work. The United States — a country that boasts the world’s highest incarceration rate — re-arrests almost 67.8% of released prisoners with 3 years, and 76.6% within 5 years. Only a meagre quarter are able to make it past 5 years without committing another offence. In the UK, 65% of prisoners who served a sentence of 12 months or less ended up reoffending. These stats could be even higher, with the strong possibility that some criminals would have reoffended without being caught. While working for the Conservative party in the UK, Douglas Hurd took part in a study which concluded that “prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse“. A report from the University of Cambridge claims that imprisonment “changes people to the core”, with strong evidence to suggest that the personality adjustments will hinder the person’s chances of rehabilitation. The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam found that even a short stay in prison can affect a person’s impulsivity and attention control. How can an inmate expect to re-integrate with society when their character has been so successfully marred, abetted by morally twisted notions of the punishment should fit the crime?

“If imprisonment were the answer to crime we would be closing prisons not opening more.”—Stuart Greenstreet, Philosophy Now

UK prisons are full of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As children, they’re 4 times more likely to have run away from home, 13 times more likely to have been taken into care, 25 times more likely to have been a regular truant, and 4 times more likely to have left school with no qualifications. It’s also 2.5 times more likely for them to have a family member convicted of a criminal offence. Their upbringing is a long stretch of tempestuous instability, during which they gradually take on the corrupted characteristics of their hapless parents, fated for the dark, cold walls of a prison cell — a cycle of perpetual criminality, generation after generation.

Poverty increases the likelihood of mental illness—prisoners in both Australia and the US are fraught with mental health problems. In Australia almost half have a diagnosis from a medical professional, with over a quarter taking medication. There’s similar results for the US. These people are disadvantaged in myriad ways, and we lock them up in dangerous, violent prisons. Would we consider punishing a child by locking him in his room because he has ADHD?

The concept of punishment as a deterrent is a complete failure. Many of the people who commit crimes do so because of their tragic lives, making them prime candidates for empathy and support, not punishment. It’s obvious that dangerous criminals should be kept away from the public, but in an establishment whose main purpose is to help and assist them, not punish them. This is occurring in the Netherlands, which places a strong emphasis on mental health, by assessing, filtering and treating the prisoners based on their unique problems, unlike the UK or US where they’re thrown into general population. The Dutch even implemented a sliding scale of responsibilitybased on the convict’s unique circumstances, ranging from full responsibility to a total lack of responsibility. The Dutch prison system is so effective that they’ve started turning their prisons into housing for refugees. Over in Norway, the recidivism rate is the lowest in the world — just 20% — relying on a concept called restorative justice, which aspires to repair the damage caused by the crime, rather than ruthless, merciless punishment. Psychologist and prison governor Arne Wilson states the following:

“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.”—Arne Wilson

Compare the Norwegian recidivism rate of 20%, with the US rate of 76.6%. This tells you exactly what you need to know about the effectiveness of the brutal and inhumane “hard time” mentality.

Thankfully, some areas of the US are making progress. New York judges have the option of sending criminals to programs instead of prison, which like the Dutch system, are more tailored to the person’s unique needs. This program has a 60% success rate. The state of Kentucky passed a bill that encourages community-based treatment for juveniles, rather than immediate, costly detention. For the younger troublemakers, Chicago is now offering a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) program, which has reduced arrests by up to 35%, violent crime arrests by up to 50%, and graduation rates by up to 19%. CBT teaches the youngsters to pause and reflect on their impulsive, often damaging thoughts and behaviours, in order to consider whether they should be doing things differently.

“I’d watched too many schoolmates graduate into mental institutions, into group homes and jails, and I knew that locking people up was paranormal – against normal, not beside it. Locks didn’t cure; they strangled.” — Scott Westerfeld, The Last Days

In Canada, prisoner-afflicted families are being offered family-group counselling, helping to build a closely connected support group that decreases the likelihood of reoffence. It’s believed that this solution is one of the reasons for Canada’s prison population decrease. When we treat criminals like humans and offer them the assistance that they so desperately need, they often respond with the same kindness. Back in the UK, the Midlands watched their recidivism fall to an incredible 10%, after tripling the number of officers whose exclusive responsibility is to deter former criminals from reoffending.

Dangerous criminals should obviously be kept in confinement to protect the public, but the conditions of their incarceration, and the professional help that is offered to them, are key to their successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society. We cannot maintain impotent notions of the punishment should fit the crime, or an eye for an eye — they’re grossly inhumane, and utterly useless. Prisoners need repeated long-term therapy to manage their mental health issues, and educational programs to help them with their lives and careers. But most importantly, despite their crimes, they need the sympathetic kindness of an entire host of prison and rehabilitation workers, each fully convinced that the way to repair a person’s ravaged character is through consistent and relentless benevolence — the treatment that they should have received from their parents during their younger years.

With compassion, understanding, and a hell of a lot of patience, the revolving door of prison can be smashed off its hinges.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” — Nelson Mandela

 

Australians love illegal drugs, please make them safer

poison-1481596_1280Image by qimono

At some point in our distant evolutionary past, a primate chanced upon a sticky swirl of fermented fruit, and after making the decision to consume it, felt the pleasant effects of a drug for the first time. Much changed over the next few million years, but our collective love for drugs isn’t one of them. Whether it’s the energy-boost from a cup of coffee that releases us from our zombie-like state, the numbing relaxation of a pint of lager that permeates us with ease, or the love-inducing effects of an ecstasy pill whereby we want to hug everybody, many of us adore how drugs make us feel.

Drugs have the ability to make us more productive employees, more likeable people, or seemingly better dancers. They can transform the steady, monotonous thump of a house beat into something wonderfully hypnotising, for which you’ll happily spend five hours dancing to. They can remove the stifling, anxiety-inducing edginess which is ingrained in social interaction, or make a difficult conversation a little easier to handle.

Drugs can also lead you to a sickening addiction that may result in giving alleyway blowjobs, surrounded by scores of needles and scum-filled pools of water. A thunderous techno beat might be the last thing you ever hear if you take too many ecstasy pills. Legal drugs aren’t any better – alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to withdraw from, creating hallucinations, severe body tremors, and occasionally death. Cigarettes are notoriously tough to quit, and create a cancerous, sticky black tar in the lungs of their smokers.

Drugs can be extremely dangerous when abused, but despite the plethora of information outlining the risks, we take them regardless. This is how much we love them.

Debates are raging in Australia at the moment about the possibility of implementing pill-testing tents at music festivals, offering attendees the chance to discover what their illegal drugs actually contain, and how strong they are. A few months ago, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian pushed back against the idea, stating the following:

“We do not support a culture that says it is OK to take illegal drugs, and I am worried about the number of people who attend these events who think it is OK to take illegal drugs.” —Gladys Berejiklian

The crux of the problem is this: it doesn’t matter whether the Australian government gives their approval to take illegal drugs, people are going to take them anyway. The fact that there’s a $320 billion dollar black market is proof of this. Until our governments develop some kind of effective mind control, our love of drugs isn’t going to change, and we’ll continue taking them, illegal or not.

Prohibition obviously doesn’t work, it just goes underground and creates a network of crime that governments waste billions battling against. Every single country that has embarked on a war on drugs has failed miserably, not because they lacked the correct strategy, but because people have a strong desire to take drugs. Where there’s a desire, there’s a market.

The government has also tried drug-scare campaigns, which in a comical backfire, have shown to have the complete opposite effect, with people more motivated to take drugs after encountering the campaign. No amount of bodybag or car crash imagery will prevent people from doing what they love. I cannot reiterate this point enough – people will continue to take drugs, regardless of the government’s futile attempts to convince them otherwise. History has proven this point time and time again.

In light of the fact that people are always going to want to take mind-altering, illegal substances, and that convincing them not to take them is a laughable failure, any sane person would surely agree that we should do whatever we can to ensure that their drugs are as safe as possible? Would any politician in their right mind – Gladys Berejiklian included – argue against this point? Can they really continue pushing the astonishingly pathetic, antiquated idea of just say no? People don’t just say no, they just say yes, regardless of the fact that they’re risking death (albeit the tiniest chance) every time that they take them. If you can’t frighten a drug-user with the prospect of their death, you’re not going to frighten them with anything.

Inevitability cannot be fought, so the only sensible solution is to make illegal drugs as safe as possible. Festival drug testing tents have been shown to be an effective way of doing this, simply by giving users more information about their drugs. It’s absolutely astonishing that politicians like Gladys Berejiklian, and NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller, are claiming that it’s a bad thing to know whether your drugs contain a poison that will kill you. This is one of those situations where their arguments are so ridiculous that you half-expect it to be a prank. There’s simply no scenario where life-saving information about your illegal drugs is a bad thing, unless you’re advocating more death, which as bizarre as it sounds, is exactly what people like Gladys Berejiklian and Mick Fuller are doing.

Former police chiefs and politicians (who no are longer concerned about pursuing a career) are calling for decriminalisation. The ambitious NSW premier would never dream of doing this in case she loses voters, but losing drug-users to poisonous pills doesn’t seem to be so much of a problem. The recent spate of drug-related deaths in Australia may not have happened if the victims had access to a service that detected the deadly toxicity in their drugs, or were offered advice from a knowledgable, sympathetic drug-worker.

I don’t believe for a second that Gladys Berejiklian or Mick Fuller actually think that the approval of pill-testing tents will legitimise drug use. They’re just so concerned with damaging their own careers that they’re willing to overlook the mountains of evidence that demonstrates the life-saving capabilities of drug-testing. They can no longer ignore the proof. Unless they want more people to die, it’s time to put aside their selfishness and offer serious legislative support for establishing pill-testing tents at every Australian music festival.

 

The dangerous arrogance of Jordan Peterson

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I must admit, when I first stumbled upon Jordan Peterson, I had a bit of a man-crush. Many of the topics that he so skilfully elucidated rang clear and true for me – his explanations of human social hierarchies, infringement of free speech, the importance of symbolism, etc. Here was a man who had his act together, and I considered him a person who might help me to get my act together.

How wrong I was.

The biggest problem with Peterson is how convincing he is. The confidence of the man is staggering. Like so many others, I was swept away by Peterson’s fearless erudition – he speaks as though his life depends on it – a thrill to watch. And yet, peel away his near-invisible facade, and you’re in danger of finding baseless pseudoscience, delivered with a vehemence that is difficult to resist. As it turns out, Jordan Peterson’s emphatic claims have a tendency to be nought but sound and fury.

The most alarming illustration of Peterson’s charlatanism is from back in August, when he posted a YouTube clip from PragerU, a popular media company that posts quick consumption political videos. The video was a seemingly well-made denial of climate change, fronted by Richard Lindzen – an American physicist. Lindzen opens the video with an attempt to convince us of his credibility – he’s published 200 scientific papers, and has taught for 30 years at MIT, with the impressive title of Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Sciences.

The video was absurdly incorrect, utilising a classic data trick to mislead viewers. It presents a small, 10-year chunk of data from a graph to illustrate that the climate isn’t warming. When the data is presented for its full-range of 42 years, it clearly shows rising temperatures. He then does this a second time, but with carbon dioxide levels.

It turns out that despite Lindzen’s shining credentials, he’s made a career out of climate change denial, and his work has never been taken seriously by fellow scientists. The Global Climate Coalition claimed his work on “The Role of Water Vapor” to be “weak”, after which Lindzen stopped touting it. His examinations of climate feedbacks – processes that amplify or diminish warming – are completely one-sided, lending a laughably unscientific bias to his work.

The real smoking gun though, are the payments made to Lindzen by Peabody Energy – American’s biggest coal mining company – to carry out “research” to spread the insidious idea that man-made climate change doesn’t exist. He’s literally on the payroll of energy companies. The man has zero credibility.

Then there’s the makers of the video – PragerU – a right-wing non-profit who claims to promote “Judeo-Christian values,” but is better known for turning young liberals into young conservatives. Some examples of their videos are Why you should be a nationalist, The inconvenient truth about the Democratic Party, and Was the civil war about slavery? When it comes to climate change, republicans often sit on the denial side of the fence, so it’s no surprise that PragerU are creating videos that perpetuate the idea. The in their title exists to make the company sound like a university – a trusted academic source. In reality, PragerU is just another YouTube propaganda machine, which has amassed over a billion views according to its own marketing director.

Most importantly though is the current scientific consensus on climate change – a whopping 97%. Almost every single scientist that has worked on climate change agrees that it’s a man-made phenomenon, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for Jordan Peterson, whose believes that after “reading a lot” of climate-change literature, his conclusion is superior, and so justifies his spread of PragerU drivel. This is mind-boggling arrogance – Peterson is a clinical psychologist, climate science isn’t his field. It would be like Einstein barging into Peterson’s practice and declaring that his treatment of patients is all wrong, regardless of the fact that Peterson has been treating patients for two decades, and Einstein for no time at all.

Peterson has authored or coauthored over 90 peer-reviewed articles on clinical psychology, social psychology, and personality theory, topics on which he’s undoubtedly well-versed, and for which he has every right to throw his hat into the ring. But when it comes to climate change — one of the most important issues of our time — it is simply not his place to be creating doubt.

Peterson has almost a million followers on Twitter – that’s a million people who, after watching the video, might be erring on the side of climate change denial. His irresponsibility cannot be understated.

While Peterson’s climate change prattlings are his biggest moral failing, his track record for nonsense isn’t slight. He once claimed – in earnest – to have gone 25 days without sleep, a whopping 14 days longer than the documented record. That’s quite a feat.

Regarding religion, Peterson was a strong proponent of God in the years before he burst into the limelight, believing that society will literally unravel without faith in a higher power:

“To say ‘I believe in God’ is equivalent, in some sense, to say ‘my thought is ultimately coherent, but predicated on an axiom (as my thought is also incomplete, so I must take something on faith).’

To say ‘I don’t believe in God’ is therefore to say ‘no axiom outside my thought is necessary’ or ‘the necessary axiom outside my thought is not real.’ The consequence of this statement is that God himself unravels, then the state unravels, then the family unravels, and then the self itself unravels.” – Jordan Peterson

In Peterson’s view, a Godless society is one of nihilistic anarchy in which the rulebook is thrown away, because religion and only religion can add meaning to our lives. I suspect there’s many philosophers who would disagree with him, if they thought it worth their time. Since rising to star-studded fame, Peterson has claimed that he no longer believes in god, but “he’s afraid he exists.” Perhaps he looked a little closer at the demographics of his fans and realised that preaching wouldn’t do him any favours.

Then there’s Peterson’s views on the struggles of women, who according to his extensive expertise, and despite swathes of historical evidence, have been treated fairly over the years:

“The idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.” —Jordan Peterson

Nevermind the fact that women were treated like second-class citizens by being unable to vote; nevermind the fact that stronger, larger males have been bullying women into submission throughout our evolutionary timeline; nevermind the fact that despite being equally skilled, women don’t receive the same wages as men. This is all just nonsense to Peterson, who dismisses it with an arrogant wave of his hand.

Peterson’s straight-faced, unerring conviction is of a man who expects to be taken seriously. How is that possible when he spouts such utter bullshit? As a long-practising psychologist with an obviously high IQ, he has great insight to offer the world, but his hogwash pseudoscience just subverts anything good that he has to say.

As time marches onward, Jordan Peterson is appearing less a scientific intellectual and more a conning prattler. There’s a long history of Prattleson forcefully ejaculating his opinions on topics that he has absolutely no expertise in. He simply doesn’t have the credibility or authority to voice his ideas so haughtily, especially concerning matters related to the survival of our species.

He may be the most dangerous intellectual alive today, and the quicker he returns to the obscure Canadian darkness from which he came, the better for us all.