Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ethical Debate About Human Rights

Do Personal Attacks Have a Place in Debate over Human Rights?

Janet Keeping, President of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership wrote an interesting piece for The Star Phoenix on July 30, 2009 here.

The premise of her article is as follows and I quote:
"an important aspect of this and other public debates is too often overlooked: Even if we had complete freedom of expression, it wouldn't follow that "anything goes." It's not ethically OK to be obnoxious.

Our legal right to speak is one thing, but how we exercise that right is quite another. Even if you are legally entitled to be offensive, you are still acting unethically if you deliberately set out to harm people by your words or if you just don't care about the "collateral damage" your offensiveness causes."

She opines that there are rules for verbal jousting, the first one being No hitting below the belt, although she calls it no personal attacking of your opponent, nearly always. Her point is that by attacking your opponents integrity, you are actually undermining your own policy position and for that matter your own integrity.

She claims that Ezra Levant is, if not the king of this (my words not hers) then pretty darn good at it, and cites examples of his chewing on Jennifer Lynch's hide, by calling her a "damned liar", and an "execrable woman". I know what a damned liar is, and I think he gave some pretty good examples of lies told to prove his point on that one. I just looked up execrable and it means "of very poor quality". I bet that is not something you would call your spouse if you planned on sleeping with both eyes closed in the same bed. She also notes that he said and I recall reading: "When she accosted me ... I didn't recognize her ... She is much more haggard and old than her ancient publicity picture." That might be able to be put under the category of fair comment. I don't know, I wasn't there, and he did not post pictures.

This, of course is Ezra Levant talking about the same Jennifer Lynch who heads the Canadian HRC, who had spent untold hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars to hound him over the ridiculous cartoons, until they ultimately dropped their case, at great cost to him. They were able to bully him and ethics rules did not apply to them. Just a thought. Ms. Keeping seems to think that Ezra is overreacting, and doesn't play well with others.

Basically, Ms. Keeping is late to the party, and a lot of water has flowed under the dam, and Mr. Levant and others have long since dropped gloves in this fight, because they perceive that they have no choice. They PERCEIVE that they have no choice.

Of course, you have an opponent, Ms. Lynch and the CASHRA members who intend to win the debate, and have the money to do so, and the power to do so. On this side, you have the bloggers, and the beaten up folks who have been the real victims of the HRCs over the years, and the misinformed public of this country. Ms. Lynch has even been invited to debate by Mr. Levant, and by Mr. Steyn in his stead, but the invitations have crossed in the mail or something.

The fact is they win the debate almost every day in most provinces by beating up on some poor shmoe who said the wrong thing to the wrong person or didn't, who didn't want to rent his apartment to some deadbeat, or some cop who thought the non Caucasian guy in a do rag, and ripped sneakers in the ritzy part of town might have been up to no good, and then said cop was tagged for racial profiling for doing his job.

Anyway, Ms. Keeping goes on to talk about the rules for making nice with your opponent in a debate. Interesting reading, anyway. And she closes well sort of:
Those, such as Levant, who argue that human rights commissions should not have authority to regulate speech are, in my view, entirely right. But how some people advance that view is quite wrong.

Those who attack their opponents personally, instead of arguing against their policy positions, are using freedom of speech in an unethical way. And it is no answer to claim that some human rights commission officials carry out their duties in an oppressive, even harassing, manner. If true, this should be remedied, but not through reverse bullying: Just as our mothers told us, two wrongs really don't make a right.

I kind of agree with the two wrongs don't make a right thing. Heck, I told my kids the same things, and I believed it then, and believe it now. For me, the t-shirt thing a while back was some blowing off of steam, and for Ezra some of the noise is also blowing off steam.

However, I get lost when she says that "it is no answer to claim that some human rights commission officials carry out there duties in an oppressive, even harassing, manner." The whole fricking process that the human rights commissions run by is oppressive and harassing to the poor shmoe that gets called before them, because he seems to have offended some member of a protected species. It is hardly a bald claim. It is merely fact upon fact.

For folks like me this is a debate, and I can take her advice. For Ezra Levant, this is more of a war and not a debate, so Ms. Keeping's comments are likely falling on deaf ears.


Anonymous said...

To me, Keeping's argument sounds like the shrill demands from the fanatical left to give five-star hotel treatment to Taliban prisoners. Ms. Keeping has undoubtedly never been in the crosshairs of the HRC, and maybe cannot see this happening in her lifetime, so she can opine about civility. For those of us who live in fear of when the HRCs will come and figuratively (or even literally) break down our door, offense is a legal and legitimate means to get the attention of the oblivious public. As long as it doesn't extend into outright libel, Ezra and the rest of us have nothing to be ashamed of.

mbrandon8026 said...

I think my own conclusion is that some prudence is in order. If you wouldn't tell your Mom what you are saying in a Blog in these words, maybe they are not the right words to use.

However, a little righteous indignation has its place and time.

Also, there is an important place for the High Road.

Above all Follow Your Own Conscience, which presupposes that you have formed one.

Anonymous said...

Each and every person is accountable before their God or conscience as to the means employed to this end, but far be it from me to expend precious energy to nitpick at the incivility of my allies. Images of deck chairs moving on a really big ocean liner come to mind.

The High Road is a necessary perspective when one is considering the same tactics of the enemy. In this case, taking the "Low Road" would be demanding the creation of jackboot Stalinesque bureaucratic agency to enforce speech freedoms.

Part of what we're fighting for is the freedom to be offensive. We may find it morally objectionable to offend in the manner of Levant and others (Shaidle comes to mind) but we must defend their right to do it.

mbrandon8026 said...

Again, we fundamentally agree. I understand the frustration of Ezra and Kathy as best I can, and choose to speak in my own terms because of my beliefs and style.

I just don't have a personal need to be offensive in the same manner. For me it can be offensive enough just putting the truth out there, without embellishment.