Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again… Conservatives should stop playing victim

Over on the Sydney Morning Herald, Julia Baird writes:

Prince was a brilliant, often sexually provocative musical luminary. He also was a deeply conservative Christian who opposed marriage equality. As a Jehovah’s Witness, he did not believe people should be able to “do what they want”.

He told the New Yorker: “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough’.”

So how can we reconcile this? Would it be fair to say because he had a traditional, orthodox view of marriage, that he hated gays, lesbians, transgender, bisexual or intersex people, millions of whom adored his music? It would be hard, almost unimaginable, to think so.

So when does opposition become hate? Where is the line?

Discussions are sort of like oak trees.  Where you plant the acorn has a large influence on how the tree will grow.  Baird begins the conversation in a really odd place, and it panders to a strange conservative rhetoric about their situation as victims.

It is not unimaginable that Prince hated the non-heteronormative world.  To begin with the position that Prince needs to find an escape clause in our framework because we really like his music, or because we really love the heteroflexible branding of his industry, is wrongheaded and weird.

But it is also wrong to think that all opposition is intellectually serious.  Baird worries about ‘censorship’ for views just because they oppose progressive dogma, but she’s framed it incorrectly.  We (rightly) need censorship for views that are outside reasonable discourse.  Hateful rhetoric — rhetoric that makes ordinary Australians feel unwelcome to exercise their legal rights and to enjoy fully the fruits of civilisation — should be excluded from the public forum.  As we speak, Baird is part of an ABC programme to give a platform for the views of Lyle Shelton, who is notoriously homophobic.  We keep giving platforms for utterly abhorrent and unhelpful views, and then musing sophomorically about ‘freedom of speech’ as if it’s a get out of jail free card.  ‘Sure, we promoted the views of racists, misogynists, and homophobes, but isn’t that what freedom of speech is about?’

The problem is incentives.  There are too many incentives in public debate to take thoroughly unreasonable positions.  There is a profitable vein of hatred in Australia, and people are too willing to tap it.  Either we have to stand in solidarity and all agree to deny ourselves the benefits of tapping into that hatred, or we have to talk seriously about properly regulating the media to stop these voices from being platformed.

Conservatives are not victims.  My side of the political debate is sulking that others are calling upon us to be better.  But it is clear that we are incapable of lifting the quality of discussion by ourselves, and that’s why we need intervention to change the incentives in a debate.

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