This update is a little longer than usual – the team has been busy with both the 'hate speech' campaign and the new attacks by New Zealand's would-be censors. As you'll see below, even the NZ Army has gone woke – censoring an essay competition winner that, well, argued that being able to fight as an army is as important as diversity. We're also inviting you to our first "Speakeasy" event on Thursday 22 July.
Two more wins for free speech re Speak Up for Women
Wellington Council forced to backtrack
Speak Up for Women will hold a public meeting in Wellington tonight at the Michael Fowler Centre. The Council had sent lawyers to the High Court proceedings we supported in Auckland to see if they could get away with cancelling the event. Given the resoundingly strong judgement in our Court of Appeal judgement, and the subsequent High Court judgement in Speak Up for Women’s favour, Wellington City Council had no choice to back down.
But that didn't stop Hutt City Mayor Cambell from sticking his oar in. Despite the High Court Judge stating that Speak Up for Women "cannot rationally be described as a hate group", here is what Mr Barry said on Facebook soon after the announcement of the Wellington event:
The comment reads “If this group needs a venue in the Hutt, I’ve got some nice new waste bins they can use?”
Of course elected members are perfectly entitled to free speech too, as they are entitled to their personal views. But in their dispense of public facilities, they are required to maintain viewpoint neutrality. The Mayor should not be using their official platforms (Council halls/facilities) to take sides on issues – or mocking a group of feminists because he disagrees with their political views.
As well as being discriminatory, the comment is in clear contradiction to the Court judgement we received last month that Councils cannot discriminate based on politics when making public facilities available. This comment flies in the face of the law, and is a gross breach of Mr Barry’s duties to uphold it.
Your humble Free Speech Union laid a code of conduct complaint against Hutt City Mayor Campbell Barry last week. You can read the complaint here.
Our pressure has forced the Mayor to apologise
Our complaint had the desired impact. Yesterday's NZ Herald reported on the Mayor's apology and picked up my comments on behalf of the FSU:
Dictionaries under attack?
Definition of "woman" = hate speech?
After the wins against councils, we hoped this issue might quieten down - but on Tuesday we got the news that a billboard in central Wellington has been pulled down because (you couldn't make this up!) the dictionary definition of "women" is, apparently, "trans-exclusionary" and therefore may be "hate speech".
Here's the Billboard Speak Up for Women put up on Monday:
An online campaign (mostly on Twitter) targeting the Council and billboard company soon followed...
And while walking to work on Tuesday, we realised that the billboard company had capitulated:
1News has picked up the story: 'Anti-trans' billboard removed from Wellington's CBD
If a billboard with literally just the dictionary definition of "women" can be successfully accused of being 'hate speech' and therefore removed, what hope is there that the Government's criminalisation of hate speech laws won't be misused?
Our first Speakeasy event: Free speech and the war over sex and gender
Given recent events, we are delighted to announce our first Speakeasy webinar. Join us on July 22 at 7pm via Zoom for an evening of frank, informed conversation about free speech, why it matters and how it’s threatened today.
We'll be in conversation with our special guest, Kathleen Stock, author and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex. Kathleen has been aggressively targeted by the outrage mob for her insistence that the relationship between sex and gender can never be “beyond debate”. She has become a figurehead for the pushback against the censorious approach of organisations like "Stonewall", in which everyday language and ordinary people’s understanding of what men and women are have been declared offensive, bigoted or discriminatory.
Kathleen will draw on the analysis set out in her new book, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, to take us through the reasons why this issue has become so controversial, not just amongst activists and intellectuals but across our institutions and our political and cultural life, leading to the extraordinary denunciation of JK Rowling and others. Throughout, Kathleen has exemplified the spirit of good faith debate and has actively defended the free speech of others. Last year she was awarded an OBE in recognition of her contribution to higher education.
The event is exclusive to FSU members, members of Speak Up for Women, and those who helped crowdfund the recent free speech litigation against councils for trying to de-platform the group. If you’re a member or financial supporter, please register here.
More than 25,000 Kiwis have signed up to our "Save Free Speech" campaign against the Government's proposed hate speech laws – a great start. If you've not already, help get us to 30,000 and beyond by clicking here and sharing the petition on Facebook.
We've nearly finished our formal submission and are currently building an online tool to make it easy for you to formally submit on the proposals. We'll email you the tool early next week.
Briefing Paper on Government hate speech proposals
Our volunteers are also reaching out to affected communities we think could be (or should be!) concerned about the legislation. We've put together a short briefing paper on what the proposals are (click here to read online).
Lee Williams: Should banks be pulling services for political views?
We've had a number of enquiries over recent weeks about events involving controversial YouTuber Lee Williams (no relation) – who first came to our attention after media reported on apparent "white supremacist statements" and a campaign by the Twitter "community" to have Mr Williams sacked and more.
In short, we are very concerned with Westpac's apparent decision to pull banking services on the basis of Mr Williams' political postings. It's one thing to lose your job for making political (or offensive, depending on your viewpoint) YouTube videos. It's quite another to lose the ability to bank.
In defending free speech, we are often required to defend views we don't agree with. That's the essential test of whether you're a champion for free speech or not. I shared my own views on Mr Williams material in this blog post, but ultimately my personal views are immaterial to the defence of free speech.
If activists have the power to close their political opponents' bank accounts and prevent them from supporting themselves, this is a development that will have disastrous consequences for this country. After mounting this successful "campaign", who will they have their sights on tomorrow?
I've written a blog piece about the issue, and written to Westpac. You can read both here.
The essay that defeated the NZ Army?
Last week an essay titled ‘Can the Army Afford to go Woke, Benign Social Progress or National Security Threat’ was selected as best written in a Defence Force essay writing competition. It was duly published on the Defence Force’s website before it mysteriously disappeared and was replaced with a note from the Chief of Army Major General John Boswell apologising for its publication.
This is getting ridiculous. Our society was built on a commitment to free and fearless debate — a value that countless troops have laid their lives down for. The Defence Force should be steadfast in its defence of this sacred tradition, not seek to undermine it!
We decided to republish the full essay on our website (also copied below at the end of this email). Have a read and judge for yourself whether you think it should have been taken down and apologised for.
The essay that defeated New Zealand's army
New Zealand Chief of Army Writing Competition Winner of the New Zealand Defence Force Private Writing Category May 2021.
Can the Army Afford to go Woke, Benign Social Progress or National Security Threat
By Mr N. Dell
I write this essay fully aware of the backlash and, at times, real world consequences afforded to the authors of similar documents in the current socio-political climate. Nevertheless, I would invoke the NZ Army ethos ‘3CI’ – particularly ‘Courage’ and ‘Integrity’ – in defence of the opinion I will express herein. The open discussion of any issue must be possible without fear of repercussions on both sides of the debate if the best outcome is ever to be reached. That is the fundamental value of free speech that permits the free enquiry, self-reflection, self-criticism and peer review that underpin our scientific and academic edifices and, in fact, our entire civilisation.
I will argue that the NZ Army cannot reconcile a more diverse and inclusive workforce with the maintenance of a warrior ethos and war-fighting culture or at least, it should not try. Further it should redirect as little energy as possible toward creating a more ‘inclusive’ culture in the way that this kind of language is understood in the politically-charged parlance of the present day. On the contrary, I will argue that, if anything, the Army should instead endeavour to become more exclusive.
I was only made aware of this writing competition by my chain of command today, the final day for submissions, so my essay will not contain any academic citations or supporting material but will instead be my own opinion based on my own observations and experience. This opinion may be unpopular, especially with that vocal minority in the civilian world who have become so enamoured with so-called ‘Woke’ culture. However, I suspect that many of the arguments I put forward will resonate with the quiet majority, especially in the military.
The Right Kind of Diversity:
In the present discourse ‘diversity’ is generally read as diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation – that is diversity based on ‘identity’ (I will demarcate this conception of ‘Diversity’ henceforth with a capital ‘D’). Ironically, I believe the Army has actually done a good job in terms of racial inclusivity with Maori over-represented, relative to the population (according to a quick Google search). During basic training we are taught that the cultural foundation of the Army is built upon a proud tradition of Maori warrior culture being interwoven with regimental British military doctrine. This is further expressed in the iconography and ceremony of the Army with Haka performed alongside traditional British-style military drill, as one example. This synergy of cultures is one of the unique features of the NZ Army that I am sure has contributed to its reputation for ‘punching above its weight’ in theatres of war across the globe.
This may seem like a ‘slam-dunk’ against my argument. However, increasing focus on these identity-based notions of Diversity only sews greater division and dischord in society and would, I fear, within the Army too. This is not meant to diminish the value of the fusion of cultures, the merits of which I just laid out. Rather, I argue that a deliberate effort to engineer diversity will do more harm than good. In fact, to focus on identity goes against the well-known Army maxim of colour-blindness: ‘we are all green’.
The trend over the past five to six years to increasingly focus on race, gender and sexual orientation feels like a return to a pre-social revolution era where these arbitrary features of a person were given so much more weight than they deserve. Their return to the spotlight has been undeniably corrosive to society and the political sphere, which appears to have grown to encompass everything. Instead, the kinds of diversity that should matter to an organisation like the Army are diversity of opinion, experience, attitude, class and background. Again, in my experience, the Army already excels in this area.
The Threat from ‘Diversity’ and ‘Inclusion’:
The ‘Woke’ culture that has led to the popular preoccupation with Diversity and inclusion is antithetical to the Army’s ethos and values. It is built on the notion that feelings are more important than facts. It asserts that everyone is the same while promoting the merits of Diversity. It shuns notions of excellence and meritocracy. It diminishes personal responsibility and erodes resilience, even rejecting the notion that resilience is a virtue. Social media has been the vector for this intellectual contagion and evidence has even surfaced that this has been cynically aided and abetted by belligerent foreign governments with the explicit goal of weakening western democracy. We must not capitulate to our enemies’ efforts.
The primary threat of any effort to be more ‘Diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ is opportunity cost. Put simply, every resource that we divert toward programmes aimed at improving Diversity and Inclusion is a resource that is not available to be used for the Army’s only responsibility: to protect New Zealand. Whether that is in preparing for wars or fighting them (or civil defence). Every man-hour that is spent on ‘cultural awareness training’ or similar programmes is a man-hour that is not spent training for combat or monitoring our enemies. How are they spending their man-hours?
The second key area where Diversity and Inclusion could harm our effectiveness is in recruitment. Recruiting based on a concerted effort to increase Diversity necessarily comes at the expense of recruiting the best candidates. If the current policy of (presumably) recruiting the best candidates for their roles does not produce the desired Diversity outcomes, then the conflict is self-evident.
While these considerations are at the discretion of private companies and individuals in the civilian world, there is no room for them in the military where performance is, by definition, a matter of life and death. As the Defence Force we have sworn an oath to defend New Zealand and compromising our ability to do so, to any degree, is a violation of that responsibility. We must not be lulled into a false sense of security by the relative peace which we enjoy and succumb to the luxury of being able to concern ourselves with these issues. A peace which was bought with blood by those men and officers that went before us. In fact, it is our duty not to.
Where the Army should be more inclusive:
Despite what I have written so far, there are some areas where I believe that the Army could be more inclusive so as to better uphold its duty to the nation. The first is to relax or eliminate some of the somewhat arbitrary ‘defects’ that disqualify a prospective recruit from joining, in spite of the net balance of qualities that that candidate may bring to the Army. For example, certain medical or mental health conditions or even histories may be automatically disqualifying. Especially as medical technology and understanding improves, it would seem that many of these conditions may no longer effect a soldier or officer’s ability to perform their duties and could go the way of ‘flat feet’.
Though the role of the Army has never changed, many of the roles within the Army are changing. Especially with the advent of cyber warfare and increased reliance on technology in general. Thus, the soldier of the future is not only the fighting soldier – for whom strength and endurance of body and will are paramount – but also the computer technician. There is also a role for civilians employed by the Army to play in this. As roles continue to expand and evolve, a different culture will evolve alongside them. This must be a culture that is hospitable to the kinds of people that will be needed to fill roles behind computer terminals rather than behind guns. However, the still-present maxim of ‘soldier first’ necessitates that everyone who wears the beret must also be prepared and able to fight the enemy in the traditional sense. Therefore, the standards must never be lowered to accommodate inclusion, ‘the lives of the people to your left and right’ depend on it. The Army will never be for everyone and that is not a bad thing.
Where the Army could be more exclusive:
As the use of technology increasingly comes to dominate the battlefield, required numbers of personnel may decline. A commensurate improvement in the quality of those personnel may be desirable. Rather than being more inclusive, standards should be raised to maintain effectiveness with this smaller force. Budgetary constraints may also play a role as capital replaces labour. Personnel capable of operating the technology being deployed will be required and it could be an opportunity to double down on the small, elite nature of the NZ Army. Special operations forces have consistently shown that a small number of highly trained, highly motivated and well-equipped soldiers can have a disproportionate impact on the battlefield. Additionally, with fewer numbers, higher pay could be offered to attract ‘higher quality’ recruits. This could make the Army a career that young New Zealanders aspire to, rather than resort to.
I appreciate that if this piece were to win the writing competition, the optics may not be as desirable as one expressing the opposing viewpoint. I also understand that attracting recruits, public opinion and therefore, potentially, funding may depend on those optics. These considerations may in themselves necessitate the adoption of Diversity and Inclusion policies. However, I challenge the NZ Army to draw on its ‘3CI’ values and to continue to have the courage to do the thankless work of defending a nation that often may not appreciate the security it provides. To allow itself to become embroiled in these ‘culture wars’ would be an embarrassment, especially to the older generation of veterans and to the memory of those who paid the ultimate price. The Army should stick to fighting real wars.