Michael Shaw Mahoney with the second in his series on parallels between Daniel Ortega and Gerry Adams.

To those not directly affected by Daniel Ortega and Gerry Adams, the two men have a certain cache. They are talismanic, and like Che Guevara, they are the darlings of the radical chic. 

On my most recent visit to Nicaragua, I was struck by how much Ortega and Adams have in common. They are both masters of survival, and the success of their political parties, Sinn Féin and the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) is a testament to their consummate political skill.

 
Ortega and Adams grew up in oppressive, dysfunctional societies. Nicaragua and Northern Ireland, two countries made volatile by conspicuous inequities, became forges for the formation of young rebels. Ortega and Adams went to war against forces of oppression, but they also had to do battle with allies in the relentless leadership contests within their own organizations.

In the 1970s, the Somoza family ruled Nicaragua and owned an outlandish portion of the nation. Nicaragua has abundant natural resources, but the profits from those resources have never equitably trickled down to its beleaguered people. By the 1970s the Somoza family owned over 90% of the country. They were the elite of the elite with the patriarch Anastacio Somoza Debayle in the presidency.

Somoza had his enemies, including Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, the scion of a wealthy family from Granada and the publisher of La Prensa, Nicaragua’s newspaper of record. A man from the northern coffee growing region of Matagalpa, a man with humble origins named Carlos Fonseca, also pledged himself to fighting the Somoza regime. Fonseca became radicalized at the university in León. He became a rebel with a burning cause.
 

In time Carlos Fonseca assumed the leadership of a loose knit revolutionary movement in Nicaragua. These rebels took their inspiration from a history of homegrown resistance against domestic regimes and the United States. They also looked to the success of the Cuban revolution, to the guerrilla victory of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Fonseca studied hard in school. He also studied, with growing distress, the crushing poverty of his homeland. Early on he pledged himself to toppling the Somoza regime. He looked to the example of a Nicaraguan hero who cuts across all political lines, who represents the manhood of a small, underdog nation that has been at almost constant war with itself and with the United States. That hero is Augusto César Sandino. 

On the highest spot in Managua, Nicaragua, there is a massive metal cutout of Sandino. The crude piece of art casts a shadow over the steep hill where Anastacio Somoza Debayle sent many a dissenter to be tortured in little caverns cut into the hillside. Sandino was a tiny man who took on the U.S. Marines in the 1920s and 30s. Eluding capture, he built up a reputation to rival that of Emiliano Zapata in Mexico. Sandino still casts a long shadow over Nicaragua. Fonseca, searching for a name for his revolutionary group, took Sandino’s surname and added it to a quotidian Latin moniker to form the FSLN: the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. The Sandinistas for short.


In some ways Sandino resembles several revolutionary figures in Irish history. He could be compared to Padraig Pearse in rhetorical terms or to Michael Collins as an elusive shot caller. But as an operator and guerrilla fighter he more closely resembles Tom Barry, the IRA man from County Cork who with ruthless efficiency took on the Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence.

Fonseca revered Sandino, much as a young Gerry Adams was taught by his Irish republican family to revere the leaders of the Easter Rising of the original Irish Republican Army. In 1975, Fonseca returned to Nicaragua from Cuba where he had taken instruction from the new godfather of revolution, Fidel Castro. Fonseca hid out in Managua and then traveled north to lead a few small, rather unsuccessful attacks on outposts of the National Guard, an armed force loyal to Somoza.

Fonseca got in a tight spot near the remote settlement of Zinica in northern Nicaragua. He was trapped. Stephen Kinzer is a former New York Times reporter who knows Nicaragua probably better than any other living American. In his seminal book Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua, he writes 

Fonseca tried to cover his retreat by firing his .12-gauge shotgun, but he ran out of cartridges as Guardsman advanced . . . the founder and guiding light of the Sandinista Front was cut down by rifle fire.

Fonseca’s death left a leadership void. Men like Tomás Borge, Jaime Wheelock, and Sergio Ramírez, a Nicaraguan intellectual who returned from Europe to join the Sandinistas, attempted to consolidate power within the FSLN. Two brothers from Managua, Humberto and Daniel Ortega, also vied for power. Huberto rather conspicuously and Daniel more patiently and quietly.

Like Daniel Ortega, Gerry Adams had his spot in a larger family tent, in his case an Irish republican family on both the paternal and maternal sides, the Adams and Hennessey families respectively. Adams grew up in a republican bubble and absorbed an education heavy on the merits of martyrdom and the insoluble perfidiousness of the British establishment.
 

When Northern Ireland imploded and lurched toward civil war in 1969, Adams was little more than a skinny kid, a puller of pints in city centre Belfast, a Catholic boy who lived where a Bull Ring slides from a mountain. A photograph from the period shows Adams marching in a funeral procession, a black beret on his head and his Buddy Holly specs so clunky they look as if they might dent his face. He does not look like a dangerous man.

Nor did Daniel Ortega in 1979 when Nicaragua devolved into complete mayhem. Early that year a group of Somoza thugs went out on a murder mission that would forever alter the course of Nicaraguan history. They followed the car of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, the editor of La Prensa. Though wealthy, members of the Chamorro family from Granada had established themselves as critics of corruption unbridled greed, and torture as a tool of coercion. Chamorro’s relentless attacks on Somoza won him a place on the dictator’s hit list.

Somoza instructed his killers to hunt down Chamorro. They pulled up alongside the editor’s car, fired multiple rounds through the windshield, and Chamorro, mortally wounded, lost control of the car as it ran off the road and rammed into a pole. He was dead at the scene. The majority of Nicaraguans simply lost it. They could take no more.

Chamorro’s murder fomented support for the Sandinistas. In the barrios of Managua and throughout the country, FSLN guerrillas clashed with members of the National Guard. The Sandinistas, much like the guajiros (rural workers) in Cuba who flocked to Castro, were predominantly poor Nicaraguans, people long accustomed to deprivation and struggle. But they were not the only ones drawn to the Sandinista cause. Many in the much smaller professional class were also incensed by the editor’s murder. In her short history of the times titled “Sueños de una Revolución” (“Dreams of a Revolution”) Marlene Rivas writes, “In January 1978, the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro . . . ended up putting the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie against the ruling family and on the side of the FSLN.”
 

The Sandinista revolution that rocked Nicaragua in 1979 was a cataclysmic event in the history of the country. Although it was far more violent and costly than the events in Northern Ireland in 1969, those times of uproar had the shared effect of thrusting young men into a struggle for survival and political dedication. Ortega and Adams were two such men.

Ortega fought a guerrilla war in the rubble of a national capital still showing the signs of a terrible earthquake in 1972. A decade earlier Adams joined a revived Irish Republican Army as it defended Catholic enclaves against Protestant mobs and the security forces. Adams eventually joined the Provisional IRA after the split from the more left leaning faction known as the Official IRA, or the Sticks. Adams would eventually encourage a sympathy for left wing politics within the Provisionals and its political arm, Sinn Féin. According to Eddie O’Neill and Mark Hayes in Socialist Voice:

In this period Adams not only criticized capitalism, he was fond of quoting Connolly, while Sinn Féin explicitly identified itself with the ANC, PLO, and Sandinistas. Some commentators even detected the influence of Marxism; and though this was hugely exaggerated, there was a sense in which Sinn Féin identified itself as an integral part of a global ‘left’ movement.

Separated by a vast ocean, Ortega and Adams still became birds of a feather. Their rise to power has required a great deal of shape shifting. Today they are the men most associated with the FSLN and Sinn Féin, two parties that wield immense influence in their respective lands. Next time we will explore how these men consolidated power, how they alienated many of their former supporters, and where they stand now. For many they remain the ultimate rebels. For others they are rogues who have betrayed the revolution, broken spirits, and destroyed lives.  


Michael Shaw Mahoney (MA Irish Studies, Queen’s University Belfast) is a free-lance writer from Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Nicaragua ➤ Rogues & Rebels (Part II), Daniel Ortega & Gerry Adams



A Morning Thought @ 763

From People And Nature ➤ “We can no longer act on nature with impunity.” The “classic” model of economic development “poses a threat to humanity’s very existence”. China needs a new development model, based on renewable resources used effectively and sustainably, that will be built on the old model’s ruins.

By Gabriel Levy

Deng Yingtao, a high-profile Chinese economist, made this call to action thirty years ago in his book A New Development Model and China’s Future.[1] Its message was ignored by the political leaders it was addressed to. In this review article, I will consider why.

In the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party leadership prioritised expansion of export-focused manufacturing industry. The industrial boom really took off in the 2000s, fuelled by mountains of coal – the classic unsustainable resource.

In every year since 2011, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world put together; more coal than the entire world used annually in the early 1980s; and more than twice what all the rich countries together used annually in the mid 1960s, during their own coal-fired boom.[2]

Steelmaking is one of China’s coal-hungry industries

The primary beneficiaries of this economic model are not China’s 1.3 billion people. The big fuel users are in China’s giant east-coast manufacturing belt – which produces, in the first place, energy-intensive goods for export to rich countries: steel bars, cement, chemical products, agricultural fertilisers and electronics products. Household fuel consumption remains extremely low.

This level of fossil fuel use can not go on, not in China and not anywhere else, without courting the most horrendous dangers brought about by global warming.

Deng Yingtao made a compelling argument against going down this road, Before the decisions were made.

In the Introduction to his book, he pointed to the yawning gap between rich and poor countries; the multinational companies’ rising power; and the damage done to the global south by capitalist boom-and-bust.

The “classic” development model had led to “a world economy dominated by the developed West and based on an inequitable international division of labour”, which had proved a “major obstacle to modernisation” for developing countries.

The solution, he argued, was not to adopt the “western theory of modernisation”, based on large-scale consumption of non-renewable resources, but to combine aims of economic development with a focus on renewable resources.

In A New Development Model, a sometimes dense economic text, Deng presented a scathing critique (chapter 6) of the “worthless cultural concepts” underlying the ideology of economic growth. He criticised the worth of Gross National Product as a measure of economic success.

Deng followed international economics debates, and referred to the work of western scholars on natural limits, including Elinor Ostrom and the authors of the Limits to Growth report. He skewered, at great length, the idea that market forces could allocate resources efficiently – an indication, I suppose, that such ideas were becoming fashionable in China in the 1980s.

In conclusion,[3] Deng set out his proposals for a new development model, which “will be based on renewable resources, and will protect these resources by means of effective and sustainable utilisation”. Non-renewable resources such as oil, coal and other minerals have to be used “in the most economic, non-polluting way”, in the context of a transition to renewable resources.

Changes in the resource base, he argued, “will significantly alter the way we live”.

Material consumption will no longer be allowed inexorably to increase. We need to ensure that our people are physically strong, highly skilled, intelligent and wise, and that they engage in work that is beneficial to the community, to future generations and to the environment. […]
The new development model will primarily be based on new-style flow technology (including technology for the recovery and recycling of resources), supplemented by the economical use of stocks technology. By contrast the “classic” development model relies on large-scale consumption of non-renewable resources and highly-polluting stocks technology.

Some key sections of Deng’s book are reproduced below. And I have written a separate article about his life as a Communist Party member and scholar, and the group of reform economists of which he was one.

Reading Deng Yingtao’s book thirty years after it was written, I think it can help us to reframe our ideas about many big questions: the ecological crisis, its relationship to capitalism and the class struggle, and the role of twentieth-century state socialism (or Stalinism, if you want to call it that).

Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy

Let’s first extract ourselves from the close-up, political aspects of this. On climate change, just as (more obviously and immediately) on coronavirus, heaping blame on China is standard fare for Donald Trump and his near-fascist ilk.

Faced with their racist-tinged rhetoric, many people who try to think seriously about the ecological crisis (including me) respond by pointing out that China’s coal-fired boom serves rich-country economies, above all.

Even though China is now the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases, its emissions per person are way under half of those in the USA, that held the number one spot for more than a century before that.

About three-quarters of China’s emissions are from industrial production (compared to, typically, one third in rich countries); Chinese per-capita household emissions are a small fraction of rich countries’. And then there’s the historical responsibility of the rich countries, that their negotiators at international climate talks are so ready to deny.

All that is true. But still, we are left with the fact that in the 1990s, the Communist Party leadership decided on policies that not only made the economy the prime supplier of energy-intensive goods to the rich world, but also turned the screw of non-renewable resource use in a way that imperils the whole of humanity.

It’s important to understand why.

From Deng Yingtao’s book we learn that, in adopting these policies, the Communist Party not only brushed aside opposition from China’s dissident environmentalists, but ignored stark warnings made at the heart of the elite intelligentsia.

Deng Yingtao cried “stop!”, and they carried on.

Reading about Chinese government in the 1990s, it is clear that – despite signing the Rio treaty in 1992, and talking the talk about climate change – political leaders prioritised “economic growth” at all costs. Much like their counterparts in the rich countries.

The most powerful man in China, Deng Xiaoping, issued proclamations in 1990-92 about the urgency of increasing the rate of economic growth that mentioned neither environmental protection in general, nor the need to constrain greenhouse gas emissions in particular.

Jiang Zemin (Communist Party general secretary 1989-2002), who made the political running in the mid 1990s, stood for “neoconservatism and east coast developmentalism”, the political scientist Joseph Fewsmith wrote. The industrial development centred on the east coast became the political priority; the market reforms that spurred it on resulted in rising property prices, regional inequalities, an explosion of private business and the emergence of the nouveau riche – which in turn provoked social tensions.[4]

China’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew steadily through the 1990s, but so did the gap between rich and poor, Fewsmith concluded. And:

[G]rowing income inequality, corruption and worsening relations between cadres and peasants were generating growing numbers of social conflicts.[5]

Another western researcher of China, Peter Nolan, put it this way:

China’s attempt to construct an industrial policy has occurred [in the 1990s] in the midst of the era of capitalist globalisation, which has produced unprecedented global industrial concentration of business power, far beyond that which faced Japan or Korea at a similar phase in their development. The industrial policies pursued by Japan and Korea could not easily be transferred to China.
After “initial cautious experiments” at market reforms in the 1980s, in the 1990s large state-owned enterprises were turned into corporate entities with diversified ownership, shares markets took root, and joint ventures were established with international companies.[6]

China’s industrial policy, then, was shaped by the changes in world capitalism: globalisation, the internationalisation and computerisation of financial markets, and the neoliberal obsession with privatisation and “liberalisation”, as a way of disciplining and exploiting the countries of the global south.

When Chinese politicians put aside the declarations made about climate change at Rio, and pressed their feet down on the accelerators of industrialisation, they were acting in concert with the political leaders of the western powers – whatever war of words was going on between them.

These policies bore their most ecologically disastrous fruits after 2001, when Chinese accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) boosted the export boom. Between 2000 and 2007, China’s output of steel and aluminium more than doubled; cement and fertiliser production went up by six and five times respectively. The primary fuel for all this was dirty, dangerous coal, shovelled – much less efficiently than in rich countries – into blast furnaces, power stations and factories.

Peter Nolan, at the end of his Foreword to the English edition of Deng Yingtao’s book,[7] wrote that, instead of the new development path that Deng pointed to:

China has essentially pursued the classical, energy-intensive development path that was followed by the high-income countries themselves. China’s urban population mainly lives in vast mega-cities, where the urban skyline has been transformed from mainly Soviet-style, low-rise apartment blocks into a forest of high-rise apartment buildings festooned with air conditioning units on the outside and packed with consumer appliances inside.

Nolan quotes the environmentalist Rachel Carson, who wrote that the road travelled by western capitalism is forked, that it had taken the road to disaster, and that only the other fork – the one “less travelled by” – would assure the earth’s future. Nolan concludes gloomily:

Deng Yingtao’s book serves as a poignant reminder of the “road less travelled by” that China might have chosen, but did not take.

It’s high time we all paid more attention to this reminder.

Deng Yingtao’s prescient warnings about China’s industrial juggernaut have been ignored as much by the world at large as they were by the Communist party leadership at the time. Since the carefully-edited English edition of his book appeared in 2014, it seems to have received no attention inside or outside universities. I couldn’t find any previous reviews of it.

For socialists (including me), this story also says something about the relationship between twentieth-century state socialism and capitalism. In the Soviet Union as well as China, state socialism carried through the brutal task of industrialisation – with all the attendant human suffering – that capitalism had accomplished in Europe and north America in the nineteenth century.

State socialism not only failed to produce an economic model that worked as an effective alternative to capitalism, but also paved the way for the return of capitalist exploitation with a vengeance, in the 1990s, to eastern Europe, the former Soviet states and China – each in very different ways. China, with its vast reserve of cheap labour, preserved its authoritarian state structure – in contrast to the Soviet one, which fell apart – and so made the most “successful” transition.

Now we are counting the full cost of this “success”. The Chinese leaders, like their western counterparts, closed their eyes to the ecological consequences of their actions, despite acknowledging at Rio the climate scientists’ clear warnings.

In the twenty-first century, a de facto alliance between the overlords of world capitalism, and the authoritarian political descendants of Chinese Stalinism in Beijing, has brought humanity to the brink of disaster.

Hopes of undoing the work of this unholy alliance lie not in the international climate talks process – notwithstanding the obvious logic of the attacks made on the western powers there by the developed nations, with China foremost – but in radical social change. GL, 30 April 2020.

Read a linked article about Deng Yingtao and the reform economists here

■ To learn more about all this, I strongly recommend a forthcoming book: Isabella Weber, How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate (Routledge, 2020). An interview with Isabella on these themes, by Pandora Rivista, is here. I thank Isabella for telling me about Deng Yingtao’s book, and taking time to discuss it with me.


Deng Yingtao in his own words

The economy of waste

 

Developing countries should not be deluded into thinking that they can reach America’s standard of living within decades. Americans, who make up less than 6% of the world’s population, consume between one third and one half of mineral resources produced annually. Thus, even if there was a complete redistribution of global resources, the “classic” development model could not, objectively speaking, be universally applied. The reason is simple: the resources that are a prerequisite for this model simply do not exist for the great majority of developing countries. It is extremely doubtful whether these conditions are sustainable, even for small numbers of developing countries. Once non-renewable resources are exhausted, the situation can not be reversed, and the long-term problems engendered by recklessly wasteful growth will be plain for all to see.

Second, current systems of resource allocation, including market allocation mechanisms and private ownership, vastly underrate the value of resources formed on a geological timescale. The truth is that market mechanisms, which regulate supply and demand, free of interference, have greatly increased levels of scarcity of resources in the long term, leading to an entrenchment and acceleration of the many problems which the “classic” development model has brought with it and which we see today. In the very long term, the “invisible hand” is not only of very little use to humankind, its effects may actually be damaging, and it is only when matters reach crisis point that this damage suddenly becomes apparent. This will eventually have an irreversible adverse effect on the future of humankind, obliging us to pay a heavy price to counteract it.

A blueprint for reconstruction

As we choose a long-term development model, we should focus on using renewable resources, and the consumption of non-renewable resources should be reduced. As regards food consumption, we should adopt a diet of mixed meat-dairy and vegetable products, avoiding a largely meat-based diet. Our transport system should be made up of a combination of bicycle transport, public transport systems and taxis; and private car use should be discouraged. Agriculture should be labour-intensive and knowledge-based, and managed along ecological lines, avoiding a reliance on fossil fuels. We should put more efforts into restoring and protecting the environment, rather than waiting until the damage has reached intolerable levels before intervening. We must prioritise universal education, improving all-round skills in the whole workforce. Our health care should be based primarily on prevention and self-care, and we should reject a large-scale, high-tech health care system. We should employ a variety of economic, administrative and legal means to limit the consumption of resources on which there are currently severe constraints. We should adopt the use of new communication technologies to enhance social integration and reduce communication costs. All of these measures should take full advantage of advances in science and technology, enabling us to make great improvements to the existing infrastructure on which our long-term development will be based.

From: Deng Yingtao, A New Development Model (Routledge, 2014), p. 69, and pp. 173-174. Reproduced with kind permission from Routledge

Download this article (and the linked one) as a PDF

[1] The book was translated and published in English, with a Foreword by Peter Nolan, in 2014: Deng Yingtao, A New Development Model and China’s Future (London: Routledge). The statements quoted in the first paragraph are from pages 177-178

[2] China’s coal consumption in the 2010s has been around 2800 million tonnes per year. See <https://www.iea.org/reports/coal-2019&gt;

[3] Deng Yingtao, A New Development Model, chapter 11 “Desperate measures are called for”

[4] Joseph Fewsmith, China Since Tiananmen: the politics of transition (Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 174-182

[5] Fewsmith, China Since Tiananmen, p. 274

[6] Peter Nolan, Re-balancing China (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 78-80

[7] Deng Yingtao, A New Development Model, p. xxviii 

⏭ Keep up with People And Nature.

China’s Coal-Fuelled Boom ➤ The Man Who Cried “Stop”

The Greens are back in government Ireland. A Jacobin feature penned before this year's election insists that they will be pretty much useless in terms of effecting radical change.

By David Landy & Oisín McGarrity

We don’t need to persuade people that climate change is happening — they know that already. What we need is action. For many climate activists on the Left, the answer lies in changing the power structures in the economy. This would mean forcing change on oil companies and other polluters, imposing emissions limits and taxes on their profits, even if they resist.

But some deny the need for such a confrontation — a reluctance which, perhaps, comes from unexpected quarters. Yet this is precisely the approach of the dominant liberal wing of Ireland’s Green Party. Denouncing “ideological” solutions, they insist we need scientific proposals that make sense to everyone. We need to get the powerful on board, work with them. After all, it’s their planet too.

The Greens aren’t just a fringe group — they’ve been in government before, and their current poll rise (as high as 10 percent) suggests they could be again after the February 8 general election. Doubtless, such a vote will be powered by a sense that climate action is necessary. Yet if we look beyond manifesto pledges and take past performance as an indicator of future behavior, the chance of the Greens leading Ireland to a carbon-neutral future are close to zero.

Continue reading @ Jacobin.

Ireland’s Greens Will Never Confront the Powerful

Preacher’s kid, Dr John Coulter, continues his reflections on his experiences as a Presbyterian Minister’s son, this week revealing what prompted him to abandon following in his dad’s footsteps, opting instead to become a contentious tabloid journalist. 
 
A Teenage John Coulter

How on earth did I make a career journey when, from the age of 12, I was totally convinced God was calling me into the Presbyterian ministry to a situation where I turned my back on this vocation and became a reporter?

The simple answer - the persecution I endured as a preacher’s kid; the route was much more complicated.

That career in journalism also included the path of being a lecturer in media and journalism, where I have enjoyed some of the most memorable days of my years thus far in the media.

I have taught many wonderful students who have known instinctively they wanted to be journalists from an early age. But not me. To say I always wanted to be a reporter from my primary school days would be a lie. In reality, I stumbled into the media in my late teens by accident.

After becoming a ‘born again’ Christian at the age of 12 in January 1972, I felt certain I would be following in my dad’s footsteps - the late Rev Dr Robert Coulter MBE - and an evangelical vocation as a mainstream Presbyterian minister beckoned.

But as I moved through my teens, life as a minister’s son became ever more challenging - and painful. Maybe it was God’s way of telling me that the Presbyterian ministry was not for me. Like the Biblical Old Testament prophet Jonah, I ignored the warning signs.

It did not deter me when, as a young Christian, a Presbyterian elder who was my Sunday school teacher, made an example of me by punching me in the face, reducing me to tears in front of my peers just because we were having a bit of a giggle in his class.

Whilst no action was taken against that elder in the Seventies, imagine what would be unleashed today if a Presbyterian elder punched a young person in front of witnesses in a Sunday school?

Similarly, in my later teens, I also ignored the warning signals when I was given a severe kicking in the church hall one Sunday morning. The reason for that assault was simple - I was the minister’s son.

I also ignored all the verbal abuse; the constant criticism over my dress sense and musical tastes. I kept telling myself that things would get better when I entered higher education and began studying for the Presbyterian ministry.

But they didn’t. While my sixth form teenage years at Ballymena Academy were the most enjoyable, that same period in the north east Ulster Bible Belt was a nightmare.

It was a real challenge to my youthful Christian faith. At prayer meetings and church services, we would remember the plight of persecuted Christians in foreign lands.

But I wanted to speak up and add - “and don’t forget the plight of victims being persecuted by Christians here in the Bible Belt!” Common sense prevailed as did the fear of another punch in the face from a Presbyterian elder, so I remained silent!

Then came the fateful day in December 1977 when all notions of wanting to be in the Presbyterian ministry were dumped. We had just returned to the Manse following a family wedding to find sick graffiti written on a poster and pinned to the front gate. It was basically a ‘get out’ warning.

That was the final straw. Aged 18, ‘I cannot take any more persecution from Christians,’ I told God. The Presbyterian ministry was a ‘no go’ career.

The problem was by then, I was six months away from sitting my final A levels and had applied to courses at university which would eventually lead me to Union Theological College, the training home for wannabe Presbyterian ministers.

The constant Christian persecution had also taken its toll on me mentally, physically, spiritually and especially academically. I felt as if my life was spiralling out of control.

Mentally, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown with only Valium keeping me together; physically, I felt like vomiting every time I entered a church as I was constantly looking over my shoulder; spiritually, I kept asking - even pleading with - God as to when this Christian persecution would cease; academically, my mock A levels of January 1978 were a total disaster.

When folk asked me what career I wanted to pursue, I started answering in the negative: “Well I’ll tell you one thing, it won’t be a Presbyterian minister” was a standard response. But what did I want to do? No answer.

One of the coping mechanisms - apart from the anti-depressants prescribed by my GP - that I used to personally deal with the persecution from Christians in the north east Ulster Bible Belt in the late Seventies was to give my persecutors silly nicknames.

While my parents did what they could to shield me from Christian persecutors, they could not protect me all the time. But in the safety of the Presbyterian Manse, I could ‘let off steam’ by referring to these persecutors by their ridiculous monikers.

One lady in the Christian community was particularly vociferous in her criticism of me as a minister’s son and earned the moniker ‘Sour Puss’. She loved nothing better than to mouth off at me in front of her Christian companions.

In early 1978, I went to an evening religious function, pondering how I would rescue my grades following those disastrous mock A levels.

As I entered the building, out came Sour Puss with her mates. My immediate reaction was: “Oh no, here we go again; another slabbering from Sour Puss!” But her response on seeing me was radically different. “Hello John, how are you?” She beamed in a loud, friendly voice.

You did not need a doctorate in clinical psychology to know this was a ‘put on’. Why was Sour Puss being so friendly when for months I had endured her persecution?

If there’s one observation about the north east Ulster Bible Belt, indeed any Bible Belt, its that gossip travels faster than gospel. I inquired of one of the few fellow Christians I could 100 per cent trust at that time why Sour Puss was being so friendly.

The answer came swiftly. Someone called a ‘journalist’ had wanted to interview my dad about life as a rural Presbyterian minister; Sour Puss had heard about the interview and was afraid my dad might name her as one of my Christian persecutors, perhaps branding her as a modern day Pharisee!

Dad would never have sunk to that level. He knew that; I knew that, but clearly Sour Puss didn’t! Whatever this ‘journalist’ was, my Christian persecutors were afraid of it.

I made a simple mathematical deduction as a result of that evening. If a journalist is what they are afraid of, then a journalist I will become! For me, journalism was not a chosen career since primary school days, but had become a most welcome port in the raging storms of teenage life.

My decision had an almost instantaneous impact on certain Christian persecutors as if it was like the armour of God detailed in the New Testament book of Ephesians. It was as if I had been handed a Sword of Damocles.

A few days after meeting George Taylor, my excellent history teacher and careers advisor at Ballymena Academy, to totally change my university choices towards journalism, I had another face to face encounter with a different Christian persecutor I named The Poisoned Dwarf.

In a sarcastic tone, he challenged me: “What do you want to be?” He expected I would say ‘Presbyterian minister’ and I’m sure he had a few choice observations to make about me as a cleric.

My answer stumped him: “I want to be a journalist and I want to write for the Sunday World!” Flabbergasted by the response, and with a look of shock on his face, The Poisoned Dwarf physically backed away from me!

I’ve spent 42 years in journalism - including a period as East Antrim Correspondent for the Sunday World - where I’ve covered many contentious events, and written and broadcast in a controversial manner.

To critics of my writing and broadcasting, I simply say - blame Sour Puss for getting me into journalism!

To any Christian persecutors who still want to criticise me for being a minister’s son, I simply say - in the Seventies, you had a field day with me as a wee BB boy and wiped the floor verbally with me on many’s an occasion.

But now, I’ll be ready for you; just look at how Jesus Christ dealt with the money changers in the Temple! That’s my spiritual inspiration and my faith is unshaken. 


 Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter

 Listen to Dr John Coulter’s religious show, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning   around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, or listen online   at www.thisissunshine.com

Don’t Blame Me, Blame Sour Puss!




A Morning Thought @ 762

Anthony McIntyre looks back on the funeral of Bobby Storey.

When Bobby Storey was arrested in August 1981 the RUC were delighted, their interrogators trying to wind him up in Castlereagh holding center by rubbing their hands with glee and loudly telling him that "it is the end of the Storey." Almost forty years later and two weeks after his death Bobby Storey is still the story. 

As he continues to make waves from beyond the grave, not for the first time is Sinn Fein taking flak for its symbiotic association with the dead IRA leader. Often, when alive, he was accused of inadvertently causing problems for the party with some of his more audacious post-ceasefire and post-Good Friday Agreement operations. Now, in permanent repose, it is his funeral that has pushed its way to the front of the news agenda and put Sinn Fein on the back foot. While the volley of shots was absent from the honours administered as part of the funerary rites for dead IRA activists, a different type of volley is being fired at the party of which he was a member. 

Sinn Fein stands accused by its political opponents and others of having shown scant regard for public safety by breaching rules that limit attendances at funerals in the midst of a global pandemic. Doug Beattie has asked a question that is in all likelihood flashing across the minds of more than just unionists.

why – in the midst of a global pandemic – did they feel the need to call hundreds of people onto the streets of West Belfast if the plan all along was to hold a cremation ceremony several miles away in the east of the city? … what was the point in taking a coffin to a graveyard only to then transport it to a crematorium?

Sinn Fein has not managed its response particularly well, opting to return the serve, rather than concede the point, with no real panache, while the new BB - the Bot Brigade - has taken to social media to bully those raising concerns. Michelle O’Neill, the party’s Northern leader, has no need to apologise for attending the funeral of one of her friends and colleagues. Where she is on much softer ground is her reluctance to admit that the organisation of the funeral was, like that for Garda Colm Horkan, insufficiently firewalled against Covid-19. 

With less hubris, the party could have said the emotion of the occasion swamped its judgement and it erred in breaching – to whatever extent it did - social distancing guidelines. It is currently in one of those situations where if you are explaining you are losing

Doug Beattie, chimed with many republican critics of  Sinn Fein in asking:

were people’s lives really put at risk from Covid-19 just so Gerry Adams could perform a speaking engagement in Milltown cemetery?

There are no shortage of republican critics who view Adams as a coffin surfer, not lifting coffins as much as having coffins lift him. They will read events at Milltown as an opportunity for Adams to grandstand rather than honour Storey. Some of them spot an incongruity in a politician who has always denied membership of the IRA, delivering the oration for a man who in the eyes of his admirers, came to personify the IRA.

Doug Beattie might not understand the symbolism of the republican plot at Milltown or the raw emotion evoked by so many who fought alongside Bobby Storey resting there. Moreover, it is facile to reduce the choreography of the funeral to the scheming of Gerry Adams. As a former republican prisoner commented to me:

All that may be true about Gerry Adams, but the funeral was not simply about him. It was more about the need to create another hero of the peace process. The funeral was an exercise in group reinforcement and myth making.

In that context it is tempting to see the whole event as a carefully crafted act of political street theatre designed to place a new Bobby on the Sinn Fein masthead. Try as the party might the old Bobby, Sands, held too many positions at variance with the current Sinn Fein. He did not support an armed British police force, a judiciary using Diplock courts, the partitionist principle of consent, power splitting executives, a Worker’s Party type reformist strategy, participation in Stormont, decommissioning of IRA weapons, and the effective standing down of the IRA.

Had he been alive he might have come to support those positions but at the time of his death he most definitely did not. It requires a lot of work with a metaphorical jemmy bar to force the image of Bobby Sands into the Sinn Fein picture frame, and then a lot of buffing to smooth out the awkward joints. Too many others can lay a claim to the legacy of Sands. 

Not so with Storey. He supported all the measures Bobby Sands opposed. Themselves Alone can safely lay claim to his legacy. 

It is unlikely that one Bobby will completely displace the other, but we can expect to see murals and imagery of both men, with the new Bobby to the fore:  Bobby of the Armed Struggle gently fading into the background to make way for Bobby of the Peace Process. 

We might yet come to look back on the Milltown Cemetery pageantry as the changing of the guard, where at the funeral of Bobby Storey, Bobby Sands was buried. 

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

Changing Of The Guard

Michael Nugent with the first in a series of pieces on whether gods exist. 

What types of gods do people believe in? This is the first of a series of short posts about whether gods exist and why the question is an important one.

Over the centuries, people have believed in thousands of different gods and origin myths.
 
Photo – Family of NGC 288 stars breaking up from ESA/Hubble & NASA

These range from ancient cosmic eggs to the African Orishas, Incan Viracocha, Native American Wakan Tanka, Chinese Pangu, Aboriginal Dreamtime, Babylonian Anu, Indian Brahman, Egyptian Ra, Jewish Yahweh, Greek Zeus, Roman Saturn, Christian Jesus, Norse Odin, Muslim Allah, and the Mormon god who appeared in Joseph Smith’s hat.

In the western world today, most people believe in broadly two types of gods.

Deists typically believe in an abstract god that created the universe and keeps it existing and functioning, but that doesn’t intervene in the working of the universe. Believing or not in this type of god makes no practical difference to our day-to-day lives.

Theists typically believe in a personal god who created the universe, sometimes intervenes by performing miracles, cares about us as humans on planet Earth, tells us what is right and wrong and how to live our lives, and will reward and punish us for eternity after we die.

The most prominent of these Western ideas of theistic gods are the Jewish Yahweh, the Christian God, and the Islamic Allah. All of these ideas evolved from previous ideas of gods.

For these theistic ideas of gods, the question ‘does God exist?’ is not merely a technical claim about how the universe came to be. It is also a claim about having the moral authority to tell people how to live their lives.

That puts a strong responsibility, and a strong onus of proof, on those making the claim. I’ll examine those claims of proof in future posts.

Michael Nugent is Chair of Atheist Ireland

Do Gods Exist? ➤ @ 1 Deists And Theists

From Brinkwire.  ➤ Boise, Idaho – The case of two kids who were missing for months before they were found dead in rural Idaho has taken another bizarre twist, with new court documents alleging that their mother believed they were zombies and that she was on a mission to rid the world of such creatures.

Police discovered the remains of 17-year-old Tylee Ryan and her 7-year-old brother, Joshua “JJ” Vallow, on June 9 at property belonging to their mother’s new husband. The case gained attention for the couple’s doomsday beliefs and the mysterious deaths of their former spouses, and court documents released late last week detail more about the strange worldview that detectives think may have influenced Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell ...

Lori Daybell’s longtime best friend, Melanie Gibb, has been cooperating with authorities for months.  

... “Gibb reports that when she arrived in Rexburg, Lori Vallow informed her that JJ Vallow had become a `zombie,'” Ball wrote. 

Gibb further reports that the term `zombie´ refers to an individual whose mortal spirit has left their body and that their body is now the host of another spirit. The new spirit in a `zombie´ is always considered a `dark spirit.´

... Gibb said the couple believed that when a zombie takes over a person’s body, “the person’s true spirit goes into `limbo´ and is stuck there until the host body is physically killed,” the court document said. “As such, death of the physical body is seen as the mechanism by which the body’s original spirit can be released from limbo.”

Gibb also said the couple believed they were spiritual leaders.

“She was told by Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow that they held the religious belief that they were a part of the `Church of the Firstborn´ and that their mission in that Church was to lead the `144,000´ mentioned in the Book of Revelation.  

Hints of strange, doomsday beliefs have surrounded the complex case since it began last year.

Continue reading @ Brinkwire.

US Mum Called Kids 'Zombies' Before Their Deaths


A Morning Thought @ 761

Barry Gilheany ➤ Many commentators, not just from the Right, have expressed concern that what has traditionally been a fundamental marker of a free society and the Enlightenment project -  freedom of speech and/or expression, is under sustained attack from the Lord Chamberlains of the 21st century. 

The high priests of the wokerati who in pursuit of what are noble objectives, societal equality and the opening up of literary canons to previously silent voices, have assumed the power of arbitration of who should or not speak on university campuses and what can or cannot be said in wider society.

It is held by some that freedom of speech is under existential threat from the enforcers of political correctness and the “anti-offence” culture. In the world of higher education, some academics worry that university administrators are facilitating the growth of “snowflake” generations of young people by shielding them from the necessary intellectual challenges of exposure to and dealing with diversity in arguments and scholarship through the “protective” mechanisms of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”. They also worry that the “no-platforming” of controversial speakers by strident pressure groups on campus further weaken the intellectual and personal resilience of higher education attendees.

In this article, I seek to unpick the definitions of freedom of speech and political correctness and to determine whether there is a genuine free speech threat from the denizens of woke culture or whether this is a confected crisis; a smokescreen behind which the differentials of power persist.

Freedom of Speech: Legal Status

Freedom of Speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or of a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term freedom of speech is sometimes used as a synonym but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used (Wikipedia: Freedom of Speech).

Freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognised in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and:

everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; and this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 

The version of Article 19 in the ICCPR later amends this by stating that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect or reputation of others” or [f]or the protection of national security or public order, or of public health or morals. (Wikipedia: p.1).

Freedom of speech or expression, is also recognised in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Wikipedia: p.2).

The right to freedom of speech and expression is closely related to other rights, and may be limited when conflicting with other rights. The right to freedom of expression is also related to a fair trial and court proceedings which may limit access to the search for information, or determine the opportunity and means in which freedom of expression is manifested within court proceedings. As a general principle freedom of expression may not limit the right to privacy, as well as the honour and reputation of others. However greater latitude is given when criticism of public figures in involved. (Wikipedia: p.3)

To summarise then, based on the arguments of John Milton, freedom of speech is to be understood as a multi-dimensional right that incorporates not only the right to express, or disseminate, information and ideas, but three additional distinct elements:

1. the right to seek information and ideas;

2. the right to receive information and ideas;

3. the right to impart information and ideas. (Wikipedia: p.3).

Restrictions on Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech in most jurisdictions is hedged in by variety of limitations often relating to other competing right and liberties, as in the case of libel, slander, pornography, obscenity, fighting words, and intellectual property. Some European countries controversially retain blasphemy laws. Others abound.[1]

Justifications for restriction on freedom of speech usually fall into two categories: the prevention of harm and the avoidance of offence. The harm principle is articulated most forcefully by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, in which he asserts that: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”. (Note the absence of a reference to prevention of self-harm). Otherwise, he argues that “… there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”

In 1985, Joel Feinberg introduced the “offence principle”. He wrote “It is always a good reason in support of a proposed criminal publication that it would probably be an effective way of preventing serious offence (as opposed to injury or harm) to persons other than the actor and that some forms of harm expression can be legitimately prohibited by law because they are very offensive. But, as offending someone, the penalties imposed should be higher for causing harm. Because of the extent to which people may take offence varies, Feinberg lists a number of factors to be taken into account when adjudging when offence has been caused, including: the extent, duration and social value of the speech, the ease with which it (offence) can be avoided, the motives of the speaker, the number of people offended, the intensity of the offence, and the general interest of the community at large (Wikipedia: pp.4-5).

Interpretations of the harm and offense principles can be very wide. Many European democracies who proudly proclaim their commitment to free speech nevertheless have laws criminalising Holocaust denial on their statute book.[2] Other countries make Armenian Genocide denial illegal. Harm and offence criteria are used to justify Russia’s LGBT propaganda law restricting speech (and action) in relation to LGTB issues and very likely lay behind the reluctance of some progressive public intellectuals and political figures to spring to the defence of artists and writers subjected to Islamist fatwas and terrorism such as Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Danish cartoonist portrayer of the Prophet Mohammed. It certainly lies behind the extant blasphemy laws on the statute books of European nations.

The clearest defence of freedom of speech against the demands of “offended” religious authorities and faith communities is made by the late lamented contrarian Christopher Hitchens. The following quotations from The Hitch’s prolific literary output lays down succinctly the defining lines of free speech debates:

“… Civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient.”[3] (Mann, Ed.: 2011)

“All major confrontations over the right to free thought, free speech, and free inquiry have taken the same form – of a religious attempt to assert the literal and limited mind over the ironic and inquiring one[4] (Mann, Ed p.241).

“In the responses of a liberal society to this direct affront [the Rushdie fatwa), there has been altogether too much about the offended susceptibilities of the religious and altogether too little about the absolute right of free expression and free inquiry. One can and must be ‘absolute’ about these. Unlike other absolutisms, they guarantee rather than abridge the rights of all – Khomeini included – to be heard and debated.[5].(Mann, Ed. p.251)

“So, who will now say that a lone novelist ‘brought it all on himself’ by ‘insulting Islam’.? The insult to Islam, as Rushdie and his supporters argued all along, was the assumption that the Muslim culture itself demanded blood sacrifice.”[6] (Mann, Ed, p.252)

As definitive as Hitchens’ quotes above, is the landmark opinion given by the US Supreme Court in Brandenburg v Ohio (1969) which in overruling Whitney v. California referred to the right even to speak openly of violent action and revolution in broad terms:

[Our][ decisions have fashioned the principle that the constitutional guarantees of free speech do not allow a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or cause such action. (Wikipedia: p.5).

The opinion in Brandenburg discarded the previous test of “clear and present danger” and made the right to freedom of (political) speech’s protections in the US almost absolute. Hate speech is also protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as decided in R.A.V. in City of St. Paul, (1992) in which the Supreme Court ruled that hate speech is permissible, except in the case of imminent violence (Wikipedia: p.5)

The Internet and Free Speech

International, national and regional standards recognise that freedom of speech, as one form of freedom of expression, applies to any medium, including the Internet. The Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 was the first major attempt by the US Congress to regulate pornographic material on the Internet. In 1997, in the landmark cyberlaw case of Reno v. ACLU, the US Supreme Court partially overturned the law. Judge Stewart R. Dalzell, who as one of the three federal judges had in June 1996 declared parts of the CDA unconstitutional, in his opinion stated the following:

The Internet is a far more speech-enhancing medium than print, the village green or the mails…. Speech on the Internet can be unfiltered, unpolished, and unconventional, even emotionally charged, sexually explicit, and vulgar – in a word, “indecent” in many communities. But we should expect such speech to occur in a medium in which citizens from all walks of life have a voice. …The Government can continue to protect children from pornography on the Internet through vigorous enforcement of existing laws criminalising obscenity and child pornography. In my view, our action today should only mean that Government’s permissible supervision of Internet contents stops at the traditional line of unprotected speech.

The penultimate sentence of Judge Dalzell’s opinion makes a brief statement that has alternatively enthused and bedevilled Internet users ever since and which poses the most fundamental dilemma for those excited by the emancipatory potential or those alarmed by its unregulated, Wild West possibilities – “The strength of the Internet is chaos.” (Wikipedia: p.6)

Free Speech on Campus

Since so much of heat generated in free speech controversies has originated within higher education institutions, it is worth looking at the evolution of law and practice in what is becoming an essentially contested arena.

Free speech at public universities and colleges at once raise the most obvious but equally the most paradoxical of constitutional principles in the US. Given the nature of scholastic inquiry, it is obvious that only an open, robust and critical environment will enable the quest for truth. But at the same time, universities are communities that need to balance the requirements of free speech with those of civility, respect and human dignity. They also belong to a larger social order with its own, often competing set of values (Hudson, 2018).

Historically a major driver of freedom of expression has been its relationship to academic freedom. This connection was fully validated in the landmark 1957 Supreme Court decision Sweezy v. New Hampshire. In this case the Attorney-General of New Hampshire, tasked by the State Legislature to determine if there were “subversive persons” working for the State, had asked Paul Sweezy, a visiting lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, questions as to whether he had delivered “leftist content” while lecturing and about his knowledge of the :Progressive Party in the state and its members. Sweezy refused to answer them on the grounds that the First Amendment protected his freedom to develop his academic pursuits. (Hudson: p.2).

The Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion by Chief Justice Earl Warren, held in Sweezy’s favour and in the process decisively vindicated the notion of academic freedom.

The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident … Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding, otherwise our civilisation will stagnate and die. (Hudson: p.2).

However, while subscribing to the First Amendment’s view of truth as a concept discovered in the marketplace of ideas and distilled from a cacophony of diverse opinions, the US Courts have failed to define and delineate the precise extent and nature of academic freedom or to develop a real and robust constitutional doctrine to support it.

Speech Codes: Legal History

This lacuna is glaringly obvious in the specific area that has devilled academic freedom and freedom of speech on US campuses: speech codes. According to case law, speech on matters of public interest is constitutionally protected, while speech on internal institutional business is guaranteed appreciably less protection. The justices have accepted that a university has a legitimate need to maintain order on campus and must have the latitude to govern as it sees fit. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has explicitly pronounced that academic freedom does not protect acts of intimidation, actual threats or disruptive acts interfering with an educational programme. So, it was out of these constitutional settings that speech codes emerged as the mechanisms whereby universities sought to balance freedom of expression and internal order (Hudson: p.2).

Speech codes were introduced by universities to combat hate speech; that is utterances and actions aimed at groups and individuals identifiable by race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation including the wearing by white students on several campuses of blackface or fraternity or sorority parties. Supporters of such codes assumed that limiting hate speech and harassment on campuses would protect the emotional physical health of its intended victims and that it would enhance the learning process by enshrining the concept of rational discourse rather than hate-inspired invective and epithet (Hudson: p.3).

In constructing these codes, university administrators relied on the famous “fighting words” exception Supreme Court doctrine enunciated in the 1942 decision Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire in which the conviction of the defendant Walter Chaplinsky under a New Hampshire law against offensive and derisive speech and name calling in public was unanimously upheld. In writing this verdict, Justice Frank Murphy formulated a two-tier approach to the First Amendment in which certain “well-defined and narrowly limited” categories of speech, including “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libellous” and insulting or “fighting” words, did not merit constitutional protection as they did not contribute to the expression of ideas nor did they contain any “social value” in searching for truth. (Hudson: p.3).

Some universities actioned the “fighting words” doctrine in order to prevent the discriminatory behaviour that flows from speech deemed to be offensive. Thus in 1990 the University of Texas developed a speech code that placed emphasis on the intent of the speaker to engage in harassment and on evidence that the attempt to do this had led to real harm. In 1989 the University of California invoked the fighting-words doctrine specifically. (Hudson: p.3)

These codes soon began to attract ridicule because of their interpretation and implementation. Perhaps the most famous example was the policy of the University of Connecticut to make “inappropriately directed laughter” and “conspicuous exclusion from conversations and/or classroom discussions” violations of its speech policy; a directive which was to be in validated by a federal court (Hudson: p.3).

As concerns around “political correctness” began to get traction in the US in the 1980s and 1990s, so the issue of what universities could and should restrict became the epicentre of the “PC” debate. The promulgation of speech codes were a response to the oft-justified pressures to eliminate discrimination and harassment from campus from groups who had their own causes to press but in the words of the former university president Sheldon Hackney, in such zero-sum, “drive-by-debate” the “real casualties” were “real answers”. While such heat, rather than light, generating ring-side entertainment “… only reinforces lines of division and does not build toward agreement.” (Hudson: p.4). Furthermore, in trying to curtail the views and voices of some, liberals and leftists appeared to be engaging in a type of ‘reverse McCarthyism’ process; a very uncomfortable place for those for whom freedom of expression should, one would expect a sine qua non.

Many speech codes were struck down on constitutional grounds. In 1989, a federal judge in Doe v. The University of Michigan threw out the university’s code due to its overt vagueness when it forbade language “that stigmatises or victimises an individual” He found that in the guidebook accompanying the code the provision that restricted speech that might prompt laughter at a joke about a student who stuttered in class such speech was protected off campus and therefore could not be banned on it. In the case of the University of Wisconsin code, a federal judge in the case of UWM Post v. Board of Regents, held that the fighting-words doctrine had little value as a guide, since the code declared the utterance of certain kinds of speech unacceptable even if they were unlikely to lead to a breach of the peace. And a seemingly fatal blow was inflicted on speech codes by a unanimous ruling by the; Supreme Court in 1992 in the case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul which though it dealt with a St. Paul, Minnesota ordinance which made it a crime to place “on public or private property a … burning cross or Nazi swastika, which one knows or has reasonable grounds to know arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, colour, creed, religion or gender”, held the ordinance unconstitutional on the grounds that it sought to ban free speech on content (Hudson: pp.4-5).

Speech Codes: Free Speech Zones?

Despite the seemingly devastating body blow from the Supreme Court in R.A.V, v. City of St. Paul, speech codes did not die on US campuses. Some colleges and universities created free-speech zones for protestors and others wishing to exercise their free speech rights. However, despite these seemingly laudable attempts to protect free speech, some universities use the concept of zoning speech to relegating and dispersing speech that they wish to muffle; in other words, censor it. Related issues concern the shutting down or “no-platforming” of controversial speakers and the concepts of safe spaces, which can refer to university policies that shield students from uncomfortable or unwanted ideas, trigger warnings, which refer to professors telling students in class before discussing subjects that may be upsetting to individual students so “as to ensure an inclusive learning environment for students” and micro-aggressions , which refer to slights, petty insults, and comments that cause at least subtle harm to recipients. (Hudson: p.6).

This package is referred to as “New Censorship” by Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gilman in their book Free Speech on Campus.[7] Paved with the best intentions of providing an inclusive learning environment and culture, there are plenty of examples of the dystopia of censorship and intolerance that this process has led to. In 2015, a student theatre group at Mount Holyoke, after seeking student feedback, cancelled their annual production of Eve Ensler’s pathbreaking play, The Vagina Monologues, because transgender women do not have vaginas, and the play therefore “offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman.” In response, Ensler pointed out that “inclusion doesn’t come from refusing to acknowledge our distinctive experiences, and trying to erase them, in an attempt to pretend they do not exist. Inclusion comes from listening to our differences and honouring the right of everyone to talk about their reality, free from oppression and bigotry and silencing.”[8] She also added that she had previously made available an optional monologue based on interviews she’d conducted with transgender women (Lipstadt, 2019)

In 2017 the University of California at Berkeley was the scene of a riot by students with Antifa help from the outside due to invitations to speak on campus by the prominent Alt-Right spokespeople Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos which eventually led to the cancellation of the event ostensibly on safety grounds. As Berkeley professor Robert Reich observed, “How can students understand the vapidity of Coulter’s arguments without being allowed to hear her make them, and question her about them?”[9] (Lipstadt: p.186)

As disturbing has been the response of some faculty members to free-speech controversies. In 2017, Wellesley faculty who are part of the college’s Commission on Race, Ethnicity and Race expressed concern in relation to the appearance by a professor with controversial views on sexual violence on campus, over “the impact of speakers’ presentations on Wellesley students who often feel the injury most acutely and invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.[10] (Lipstadt: p.186).

In another incident, a biology professor objected to a change to the “Day of Absence” held by his college, Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington held every April, whereby students and faculty staff of colour did not come to campus in order to represent what an all-white society would look like, which invited white students, staff and faculty to leave campus for the day, on the grounds that “… On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin colour.”[11]. Weinstein was then surrounded and verbally assaulted by students outside his classroom in a subsequent student protest. He and his wife later resigned their faculty positions and left the area after being told by the university administration that the campus police could not guarantee his physical safety from threats of violence he later received (Lipstadt: p.187).

However, some university administrations have acted robustly to defend freedom of speech on campus. Pride of place goes to the University of Chicago whose president Robert J. Zimmer and provost Eric D. Isaacs in 2014 tasked a faculty committee on freedom of expression with drafting a statement “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation.” The committee cited the observation of a past president of the university, Hanna Holborn Gray: 

Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom[12]

Addressing the omnipresence of “trigger warnings”, Jay Ellison, Dean of Students at the College at the University of Chicago, wrote in his welcoming letter to the class of 2020, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”[13].

A manifesto for proper freedom of expression; for proper academic freedom and for a properly inclusive learning environment and culture on campus.

Political Correctness and Speech Codes

Conflicts over curricula content and freedom of expression at higher education institutes have been a major terrain over disputes over political correctness. Political correctness (commonly abbreviated to PC) is a term used to describe language, policies, or measures designed to avoid offence or disadvantage to members of social groups regarded as marginalised, disadvantaged or otherwise stigmatised; particularly those defined by sex or race, (Wikipedia: Political Correctness). PC refers to things you cannot say in public without attracting fearsome moral opprobrium such as justification of the Holocaust and of the institution of slavery (Fukuyama: p.118).

The term PC was originally used to describe the strict adherence to ideological orthodoxies within politics. In debates between American Communists and Socialists in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the phrase was deployed by the latter against the dogmatic rigidity of the former; adherence to a party line regardless of moral and humanitarian substance.[14] According to the cultural theorist Stuart Hall, this original use of the term PC may have morphed into its modern usage by radical students on American campuses in their take-downs of the party line of every far-left sect from the BS (Before the Sixties) era with blatant examples of sexist or racist behaviour of their fellow students being called out in the satirical tone of voice of the Red Guards or Cultural Revolution Commissar: “Not very ‘politically correct’. Comrade!”[15]

This previously obscure far-left term became a common epithet in conservative social and political challenges to progressive teaching methods and curriculum changes in US secondary schools and universities. Policies, behaviour and speech codes that the speaker or author saw as the imposition of a liberal orthodoxy, were excoriated as “politically correct”. In May 1991, at a commencement ceremony for a graduating class of the University of Michigan, then President George H.W. Bush in his speech opined that “The notion of political correctness … declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits”.[16]

Throughout the 1990s, the term PC became part of standard lexicon for US conservatives; a signifier for conservative anxieties about the left in political and cultural debates beyond academia. Two articles on the topic in late 1990 in Forbes and Newsweek both used the term “thought police” but it was Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex On Campus[17] which really acted as a lightning rod for conservative discontents. Similar hostile vocabulary was used by D’Souza for policies designed to promote inclusivity in academia around victimisation, supporting multiculturalism through affirmative action, sanctions against anti-minority hate speech, and revision of curricula. These trends were, of course, part of a response to the identity politics of feminism, gay rights, ethnic minority and other new social movements. That response received financial backing from conservative foundations and think tanks such as the John M. Olin Foundation, which funded several books such as D’Souza’s. (Wikipedia: p.3)

Liberal commentators argue that the use of the term PC by the Right is done to divert attention from the substantive issues of social inequality affecting the racial and gender groups that it does not consider part of mainstream society. The Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee said in 2001[18] that the phrase is an empty, right-wing smear, designed only to elevate its user and, in 2010, “was born as a coded cover for all who still want to say Paki, spastic, or queer[19]. Another British journalist, Will Hutton wrote in 2001 that the “sharpest”, most incisive “thinkers on the American Right” were quick to realise “that by declaring war on the cultural manifestations of liberalism – by levelling the charge of “political correctness” against its exponents – they could discredit the whole political project.”[20] Paul Krugman writes that:

the big threat to our discourse is right-wing political correctness, which – unlike the liberal version – has lots of power and money behind it. And the goal is very much the kind of thing Orwell tried to convey with his notion of “Newspeak”: to make it impossible to talk, and; possibly even think, about ideas that challenge the established order.[21]

In relationship to higher education specifically, Glenn Loury wrote in 1994[22] that to raise the subject of “political correctness” when power and authority within the academic world is subjected to contestation by parties on either side of that issue is to attract examination of one’s arguments by would-be “friends” or “enemies”. Instead of more objective, dispassionate assessment of one’s scholastic writing and credentials, partisans of left and right will judge which “side” a writer is on.

Conclusion

In a speech given by Salman Rushdie, one of the most high-profile victims of clerically inspired no-platforming and silencing, in 2015 he, in talking about his personal experience, reflected that “these are not good days for liberty … Freedom seems everywhere in retreat.”[23]. But he was referring to the North American university campus, which he described as becoming an “insult-free zone”. He condemned the fact that threats to freedom of expression in America were coming from “within the walls of the academy” and that it was “young people” who were “most willing to sacrifice, or limit this fundamental right.” He laid down his credo for freedom of speech or expression thus:

To equate social good manners, the way we interact with each other, with the liberty to say what one thinks, even if people don’t like it, is to make a false comparison … Ideas are not people. Being rude about an idea is not the same thing as being rude about your aunt … What you don’t have is the right to use your alleged offended-ness as a reason to stop other people from speaking. (Lipstadt: pp.184-85)

These are statements on freedom of expression that I endorse and I share Deborah Lippstadt’s worry that certain students on certain American (and UK) campuses seem to have taken notions of political correctness, as well as ideas about “inclusivity”, “exclusivity”, and “safe space”, to the point where they trump freedom of speech.” (Lipstadt: p.185). What the real debates about political correctness and the related conflicts around identity politics are about are more likely about language and whether changing language actually solves political and social problems according to Geoffrey Hughes. Critics of what should be more accurately called “linguistic correctness “view it more as a means of flaunting the moral purity, the wokeness of those who practice it and of imposing censorship and moral shaming rather than solving problems. 

Political or linguistic correctness also tends to be pushed by a militant minority who then become de facto agenda setters in the eyes of their followers and opponents rather than representing an organic form of language change. There have undoubtedly been localised free speech crises particularly when identities lash such as those been between some transgender activists and feminists which has led to critics of trans ideology and practice such as Germaine Greer being no-platformed and the emergence of Black Lives Matter as a potentially transformative movement in the wake of the police homicide of George Floyd will bring new demands for the revision of academic and literary canons and cultural artefacts such as public statues of slave traders. But if political correctness can come to be seen as merely a means of ensuring courtesy and respect rather than a template for suppression of legitimate debate and inquiry then it need not conflict with freedom of expression.

Bibliography

Hudson, David L, 2018. Free Speech on Public College Campuses. Freedom Forum Institute.

Fukuyama, Francis (2019) Identity. Contemporary Identity: Politics and the Struggle for Recognition. London: Profile Books.

Hitchens, Christopher, 2011 She’s No Fundamentalist. Slate, 5th March 2007 in Hitchens, Christopher (2011) Arguably London: Atlantic Books

Lipstadt, Deborah (2019) Antisemitism. Here and Now. London: Scribe Publications

Mann, Windsor (2011, Ed.) The Quotable Hitchens. From Alcohol to Zionism. The Very Best of Christopher Hitchens. Cambridge MA: De Capo Press

Wikipedia Freedom of Speech pp.1-18.

Wikipedia Political Correctness pp. 1-145.

[1] Sedition, incitement, classified information, trade secrets, food labelling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, dignity, the right to be forgotten, public security and perjury amongst others.

[2] These include Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Romania.

[3] Christopher Hitchens “Cartoon Debate,” Slate, 2/04/06.

[4] Christopher Hitchens (2007) God Is Not Great. New York: Twelve, p.258.

[5] Christopher Hitchens, Siding with Rushdie. London Review of Books, 26 October 1989.

[6] Christopher Hitchens Monotheist Notes from All Over Nation, 19 October 1998.

[7] Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gilman (2017) Free Speech on Campus. Can free speech coexist with an inclusive campus environment. Yale University Press.

[8] Eve Ensler, “I Never Defined a Woman as a Person with a Vagina,” Time Magazine, 19th January 2015.

[9] Robert Reich “Coulter Should Be Allowed to Speak,” Newsweek, 25th April 2017.

[10] “Wellesley Statement from CERE Faculty Re: Laura Kipnis Freedom Project Visit and Aftermath,” FIRE -Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 20th March 2017.

[11] Bret Weinstein, “The Campus Mob Came for Me – and You, Professor Could Be Next.” Wall Street Journal, 30th May 2017.

[12] The Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago, Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, University of Chicago, January 2015, https://freeexpression,uchicago.edu/page/report-committee-freedom-expression.

[13] Jay Ellison to Class of 2020, University of Chicago, n.d., www.intellectualtakeout.org/sites/ito/files/acceptance_letter.jpg; Bret Stephens, “America’s Best College President,” New York Times, 17th October 2017.

[14] Kohl. Herbert (1992) Uncommon Differences: On Political Correctness. Core Curriculum in Education the Lion and the Unicorn. 16(1) pp.1-16.

[15] Hall, Stuart (1994) Some Politically Incorrect Pathways Through Political Correctness in S. Dunant (ed.) The War of the Words: The Political Correctness Debate pp.164-84.

[16] U.S. President George H.W. Bush at the University of Michigan (4th May 1991). Remarks at the University of Michigan Commencement Ceremony in Ann Arbor 4th May 1991 George Bush Presidential Library.

[17] D’Souza, Dinesh (1991) Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus New York: Free Press.

[18] Polly Toynbee 'Religion Must Be Removed from All Functions of State'. Guardian 12 December 2001.

[19] Polly Toynbee, 'This Bold Equality Push is Just What We Needed.' Guardian 28th April 2009.

[20] Will Hutton, 'Words Really Are Important, Mr Blunkett.' Observer 16th December 2001.

[21] Paul Krugman The New Political Correctness New York Times 26th May 2012.

[22] Loury, G.C. (1st October 1994) 'Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of Political Correctness and Related Phenomena.' Rationality and Society. 6(4): pp,428-61.

[23] Kimber Williams, “Rushdie Urges Students to Defend Free Speech,” Emory News Agency, 16th February 2015, http: //news.emory.edu/stories/2015/02/er_salman_rushdie_lecture/campus.html.

Barry Gilheany is a freelance writer, qualified counsellor and aspirant artist resident in Colchester where he took his PhD at the University of Essex. He is also a lifelong Leeds United supporter seeking the Promised Land of the Premiership!

Freedom Of Speech And Political Correctness ➤ Liberal Incompatibilities?