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2023-02-10 at 19:16 #392854Nat QuinnKeymaster
Racists and apartheid apologists really need to be disabused of the notion that they are welcome among classical liberals. They are not.
Earlier this week, I wrote an article on the absurdity of declaring a national disaster when the disaster was caused by the ideology and policies of the government that now says it needs more power to fix it.
In it, I offered a brief sketch of an answer to a question Prof. Jonathan Jansen had asked, namely whether people are really better off now than they were under apartheid.
This was enough to provoke apartheid apologists and the racist alt-right to pile on in the comments explaining how apartheid was a really good thing and black people should have been happy with their homelands and proud to carry a passbook that acknowledges their identity as second-class citizens.
Defending the k-word
One even went so far as to claim that the k-word was actually a respectful term for ‘Black Man of Africa’, and that during apartheid, all races got along splendidly.
In their small minds, the only governance options for South Africa are the African national socialism of the present regime, and Afrikaner national socialism of the previous regime, and because the former is obviously failing, we should revert to the latter.
As a rare journalist who regularly engages with readers in the comment section, I spent some time slapping this evil nonsense down, explaining in some detail why apartheid apologists were both wrong and evil.
I got called a ‘woke leftie’, because apparently that is what you are if you don’t support racial segregation, and don’t accept the ‘TRUTH’, in capitals, that apartheid did not oppress black people.
And I realised how tired I am of all of this.
No matter the subject, the racists and apartheid denialists will make it about their bigoted identity politics. They’ll call it ‘culture’ instead of ‘race’, of course, but if you weren’t born yesterday, you know exactly what they mean.
It is toxic, and it is exhausting.
These Neanderthals might be entitled to their hateful opinions, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to them.
Of course, this raises a few issues.
First, why do they come to the Daily Friend, if what they read here so enrages them?
Why spread their racial hatred in the comments of an organ of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), whose purpose since 1929 has been to improve racial relations, oppose racial hatred, dismantle racial segregation, and defeat apartheid, and instead promote non-racialism, individual rights and liberties, and equality before the law?
Does this say something about classical liberalism, that it attracts such vile people?
I don’t think it does. I’ve discussed this issue with several people, editors, and contributors to the Daily Friend and members of the IRR, and they were unanimous in their condemnation of the racists in the comments.
Those comments certainly do not reflect the ethos of the Daily Friend or the IRR. On the contrary, they violate every decent principle we stand for.
Enemy of my enemy
The idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend might make right-wing conservatives and far-right racists feel they could be allies with classical liberals on the grounds that both oppose socialism and both wish to see the back of ANC misrule. I’ve written about that before.
Advocating for individual freedom, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression, also suggests that one ought to tolerate thought and speech with which you profoundly disagree.
As Salman Rushdie once said: ‘What is the freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.’
Radicals, extremists and bigots think this gives them a free pass to share their half-witted hatred with the world in these pages.
The light-touch moderation of the comments in the Daily Friend was motivated by the idealistic notion that one could deploy reason against irrationality, and even if you don’t convince your interlocutor, at least bystanders could see that you had cogent answers to the arguments advanced by racists and bigots and conspiracy theorists.
I’d certainly be happy to argue the odds with a communist, an animal rights extremist, or a believer in modern money tree theory, for example, and I have gone to great lengths to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories over the last few years.
Ultimately, however, the right to freedom of expression binds the state, and not the individual.
If you stand on a street corner and provided you don’t cause a disturbance or obstruct traffic, you ought to be allowed to say whatever you like without fear of arrest and prosecution. (This right is limited in South Africa, and there is speech for which you can be arrested and imprisoned.)
But if you come into my house and start haranguing me or my guests about the paedophiles who rule the world, or the barbarity of races other than your own, or the plan to depopulate the planet, I have every right to tell you to shut up, and kick you out.
The same is true for private media platforms. You do not have the right to say what you like, especially if what you say directly undermines the mission for which the platform exists, which in the case of the Daily Friend is to promote classical liberalism and non-racialism.
This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been a responder to comments for almost 20 years, first on my own blog, and then on Daily Maverick, before I moved to the Daily Friend in 2020.
Everywhere I went, obnoxious racists and crazies were a problem. On my own blog, I was in charge, and I routinely blocked offenders.
Daily Maverick had the same ideal as the Daily Friend, to foster open, healthy public debate. For eight years, it tried. At the start of 2016, however, it threw in the towel.
The editor realised the ideal was not attainable, and shut down the comment system because it was overrun with rabid right-wingers and hateful bigots. Active moderation of thousands of comments a day was more than the publication could afford.
A few months earlier, News24 closed its comment section, too. The editor at the time, Andrew Trench, said the ‘tone and substance of many of our comments appear increasingly at odds with the mission of editorial excellence which we have set for ourselves,’ adding that many comments drift towards hate speech at worst, and are often laced with prejudice.
Both publications have since restricted comments to paying subscribers only. The lower volume of comments and attaching real names to posts makes active moderation feasible.
Since then, the bigots and conspiracy theorists have become bolder, louder and more numerous, thanks to the global rise of right-wing populism. The problem has become much worse.
The fact that the racists and bigots have alighted at the Daily Friend has little to do with the belief that classical liberals are kindred spirits. It has much more do with the fact that ours is one of the last comment sections where moderators are reluctant to delete comments or ban posters, and where they can still post anonymously without any consequences.
Apartheid apologists and other nutcases make the comments a toxic environment for everyone. They give the host platform a bad reputation. They drive other readers, who might have been interested in discussing policy proposals or the principles of classical liberalism, away.
It sometimes feels like it’s just them and me, and I am tired of it. I resent engaging in good faith when it’s mostly just bigots spewing hate and absurdity, upvoting each others’ comments while downvoting mine.
I no longer think I’m doing anyone – least of all the classical liberal cause – a service by trying to disabuse them of their ignorance and bigotry, because there hardly seems to be anyone sane left to read it. If there aren’t even enough reasonable people left to support me with upvotes and condemn them with downvotes, what’s the point?
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