Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Rechtsstaat

Krister Petersson not off the hook (murder of Olof Palme)

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I have repeatedly written negatively about prosecutor Krister Petersson and his defamatory claims towards a dead suspect (Stig Engström) of the Palme murder. (Cf. at least [1], [2], [3].)

For a long time, it looked as if there would be no formal consequences of any kind—no matter how many, including experts on law and/or the Palme murder, were protesting.

Today, there seems to be a minor improvement, as JO (see excursion) Per Lennerbrants has objected strongly. To paraphrase one Swedish source:

JO is harshly critical against Krister Petersson, and believes that he has for all practical purposes pointed to Stig Engström as the guilty party, despite Petersson’s claims that this was not his intention. Particular criticism was directed at Petersson’s failure to mention exculpating things (“sådant”).

This is particularly gratifying to me, because I saw a potential weakness in my own criticism, namely that Petersson might have made sufficiently many disclaimers to, so to speak, be freed on a technicality. This does not appear to be the case, after all.

However, JO appears to be more in agreement with Petersson than I was on the issue of naming names: JO does not necessarily see a problem with the naming, per se, but objects to the strong categorization as “guilty”, not mere “suspect”.

I have not dug into the direct statements by JO, and rely on the claims in the source. The source, however, is known as extremely conscientious and knowledgeable. (And the rest of the blog, for those who understand Swedish, provides an enormous amount of analysis and debate on both the Palme murder, in general, and Petersson’s behavior in particular.)

Excursion on JO:
JO/Justitieombudsmannen is a position that has no obvious-to-me equivalent in the English-speaking world, but which, broadly speaking, is a parliamentary “righter of wrongs”, open to petitions from the public and serving as check on the behavior of governmental institutions and civil servants. (And possibly a slew of other things.) On the downside, I suspect that the findings of JO amounts to “Bad boy!” more often than to “Go directly to jail!”.


Written by michaeleriksson

June 22, 2021 at 12:06 pm

Clarifications around freedom-of-X

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Many of my discussions have concerned freedom-of-X (X being e.g. opinion, speech, action, and possibly others). There are two important points in this area that I have probably never spelled out explicitly:

Firstly, freedom-of-X does not necessarily imply the same degree of freedom for all X. If we look e.g. at opinion (as opposed to expression of opinion), there can not and must not be any limits—there is no opinion so factually or morally wrong that it should be outlawed or e.g. be worthy of a beating or brain-washing. This includes even extreme opinions like that all bald** people deserve to die. On the other hand, there are plenty*** of actions that are unconscionable**** even under freedom of action—e.g. actually killing bald people for no other reason than their baldness.

*There might, however, be opinions that are worthy of other intervention, e.g. because they are signs of delusion (“I am Napoleon”), self-threatening (“suicide is painless”), or extremely naive (“the Earth is flat”). Even here, however, the intervention must be kept sufficiently reasonable that freedom of opinion or “the right to be wrong” is not threatened. For instance, a believer in a flat Earth may be presented with arguments, but must not be harassed with them (outside a debate or similar situation), and e.g. a brain-washing attempt must not be made. Further, the possibility that the apparent loon is correct and the self-appointed educator wrong must be kept in mind. (Indeed, political activists, most notably of a PC character, often condemn the opinions of others as e.g. prejudiced, outdated, or simply incorrect, even when those opinions actually match the scientific consensus in the area—the mere conviction that “I am right and you are wrong” does not make it so.)

**An example drawing on “Mein Kamm”, an absurdist Nazi parody by Ephraim Kishon. My intention is to provide an extreme example that is not open to misconstruction (be it out of stupidity or willfully), especially since I am myself bald. However, similarly extreme opinions concerning other groups do exist in this world.

***Where to draw the border is a tricky ethical issue, well beyond the intents of this text. However, a reasonable first approximation is that what is legal is OK, what is not is not OK. (Note that this cannot be more than an approximation, since the discussion is of abstract, not legal, rights. Consider e.g. a country that allows the at-will killing of bald people or forbids saving them from drowning.)

****In this text, I use “unconscionable” to imply something so bad that it would justify e.g. legal action even in a Rechtsstaat with a great respect for freedom-of-X; and “conscionable” to refer to something not unconscionable. (Using “illegal” and “legal” outright is problematic per the preceding footnote; and might also be too restrictive.) Other texts of mine, let alone other authors, might use these words differently. I stress that e.g. an utterance deemed conscionable is not automatically “good”—it can still be rude, ignorant, expressing hatred, worthy of condemnation, whatnot.

Secondly, when we look at speech and action, it is not always clear where speech crosses over into action, and then underlies greater constraints. Consider e.g. statements like “Go out and kill the bald!”, which contains a call for an unconscionable action (an unwarranted killing).* If such statements were allowed based on freedom of speech, this opens a loop-hole in the restrictions on freedom of action, e.g. because a convincing speaker could move an easily manipulated sympathizer to take the action—and what is the ethical difference between e.g. pulling a trigger and deliberately convincing someone else to pull the same trigger in one’s stead? Clearly, then, we should not allow such speech. On the other hand, drawing the borders too narrowly could easily invalidate free speech, e.g. by preventing someone from expressing a certain opinion, discussing that opinion with others, or trying to convince them of said opinion. Here I use the guide-line that any speech that involves a direct or clearly** implied call for action should be considered tantamount to or judged equally with an action. More generally, there are other cases of speech that by their nature are not intended to e.g. state, discuss, or further an opinion, but serve a more direct purpose of influence, say a taunt intended to provoke a fight, a threat intended to force an action, the provision of (possibly false) information to change someones behavior, … These too are better grouped with actions than with “regular” speech; however, they are rarely relevant to freedom of speech outside areas where it is used as an excuse.

* Note that the example is not one that would normally give a reasonable reason to act. In contrast, a “Go out and kill the enemy soldiers that are currently attacking us!” might be perfectly conscionable. (This is another instance of a tricky-to-determine border.)

**If this restriction is not made, there is endless room for abuse along the lines of “he claimed that he only expressed his opinion, but it is obvious that he actually intended others to act”. The “clearly implied” would include e.g. a “I believe that you should all go out and kill the bald”, because an attempt to dodge the rule on a technicality can very legitimately be assumed; it would not include “the only good baldy is a dead baldy”, because there is far less reason to make this assumption and in dubio pro reo should be applied: Such opinions are often held without an intention to act (to avoid punishment, if nothing else); such statements are often made hyperbolicly.

Excursion on speech as a special case of action:
Depending on perspective, it could be argued that any act of speech is automatically an action. However, in discussions of rights, this would merge two usually distinct categories in an unfortunate manner, and I consistently use “action” to refer to a concept not including speech (except as discussed above) in such contexts. The alternative would be to introduce more specialized terms at the cost of understandability. (Of course, similar simplifications are routinely made, e.g. in that “speech” is taken to include the written word, or even some acts that are of a symbolic or communicative nature, e.g. a flag burning. Also cf. the following excursion). As a disclaimer, the “special cases” of speech discussed above might very well form the majority of uses in a more everyday context.

Excursion on kneeling footballers:
The controversy around kneeling footballers is an interesting illustration of how freedom of action, even freedom of speech, can legitimately be restricted in certain contexts. We could argue that they are only expressing their right to free speech*—and if I thought that they actually understood** what they were doing, I might even have let them be based on that, had I been a team manager, football commissioner, or whatnot. However, there are other arguments that speak against their having the right to express themselves in this manner: They are on the job, they are in uniforms proclaiming their association with an organization, they are using someone elses resources for their protest, … To consider a few similar and less controversial examples: A regular employer should*** not interfere with the employees private political activities, but may certainly ban political**** discussions in the office, during office hours (including for non-political reasons like this being a potential source of inter-team hostility or it taking away working time). A shop owner may certainly ban his employees from proselytizing towards customers and third-parties from pasting flyers on its windows. A TV station may certainly forbid its news anchors from using their on-air time to spread their own political opinions. A sports team may certainly prevent individual players from making considerable changes to their uniforms.

*As a general, abstract right. Note that free speech in the specific context of the U.S. constitution only covers rights of the people versus the government (or even a subset of it); with a similar situation applying in many other countries. Correspondingly, arguing the legality of such protests or the ban of such protests based on constitutionality is dubious.

**Some few might, but most are bound to be nothing more than “useful idiots”, who have a very skewed image of the issues, society, whatnot—most regular people do and football players are not renowned for their intelligence and erudition.

***I almost wrote “must”; however, going that far could violate the rights of the employer and/or be too lenient when it comes to extremes. For instance, a bald store-owner should not be forced to employ someone who walks around with “Kill all baldies” signs after hours. In the vast majority of cases, however, what employees do or do not do, say, and believe outside of work is none of the employer’s business.

****However, a more selective ban, e.g. that non-PC political discussions are forbidden, is far harder to defend. Similarly, if one type of political protest was allowed during a football game, it would be very hard to defend banning another, e.g. that someone were allowed to bring in a “Vote Democrat!” sign, while someone else was prevented from bringing a “Vote Republican!” sign.

As an aside, a somewhat similar line of reasoning could be attempted against a recent text on FIFA, IOC, advertising, …. However, that situation differs e.g. in that sponsorship money is a significant part of most professional athletes livelihood; that e.g. the IOC tries to earn money of someone elses* efforts and popularity through abuse of a virtual monopoly; that the behavior of these organizations is contrary to their ostensible and historical raison d’être; and that sponsors does not underlie a blanket ban**, only non-IOC sponsors. Restrictions on kneeling in the NFL, on the other hand, has no practical negative effects on the players, the NFL and its teams do not gain “unfair” income from these restrictions, there is no special treatment based on political position, etc. Even when looking at teams vs. league resp. teams vs. FIFA, the situation is different, in that the NFL (NBA, NHL, …) is in a much closer and more symbiotic relationship with the teams than FIFA—the latter earns money from the following the teams have gathered in the previous four years, while the former is in a constant state of mutually beneficial actions regarding earning potential, popularity, etc. with the teams.***

*Note the greater individual drawing power of many individual athletes in individual sports compared to team sports, as well as the greater impact on legitimacy when a major star is missing. Compare e.g. a Wimbledon without the world’s best tennis player and an NFL where the world’s best football player is missing.

**With which I would be fine-ish.

***On paper: That the one tries to get the better of the other here-and-there is likely unavoidable.

Excursion on discrimination:
Parts of the above point to the importance and benefits of discrimination, e.g. in recognizing the principal difference between “pure speech” and “speech as action” and to treat them differently. This includes being able to see through superficial similarities and inappropriate analogies.* With the constant, absurd abuse of “discrimination”, I plan to follow-up with a text on that topic within the next week.

*As a special case, contrary to the common abuse, a core of (competent) discrimination is to not just group people (or whatnot) together based on superficial criteria, but to look at the criteria that matters with regard to the individual and situation at hand.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 3, 2018 at 12:07 am

Some issues around the role of the government in relation to the citizens

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One of the greatest issues with governments* is the implicit or explicit transfer of power from the individual to the government.** In a fair and non-dictatorial system, this must imply that the government (a) acts with corresponding care and concern to validate and justify the trust placed in it***, (b) in an appropriate, effective, and conscionable manner handles all the tasks that the individual is no longer able or allowed**** to handle for himself.

*With the intent on the overall system, including (depending on context) the state as an abstract entity, high-ranking politicians, the local civil servants, whatnot. In the first draft, I spoke abstractly of “state”; however, found this word entirely inadequate as it would typically exclude lower levels of organization, e.g. cities and counties, that also have an imposed-by-law power over the citizens. The difference is particularly noteworthy in federations like Germany or the U.S., where there are two levels of “state” (the federation as a whole and the individual members of the federation); in the case of Germany, a third level, the EU, is arguably relevant or in the process of becoming relevant.

**While this text deals with the most significant case, the same phenomenon occurs in other areas, and some of the discussion can apply accordingly. Consider e.g. the transfer of individual power to a collective in an apartment owners’ association or a labor union.

***Very similar to the “Spiderman” maxim that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

****Most notably through a governmental monopoly on violence.

As a partial corollary, the most important aspect of “civic rights”, “human rights”, the “Rechtsstaat”, whatnot, is the protection of the individual from the government, including from introduction of laws that violate his rights, from unlawful behavior of government employees and institutions, from arbitrariness, incompetence, and corruption among civil servants. … More importantly, however, from attempts by the government to control his life in a manner exceeding that which is needed to (a) protect the rights of others*, (b) keep the government running**.

*Cf. the (classical) liberal concept of a “bubble of rights”. Exactly what rights to include and how is open to some discussion; however, I point to the dangers of extending the concept too far, as is often the case in today’s world. A post on the topic of various types of rights is in planning.

**Exactly what this should entail can be a matter of long disputes and depend considerably on circumstances (e.g. in that great compromises of rights might be necessary in a war-time scenario). However, the situation of most or all modern Western nations is not compatible with this, instead having an enormous and enormously expensive governmental bureaucracy that has become an end in it self, rather than a means to an end. Complications include that this bureaucracy is financed by someone else’s (i.e. the tax payers’) money and that doing the right thing and reducing the bureaucracy would harm the politicians’ chances at re-election, while increasing it might actually benefit them. This not only because a reduction could force changes of populist policy—but more importantly because of the effect on the laid-off bureaucrats and whatnots (and possibly other special-interest groups): Being laid-off is a problem for anyone, but here we also speak of people who have often had very low-effort jobs and/or had positions that they would not be competitive for in the open market.

Here, however, we have one of the greatest problems of the modern Western society: These necessities are not respected in the remotest. On the contrary, most politicians* and many parties/political movements are quite keen on extending the influence or size of the government as far as possible, sometimes (as e.g. with the Swedish Social-Democrats) even with a “demancipation” of the populace as an unstated goal. Examples include:

*For simplicity, I will speak of “politicians” below, and let other entities be implicitly included.

  1. Deliberate attempts to shape society to the politicians’ personal preferences. This especially by “progressives”, who are in fact often quite regressive (notably, through their lack of respect for the individual and his right to self-determination and self-development.)

    A certain degree of shaping is not necessarily a bad thing—it could even be seen as a necessity. However, many of these go completely over-board, e.g. with considerable redistribution of wealth, invasive and inefficient government programs (ObamaCare…) and projects, heavy-handed regulations even* of matters best left to the individual or the free markets, whatnot. Even e.g. today’s Germany and U.S. often push it too far, Sweden of the 1960s and 1970s was a disaster, and those are still democracies—unlike e.g. the Soviet Union. (I am contemplating a post on some German issues.)

    *I do not believe that all matters necessarily fall in this category; however, very many do, and many of those that do not would be better off with a lighter hand. Indeed, regulation can often have a negative net effect (even violations of rights, growth of bureaucracy, whatnot aside), as has been the case with many drug regulations, the U.S. prohibition-of-alcohol fiasco being an indisputable example.

  2. Attempts by the politicians to influence public opinion and manipulate the voters using governmental resources*. (A post is in planning.)

    *As opposed to e.g. private or party funds. Note that the abuse is not limited to government funds; it can also include legal restrictions on opinion or the use of government personnel. To boot, there is the border-line case of important politicians using e.g. TV opportunities that arise from a public office to spread their private opinions, which might or might not be a problem.

  3. Measures intended for the private gain of the politicians in form of increased chances at re-election or developing a good relationship with powerful special interests, notably various lobby groups.
  4. Politicians naively believing what special-interest groups tell them and acting accordingly.

    I note that many politicians, especially in Sweden, have nowhere near the intelligence, general education, specialist skills, and practical experience that they should have to be good choices for their respective positions.

  5. A growth of government in order to manage overly complicated policies and systems (in turn resulting from items like the above ones—or, in a vicious circle, possibly even this item).

Similarly, there are many problems in the area of (b) in at least some countries*, notably Germany. Note e.g. that Germany is only now instituting “class action” law suits—in the year 2018. The civil courts are often useless, seeing e.g. that there is no equivalent to a “small-claims court”, that “process economy” is prioritized considerably higher than finding justice**, that lawyers will not take cases that are too small*** while insurance companies do not pay legal fees unless representation is by a lawyer, … This creates the secondary problem that German businesses know that, unless the amounts in question grew fairly large, they can get away with more-or-less anything—and they act accordingly. To boot, without class action, the amounts must be measured per capita instead of as a sum over all customers. The criminal law is not one iota better: Unless crimes are serious enough, by some measure, reports go into a file, never to see daylight again.

*Sweden is better off than Germany, e.g. through stronger consumer-protection laws. Unfortunately, I do not have a strong global impression in this area; however, I suspect that similar problems are quite common. As a specific negative example in Germany, consider the issue of security deposits for apartments and how their excessive size tilts the scales very heavily in favour of the landlord.

**Finding justice invariably has other issues attached to it, including proving the facts that would give victory to the disadvantaged party. There are several variations of a German saying/pun that amounts to being in the right (“Recht haben”) and receiving justice (“Recht bekommen”) being very different things. This is probably an unavoidable problem with civil law anywhere that is outweighed by the benefits; however, other problems, e.g. the small-claims issue, could be avoided through a better system.

***There are strict regulations as to what a lawyer may charge, all based on the sum in dispute (“Streitwert”). If the Streitwert is too small, the lawyer earns too little and would just be wasting his time with the case. (Of course, this is not solely a negative, seeing that it can reduces some of the excesses of legal fees that can occur in other countries. Then again, there is at least one additional negative aspect, namely that all lawyers charge approximately the same, irrespective of the quality of their services, which in turn is a bad thing for both said quality and the clients ability to make good choices.)

Of course, when a German citizen has a complaint against a governmental agency, he has extremely weak cards—despite this being the situation where it is the most important that the government protects him and his rights. Apart from the generally low competence levels, he is now faced with the problem that most complaints are handled “in house”, implying firstly that those who review the complaints are disproportionately likely to see him as a trouble-maker and “not one of us” (while the target of the complaint is “one of us”; worse, the involved civil servants could know each other personally), and secondly that the internal instructions of the agency or office will trump the law. The intended main tool and first recourse for a mistreated citizen, the “Dienstaufsichtsbeschwerde” (roughly, “complaint to the supervisor”), is widely considered a waste of time—even when the citizen is in the right*. In fact, as I recently browsed the Internet due to some problems with the “IRS”, I was left with the impression that most sources saw a petitioning of the state parliament as the only recourse that had a major chance of success (this being the only recourse, short of going to court, that was handled by an entity not part of the overall IRS system).

*Obviously, the citizens can be wrong too, especially when it comes down to an understanding of legal regulations and precedent. The incompetence and recalcitrance of German civil servants and their employers are such that it is tempting to make the blanket assumption that they are wrong; however, realistically speaking, it will probably be around 50–50.

To avoid misunderstandings, I consider even a poorly functioning justice system (within reasonable limits) to be better than an anarchic system of self-justice. However, there are some positives with the latter that are gone and for which no proper replacement or compensation exists in today’s world. This especially with an eye on game theory* and human behavior: Let us say that an auto mechanic rips someone off. In today’s world, the victim can protest loudly and be ignored; he can try to go to court, where he will with some degree of likelihood fail (in doubt, remember the evidence issue), and might well incur more costs and effort than he gets back, even should he win; or he can just live with the loss. In the days of yore, he could have picked up a cudgel and shown the mechanic what is what.** In which of these scenarios does the mechanic have the incentives to behave how, and how will his behavior develop in light of what happened (or did not happen) after each attempt to cheat? Similarly, a bicyclist who decides to ruthlessly and illegally abuse the pavement as a bicycle lane has little to fear—the police (at least in Germany) ignore this entirely and the pedestrians have no practical means of defense***. Examples like these show that it is extremely important for a good justice system to protect against even relative minor crimes, frauds, rip-offs, whatnot—and why the German obsession with “process economy” is dangerously short sighted.

*The small-claims issue above is a similar example arising from an absence of incentives to be honest.

**However, here we can easily see why even a poorly functioning justice system might be better overall: What if the mechanic and a couple of friends return the favor a few days later? What if the mechanic had actually been honest and the “victim” misunderstood the situation? This could all too easily amount to the arbitrary rule of, metaphorically, the larger cudgel.

***Notably, any attempt to force the bicyclist back where he belongs (i.e. on the street or a real bicycle lane/path/whatnot) would risk an assault charge—and violations of the monopoly of violence is one of the crimes that governments really take seriously.

Excursion on poor reasoning around violence:
At least some issues around the restrictions on use of violence appear to be based on more emotion than thought, and can show a great deal of hypocrisy. For instance, in many countries, any type of violence against a child is forbidden—not just severe beatings, the use of canes, and whatnots, but even minor slaps. At the same time, it can be perfectly legal, often outright easy, to put the same child on Ritalin or a similar drug. Similarly, emotional and psychological harm are usually ignored or even undetected in all but the most outrageous cases—but tend to cause far greater and longer lasting damage than a comparable amount of violence.

Excursion on passports and other restrictions:
Unfortunately, even the above discussion does not give a complete view of the problems governments can cause through putting its own interests above the citizens’. An interesting example is passports, which (at least until the recent terrorism scares) served almost exclusively to benefit the governments. However, it is the citizen who has to pay for the passport. Effectively, the government creates an obstacle for the citizen, and the citizen has to pay for the “service” of removing the obstacle. I note specifically that when I last renewed my passport, I found that the validity had been cut in half, from ten to five years. Why? Well the government had decided that it, strictly for its own benefit, needed to store some digital data on the passport—and feared that this data could be corrupted if the passport was in use for more than five years…

As an aside, the “effective” validity can be even shorter, because some countries require a minimum remaining validity of e.g. six months for a visitor’s passport. Six months out of five years is quite a chunk…

Excursion on the relative strength of parties:
Many of the above problems relate to great differences in strength between the involved parties, and these differences make the above principles that more important: The citizen is far weaker than the government, often to the point of being helpless. Further, the citizen/customer is usually weaker than a business with which he might be in conflict. (This not just because of e.g. budget and access to lawyers: Factors like relative vulnerability come into play. For instance, if a customer refuses to pay an obviously incorrect utilities bill, this will only have a marginal effect on the utilities company—but when the company terminates delivery of e.g. water or electricity, the customer can face severe problems.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 6, 2018 at 5:45 am

Disturbing German news

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Today, I stumbled upon two German news stories that were both highly disturbing, overlapping with some of my writings, and showing how easy it is for the any of us to fall victim to forces that we might naively believe ourselves protected from*.

*E.g. because “the innocent have nothing to fear”, “things like that only happen to others”, …

Firstly, some poor sod has been assaulted in his own apartment, because of a TV program on pedophilia*, through which some people misidentified him as a pedophile** from the program, and took it upon themselves to beat him up so badly that he almost died***…

*According to the article and/or the TV program: There is a fair chance that the label is, for the umpteenth time, abused to include interest in post-pubescent “children” younger than 18, which is in a different realm than pedophilia—sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children.

**From the sparse information given, it is not clear whether he was identified as someone who actually had abused children (or “children”), or as someone who merely felt a sexual attraction towards them. Both are conceivable, considering how many appear to consider it impossible for a pedophile to not control himself; but the latter would make his attackers the more monstrous.

***Whether the attackers deliberate tried to kill him, whether his death was not intended, but at least considered acceptable, or whether an intended lesser attack “just” got out of hand, is not stated. However, if, as it appears, seven to ten people physically assault someone, it is almost a given that “lethal force” applies, irrespective of intent.

There are at least three important points to consider:

  1. That self-proclaimed “good” people who commit evil deeds are worse than the “evil” people who do not—these “good guys” are the true evil, the true monsters. I note that even if the victim had been a child-abuser, chances are that his crimes had not warranted his death; and unless the abuses had been unusually bad, his attackers proved themselves to be worse monsters. Here the victim was innocent…
  2. That it is extremely important to get the facts straight before taking drastic actions. Indeed, one of the reasons why the justice systems in “civilized” countries put emphasis on “due process”, “reasonable doubt”, etc., while strongly limiting self-justice, is exactly to try to prevent such scenarios. Regrettably, innocent people are still regularly convicted—and if a professional justice system can fail, how can a mob of TV viewers presume to take action?
  3. That there is tremendous danger in an attitude of “he is evil; he must not live”, “he has the wrong opinion; he must not speak”, “he does not support our cause; he must not vote”, …

Depending on unknown-to-me details of the case, other points might need making. For instance, if a “passive” pedophile has been grouped with child-abusers, this exemplifies both the danger of seeing opinion/being/character/whatnot and assuming action, or treating them as equal to action, and of believing that what applies to the group applies to each individual member of the group*.

*Interestingly, the politically correct are among the groups most likely to commit this error—despite being among those who complain the loudest of it in others…

Secondly, various apartments have been searched and computers confiscated based on suspicion of “hate postings”. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find examples or quotes of these alleged hate postings, implying that I cannot judge whether these specific instances could have been considered illegal* (as might be the case with “kill all X”), offensive-to-a-reasonable-reader-but-legal, or just everything-not-pc-is-hate-speech**. Irrespective of this, this situation is troubling on several counts, including that confiscating computers is an extreme and improductive measure*** and that going to such lengths based on, as it appears, mere suspicion of guilt jeopardizes the Rechtsstaat. (And is a dubious prioritization of police resources…)

*Note that the German law is unusually strict, especially when anything even hints at support of the old Nazi-regime or its ideas. (This sometimes to a point that the ethical justifiability of the laws seems dubious, and including absurdities like computer games being censored for using Swastikas in depictions of Nazi enemies…)

**During the years that I actually bothered debating on blogs, I saw a great many examples of this. Other examples regularly reach me through the current news, as with [1]. The situation is so bad, that I am not willing to attribute this to sheer incompetence or the inability to see the flawed perspective and the hypocrisy, nor to forgive this by applying Hanlon’s Razor—no, problems on this scale can hardly occur without malice and intellectual dishonesty, by a deliberate use of unfair accusations as a means to an end.

***I note e.g. disproportionately negative effects on the victims of the confiscation; the uselessness of any found evidence through the ease with which digital evidence can be planted; and the uselessness of a search on the computer of a “big fish”, who will have the means to protect himself through use of encryption and similar technologies. See also e.g. [2].

The “chilling effect” of such actions is also disturbing: How do we know that what we say will not be deemed hate speech or illegal speech by someone in a position to cause trouble? What if the police overreacts as mindlessly as in [3]? What if our own words are judged by such absurd criteria as in [1]? How do we know that factual statements, reasonable opinion, attempts at serious debate will not cause the police to knock on our own doors? The simple truth is that we can only hope, and if this trend is carried on, the borders of even de facto illegal “hate speech” will continually be pushed into a more and more unreasonable territory*.

*Based on the comparatively small size of the police action, there is a fair chance that it was directed at outrageous cases—this time around. If no protests follow, this is likely to change… Obviously, what is called “hate speech” (or “racism”, “sexism”, whatnot) in PC circles are very often far from being so, even now.

More generally, I would seriously question whether even the vilest* expression of opinion (per se; without e.g. a call for action) should ever be treated thus. It would be better to restrict measures to expression that also imply an action or a call for action (e.g. “Go kill an X today!”**, but not “All X deserve to die!”***).

*When it comes to anything but the vilest expression, measures like police intervention are unacceptable, anti-democratic, and a violation of the Rechtsstaat. Consider e.g. the relative triviality of the case discussed in [1] and the disproportionate reaction (admittedly by non-police).

**Again, this type of statement is sometimes heard from extremists within the Leftist or PC spheres. Cf. e.g. my discussion of the Charlottesville events.

***Statements that are not uncommon among Leftist and PC extremists.

As an aside, I found the claim disturbing that hate speech would come predominantly from the “extreme Right”*: Not only have I so far seen far more hate from Leftist and PC extremists (especially feminists) than from the “extreme Right”, which makes me doubt the neutrality of this action and suspect a double standard**, but I also suspect the common tendency to consider anyone with e.g. nationalist, anti-immigration, or whatnot opinions to be “extreme Right”, even when other opinions would point to Left, thereby skewing the estimations of the (non-extreme) Left and “Right” among the broad masses.

*Starting with the renewed observation that this is a misnomer, unlike “extreme Left”: The extreme Left consists of people with extreme versions of Leftist opinions or who are willing to use extreme methods to reach Leftist goals; the “extreme Right” does not have the same role relative the “Right” in general. (To which must be added that the “Right” is far more heterogeneous than the Left, and that while the label “Left” can make sense, the label “Right” hardly ever does, except as an opposition to “Left”.)

**I note both that a double standard concerning opinions and behaviors is extremely common among e.g. PC, and Leftist groups, with the most intolerant people often being the ones that complain the most of intolerance in others, the most sexist those who complain the most of sexism in others, etc.; and that there is a considerable skew in German law between the extreme Left and the “extreme Right”. For instance, a few years ago I read a news-paper article on crimes committed by these groups. The main claim was that crimes were more common on the “extreme Right”; however, it was clear from the presented statistics that this was only true due to a legal asymmetry, e.g. in that German law forbids carrying swastikas but is silent on the hammer-and-sickle. When we looked only at non-asymmetrical crimes (e.g. assault, break-ins, …), the numbers were approximately the same.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 16, 2018 at 7:42 am