The “comedian” Jo Brand has come under fire for admitting that she fantasises over politicians with whom she disagrees being mutilated in battery acid attacks – attacks which are implicitly acts of terror. Due to the way in which she phrased her remarks, many observers concluded that she was referring to a fantasy involving an attack on Nigel Farage. This is an interpretation of Brand’s remarks that Farage himself stated he feels is fully accurate.
Brand’s defence was that she was a comedian telling a joke but many fail to see the humour. For my own part, whilst I’m very close to a free speech absolutist, I do believe that specific threats of violence should be investigated by police in order to determine if they are credible. Therefore, whilst it would be absurd to bring criminal charges against Brand due to her intent apparently deriving from her grotesque idiocy rather than a place of specific malice, she should surely be forced by the BBC (which aired her remarks) to deliver a profuse public apology as well as a private apology to Mr. Farage.
For those who believe in free speech, the typical test as to when lines are drawn remains the “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” test. But beyond the tedium of applying this test to Brand’s self-evidently disgusting and un-funny remarks, there is another more far reaching conclusion that one must draw from the incident.
We are living in world where throughout western nations, people are visited by the police, arrested and in certain cases imprisoned due to their speech on social media platforms such as Twitter. There have been instances of speech far less controversial than that uttered by Brand that have resulted in near immediate police action in spite of no public outcry surrounding the speech in question.
The real danger of censorship happy governments throughout the west is that rather than opting for full scale communistic style censorship or free speech absolutism (with the “crowded theatre” example being the only possible exception), instead one is seeing the development of a neo-feudal reality in which the social elites are allowed far more free speech than ordinary people.
In this sense, whilst there is something of a liberal bias in terms of who is controlling the sliding scale of censorship, this is due primarily to the fact that in today’s western world most social elites tend to be liberals (as opposed to conservatives, libertarians, or traditional socialists). As today’s liberalism is that of the socially hyper-interventionist sort, one often sees elites arguing that speech expressing one’s dislike of a certain nation, belief system, group of people or religion should be severely censored even if there is no implied nor direct thereat of violence.
Censoring people because they like or dislike something is self-evidently extreme but the ghastly term “hate speech” was invented for this very reason and until the ruling liberal elites are replaced with individuals of a libertarian mindset, things will likely get worse before they get better. Thus, in an age where social elites are happy to censor that which goes far beyond the “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” scenario, elites themselves remain happy to give each other a pass.
One could imagine the shrieking outcry if a working class man or woman living in a council flat and holding anti-elite/anti-establishment political views were to say exactly what Jo Brand said only phrase the statement in such a way so as to suggest that it would be a fantastically satisfying event to see a liberal public figure mutilated in a terror attack involving battery acid.
Such a person would probably have been behind bars within hours and there would be no sympathy directed to the individual from employers, public opinion at large and the media. Why then can Jo Brand get away with what she said?
The self-evident answer is that due to her position as one of the BBC’s favourite on-air personalities (for reasons that defy logic), she gets a pass from her fellow elites. This means that while it is fairly easy to argue that Brand’s remark was a threat against Nigel Farage that was hardly even veiled, the BBC is standing by her in the way that a working class man or woman’s employer would not likely do so if the shoe was on the other foot.