Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Can’t we just ban misogynist trolls?

Content note: misogyny, rape advocacy

The next post was going to be about who should pay for tertiary education in New Zealand, since that question has come up in the news in a couple of different ways. But then I heard that “Roosh” Valizadeh, of Return of Kings fame, is planning meet-ups of like-minded men in New Zealand, including here in Dunedin. To add insult to injury, they’re scheduled for 6 February, that is to say Waitangi Day, a day when New Zealanders remember that civilization is built on agreements and kept promises.

It’s hard to tell how much of Roosh’s platform he genuinely stands on, and how much is intended to make people angry so that he can feel important. The “Kings” have argued that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote and that men should be allowed to rape them, as long as it’s on private property for some reason. They value women by their bodies and men, Roosh claims, by their capabilities; I strongly suspect that the male value scales are weighted so as to make Roosh himself the world’s greatest man.

I don’t like Roosh or his ilk – perhaps you can tell. I must confess the thought of his pathetic followers turning up at their meeting point only to be marched off to the police station in handcuffs is amusing. But is the power of the state justified in this instance? It’s a rule too often forgotten on both sides of politics: before you grant the government a new power to interfere with people, imagine that power in the hands of your bitterest opponents.

Fine, let’s imagine it. I don’t want the police to be able to go around intimidating people for disagreeing with the government, something they have recently done. Of course, Roosh et al. don’t just disagree with government policy; they want to perform illegal activities. (Rape is still illegal here, despite ominous precedents.) But they’re not actually gathering to commit rape, they just want to change the law and make it legal. Well, I want certain illegal things to become legal too – cannabis and public nudity spring to mind – and I’d rather the police didn’t harass me or others who get together to push for those changes. Roosh’s political ideals call for major upheavals to society’s power structures, but again, so do some of mine.

Are there any kinds of speech that should not be tolerated? Of course there are. There’s fraudulent speech, where you make a false statement for money or other gain; that’s not relevant here. There’s slanderous speech, where you make a false statement that harms someone else’s reputation. There’s threatening speech, including incitement to violence. And then there’s hate speech, but that’s controversial. Many self-styled free speech advocates make a lot more noise about protecting hate speech than, say, political protest. But OK, I admit, there is an argument to be had.

“Hate speech” does not of course refer to statements like “I don’t like Roosh or his ilk”. Nor is it quite the same as offensive speech. As I use the term, “hate speech”, meaning the kind of speech I would be happy to see banned, is simply a form of the kinds of intolerable speech I’ve already mentioned: slander (of a group, such as women) and incitement to violence (against a group, such as women, where violence includes rape). Well, there you go. Roosh’s little cadre are outside the pale after all.

However, just because we would be within our rights to call the police on him doesn’t make it a good strategy. Roosh wants to make a splash and be noticed. We don’t want him bragging to his sympathizers “Look how important we are! We’re so threatening they felt the need to arrest us!” which is pretty much what he’s after to be holding these meet-ups in the first place. We don’t need to play his game.

New Zealand social justice activists have bigger fish to fry. The present government, with its usual attitude to democracy, are hosting the signing of the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, also just in time for Waitangi Day. This weekend we need to make a big statement about who we are, what we aspire to, and how different that is from what’s being foisted on us. That could certainly include a few sidelong dismissals of Roosh’s little gatherings. We surely don’t need to dignify them with more of a response than that.

Because – Roosh, in the unlikely event that you’re reading this – you don’t deserve any more of a response than that. You’re a sad little man who thinks bringing other people down will make himself bigger. Your odious philosophy, were there any chance of it being put into practice, would ruin men’s lives as surely (though more subtly) as it would ruin women’s. I’m embarrassed to share a gender with you. You do not speak for me.

EDIT: About an hour after I posted this, Roosh cancelled the meet-ups.


  1. Have you read, or heard about, Jonathan Swift's 'A Modest Proposal'?

    Here is Roosh V's "modest proposal":

    This is apparently the article which has led to the claim that Roosh V, and by extension the Return of Kings meet-up, is "pro-rape".

    Yet it should be obvious to anyone who actually reads the piece, that it is a satirical thought experiment. If you don't find it obvious, then at the very least, Roosh V has made it clear in his own words that it was a satirical piece.

    Of course, it was deliberately provocative and you don't need to agree with his intentions in writing the article, nor with any other of his opinions.

    But to claim that he is "pro-rape" and that those who wanted to join the Return of Kings meet up desire to see rape legalised, and support raping women, is utterly dishonest, hysterical nonsense.

    It is apparently all to easy for even intelligent, intellectual people (as yourself) to get caught up in a media driven frenzy, without even taking the mere five minutes of basic research that would be needed to disprove the claim. It's insane. To claim that Roosh V actually supports rape is like claiming that Jonathan Swift actually supported cannibalism.

    Unfortunately, this hysteria only hurts feminism. And moreover, it shows just how easy it is for the media to whip people into a hateful, paranoid frenzy based on a bare-faced and ignorant lie.

    We have surely all learned something from this experience.

    1. Apologies for the spelling errors. ;)

    2. Never mind "five minutes of basic research" -- how about the three seconds of reading that would have revealed that the very paragraph you're quoting began with the disclaimer that I strongly doubt that Roosh et al. mean everything they say?

    3. Fair enough.

      Yet the media (news media and social media... those who have made the most noise at least) have not apparently had such doubts, or even if so, must have pushed them to the back of their minds. They acted like sharks who sniffed blood. A huge number of media outlets and planned protests have called him "pro-rape" and have ignored any such doubts so as to fit their narrative. Plain "groupthink".

      This whole fiasco is a farce. Do you agree that such a reaction (a broad reaction, across the anglophone world even to prominent levels of politics in Canada and Australia) harms the reputation and legitimacy of feminism?

    4. No. Because feminism is a lot bigger than Roosh and will outlive him and his sad little following without so much as a bruise.

    5. And yet, given the size and media coverage of this, Roosh is presumably about to get a whole lot bigger. Of course he alone will never be as big as feminism, but he's hardly alone in the backlash.

  2. "Are there any kinds of speech that should not be tolerated? Of course there are. There’s fraudulent speech, where you make a false statement for money or other gain; that’s not relevant here. There’s slanderous speech, where you make a false statement that harms someone else’s reputation. There’s threatening speech, including incitement to violence."

    Roosh V and his site Return of Kings have been subjected to:
    - Fraudulent speech. There have been false claims made about them, namely that they support the legalisation of rape, which is false.
    - Slanderous speech. There have been false statements made about them to harm their reputation.
    - Threatening speech. There have been numerous incitements to violence towards Roosh V and anyone who might have attended his meetings.

    Whether you agree with the man and his platform, or not, will you address the above? Will you speak honestly, rather than continuing to promote falsehoods?

    Feminism's reputation will ultimately be deeply tarnished by such blatant lies and slander.

    This is the same anonymous commenter as above, by the way. All the best.