On one level this could seem like good advice. Yet on another, it could help
bigots feel good about themselves.


On Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 11:48 PM, Robert Mann <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> **
> Durie has written several books on topics where emotions run high.  Careful
> but never self-censoring, saying what needed to be said yet following
> exactly his own guidelines.
>  He was also a witness for the defence in the infamous State of Victoria
> religious vilification* Catch the Fire* trial.
> RM
> * blog: When Speaking on Sensitive Topics*<>
> ------------------------------
> When Speaking on Sensitive Topics<>
>  Posted: 15 Aug 2011
> This blog post is about how to speak reasonably about sensitive topics, and
> specifically ones which can give rise to charges of vilification.
> In ideal world, speech would be free, and everyone would use their freedom
> responsibly.  But human nature being what it is, speech is never completely
> free, and human beings often act up in bad ways.
> How then can we talk about difficult and reactive topics, such as
> destructive forms of religion, or the negative attributes of particular
> classes of people such as nations, cultures, races or tribes?
> One of the challenges to freedom of speech in the west today is the
> emergence of so-called hate-speech laws, also known as (racial or religious)
> vilification laws.  These laws are built upon the concept of incitement.
> They attempt to make illegal certain forms of speech which could incite or
> provoke others to have bad feelings towards particular groups of people.  An
> example in Victoria, Australia, is the oddly-named Racial and Religious
> Tolerance Act, which aims to ban conduct that incites 'hatred', 'serious
> contempt', 'revulsion' or 'severe ridicule' against classes of people on the
> basis of their religion or race.
> One problem with the concept of anti-incitement laws is that some realities
> about human beings' attributes really are beyond the pale, and deserve
> robust critique precisely because they* should* incite strong negative
> emotions.  A bad effect of anti-incitement laws is that they can make a
> person who speaks about such things responsible for the negative emotions
> which could and even* should* arise from their subject material.  For
> example if I accurately describe the actions of communists under Pol Pot,
> including their genocidal slaughter of the Khmer population, this should
> incite feelings of revulsion towards the Khmer Rouge.  Irrespective of
> whether that is a good thing, it would still be incitement.  Usually
> anti-incitement laws provide a way around this.  The Victorian law includes
> escape clauses known as 'exceptions' which mean that under specific
> circumstances, a person will* not* be held accountable for their
> incitement.  These escape clauses involve acting 'reasonably and in good
> faith' for a specific purpose, such as an academic or scientific purpose,
> giving comment on something in the public interest, or creating a work of
> art.
> Another problem with anti-incitement laws is that truth is not a defense in
> the way it is for anti-defamation laws.  You cannot defame someone by
> speaking the truth about them.  But you* can* incite hatred, contempt etc
> against a group by speaking the truth about them, if the truth itself is
> unpleasant.  So a problem with anti-incitement laws is that they can make
> speaking unpalatable truths illegal.  That can be a big problem.  There is
> however usually a partial protection for truth tellers, in that getting your
> facts right can help demonstrate that you have acted 'reasonably and in good
> faith'.
> I'm no fan of anti-incitement laws, whatever name they go by (whether 'hate
> crime' laws, 'anti-vilification laws' or 'defamation of religion' laws). For
> one thing they can inflame tensions between groups by inciting complaints
> and court cases.  These are inciteful laws which can easily provoke racial
> and religious tensions.
> But my purpose here is not to complain about anti-incitement laws.  The
> purpose of this post is to  suggest a few principles which speakers and
> writers might be wise to follow when dealing with sensitive topics.  These
> principles, if followed, may help to provide some protection against
> complaints of incitement.
> Essentially these are tips for acting reasonably and in good faith, or to
> put it another way, for cooperative communication.
> (Please note that I am not a lawyer, but a cleric and a linguist, and I
> offer no guarantees about the effectiveness of these principles!)
> 1.**      ***State your purpose and stay on topic.*
> If you want to criticize the Khmer Rouge, don't stray into a diatribe
> against Stalin.
> If you want to criticize Islam's treatment of women, don't stray into
> criticizing the clothing preferences of Arab men.  There is nothing like
> gratuitous off-topic insults for giving the impression that you are up to no
> good.  Don't fall into the trap of 'too much information!'.
> Often it is very helpful to state your purpose up front, e.g. "I am writing
> about the evils of the Hindu practice of suttee".
> 2.**      ***Check your facts. *
> That one is obvious.
> 3.**      ***Don't say things you don't have adequate evidence for.*
> Obvious again.
> 4.**      ***When you have a choice, take your information from the most
> authoritative and original source you can.*
> "The Bible says X" will trump "my granny says the Bible says X".  "The
> Australian Bureau of Statistics reported X" is better than "The Readers
> Digest said X".  Always go to and check up a more original source if you
> can.  Don't rely on third-party information (hearsay) if you can avoid it.
> For example if you want to make a claim about Muhammad, look up and check
> the original Islamic sources for yourself, even if it is in English
> translation.
> 5.**      ***If your source has some limitations (and most do) be aware of
> this and if necessary acknowledge it.*
> Part of due diligence is  assessing the reliability of your source you do
> use, and being aware of its limitations, e.g., are you quoting from a
> translation?  Do you speak the original language of your source?  Do others
> accept your source as authoritative?  You can't be the world's expert on
> everything, but you can exercise due diligence with the information you use,
> not only in using the best source, but also being aware of the limitations
> of your source.
> 6.**      ***Be dispassionante and avoid emotive judgements.*
> It can be hard to restrain yourself, but really it is better to let people
> make their own emotive judgements about information they receive.  Offer
> people your arguments and evidence rather than your emotive perspectives.
> For example, it is one thing to explain that Muhammad married a five-year
> old girl and consummated the marriage at 9 years old, and quite another
> thing to call Muhammad by derogatory words usually reserved for people who
> might want to do things like that today.  Let the hearer or reader come to
> their own conclusions about such labels.  Don't command people's emotions.
> There are some exceptions of course.  If your whole presentation is to
> communicate a specific negative judgement (e.g. 'modern-day Mormon polygamy
> abuses women') then that judgement can be stated up front and central (point
> 1 above).  But don't sweat all the value judgements along the way.  Hold
> your emotional fire for when you really need it, and have confidence in your
> audience to make up their own moral minds.  People want to be informed, not
> coaxed.  If something deserves contempt, you usually don't need to tell
> people 'this deserves contempt'.  This can often just come across as
> 'shouting'.  Your audience probably won't like it, and it will come across
> as coercive.  Let the evidence speak for itself.
> 7.**      ***Avoid stereotyping*.
> Stereotyping is all about attributing to the group the attributes of the
> few.  Don't say 'Christians believe X' unless you are really, really sure
> that virtually all Christians do believe X.  Be especially careful about
> attributing intentions to groups, e.g. 'Christians want to take over the
> world'!  Or 'Muslims don't tell the truth'. There are many ways to avoid
> stereotyping.  One is to use the words of representative voices and
> explaining their standing.  For example, you might say "The Archbishop of
> Canterbury, spiritual leader of Anglicans around the world has said X."
> This is better than "Anglicans believe X".  Another way of avoiding
> stereotyping is to acknowledge contrary voices.  E.g. 'The pope says X, but
> many Catholics disagree'.  Another way when speaking about religious matters
> is to make a clear distinction between what texts or authorities say, and
> what individuals believe and do.  E.g. 'The Qur'an says "Kill the
> unbelievers" but many Muslims don't believe that applies to them.'  Another
> technique is to make a clear distinction between practices and beliefs.
> Someone can believe something, but not act upon it.  (Be aware also that
> stereotypes can be negative or positive, and both types of stereotyping can
> be unhelpful.)
> 8.**      ***Refer people to original sources, so people can check things
> for themselves*.
> If at all possible, always point people to a way to check what you are
> saying for themselves.  Some specific contexts don't allow this, but there
> are ways around this.  For example if you have published a book on a
> subject, with the sources clearly acknowledged, you could have more freedom
> to make claims in an interview, knowing that an audience could check things
> in your book and look up the sources for themselves.
> 9.**      ***Take appropriate responsibility for inferences others may
> come to.*
> There are things you actually say, and things people think you said,
> because they inferred it from what you said.  Part of the due diligence of
> communicating with others in a reasonable way is to be  aware of how they
> might interpret what you say, and taking an appropriate degree of
> responsibility for this.  You should make what you say as informative as
> required.  If you leave key points open to interpretation, that probably
> means you didn't give enough information.
> 10.**     ***Be clear.*
> One of the most important things when talking about sensitive subject is
> just to be clear and orderly in the way you present your material.
> Much of the above points are expressions of Grice's Maxims of
> communication <> and the cooperative
> principle <>. It's all
> about being a responsible, cooperative communicator.  And Mark Durie's fifth
> maxim of anti-incitement communication is that the more sensitive and
> inflammatory a topic is, the more careful and 'cooperative' you need to be
> in addressing it.
> Finally, one must acknowledge that there are many complications surrounding
> this subject.  One is that victims of abuse have rights.  One of their
> rights is to have strong feelings about their experiences of abuse.
> Demanding that they be dispassionate about being raped, tortured, killed etc
> can be inhumane.  The advice given above is designed for the careful
> communicator.  But the testimony of first-hand witnesses can rarely afford
> such luxuries.  When victims are speaking, the audience has responsibilities
> too.  And one of these responsibilities is to allow that the testimony of
> victims is often not orderly, dispassionate, well-sourced, verifiable, to
> the point, bleached of stereotypes etc.  A listener has a duty of compassion
> to listen carefully to the testimony of victims.
> Of course there are those whose sense of victimhood is out of all
> proportion to reality, and their testimony can demand that their audiences
> make the most unjustified allowances to uncooperative and unreasonable
> communications - let the reader beware.
> Mark Durie is an Anglican pastor and author of *The Third Choice: Islam,
> Dhimmitude and Freedom* <>.

Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is
no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
                                                  --John Kenneth Galbraith