Amos Yee and the Freedom to Offend

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Yesterday 18-year-old Singaporean Amos Yee was granted asylum in the United States, throwing a spotlight on freedom of speech in Singapore. Judge Samuel Cole called him a “young political dissident”, and the ruling claimed that Yee has a “suffered past persecution” and has a “well-founded fear of future persecution”. Yee has been jailed twice, once in July 2015 and again in September 2016.

A victory for freedom of speech?

Maybe, but it’s a hollow victory indeed.

Yee has spoken no hard truths, fomented no revolutions and started no grassroots movements. He has created no groundbreaking works of art or philosophy or politics, nor has he revealed any government or corporate malfeasance. He has run for no political party and has contributed not one iota to the development of Singapore’s civil society.

Yee is merely a shock jock.

In 2015, Yee released an expletive-filled video praising the death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, calling him a ‘totalitarian’ and comparing him unfavourably to Jesus and Mao Zedong.

The government opened investigations into Yee and detained him for 53 days. A family and youth counsellor, Vincent Law, bailed Yee. On May 13 Yee demonstrated his gratitude by falsely accusing Law of molest on Facebook. Yee then claimed he would be present at Bukit Panjang MRT station to speak to the media. The media swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker, and Yee didn’t show up. The following day, he posted another expletive-laden Facebook post laughing at the media, boasting about how he had trolled them.

In 2016, Yee produced and uploaded a picture and two profanity-filled videos insulting Muslims and Christians. Once again, he was arrested, this time for ‘wounding religious feelings’. He was further fined $2000 for failing to show up at a police station twice to give his statement.

Amos Yee is no hero. He has not furthered the cause of democracy and freedom, nor has he contributed meaningfully to society. He is no free thinker or dissident, only an attention-seeking teenager whose only talent lies in offensive speech.

But freedom of speech means the freedom to offend. Wounding ‘feelings’ is no reason to arrest and jail people; down that path lies ritualised self-criticism, the gulags and the killing fields. People like Yee are canaries in the coal mine: when the government squashes the canary it’s a sign that freedom of speech is under fire. If people approve of shock jocks being arrested for spurious reasons, the government will be encouraged to crack down on people with legitimate arguments and different points of view. Free speech must be for everyone, or it applies to no one.

With that said, I don’t see Yee making the most of his second chance.

Yee claims he is now an ‘anarchist communist’ who believes in feminism. He has a known history of turning on people who want to help him, displaying callous disregard for anyone whom he hurts, employing vulgarities in place of cogent argument, and generating content that rely on offensiveness instead of rational thought. When the going gets tough and he’s in trouble, he has no qualms about compromising his principles to save his skin. Anarchist communism calls for abolition of private property, capitalism and the state; but he relied on a state organ to grant him safety, and when he was held in America, he asked for people to give him money to cover his costs instead of doing stuff for him like a proper anarcho-communist. He also claims that he supports free speech but like all good social justice warriors he has no problem with media platforms taking down ‘anti-feminist’ speech.

Yee is an arch-SJW who has doubled down and continues to double down. If Yee won’t change his ways — and I don’t see that happening anytime soon — he’s not going to amount to much.

What about the impact on Singapore?

Singaporean politician Kenneth Jeyaratnam claims that the ruling “may create waves in Singapore. It may show Singaporeans that there’s nothing to be afraid about. The Singapore government is a paper tiger. We don’t have to swallow the brainwashing that is constantly put out.”

Jeyaratnam sure is optimistic. The government has not softened its stance on Yee or hate speech. The police has not signaled any shift in policy, overtly or otherwise. Opposition politicians have not argued for liberalisation of Singapore’s laws on hate speech nor proposed new free speech laws in Parliament. Political bloggers are still free to say what they want, within the blurry boundaries of the law. Citizens still won’t know what are the limits of the law until someone like Yee tests it and is slapped down. Nothing has changed.

Save for one thing.

Amos Yee is America’s problem now.

Image from Yee’s Facebook page

Trump’s Travel Ban Will Prevent a Clash of Civilisations

President Donald Trump’s travel ban has predictably incited a firestorm of controversy. Predictably, the mainstream media lied about Trump’s ban, claiming it bans Muslims from entering the United States. Also, quite predictably, they aren’t going to tell you that the ban will prevent a clash of civilisations in America.

This is the full text of Trump’s executive order. Nowhere it in mentions Muslims or nations by name. What he has done is to suspend the entry of foreign nationals from states defined in a law proposed by former President Barack Obama and passed by a Democrat-controlled legislature for 90 days, to suspend the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and to direct the relevant agencies to strengthen vetting and screening processes.

87% of the world’s Muslims are not affected by the ban. It is not a Muslim ban; it is a temporary suspension of entry of nationals from states of concern.

These states of concern are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are failed states, either on the brink of collapse or well past it, and are engulfed in war and terrorism. They cannot guarantee that people leaving the country are not criminals or terrorists. Iran is a known state sponsor of anti-US terrorism, most recently in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and has recently conducted a ballistic missile test in defiance of a UN resolution. Tehran is not going to tell Washington whether a traveler is an innocent person or a Quds Force operative on an espionage mission. Until the US develops a robust means of screening out undesirables, it only makes sense to temporarily halt entry of persons from these states. The ban applies to all people, not just Muslims.

The media has run plenty of stories about the plight of people who were deported, refused entry or are in a state of limbo due to the ban. I sympathise with their situation, but the sad truth is that government policy must by necessity paint with a broad brush. I suspect Trump is once again using high-pressure tactics, wielding popular reactions to the ban as an instrument to exact concessions from the hard left and the hard right. Scott Adams has more information here. In the coming days and months, I will not be surprised if the Trump Administration or the federal agencies roll out a raft of exemptions and screening recommendations, making Trump appear more reasonable.

But only up to a point. If Trump is going to deliver on his promise to Make America Great Again, there will be much more stringent screening measures in the near future, if not an outright ban on almost all refugees. And this will prevent a clash of civilisations.

Inconvenient Facts about ‘Refugees’

In November 2015, Michael Cernovich of Danger and Play decided to find the ground truth about the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. Traveling to Budapest, he documented his findings here. He discovered that most of the refugees were able-bodied young men, and were taught how to lie and where to go to receive the most benefits.

Why are these male refugees in Europe instead of fighting the Islamic State?

That should tell you something about the refugees. Here are three things the media won’t tell you about them.

  1. Most of the refugees are not refugees.

When you think of ‘refugees’, you tend to think of women, children and elderly fleeing from a war zone. That is not the case here. At least 60% of these refugees are economic migrants. This dovetails well with Cernovich’s findings about refugees being taught to game the system. They are not running from Daesh; they are attempting to take advantage of Europe’s generous welfare states. And ‘activists’ are aiding and abetting them in doing so.

  1. Most of these refugees are functionally illiterate

65% of incoming refugees from Syria are unable to read or write their own language. 70% of trainees in skills training courses for refugees have dropped out. And yet they are settling in a distant land that speaks a different language and embraces different cultural values. Most of these refugees do not have the skills to contribute meaningfully to their host nation; all they can do is simple menial labour.

If these were ‘regular’ refugees, this would not be a problem. They would simply stay in refugee camps until the war is over, then go home. But many of them are economic migrants. Their goal is to stay in their host nation. If they want to stay, they must contribute to society like regular citizens do. But if most of them cannot contribute, why should they be allowed to stay?

  1. Arab refugees are radically different from their host nations

People are not blank slates. Refugees are no different. They come from Arabic-speaking Muslim-majority lands with barely functional and highly corrupt authoritarian formergovernments. They expect despotism and nepotism everywhere, and their societies tend to be organised along tribal lines with strong religious influences. Democracy, civil rights and separation of church and state are unknown to them, and indeed fundamentally incompatible with the cultural values of their homelands.

They will experience massive culture shock in the West, and most of them will be unable to integrate meaningfully into society. They will be unable to communicate with ordinary Westerners. They will not be able to find work. They will have to acclimatise to a different climate. They will be surrounded by people with vastly different political and cultural norms. This is the recipe for a clash of civilisations.

Samuel Huntington argues in The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Orderthat the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War era will centre on religious and cultural identities. Peoples at the borders of distinct civilisations will clash with each other to secure dominance of their own culture and religion. And so far, Europe has proven Huntington right.

Sweden is now the rape capital of the West. Migrant gangs prowl the streets of Europe, enforcing shariah law and committing crimes. Germany has experienced a rash of sex attacks by migrants, and authorities are excusing rape culture. And now, the hard right is mobilising in numbers.

It seems to me that the Trump Administration has learned from Europe. It is a small miracle there haven’t been any major terrorist attacks in the United States yet, but large numbers of poorly-screened refugees and migrants are fertile grounds for terrorism. The implementation of more robust screening measures would ideally keep out the terrorist- and criminally inclined. An outright ban on most or all future refugees would eliminate the chance of a clash of civilisations, either now or in the future.

Muslim Refugees are not (European) Jewish Refugees

Inevitably someone will compare the Muslim refugees to Jewish refugees during World War II. This is a false comparison.

The Jewish refugees were European Jews. They were raised in modern states with modern education systems. They share the same cultural norms as the rest of the West, such as democracy, secularism and civil liberties. While they might have linguistic difficulties, they had valuable skills and had an innate understanding of public norms and codes of conduct in their new lands. Most importantly, the Jews did not remain refugees. After the war, they tended to do one of three things. They legally immigrated into their new countries, returned to their homelands, or emigrated to Israel.

Refugee status is not a permanent status. Once the crisis is over, they either assimilate or return home. On the other hand, many of the refugees flooding Europe have no intention of assimilating or returning.

However, there is one similarity between the Jews and the Arab refugees. The Jewish refugee crisis was solved by the destruction of the Third Reich. Similarly, the Arab refugee crisis can be solved through a similar way.

Strike the Root

The solution to the Arab refugee crisis is not to invite even more refugees and trigger a clash of civilisations. It is to strike the root of evil.

To be sure, genuine refugees do need help. Nobody should have to live at the mercy of Daesh, warlords or terrorists. But transporting them across the sea to a faraway land with vastly incompatible languages and norms is not the answer. Not when nearby countries with similar norms and languages can help. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has enough tents to house 3 million refugees. Similarly, these countries have functional governments with militaries capable of fending off terrorist incursions. Moving refugees to safe zones in neighbouring nations is cheaper, safer and faster than moving them to the West, and will not provoke an inter-civilisational conflict. Indeed, Donald Trump has secured an agreement from Saudi Arabia and Dubai to establish safe zones. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump implements a permanent travel ban alongside deportations to these safe zones.

With refugees secure, the nations of the world can focus their attention on destroying Daesh and other armed groups causing havoc in the region, and restoring law and order to these lands. And this is not something the West can take a lead in.

While America can supply the firepower needed to destroy the Islamic State in the field, this is not enough to win the peace. Eventually the power brokers must sit down and hash out long-term arrangements for a stable and peaceful society. The West must not take the leading role in such negotiations and state-building measures. This will be seen as imperialism and an attempt to impose their will. Instead, states from within the Islamic civilisation, such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai, will have to take charge. Their shared culture and religion will improve the chances of successful negotiations and long-term outcomes. What the West can do is play the role of honest broker, ensure all sides play fair, and pressure the key players to keep returning to the negotiating table until they find a win-win solution.

Donald Trump’s travel ban is not necessarily the best solution, but it might well be the least bad policy — for now. Trump must avoid inciting a clash of civilisations in America, and that means keeping out the people most likely to foment such a clash. Going forward, I expect Trump to roll back the ban and incorporate new screening measures and exemptions. But to properly solve the refugee crisis once and for all, Daesh and other warlords must be destroyed and replaced with stable states — and that is something the West should not play a leading role in.

Media credits:

  1. https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald/comments/4ao8b7/who_of_you_did_this_trump_is_now_officially_god/
  2. Mike Cernovich, Danger and Play, 2015
  3. Uri Dan, To the Promised Land, 1987 (Public Domain)
  4. http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-destroy-islamic-state/

The Rhetoric of Provocation and Offense

There are many people in the world who will not be persuaded by reason, and even the most rational humans can be swayed with the right emotional leverage. For years the Left has utilised outrage to dominate the political arena. Now the Right is taking up the same tactics, especially the New Right of America. Case in point: Ann Coulter.

Feel the rage? The pleasure? The amusement? Whatever you are feeling now, let it pass through you. When your heart is calm again, read on.

Coulter’s tweet was deliberate. With that one statement, she addressed three separate audiences, with vastly different reactions.

Her first audience are the people who oppose her. A tweet like that impinges on their beliefs and values, triggering outrage and denouncements. Indeed, the hate-fest on that tweet was epic, even by Twitter standards. That tweet would forever alienate this audience.

But what kind of people will get offended over the use of rape as a rhetorical device? People who sympathise with the plight of illegal immigrants, oppose Donald Trump and his policies, and Social Justice Warriors and progressives of every stripe. In other words: people who would never agree with Coulter’s views no matter what. If she is not concerned about their opinion of her, Coulter incurs no cost in offending them.

The second audience are the people who support her. These people support Donald Trump, agree with his proposal to build the wall, and believe illegal immigration is a scourge. They will support every argument against illegal immigration, no matter how emotional or contrived. This is Coulter’s core audience.

Most of them are regular people who despise rape. In their perception, Coulter’s tweet engineered a subconscious connection between illegal immigration and rape. And Trump’s supporters would be well-primed with facts and statistics pointing to the number of illegal immigrants who are gangsters, drug dealers, murderers and rapists. This tweet activated their sense of moral righteousness, triggering feelings of camaraderie and the pleasure of finding a fellow traveler. Coulter’s tweet spoke to the hearts and minds of this audience, and continues to resonate with them.

The third audience are the people who can view the subject dispassionately. They either do not have a stake in the situation, or are able to step back and view the exchange for what it is: an allegory reflecting the absurdity of the original statement. These are the people Coulter would like to win over — but it is a bonus, not her primary objective.

These people can’t be classified into a homogenous mass. Their politics span the entire political spectrum. Their values and morals are equally diverse. Some may appreciate her use of rhetoric; others will be turned off by her talk of rape. But more than a few will use the discussion as a springboard to further examine the issue and investigate Coulter. And they will learn that Coulter correctly predicted the rise of trump, while the sitting Mexican President has one of the lowest approval ratings in history (12%), has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, cracked down on dissenters, allowed the growth of crime and violence, and engaged in a multitude of reforms that weakened the rights of labourers while consolidating power in the hands of the oligarchs. If Coulter manages to convert any of these thinkers to her point of view, she has profited from the tweet.

This strategy of provocation works on three levels. By speaking to her core audience, she maintains and grows her support base. By offending those would be offended anyway, she gets them to blast her tweet far and wide and reach a greater audience, effectively manipulating them to do her work for her. By prodding the non-partisans, she sways who she can to her perspective, generating buzz that keeps the momentum going.

Let’s examine her tweets at the macro level. These are her tweets before her provocative tweet.

These are the ones after (excluding her retweet of Donald Trump).

Notice the sharp uptick in replies, retweets, and likes. Before the tweet, she had an average of 237 replies, 838 retweets and 3300 likes for her past three tweets. After the tweet, the average shot up to 533 replies, 2566 retweets and 7066 likes for her next three tweets.

But that’s not all. In the following three tweets, there is an average of 376 replies, 1086 retweets and 3666 likes. While the momentum generated by the rhetoric tweet is dropping off, the average numbers of replies, retweets and likes are still higher than before the tweet. When Coulter sees her numbers drop below a given threshold, I predict she will say something offensive again, and keep her base growing.

People are drawn to drama. Rhetoric provokes conflict and conflict leads to drama. On social media, retweets and likes are the lifeblood of public figures. They provide a gauge of how that person’s ideas are viewed. Replies are secondary — almost nobody has the time and energy to go through hundreds of responses. The retweets and likes are a rough-and-ready measure for everyone else to see how well-liked and socially-acceptable a tweet is, creating a bandwagon effect that recruits more people to their point of view.

There are many people who insist on decorum and reason — in other words, dialectic. These are nice sentiments, but social media is not the place for dialectic. Every social media platform is designed for entertainment and consumption. Twitter has a hard limit of 140 characters. Gab offers 300. Facebook emphasises one-liners with larger fonts and hides longer statements. Social media is not inherently designed for the rigorous arguments and logical thought processes required to properly deliver dialectic. That is the province of books, blogs, websites, speeches, podcasts, videos and debates — but not text-based social media.

Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalising one. After deciding his values and ideas he will invent reasons to justify his faith in them. To make this work for you. you must trigger a powerful emotional response linked to a specific idea. This will sway someone to your side, making him more receptive to follow-on arguments — if he will not create his own arguments.

The key players of the Alt-Right and the New Right understand this. They know the Left, especially the Control-Left, has used this strategy for years without fail. They scorn the Old Right who refuse to use such tactics in the age of Twitter and Tumblr; by refusing to adapt the Old Right has conceded the culture war to the Control-Left. The New Right, with the Alt-Right as their vanguard, is turning the Left’s tactics against them. The rise of the New Right, with Trump as their God Emperor, reaffirms their use of provocative and offensive rhetoric. They will continue to rely on such rhetoric while taking measures against the real-world consequences of uttering fighting words.

The culture war is upon us, and offensive rhetoric is the weapon of choice. Understand this, or be swept away by the inexorable forces of history, politics and human nature.