The former Adviser to Stephen Harper, came under fire last week after making some very strange and disturbing comments.
The majority of Canadians have condemned these comments (rightfully so in my opinion), and he lost lost his jobs with CBC and the University of Calgary as a result. But not everyone in the main stream is seeing it this way. In fact a column in the Ottawa citizen paints an image of Flanagan being a victim of an Orwellian society.
Column: Tom Flanagan, meet George Orwell
By: William Watson
Setting aside the merits of the argument for a moment, what happened to Tom Flanagan last week was more than a little Orwellian. As everyone in the country and a good number of people outside it must know, at a public lecture in Lethbridge, Alta., Flanagan answered a question about child pornography by saying he had grave doubts about whether people who viewed “pictures,” a callous way of putting it as he has since acknowledged, should be imprisoned.
The episode’s first Orwellian aspect is that Flanagan was surreptitiously videoed and the video posted on YouTube. (If you look at the tape, it’s pretty clear the camera is being hidden: We have a great view of the questioner’s armpit.) Though Flanagan evidently wasn’t aware of the taping, it was a public event and he’s a public person and a media veteran to boot so he should have assumed it could have been. In 1984, Winston Smith had to worry that almost anything he said could get back to Big Brother. Today because of the miniaturization of recording devices virtually any event, public or private, can be recorded and uploaded, not to Big Brother, though he may well be watching, too, but to the digital commons. If you put any value on the soon to be very old-fashioned notion of privacy, it’s not clear which world is more frightening.
Another Orwellian aspect was the speed and scale of the backlash to Flanagan’s remarks. In 1984, citizens of Oceania drop everything to engage in the daily Two Minutes Hate, a mass shout-down of their state’s No. 1 enemy, Emmanuel Goldstein, a senior Party official gone rogue. With the speed of social media these days, the condemnation of Flanagan’s comments came on almost as quickly and was certainly as furious. Unlike in Orwell, it wasn’t organized and in particular it wasn’t organized by the state, which is something to be grateful for. Nevertheless it had the force and breadth of a firestorm. Flanagan, who has worked longer and harder in this country’s interest than most of us, must have felt for a moment like Goldstein.
The final way in which Orwell comes to mind is that what Flanagan has effectively been found guilty of is speech crime, the first cousin of thought crime. True, he hasn’t literally been tried for it. But in the court of public opinion he has been convicted, tarred and feathered. With a couple of notable exceptions, including Mark Mercer’s column on this page last week, condemnation has been overwhelming. A search of Google News suggests that, against the storm, no one hazarded the classic defence: “I don’t agree with what he said but I will defend to the death his right to say it.”
Flanagan’s sentencing has been real and substantial. He has lost two jobs. The CBC fired him as a political commentator, thus depriving the country of the insights of one of the shrewdest political observers we have, while the University of Calgary announced his imminent retirement. I don’t know the details of what the University of Calgary did. Maybe the retirement was pending. But the announcement’s timing left the clear impression Flanagan was leaving because of what he had said. You would think the CBC, which is at least partly a journalistic enterprise, would stand up for freedom of speech. As for a university, which is wholly an enterprise seeking after truth, it should be even more uncompromising on this principle. But the CBC always has budgetary and political concerns while universities these days are too often prey to the intellectual conformity they of all institutions in society should most oppose.
The idea that Tom Flanagan would wish to encourage child pornography is as preposterous as, well, the idea that former prime minister Paul Martin would, too, as in fact a Conservative campaign directed by Flanagan briefly and disastrously (for the campaign) charged during the 2004 election.
Flanagan’s thinking evidently is that people who in private view this material online, however disgusting their sexual tastes may be to the rest of us, do not actually hurt anyone. There is a view that only violent criminals should be incarcerated. Are these voyeurs, pitiable or contemptible (choose your adjective) as they may be, truly violent? There is also the very real concern that the police powers needed to catch people committing non-violent crimes in private may verge on the Orwellian and that to preserve civil liberties we may not want to go there — even if that means not catching many viewers.
Only in the Canadian main stream can you find non sense like this! First, the notion that the camera was hidden is completely laughable! As you can see below this is not the only video posted from the lecture.
Secondly in Orwell’s novel 1984, describes a totalitarian state that monitors and controls the people. Not a society where a person in the public eye gets exposed for a disgusting point of view (like seeing nothing wrong with viewing child pornography). There was zero government control in this situation, there was nothing Orwellian either. Flanagan simply shared his views in a public forum and is now facing the backlash for it!