Anger, Contempt, and Constructive Disagreement

Free speech is supposed to be facilitate human progress. In its ideal form, it enables debate and causes us to iterate better political policies, better cultural outputs and a better society.

In reality, the marketplace of ideas, if it exists at all, is corrupt and monopolised by those with money and power.

One aspect of freedom of expression I think about a lot is the way in which disagreements happen. I’ve expressed dismay at how some free speech advocates seem remarkably uninterested in listening to other points of view, and only really care about their own right to offend. And I’ve noted how many spats seem to disintegrate into a competition over who can first reach a place of unassailable piety. Continue reading “Anger, Contempt, and Constructive Disagreement”

The Turkish Event Horizon: One Science Fiction Fan’s Thoughts on the Turkey Election

Black Hole in the Universe

Nine days ago, the authoritarian president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prevailed in a surprise election. He is now expected to consolidate his power and further erode civil liberties.

My friend Mehmet, who is an avid reader of science fiction, just sent me a brilliant description of what it feels like to be a Turkish citizen right now, Reproduced with his permission.

We were really disappointed with the election results last week. It felt like crossing the event horizon to be sucked into the center of a black hole where reality is irreversibly bent and there is no way of going back. We both felt tired, depleted, lost for a couple of days but I guess we are adjusting now. For a split second hope was very vivid and then it went away again. We’re grasping for straws right now, but we know we have to find ways to be optimistic again. Some say black holes are beginnings of new universes, right?

Name-alikeys, Revisited

A long time ago I wrote a post about other people named Robert Sharp. This was prompted by the fact that some guy wearing my name was running for Congress in the USA.

Nothing provokes as much introspection as your own personal homonym achieving something.

For some reason I didn’t link to the pop culture reference point for this, Are You Dave Gorman?

Since then I have created a Twitter list of other Robert Sharps, which I tautologically consider to be a form of narcissistic worldliness. Astonishingly the list contains not one but two professional wrestlers.

I have actually met Rob Sharp and the world did not explode, and I have also chatted on social media with Robert Sharp.

However, a recent Google search threw up a few faces of which I had not been aware. Here they are, in alphabetical order—click on the photographs to read more about each of them.

Academia

Robert Sharp, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Manhattan College
Robert Sharp, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Manhattan College – New York, USA
Dr Robert Sharp, Instrument Scientist, ANU
Dr Robert Sharp, Instrument Scientist, ANU – Canberra, Australia
Robert Sharp, Math teacher and SF author, Nevada
Robert Sharp, Math teacher and SF author – Nevada, USA
Robert Sharp, Doane University
Robert Sharp, Community Directoy, Doane University – Nebraska, USA
Robert Sharp, CSN Financial Services
Robert Sharp, Financial Services at the College of Southern Nevada – Nevada, USA
Robert Sharp, Professor of Plant Physiology, University of Missouri - Columbia, Missouri, USA
Robert Sharp, Professor of Plant Physiology, University of Missouri – Columbia, Missouri, USA
Robert Sharp, Historian - Staffordshire, UK
Robert Sharp, Historian – Staffordshire, UK
Robert Sharp, the Art Institute of Chicago
Robert Sharp, the Art Institute of Chicago – Illinois, USA
Robert Sharp, has an unwavering passion for and dedication to the student body, which is why he wants to run for Student Body President
Robert Sharp, has an unwavering passion for and dedication to the student body, which is why he wants to run for Student Body President – Kansaa, USA

Lawyers

Robert D. Sharp, litigation attorney at Belin McCormick, Des Moines, IA, USA
Robert Sharp, litigation attorney at Belin McCormick – Des Moines, Iowa, USA
Robert Sharp, founder, Solicitors Agency Service, Leeds, UK
Robert Sharp, founder, Solicitors Agency Service – Leeds, UK

Architecture and Design

Robert Sharp, Architect, the New Urban Guild
Robert Sharp, Architect, the New Urban Guild – Arkansas, USA
Robert Sharp, CEO of Robert Sharp Associates
Robert Sharp, CEO of Robert Sharp Associates – Rapid City, South Dakota, USA

Medicine

Dr Robert Sharp
Dr Robert Sharp, Orthopedic Surgeon – Tamworth, Northern Territory, Austrailia

These guys…

Robert Sharp, convicted manufacturing a controlled substance and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

Yeah, I know, I’m white and in prison for selling crack, it’s a funny story, write me and I’ll tell you all about it. [link]

Robert B. Sharp, South Carolina.
Robert Sharp, charged in 2012 with sexually assaulting a minor. Charged in 2017 with two counts of attempted kidnapping – South Carolina, USA

There are dozens more mugshots of various men named Robert Sharp listed on Mugshots.com. Lots of drug possession, sex offenders and a couple of DUIs.

Military

Rear Admiral Robert D. Sharp, Office of Naval Intelligence
Rear Admiral Robert Sharp, Office of Naval Intelligence – Washington D.C., USA
Robert Sharp, Associate Professor, National Defence University
Robert Sharp, former British Army officer and Associate Professor, National Defence University – Washington D.C., USA
Robert Sharp, Chief Operations Officer at The Corpus Christi Army Depot - Corpus Christi, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Chief Operations Officer at The Corpus Christi Army Depot – Corpus Christi, Texas, USA

Financial Services

Robert Sharp, Valuation Consulting, London
Robert Sharp, Valuation Consulting – London, UK
Robert Sharp, CEO, Orca Pay Group
Robert Sharp, CEO, Orca Pay Group – Hertfordshire, UK

Business and Tech

Robert Sharp, Group Executive Virgin Australia Airlines - Australia
Robert Sharp, Group Executive Virgin Australia Airlines – Australia
Robert Sharp, co-founder, OUT Adventures
Robert Sharp, co-founder, OUT Adventures – Toronto, Canada

Interestingly, another Robert Sharp (the one who teaches at Manhattan College, above) had a photo taken at Machu Picchu in pretty much exactly the same spot.

Robert T. Sharp, Executive Vice President, Emerson
Robert Sharp, Executive Vice President, Emerson Electrical – St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Robert Sharp, Founder, LifeFlix - Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Robert Sharp, Founder, LifeFlix – Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Robert Sharp, winemaker - California, USA
Robert Sharp, winemaker – California, USA
Robert Sharp, Terminal Manager at Oak Harbour Freight Lines - Washington, USA
Robert Sharp, Terminal Manager at Oak Harbour Freight Lines – Washington, USA
Robert Sharp, Greenhouse Designer - Yukon, Canada
Robert Sharp, Greenhouse Designer – Yukon, Canada
Robert Sharp, Nissan Car Dealer - Tennessee, USA
Robert Sharp, Nissan Car Dealer – Tennessee, USA

Artists

Robert Sharp, musician
Robert Sharp, musician – Huddersfield, UK

Here’s one of Robert’s tracks, ‘Searching the Stars’.

Robert Sharp, Stained Glass Artist - Birmingham, Alabama
Robert Sharp, Stained Glass Artist – Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Robert Sharp, DJ and music producer
Robert Sharp, DJ and music producer – Ireland
Robert Sharp, DJ - Perth, Australia
Robert Sharp, DJ – Perth, Australia

Here’s a mix by Rob from 2011 entitled ‘One Nineteen’.

Robert Sharp, musician – Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Robert Sharp, Emmy award-winning Producer of MATH PARK - California, USA
Robert Sharp, Emmy award-winning Producer of MATH PARK – California, USA
Robert Sharp, Artist, Programmer, Graphic Designer, Photographer & Web Designer - Oregon, USA
Robert Sharp, Artist, Programmer, Graphic Designer, Photographer & Web Designer – Oregon, USA

Technicians

Robert Sharp, Technician at Republic Heating and Air Conditioning Inc, Dallas, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Technician at Republic Heating and Air Conditioning Inc, Dallas, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Robert Sharp Repair Work, Mississippi, USA
Robert Sharp, Robert Sharp Repair Work, Mississippi, USA

There are a few guys who only showed up on LinkedIn.

Robert Sharp, Plant Controller at Rea Magnet Wire
 Customer Account Manager at VTL Group
Robert Sharp, Customer Account Manager at VTL Group – Wakefield, UK
Robert Sharp, Manager at Price Waterhouse consultants - Washington D.C., USA
Robert Sharp, Manager at Price Waterhouse consultants – Washington D.C., USA.

Pretty sure this is the same Robert Sharp who got married to Beth in July 2017.

Robert Sharp, Business Consultant, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Business Consultant, Texas, USA

The Barman

Robert Sharp, Barman and author
Robert Sharp, Barman and author

The Bridegroom

I don’t know anything about Robert Sharp, other than he lives in Texas, USA and got married to Witney in November 2017.

Witney Elliot and Robert Sharp
Witney Elliott and Robert Sharp – Texas, USA

And finally, this gentleman…

Robert Sharp, panhandler, Vancouver
Robert Sharp, panhandler – Vancouver, Canada

This list operates on strict living Name-alike criteria. No Robins. No ‘e’ or ‘s’ on the end of Sharp. No Roberts or Sharps as middle names. This means that we are spared the mugshots for Garret Robert Sharp, Theodore Robert Sharp and Robert Sharp Bone. But it also means that the beautiful abdominal muscles of Robert Sharpe, Male Model, cannot be featured. Furthermore, I only include living Robert Sharps in this list, so we miss out the many dozens of Robert Sharps listed on memorial and obituary websites, including First World War Seaman Robert Sharp Jnr, and the NASA rocket scientist Robert P. Sharp.

Continue reading “Name-alikeys, Revisited”

Yeah But The Other Side Started It

Mohammed Abed

Terrible, terrible scenes on the border between Gaza and Israel. The IDF have massacred 52 protesters.

Meanwhile, social media is full of people seeking to justify and excuse this violence. The main line being parroted seems to be that Hamas provoked the attacks, because dead Palestinians are politically useful.

There may be some within the Hamas leadership who think like that, but that does not excuse or mitigate the violence by Israel, a country that is supposed to be a democracy, that is supposed to respect human rights.

What we need to remember in these situations is that blame is not zero sum. It can be possible for Hamas to have malign motives in staging the protest and putting people in danger. That does not remove moral culpability from the Israeli soldiers who pulled the trigger; nor the Israeli politicians who endorse their actions; nor the American politicians who in turn protect those Israeli politicians from accountability. Continue reading “Yeah But The Other Side Started It”

I Told You So! When Media and Tech Companies Fail To Self-Regulate, Governments Step In

Following the revelations about the harvesting of personal data by Cambridge Analytica and the ongoing worries about abuse and threats on social media, the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Communications last week began a new inquiry entitled ‘Is It Time To Regulate The Internet?’. At the witness sessions so far, peers have opened by asking each expert to comment on whether they favour self-regulation, co-regulation, or state-regulation.

The instinct to regulate is not limited to the U.K. Late last year senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said:

You’ve created these platforms, and now they’re being misused, and you have to be the ones to do something about it… Or we will.

With the reader’s indulgence, these developments remind me of a point I made a few years ago at ORGcon2013, when I was speaking on a panel alongside Facebook VP for Public Policy EMEA, Richard Allan:

If we as the liberal free speech advocates don’t come up with alternative ways of solving things like the brutal hate speech against women, the hideous environment for comments that we see online, then other people are going to fix it for us. And they’re going to fix it in a draconian, leglislative way. So if we want to stop that happening, we need to come up with alternative ways of making people be nicer!

An audio recording of these remarks is on SoundCloud.

Its clear that neither Facebook, nor anyone in the technically minded audience at ORGCon, managed to solve the problem I raised. And lo! The legislators have arrived.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Voltaire, Tallentyre and Hall –

Government Minister Sam Gyimah begins an op-ed in The Times today thus:

I wholly disapprove with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Voltaire’s famous words reflect my opinion on free speech. It is an essential part of a thriving democracy, a civil society and a fulfilling university experience.

Except Voltaire never wrote those words. They are a paraphrase, a summary, written by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote under the pen name Stephen G. Tallentyre.

The phrase appears in Friends of Voltaire and is in reference to Voltaire’s contemporary Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l’Espirit (On The Mind), which had been declared heretical and burned.

On The Mind became not the success of the season, but one of the most famous books of the century. The men who had hated it and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. ‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that!I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now. (Pages 198-199)

According to Wikiquote, the misattribution to Voltaire happened in the June 1934 edition of Readers Digest. In repsonse, Hall was quoted in Saturday Review (11 May 1935), saying:

I did not mean to imply that Voltaire used these words verbatim and should be surprised if they are found in any of his works. They are rather a paraphrase of Voltaire’s words in the Essay on Tolerance — “Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.”

The Millicent Fawcett Statue is for My Great-Grandmother

The Millicent Fawcett statue by Gillian Wearing has been unveiled in Parliament Square today. It is the first statue in the square to depict a woman.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett led the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). This was a distinct organisation from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Unlike the ‘Suffragettes’, Fawcett and the NUWSS eschewed militancy and violence, an approach which appealed to my great-grandmother, Marjory Ingle. Continue reading “The Millicent Fawcett Statue is for My Great-Grandmother”

Social Exclusion at the Top

Ant McPartlin’s drink driving conviction and record £86,000 fine in Monday gives me an excuse to finally publish a post that has been sitting in blog purgatory for eight years.

Ant’s car crash is the latest example of fabulously wealthy TV and sports stars behaving badly in vehicles. Yaya Touré was handed a record-at-the-time £54,000 fine for drink-driving in 2016. Further back in time, we may recall the former Chelsea defender Ashley Cole was clocked doing 104mph in his Lamborghini, and John Terry has a penchant for parking in disabled bays.

Continue reading “Social Exclusion at the Top”

“No Problem Is Beyond Solving”

Joseph Jefferson as Dr Pangloss, by John Singer Sargent (1890)
Joseph Jefferson as Dr Pangloss, by John Singer Sargent (1890)

In the past few weeks I’ve been having debates with good people whom I respect deeply about the limits of freedom of expression. When Britian First were banned by Facebook I suggested that the extremists in our society might be moderated and rehabilitated through dialogue.

When I have made this point, my friends have criticised me for being naiive. The bigots are irredeemable (they say) and the best strategy is therefore to cauterise their movement by silencing it wherever we can.

Continue reading ““No Problem Is Beyond Solving””

Rights and Responsibilities

Markus Meechan

A quick thought about the nature of ‘responsibility’.

In the Meechan case this week the judge at Airdrie Sheriff Court said:

In my view it is a reasonable conclusion that the video is grossly offensive. The description of the video as humorous is no magic wand. This court has taken the freedom of expression into consideration. But the right to freedom of expression also comes with responsibility.

On the Sky News debate programme The Pledge, presenter Nick Ferrari echoed this sentiment.

With the right to free speech comes a responsibility to use it wisely. This a sentiment I hear a lot and it seems sensible. Personally, I am not convinced it is the rhetorical silver bullet that most people think it is. I can think of examples where a speaker might actually think it very responsible to mock or to offend someone who they believe deserves it. And when journalists expose Official Secrets (as the Guardian did when publishing the testimony of Edward Snowden) there were plenty of people ready to call this kind of publication irresponsible. So ‘responsibility’ is in the eye of the beholder. Continue reading “Rights and Responsibilities”