Doctors and murderers; now added hate

I’m always surprised, when I think of it, that so few doctors turn out to be mass murderers. It’s hard to think of any profession which offers better arguments for nihilism, except, perhaps, religious journalism. In any case, the Shipmans, at least the detected Shipmans, remain rarities. But it is true that the profession best represented in the Nazi party was the medical one, and now it turns out that a Swedish neonazi is training to become a doctor in Stockholm despite his conviction for murdering a leftist in 1999.

It turns out that there is no check on the criminal records of anyone who becomes a doctor in Sweden. So this man (name not printed by the Swedish press, in accordance with their usual practice) was sentenced to eleven years in the early part of 2000 for the cold-blooded murder of a man who had shopped a union functionary as also an active member of a neo-nazi party. He was let out on parole in February this year, and then accepted by the Karolinska for training.So he is obviously not a stupid sociopath. He did not mention his conviction on his application. Now he has been denounced (anonymously) to the hospital, I suppose he will be thrown off the course. Then he will go looking for whoever denounced him …

The minister responsible has announced that convicted murderers and sex criminals will not in future be accepted for training as doctors, even when they have otherwise paid off their debts to society.

Meanwhile, another homophobic preacher has been freed by the Swedish Supreme Court after serving a month in prison for comments on his discussion board, for which he was held responsible, even though he had not made them, since he didn’t take them down. The two which have been quoted in reports of the case are that “The sooner a queer meets his executioner, the fewer sins he will have had time to commit, and so the better for his prospects in eternity” and “Men who can’t resist the temptation to have sex with other men should be hanged from poles in the public square.”

The obvious arguments about free speech, Voltaire, but I’ll be buggered if I let anyone stop you from saying it, etc are not worth rehearsing. But one line in the judgement seemed to me remarkable. The Judges who freed Liljeström held that it was a mitigating circumstance that these remarks were made in a semi-private discussion. They weren’t an immediate public incitement to violence in the way that they might have been had they been made in the context of — say — a Gay Pride parade and counterdemonstration. But if the argument is that certain forms of speech are objectionable because they tend to deprave and corrupt — and it is certainly one of the views one can hold about “hate speech” that it should be, properly speaking, obscene — then it is much more likely to do its corrupting work in secret. If the people being denounced were not gays, in a Christian site, but Jews or infidels, on a Muslim board, then we would regard the semi-secrecy, and the tendency of participants to egg each other on, as making it more likely that someone would act on these incitements, rather than less. It turns out that the limitation of free speech, even on consequentialist grounds, is tricky, or at least impossible to combine with a belief that you’re not really limiting it at all.

I did want to discover what was the sermon which had led to Åke Green, another pentecostalist preacher, being jailed, but when I went to look it up on Dagens Nyheter’s site, it turns out that they took the text down after being reported themselves for inciting hatred — by the Swedish Young Liberals.

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3 Responses to Doctors and murderers; now added hate

  1. Mrs Tilton says:

    Surely the touchstone is not that speech deprave and corrupt, but that it be likely to lead to a disturbance of public order? Speech-as-opinion-expressed is protected; incitement to riot, even if verbal, is not. If that’s the standard, an exchange of posts on a discussion board is likely to be seen as protected, if appalling, speech. The same words, uttered through the megaphone of a reverend haranguing a crowd of fundamentalist Christian homophobes, might well not be (and he’d certainly be for it if the gibbering Christian horde, fired by his words, ran amok through a gay neighbourhood immediately afterward).

    Mind you I am not a Swedish lawyer, so this is all rank speculation.

    BTW, what’s wrong with Voltaire being buggered and all that?

  2. acb says:

    Well the argument is about how soon a disturbance of public order is likely to follow from the speech. I think that if we are going to take seriously such things as Jihadi propaganda on the internet, or perhaps violent fantasies of child-molestation, this is in part because they encourage peopole to think things which they would be (rightly) ashamed to think in public (if the idea of thinking in public makes sense).

    Or would you claim that it’s permissible to curb free speech in order to prevent riots but not other crimes? Is there something special labout public order? If I say: “let’s get those poofs now” am I worse than if I say “You’re doing a favour if you murder one, really, because that way he will spend less time in hell”? And, in that case, does it make a difference if my words are written down, or taped, or something, so that they can be repeated until they seem, self-evident?

    Now, one can argue that the right to think disturbing thoughts in private should be sacrosanct; alternately, that any attempt to police it will lead to worse evils. But that’s not the only possible point of view. And I suspect that most people (not you, Mrs T) who argue for a Voltairean approach do not in fact believe what they suppose themselves to believe. Taboo thoughts — and one of the purposes of censorship must surely be to erect and maintain taboos — are dangerous whenever they appear if they are properly taboo. It is one of the ways the concept works that they are intrinsically wrong, even if no one is watching when you have them. Sop, if society wishes to make certain thoughts taboo, then it must ceonsro them in private too. Now, not all arguments for cenosorship are more or less conscious attmepts to make some thoughts unthinkable, But many are. More than is commonly admitted.

  3. Mrs Tilton says:

    No, of course a riot isn’t the only threat to public order (though it might serve as the paradigm). Murder, arson, vandalism, a bog-standard punch in the nose and who knows what else are all things it would do to prevent if possible. One way of doing that is to punish acts inciting them.

    When that act is speech, we need to draw a line between the expression of an opinion or advocacy for a position (which per se should never, TMM, be subject to sanction) and incitement of a crime (WRT which there is no difference between, say, urging one’s followers to go out and shoot a Ruritanian, and silently providing a pistol to a Ruritanophobe one knows is stepping out to look for trouble). I’d say that punishment (or suppression) of speech in the first sense is never justified, but can be justified in the second. I will admit that I find punishment- (or civil-liability-)after-the-fact much preferable to prior restraint.

    My own Voltairean views are not pure, you know. I agree with the criminal prohibition under German law on the display of nazi symbols. I fully recognise that it violates a principal I think important. But I also think an exception can be justified for this specific prohibition in this specific place at this specific time (that time being: roughly until the last person with actual memory of the NS regime and its victims and perpertrators has died). If the German forbade Che t-shirts or Americans forbade the Hakenkreuz, or if German law still prohibits these things in the year 2100, I would take a more gimlet view.

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