Joyless, Angry, Judgemental

Freedom of speech is not in anyone’s gift

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I will admit to being a fairly cynical person. Anyone who reads this blog will know I’m pretty sure that those who rule us are determined to keep their privileged positions in our society by whatever means necessary. I studied History at undergraduate level and as a postgraduate and have taught the subject for a quarter of a century. I am unpersuaded by the Whig interpretation that sees History as progress towards democracy and liberalism. I like Marxist methodology and some Marxist economics but, again, I am not persuaded that History will culminate in some classless society. Still less am I convinced by the eschatological delusions of the various Abrahamic religions. However, compared to some of the cynicism I read online, I am a wild optimist of the Professor Pangloss variety.

I believe that most people are fundamentally decent. I also believe that most people treat others decently. Unlike some of the stuff you can read online, I simply don’t believe that most people are racists, that most men are sexists and/or misogynists, that most straight people are homophobic, that most “cisgendered” (a ridiculous word for a ridiculous concept) people are “transphobic” and I don’t believe that most people who don’t follow the teachings of Muhammad are “Islamophobic.” I do believe that most people will treat others as individuals and not as a member of some arbitrary grouping.

It does seem at times that I am in a distinct minority though. Read the Guardian or listen to anyone on the BBC and you would have thought the whole world was in the grip of rampant, violent prejudice. The Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump are cited as positive proof that Nazis are taking over. Express the slightest dislike of any aspect of Islam and hordes of furious denizens of the internet will howl that you are a disgusting racist itching to fire up the ovens. Mildly point out that gender is biological and you get accused of wanting to toss Bruce Jenner off a tower in Raqqa. Reject the latest fact-free ravings of “third wave” or “fourth wave” feminists and you are clearly a misogynist who wants to chain all women to the kitchen sink. Interestingly though, the mad doctrine of intersectionality means favoured “victim” groups are exempt and clothing mandated by male clerics becomes a “feminist statement.”

There is a vocal but small (I hope) group of people on the internet and in the media for whom just about everything is evidence that Western society is irredeemably sexist, racist, homophobic and Islamophobic. I sometimes wonder if these folks wake up of a morning and ask “what is going to offend me today?” Most of these offence-takers claim to be people of the left – “progressives ” or “liberals” – and “diversity” is their highest goal. The only thing they don’t like is diversity of opinion – as the policing of language and invention of ever more bizarre thoughtcrimes will testify. It seems that for some people Orwell’s Two Minute Hate goes on for 24 hours.

The historian Niall Ferguson penned this opinion piece for the Sunday Times yesterday (06/08/17). The subheading…

“America’s intolerant left imperils free speech more than the president”

…sums up my views nicely. When I was younger, it was right-wings loons who wanted to ban everything. These days the offence-takers are from the left, or at least they claim to be. Ferguson details several occasions this year when universities in America have prevented people from speaking and he claims that “US universities now have something close to a left-wing monoculture.” He cites a New York University professor who claims…

“The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognised members of that community . . . Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute . . . it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters.”

Ferguson’s rebuttal of this nonsense is the best statement of belief in freedom of speech that I have read in a long time…

“Sorry, mate. Freedom of expression is an unchanging absolute and, as a free speech absolutist, I am here a) to defend to the death your right to publish such drivel and b) to explain to as many people as possible why it is so dangerous.”

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