Monday, 29 December 2014

Is Free speech really in danger?

So it became half an issue when some students conspired to close down a debate on abortion in an Oxford college. All sorts of excruciatingly dishonest reasons were given as to why the debate should not happen - but one occasionally stated reason was that 2 men were debating the issue. Some feminists do not want men even expressing a view about abortion.

Anyways, one of the 2 men who were going to speak was Brendan O'Neill, and you can read his thoughts here - and also hear his discussion (I use the word loosely) with  the nightmare feminist from hell Harriet Brown, an Oxford post-grad who doesn't quite seem to have the knack of letting people talk uninterrupted for more than 5 seconds.

Ironically, one of the criticisms from student commenters was that free speech is actually no more than the freedom from government censorship or arrest for your views. So the shutting down of a debate wasn't a free-speech issue. This seemed worthy of some discussion, as it might sound at least plausible. 

So were a bunch of Spectator-reading, frothing-at-the-mouth right wingers getting upset over nothing?


Oh, the long answer...OK

I think it's important to think of “free speech” more broadly than as just about government censorship. Schools etc could exercise censorship, so it doesn't seem a great step to think of student bodies doing so.

More complex is the social pressure we exert on each other: queues, good manners, etc. These are restrictions on freedoms - no freedom is absolute, after all - and are necessary to society. But they needn’t affect calm debate on ANY issue, even if a student announces the issue closed or "passe".

I think free speech is under attack, from those who want to ban words like "fat" & "bossy", from those who dreamt up "hate speech" laws … and from the feminists who try to stop men talking about abortion, by shouting them down (podcast above), by closing down debate, or by claiming:

"I'm not sure that men should be allowed to be part of the debate about anything that happens before a child could be potentially viable. While it remains as much a part of the woman as her liver or her hair"


“The Pope’s beliefs about abortion will become relevant the day the Pope gets pregnant.”


“The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups”

I pulled those quotes at random. The censoring attitude is common enough - I've seen it many times myself.

Free speech means..

...well many things, for example letting idiots say whatever they lie, no matter how stupid you or I find it. As said, total freedom is hard to come by in everyday life (on the internet you can come close) or we'd go quite mad. What I want is for anyone who wants to stifle debate to have to give a bloody good reason why it shouldn't happen, and not the cringingly mendacious pretexts given by those who have disgraced Oxford University's good name

Here's the reason: if we didn't take free speech seriously, there is a plentiful supply of young people in every generation who think they know better than us what we should be doing, saying, and thinking. They tend to get so impatient that the idea of shutting up dissenters occurs to them as a really good idea. Any restriction on free speech will be manipulated by such people for their political purposes.

We have to go through this every generation or 2 because we're too stupid to learn from our mistakes. I'd love if we could wise up and not repeat the process.

Angry from Middlewhere