Thursday, 16 February 2017

The biggest threat to free-speech. Governments or ordinary folk?

Recently, reading this page on the openDemocracy site, I wrote a comment - where I was basically thinking aloud - mentioning how some of the forces that curtail our freedom of speech are simply other ordinary people, playing power games with one another.

Government censorship & free speech

This needs further explanation, because our first, intuitive idea of "censorship" is of government control of expression. Modern day hate-speech laws are a perfect example of this. To bullet point my problems with the idea:

  • "Hate-speech" is impossible to define (partly because the word "hate" is, too)
  • what constitutes "Hate-speech" therefore becomes a matter of interpretation
  • that interpretation is in danger of 
    • being applied unequally to different groups
    • being applied in too many scenarios
The last point is key. Officials will eagerly look for new ways of applying this new law, forgetting the essential maxim that one should leave our liberties well alone (especially free speech) unless there is an excellent reason for restricting them. Roughly, being free to kill someone has such a deleterious effect on others' freedom & lives, that it's reasonable to restrict that freedom. 

Casually making it illegal to say something because someone might be offended or angered is a most dangerous path - which we've seen the consequences of. We ought to know better..

People power

What of the other sort of thought control? I think it's worth examining the way ordinary people influence each other's language and expression. It's surely a phenomenon we'll never be rid of, but being fully aware of such forces can only strengthen us against the appeal of GroupThink. 

Over and over again on Twitter and Facebook you can see people saying X because they think the larger peer group (their friends and acquaintances) will approve of X, not because they truly believe X.

My belief is that organised religions used to retain power by this sort of social pressure. As well as the threat of eternal damnation, religion was one vehicle for people to play games of social approval with one another. In the West, we have a new faith that tries to exercise the same sort of moral power - and it is the new Left, with their relentless accusations of racism and misogyny.

I've said often enough that I think feminism is about control rather than the stated aim of equality. Because of the nature of the movement, their means of influencing what you do think or say are numerous: social disapproval, righteous anger, group politics, etc. A respected scientist who says the wrong thing or even wears the wrong shirt is hounded online by an unpleasant army.

The tactic I find scariest, and most akin to something from Orwell's 1984, is the rather successful attempt to influence literature, screen drama, and all levels of education.

Sure a lot of ludicrous feminism dogma has already infiltrated government - and it's a major headache. But nothing says more about how feminism operates than that they quietly lobbied for 'guidelines' for textbooks and writers of drama. (I see the same influences at play with children's literature)

Trying to control the stories and ideas people come into contact with is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the nastier 20th century governments. This effort started with ordinary people telling each other what they should think or say, and has turned into a major movement for doing same. It seems that as long as there is a loosely-defined feminist movement, there will be attempts not to persuade, but to indoctrinate.

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