If you saw the news today and were part of the 98% who is not a fundamentalist zealot or part of the grotesque section of the left which hates free speech to the point of failing to defend the slaughter of innocents for their ‘racism’, you were outraged and sickened by the appalling shootings in Paris. You probably wrote ‘je suis Charlie’ somewhere, possibly only to have some moron say ‘so u side with raysists!?’ Good. Now, how about acting on this principle rather than keeping to meaningless platitudes?
These last few years in the UK were, and I do not say this lightly, abysmal for the principle of freedom of speech, expression and fundamental enlightenment values. Universities segregated audiences by gender at the request of hardline Islamic speakers, an atheist society at Reading was banned and the one at the LSE censured for creating ‘an offensive environment’ *howls of derisive laughter, Bruce*
But it’s not just religion crushing long-held freedoms, oh no! A debate on abortion at Oxford was shut down because it was being debated by two men. Note: this was not a debate on whether it should be legal, but on what our abortion levels say about our national culture. Note: universities are the centre of intellectual culture in which debate is an integral feature. But what the hell does that matter? Abortion is an issue which, apparently, solely concerns women so men discussing it must be an example of ‘the patriarchy’ and we have to get rid of it. Oh, I forgot to mention, if this wasn’t bad enough one of the women responsible then took to The Independent to boast about her ‘achievement’.
But there’s more tasty examples of our hard-won freedoms being eroded, in even more alarming fashion. The UEA students union managed to ban a UKIP candidate from speaking as some students felt ‘intimidated and degraded’. So much so that apparently this warranted not allowing the man to speak at all.
What has to take the biscuit for me, however, is Goldsmiths banning the Socialist Workers Party, and its associated society, outright from its campus. Not a person, not an event, the entire society from its campus. What awful crime must have they committed to deserve this censure? Well erm, nothing actually. Their crime was that the leadership of the SWP are alleged to have covered up a rape scandal two years ago. As far as I know, all those involved have now resigned from the SWP. But this doesn’t matter. Apparently, purely by being associated with a party whose ex-leaders are alleged to have covered up rape created an ‘unsafe environment’ for women at the university, so the society had to be dissolved. To complete this dystopian horror, the jubilant victors rushed out and burnt all the SWP literature they could find outside the university in true Third Reich style, presumably to provide us with a handy parallel for the new fascism.
Sitting here and reading this back, it barely seems real that intelligent people could so quickly not only allow, but embrace the destruction of freedom in this country. But we have allowed this to happen through a creeping tide of so-called political correctness and cultural sensitivities. We have reached a state where someone need only whisper ‘I’m offended’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘I feel unsafe’ and everyone rushes to lynch the new enemy.
Possibly the saddest thing is that these used to be movements that were, for the most part, genuinely noble in their aims. But now all too often they are a simply a vehicle for the shutting down of viewpoints they disagree with.
And here’s the real kicker. I am a white, straight man who does not have the privilege of being able to shout about feeling unsafe when people disagree with me, have them all sent away and return to my dream world where I am the sole owner of objective truth. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I need the safety net of being able to shout ‘offence!’ when my opinions face the slightest bit of intellectual scrutiny, chances are they’re pretty flawed and weak in the first place. By denying myself the right to reasoned debate I would deny myself the opportunity to form my views and hone them against different views. I would deny myself the possibility of growing as an individual in a world of diverse characters and beliefs. But you know what I would really deny myself? The equality of being treated like a normal human being with reason and agency. This is the true aim of any group searching for equality. Anyone arguing otherwise simply wants their group to be eternal victims who can never be treated as equal players in the world. They hate fundamental human values, and they hate the groups they claim to represent. So, if you really are outraged by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, let’s make 2015 the year we reject these siren voices of faux equality.