Free speech …

Free speech got a lot of attention late this year. I was going to give it a pass, thinking that George Orwell might have said enough for any reasonable person …

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… but it strikes me that there are too many unreasonable people so, perhaps, I should weigh in, if for no other reason than signs like this continue to appear, especially on university campuses:

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I’m so sorry to say this but if you think that then your are, without a shadow of a doubt, too immature to be anywhere near a university.

Of course real free speech is going to hurt some feelings and might even annoy some powerful people …

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… we need to be especially careful of this. Libel laws are there to protect innocent people from lies and slander, not to protect the “great and the good” from legitimate, even rude questions and comments.

I see in The Guardian that Jo Johnson, Britain’s Minister for Universities and Science (and brother of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson) said that “Universities could face fines for failing to uphold free speech if their student unions do not give a platform to speakers such as Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell … [and] … Jo Johnson said some student campaigners were trying to stifle debate as he confirmed plans to allow the newly created Office for Students (OfS) to fine or suspend institutions that fail to protect freedom of speech on campuses.” This is, of course, a copy of Canadian Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s promise to take away funding from Canadian universities that do not protect free speech.

It is, in my opinion, good policy ~ but it may be devilishly hard to manage. It’s also good conservative politics but it may not sit well with some (many?) moderate voters if it is made to sound too much like promoting one partisan view rather than protecting the rights of all … and that, of course, is how the Liberals and NDP will “spin” it.

But, what we are seeing, again and again, is something akin to this:

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Now, of course we, Conservatives, do not want our campuses to be safe havens for neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but nor do we want the enshrine the sort of “doublethink” and groupthink that George Orwell warned us about in 1984. People with stupid and offensive misinformation are better ridiculed than silenced. The right to free speech is, very properly, constrained by common sense and decency … one is “free” to believe whatever one wishes, no matter how foolish or offensive those beliefs might be, one is ezgif-1-6e426ce330less “free” to give verbal of physical effect to one’s beliefs. No matter what one may think about certain people, shouting obscenities and racial or religious epithets might be against the law, if it can be construed as inciting other to violence , and even if it is not it may provoke an unfortunate counterpoint.  What goes around also comes around, etc ,,,

Civility is, in my opinion, an important social value and it is learned by reasoned argument and debate … if we, adults, allow shouting and violence then we will have to reap what we have sown. Civility and open, reasoned debate are not too much to expect from young people ~ teen agers and twenty-somethings. If they cannot cope with ideas that challenge their assumptions then they do not belong in a university. If universities encourage “doublethink” then the principals and chancellors need to be put in the unemployment lines.

I think few people might detest neo-Nazis more than I do, and I rather enjoy seeing Richard Spencer punched in the nose, but I don’t agree with that reaction … he has as much right to enunciate his odious views, in public, as does an iman who advocates “the systematic elimination of Jews.” Both should be argued against, both should be (peacefully) picketed wherever they go, both should be arrested IF and when their talk incites others to violence.

The brouhaha at Wilfrid Laurier was a symptom of a bigger problem: the pernicious doctrine of extreme political correctness has taken hold … we went from trying to avoid using words and phrases that implied prejudice to banning debates because someone might be offended by one person’s views on what actually constitutes a word. Universities need to be places where people, young and old, are exposed to new, challenging, sometimes even frightening ideas. Ideas are debated, tested, modified and, eventually, some are tossed aside and others become accepted, at least for a while: thesis, antithesis synthesis … Hegel and all that.

People who cannot accept challenges belong in nurseries, not universities.

3 thoughts on “Free speech …”

  1. Free speech always has been a spiky thing when I was at university it was not politically correct to be overly free with your speech and now the tilt to the left has brought out as much silliness as the tilt to the right did, to have some one punched for words that should be dealt with by the law in theory that’s why we have laws. But you are right laughter is one of the best ways to pull people to the center.

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