This piece was kindly published by The Bruges Group
How many times have you been told, thought, heard or said “you can’t say that”?
As a minimum, with every passing month it will happen more and more to many of us.
Comedians and authors are increasingly self censoring for fear of “offending” their audience. When did we lose the right to be offended?
We rail against politicians not giving a straight answer as so many are mealy mouthed and indeterminate in their articulation but the opprobrium directed at populist politicians and commentators and commensurate predictable accompanying tropes, tests even the thickest of skins.
The country is in danger of losing its tongue to appease fringe but highly vocal views. This must be resisted without fear of being demonised.
Free speech is fundamental in a truly democratic society. To believe wholeheartedly in free speech is to embrace the rights of others to say things that you:
- Wholeheartedly disagree with as they are diametrically opposed to your beliefs;
- Find uncomfortable and would rather not hear in an ideal world (as opposed to the real one where man’s capacity for cruelty to his fellow man is limitless);
- Find offensive to the point of abhorrent and even extreme (bear with me here).
To go one step further, however much you disagree with another’s view, the true believers in free speech will defend the other person’s right to hold such views and as importantly (if not more so) to freely articulate them orally and aurally.
The cancer of “woke” and “cancel culture”, whilst mainly metropolitan issues, continue to gather momentum, not least in Scotland where the SNP/Green Party coalition are hell bent on imposing an extreme identitarian ideology.
Interesting to note that support for Scottish independence has swung from a 6-8% majority in January of this year to a 4-6% minority in recent polling, despite the SNP being just 1 seat short of an overall majority at Holyrood.
Having lost 4 successive General Elections, the left have shifted their focus away from workers’ rights to wokers‘ latest wheezes. Their disdain for the Tories is best summarised by Angela Rayner’s repetitive use of the word “scum” to describe them.
Many chose to take offence at this even though she has now said it online, in the House of Commons and famously at this year’s Labour Party conference since 2013.
I defend Rayner’s right to use this term. I clearly don’t agree with her and it is not a word I would use. Some would argue this strays into so called “hate speech”, another modern twist on free speech suppression.
All right minded people abhor extremism in its many forms. Racism, bigotry, and hatred in all their guises must be challenged but this can only happen when they are not kept underground. I am happy to share a platform and debate with anyone whose views I vehemently disagree with on the basis that sunlight is the best form of illumination for idiocy.
The ridiculous treatment of JK Rowling (a feminist and supporter of trans rights) for quite rightly emphasising the need for safe spaces for women, prioritising biological sex (with very few exceptions an immutable characteristic) over gender self identification.
The decision of the cast of the Harry Potter films to exclude Rowling from their 20 year reunion is pious at best and sinister. Many launched enriching careers from the franchise and seem to have forgotten the significance of the author in that.
As an ardent supporter of an independent Scotland and left leaning views, there are few things that I suspect Rowling and I would agree on in the unlikely event we should meet. However, not only do I agree wholeheartedly with her views on this micro issue, I defend her right to express them freely without fear of online trolls and physical threats to her life.
Dr Kathleen Stock, who does not have the depth of platform of Rowling endured more than 2 years of abuse for articulating similar views and ultimately felt she had no option but to resign her post at the University of Sussex and head to one of the founding “non woke” universities (Austin in the US) to continue her career in academia.
It was heartening to see the Cambridge University Union forced to scrap its secret “black list” of speakers they were not willing to give a platform to as they had previously caused offence at another event. John Cleese, like Rowling, it seems is immune from cancellation.
Cleese’s decision to pull out of a scheduled appearance at Cambridge at 4 days notice on the grounds that an academic had been no platformed for doing a Hitler impression in context (having famously done the same thing as Basil Fawlty) sufficient to force the U-turn.
Politics is increasingly polarised. Most politicians and commentators are well intentioned. Disagreement is healthy and only through (preferably) respectful debate do opinions and policies evolve.
Social media is inclined to be feral at the extremes. Blocking and muting trolls is not opposing free speech. A bit like having the option to use the off switch rather than shouting at the screen, it does not have to be tolerated.
The next time you find yourself pausing before saying what you think (instead of what you think you should say), speak freely, while you still can.
Since the onset of the pandemic, governments across the world have enacted so called emergency legislation that was intended to be short term.
We have endured lockdowns, mandatory mask wearing, mandatory vaccine passports in the care sector and the potential growing for mandatory vaccinations for the whole population (already in place in Austria and set to spread across the continent).
We must speak up against this creeping totalitarianism, which does nothing to protect the vast predicted loss of life expected to arise as an indirect result of COVID-19.
Lockdowns have already led to to a surge in undiagnosed and late diagnosed cancers, cardiac issues and other life threatening problems which will result in far more deaths in the coming years than have and will arise from contracting the virus and failing to recover from it.
The United Kingdom is a wonderful, tolerant nation whose people have historically valued their civil liberties, with free speech a central plank. We cannot, must not lose our voice.
© justchrisdavies 2021