Thursday, 11 June 2015

No Platform For Old Men

I am against censorship. 

'Any time I’m invited to an event or a talk, as soon as the privileged PhD-seeking Foucauldian types hear about it, then I get threatened with a picket, and the organisers get harassed, harangued and threatened relentlessly. And, eventually, it just doesn’t seem worth it for the organisers to go ahead. If the organisers are a student body, for example, they face the threat of having their funding withdrawn.’

As a 'PhD-seeking Foucauldian type', I'm distressed to hear that Julie Bindel is being excluded from debates. Although I have difficulties with some of her positions - I am not sure that her rebuttal of gender differences in  the brain is scientifically verified - she is, at least, a serious thinker who deserves to be heard. And debated.

Over on Spiked, Bindel is ungenerous about the opposition to her presence on University Campuses, but she expresses a concern that 'no-platforming' her is part of a wider malaise.

‘[Many students] are anti-intellectual’, Bindel explains. ‘They wouldn’t know the word “intellectual” if you slapped them around their smug little faces with it. They’re not learning now. They’re just terrifying their lecturers into not saying certain things, not approaching certain topics, not entertaining certain views. Sheila Jeffreys, who is an Australia-based radical feminist I sometimes agree with, and sometimes don’t, she has been advised to take down her name plaque from outside her office because of attacks. She has her lectures picketed.’

Bindel's worries have been expressed by other thinkers: 'safe spaces' have been condemned as an excuse for censorship. And in the interests of balance, academic have complained that the government is also trying to put the cork in the discussion bottle. There are petitions all over that bloody site trying to get people banned from this place or another. 

If no-platforming tries to distinguish itself from complete censorship (it is, after all, only preventing a person from speaking in one particular place), it is part of a trend, in which obnoxious or uncomfortable opinions are excluded. The surprise is that no-platforming has become a weapon of the left, rather the right, and appears to be an act of self-policing. It is not that the opinions cannot be expressed, just that people don't want to hear them. 

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