Thursday, 2 July 2015

The William Wallace of Criticism

I probably ought to write a blog post that isn't just a cut and paste session from a Fringe performer - I mean, it's called the vile blog, and I have got a tank full of opinions. Only I am not sure where to start. I am like Descartes that time he sat in his oven and invented virtual reality: I want a firm foundation. 

Assuming I am not a brain in a jar - don't ask me to prove it - my desires are going to be my foundation. That's partially because thoughts are so nineteenth century, man, and I took too much acid in the 1960s. The Jesuits reckon that desire is the manifestation of God's plan for the individual human, which is the kind of thing that doesn't get reported when Christian fundamentalists are crying on YouTube about same sex marriage.

If I have any desires that I am willing to put on the page, I guess my desire for freedom of speech is number one. As a writer, and occasional artist, any form of censorship bothers me. Wanting freedom of speech for myself requires me to accept freedom of speech for others, even those people I don't like. 

I thought Amnesty International would provide me with a justification. They are too liberal. They think that governments 'have an obligation' to prevent hate speech. I don't. First of all, I don't recognise the government as a legitimate authority to define hate speech. They have interests at stake, and giving them the right to stop hate speech will lead to them realising that they can stop me hurling invective at David Cameron. 

If Amnesty are going to stand for Human Rights, the least they can do is recognise that these rights have to be bigger than government. 

In any case, hate is relative. For some people, that student union officer who used the kill all white men tag on Twitter has been accused of hate speech. I'd call it childish speech. Those God Hates Fags characters are probably classic hate speech mongers - actually, it is totally hate speech. I dislike the way they go to funerals and upset people, but the best way to deal with them is to give them some speech back. 

Come on, it's always funny when some kid sasses a bigot. Freedom of speech is not a duty, it is funny.

But these extremes aren't that interesting: freedom of speech is about mundane stuff - the right to a critical opinion, the right to protest, the right to moan when Tesco sells me a mouldy loaf. It's the equation that allows real conversation, the meeting of different opinions, the possibility of negotiation and compromise. It is the foundation of every other liberty, because without it, all sorts of trickery can be hidden.

Nick Cohen is an author I admire, with reservations, for his commitment to freedom of speech: when he is not writing about how the war in Iraq was a good idea, he defends his right to say it - and still be considered a lefty - on the grounds that his alternatives can't just be hushed. At the least, they need to be confronted, and his fellow socialists need to have a good thing before knee-jerking in righteous rage. In You Can't Read This Book, Cohen acknowledges the one voice that can control freedom of expression.

Yep, it's your own. Don't go telling me I smell at a dinner party. A degree of self-censorship helps us play nice. 

This version of freedom of speech is more like 'freedom of control'. I like a bit of that.

Sadly, that self-censorship is the most powerful force... I might not like the Conservatives, I might even moan about representative democracy - and I am certainly shitting it about that snooper's charter Theresa May wants - but I recognise that the state I am in allows more than enough free speech for me, as a writer.

On the other hand, not wanting to upset my fellows weighs heavily on my honesty. I do disagree with many people in the arts - my politics, for example, are not in a line with most - and my belief in, oh hang on, freedom of opinion means that I want more dialogue and less sloganeering. 

My Facebook feed, for example, is a fucking nightmare of left wing entitlement. I agree with the opinions, but they are so often bolt on versions of ideology, not developed thought. And have you read The Guardian lately?

Anyway, I am too confused to be of much use in arguing most points. I get a kick out of not knowing. I think I am fricking Socrates with it.

I'd say I want the right to freedom of confusion, but that won't work as a foundation for thinking... much less start a revolution that moves us towards equality and compassion...

No comments :

Post a Comment