Sunday, 6 March 2016

Free to Fight, but Nothing More...

Somewhere, between the constant Trump baiting that is on my Facebook feed, Freedom of Speech is becoming an issue. I am glad. I don't fully understand its implications or boundaries, but I have a vague intuition that I am in favour of it.

Many of the complaints about the erosion of Freedom of Speech come from anti-feminists, which make me suspicious. Bloggers and YouTube vloggers frequently take the latest apparent attack on Freedom of Speech, and shout at it. Here is Sargon of Akkad having a go.

Regardless of Sargon's arguments against political correctness, his tone and attitude are a problem. His aggression, his assumptions against the woman he challenges - even the format that apes a conversation but fails to allow any answer to his objections - are all rhetorical tropes to discredit his opponent without engaging with a meaningful dialectical process (that is, a two-way discussion aiming towards an understanding of both sides, and then moving forward).

It could be that the infrastructure of the internet, or cultural bias towards individual expression of idea, or a mutual suspicion on both sides of the debate, militate against the warm, fuzzy chats that meaningful dialectics requires. The impression is one of two sides shouting at each other over a big fence.

In order to conform to the BBC's ideal of fairness, I shall now present a video from a feminist.

The tension being set up in this set of arguments is between the freedom to say anything you like, and the corresponding responsibility not to be offensive. This is caricatured by one side as 'political correctness gone mad', while the other side attempts to define words as either offensive or acceptable.

The idea of 'freedom of listening' doesn't come up too often.

My impression is that this isn't really about freedom of speech, but two competing ideologies having a turf-war. Do I have to pick sides? 


  1. My boyfriend is an AV Tech, and he was recently on a conference. What it was for is not relevant, but they had several speakers during the event who were all 'on the same side.' A guest at the conference, who was an expert in the subject being discussed, didn't contradict the speaker exactly, but put forward a different point of view and was essentially shouted down by the people on stage, with the MC for the event telling the expert that the conversation was not relevant at this time.
    I was pretty angry about this, despite not even being there: surely debate should be encouraged? Sometimes it's not so much about putting your own point of view across as it is about having your point of view backed up in some huge, mutual back-scratching session.
    Maybe it's down to, as you say, the current prevailing cultural conditions? I think it also has something to do with the generational view of everyone being a special little snowflake and therefore believing that their point of view is the right one and no one else has the right to question your stance.

  2. Here's a more concrete example of when Freedom of Speech is taken away:

  3. Always lovely to hear from Eric and Dani! I am going to jump - to an extent - to the defence of 'the snowflake generation': the worst example that I have seen of opinion silencing came from the former artistic director of The Edinburgh Fringe. In a debate about his booking of Batsheva dance company, he used a microphone to shout over and mock a woman who had come to put the Boycott Divest Sanction position...

    I reported on this, via the blog, and regard his behaviour as offensive as anything that has gone viral to 'prove' that political correctness has gone mad. He's no snowflake or millennial, though.