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“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” – George Orwell
In today’s current climate, intolerance amongst students has become the norm. Not intolerance for those of different ethnicities, of different faiths or a different genders. But an intolerance of those with different ideas. As a bystander about to enter University life later this year, the whole prospect being put forth is not only worrying but damaging. Instead of debating and arguing ideas with those who think differently, a portion of students simply want the debate to be avoided altogether. Now I’m not one to say that anyone who believes in an ideology consisting of trigger warnings, safe spaces and the like should be foisted upon a stage and forced to answer under intense scrutiny. But at least send someone to debate their ideology against someone who actively opposes it. The desire here of these activists is to scream and shout and do anything within their power to stop words contrarian to their own belief systems from being heard. Why, you may ask, are these people so abjectly terrified of anyone hearing these voices? The answer is very simple – they are afraid that people will begin to see right through the façade of victimhood, and of moral superiority. And that people will fight back.
No platforming those whom you disagree with is utterly contemptible. It not only deprives students the opportunity of hearing the speakers ideas, of making their own individual assessments on whether what they are hearing is right or wrong, it also deprives you – as the speakers’ ideological opponent – the opportunity to debate and expose bad ideas as bad ideas. In the end debate is the logical end game in the battle of ideology. This culture of outrage and offence has not ridden the world of the outrageous and offensive. In fact it has sprouted up in the biggest debate in the world – the US Presidency. Donald Trump’s dramatic rise to the top of the GOP heap is what I perceive as a direct backlash from those on the political right in America who are sick of being told what they can and cannot say. Here comes along Trump with the rashness to say whatever comes to mind and no matter how nonsensical, no matter how ridiculous he still climbs in the polls. Why? Because the voters have had enough. On the topic of campus censorship, the fact that students are seen as so fragile that they need metaphorical bubble wrap surrounding them at all times epitomised by the ‘safe space’ is, to me at least, extremely condescending.
The narrow nature of these arguments has made the whole debate inherently toxic. At any point, a speaker can be accused of being a racist, sexist, transphobic, fat-shaming, misogynist or any other “ist” or “phobe” you would like to band about. The reason this has poisoned the well is that when viewed through the unnecessarily narrow prism of these student activists anything can be misinterpreted as racist or sexist. I refer to these words as ‘dismissal words’, as they are ultimately used to shut down any further discussion once it is apparent they have backed themselves into a corner. It is the ultimate tool for these regressive zealots – attack the speaker personally instead of addressing their arguments, dismissing them as a racist who doesn’t deserve the time of day. Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said that “If they attack you personally, it means they have not a single political argument left”.
There are clear plus sides to this whole thing – well for me at least. A clear movement is growing in opposition of these authoritarian cry-bullies. People are saying enough is enough. The #Right2Debate campaign amongst them. Maajid Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation have been arguing for reforms in the religion of Islam. This often gets conflated, in true regressive fashion, with attacking people instead of ideas which it is most certainly not. Conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos has been touring college campuses speaking much to the ire of student activists who have used air horns and smeared fake blood on their faces as forms of protest. Joe Rogan, Gad Saad, Christina Hoff Sommers, Dave Rubin, there are plenty of people who have had the courage to speak against this perpetual madness.
The reason why the #Right2Debate campaign may in fact be the most important yet is that it has been created directly by students. It is a way of students speaking out against this and knowing that they are not alone. That they are not the odd one out for thinking that trigger warnings are ridiculous, that no platforming is repulsive and that safe spaces are simply idiotic. To those students who feel like they have to hound the likes of Stephen Fry and Peter Tatchell over perceived ‘wrong-think’, I say – Stay home, calm down and grow up. Your feelings do not have rights. At least not over that of anyone else. You do not have the right not to be offended, not hear something that you do not agree with. It is not within your duties to go on a moral crusade against anyone who fails to reach your absolutely ludicrous, self-righteous, unobtainable standards. I would gladly share a platform with someone that I had profound disagreements with, someone with ideas I found completely repugnant because in the end those with the good ideas beat those with the bad ones. Take for example the British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, who by popular consensus is a racially insensitive buffoon. He was invited onto BBC Question Time in 2009 and his ideas were torn to pieces and was made to look rightly ridiculous. Recently the BNP ceased to be a political party – partly due to the failure of his morally contemptuous ideas to be held up to scrutiny. That is what happens when you challenge idiocy head on instead of censoring it. And when you do censor this kind of behaviour you end up with the very real possibility on the first tangerine-coloured President.
The real world is not a ‘safe space’ it is a space where freedom and democracy allow those of us who care to debate, come to a disagreement, argue about it and still be able to go out for a drink together on the same evening. No one has the right to bury their head in the sand and simply ignore different opinions. And no one has to right to censor what they personally regard as “offensive”. Although, everyone does have the #Right2Debate and I urge everyone to do just that.
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