I live in a free country. A part of citizenship of a free country is freedom of speech. This is an essential component of a democratic system, and a subject not to be taken lightly, or in any way conditionally, by its subjects. It is a cornerstone of a thinking society: without it, we are living in a new Dark Age.
When an issue of which we disapprove is placed before us, we must argue our case on the basis of reason, even if we find the opposing argument abhorrent. Only by listening to views that outrage our own values can we put our case convincingly when we need to defend it. Otherwise our point of view will degenerate into a hysterical mantra. Manipulative people are always poised to feed from such narrow thinking, more than ready to change us from sentient human beings into sign-waving tools of their ambition.
Of recent years terms like ‘hate speak’, ‘no-platforming’, and ‘political correctness’ have become prevalent, depressingly mostly among the young, and unforgivably, embedded in university culture. Any minor infringement of these ‘etiquettes’ is trampled beneath the twittering feet of the appropriate zealous army. Judgement by Facebook is rapidly becoming socially what the judiciary system is to the common law.
And this is dangerous. Why? Universities have been, historically, not merely places for the ingestion of scientific certainties, but for debate and the development of free thought; in short, forums for progress. In today’s world they are arguably the only such forum. There are none-too-subtle distinctions of meaning between developing and directing, so if university society sees itself in the latter role, our prospects for the future must be bleak indeed.
This is not new, of course. Fear of the truth has always been a valid reason for concealing it, and nothing serves like a rabble-rousing, simplistic mantra placed in the minds of young idealists to achieve the thickest smoke-screen. Witness the Hitler Youth of the 1930’s for the most powerful recent example, although there have been many other, lesser causes since. It is why the thinking that withholds enfranchisement until the age of eighteen is entirely right – young minds need to seek maturity and balance before they make judgements.
What brings me to say this now? I have lived long and seen much. I have often despaired of the human condition, but never so much as I do today. The proceedings of the last five years, especially, actually instil in me a real fear for my children’s future. If we are to proceed upon the great decisions of our future on the evidence of gossip, bias and malice, we deserve that doom which is closer now than it has ever been.