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March 25, 2017


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Dr Rastus

Obviously I share your views and Spike's regarding free speech at Universities. But it is worth emphasizing that the restrictions are coming from the left, which includes many post 70's academics as well as the leftist students. It seems that the left have moved more into restriction than in outlining and proposing a better society. Perhaps by appearing to ban as racist/fascist all they disagree with the left can somehow retain the moral high ground.

But is is not merely universities; censorship and various means of suppressing argument and criticism are widespread in the left parties and groups from the Anti-fascists, to Left Unity and the alleged anarchists of Class War. They blacklist, block and censor, disrupt meetings and demonstrations of those their leaders label as racist. And labeling too is a way of shutting up opponents, as I have discovered when trying to contribute to arguments on left blogs and Facebook sites. Opponents rarely reply with argument but search past internet posts in order to apply labels and consequent blocking. I combat this with numerous false names, like the one I use here.

Incidentally, as a fellow academic can I ask you a favour? I have a friend, a South American, who has published widely in philosophy, and has written a novel about a fictitious academic persecuted by the adverse effects of PC. . It's a good book but will not be published by a major publisher for PC reasons and he will publish via. Amazon. Can I send you a copy for comment when published? Best regards..

Benjamin F

Interesting points, but maybe there are a few ambiguities and potential contradictions. Dr Rastus condemns labeling, but 1) isn't labeling a speech act - so it should be protected, and 2) isn't Dr Rastus also labeling his opponents?

I'm an academic (admittedly a very minor one), and like most my profession requires constructive, discussion and debate. Having uniform opinion is death to a discipline, especially those based on Enlightenment principles. The censorious left looks weak and authoritarian when it seeks to prevent minority voices, even distasteful ones on Israel, gender identity etc., from academic discussion. It also paternalises, it assumes that ethnic or religious minorities who are intended to be protected by the PC bans on offence, cannot defend themselves. It often portrays bigots as unrealistically powerful. Sure isolated Academic Y has been unthinkingly discriminatory against minority students, but the reasons for their vulnerable position in society isn't because of discriminatory terms, but because of material conditions. If Academic Y was holding meetings to exclude minority students or to find new ways to exploit them (as much research in management schools seems to be), then his speech-acts should be called into question and face leftist action, but using offensive terms on their own is no more dangerous than my great aunt using outdated racial epithets round the dinner table. Its not nice (and aye we might challenge her over it), but she has little social power as a widowed pensioner in a flat in southwest Birmingham. Maybe the lefty obsession with speech policing is a displacement activity they face difficuly political choices and they don't have the means or confidence to engage in.

Safe spaces is an oddly contradictory policy, it is supposed to enable participation in autonomous-operated location by ensuring that sexual, ethnic and differently abled minorities can expect a supportive atmosphere (a laudable goal given their tradition underrepresentation in anarchist circles); however in practice they put off a lot of working class people from participating (including members of the working class with sexual, ethnic and other minority identities) because they don't have the rich academic support to know what words are now acceptable and are rightly concerned that they might be jumped on for using the wrong term (even the wrong pronoun). To be fair the original proponents of safe spaces saw the develop of the norms by which the space be run to be an entirely participatory and fluid activity. It was taken over by managerialists to police behavior.

But that doesn't mean anything and everything goes. It would be impossible. Your freedom of speech require me to shut up so you can speak without being drowned out. not all speech acts are simple expressions of opinion, but incitements to violence or intimidation. Similarly some debate - as Stanley Fish points out - can be legitimately prevented if it stops over important features of a practice. I can prevent, legitimately an extended exegesis of David Icke's views on reptilian overlords from dominating a tutorial dedicated to looking at Locke versus Hobbes versus Hume's account of state legitimacy. Why? because some conspiracy nutter's ramblings add nothing to the focus of the discussion. Am I curtailing that Ickean student's academic freedom of speech? Aye. Is it legitimate - well after giving him (and by heavens it is usually a him) a short say, anything further is just taking away from the function of the class. just as it is legitimate to ask the couple in front of you to shut the fuck up when trying to watch a film at the cinema. Curtails their freedom of speech, yup, legitimate, yup. So too some speech acts are not expressions of opinion but acts of intimidation ( or plotting to do genuine harm. Aggressive speech acts can be legitimate against already wielders of coercive power. Calling out a bully as a bully. Aggressive speech acts can be illegitimate when carried out by a bully.

Freedom of speech in a capitalist society (echoing) that of freedom of the press, it prioritises those with the ability to make their voices heard the most. Those with access to newspapers, radio stations, TV stations - the protection of politicians and broadcasters get their voices heard. in 2011 riots we heard from sociologists politicians, businessmen, but rarely those who responded to their circusmtances by rising up. UKIP complain that they could never speak about immigration because of olitical correctness, yet they were continually on Newsnight and question-time well above their electoral support (nevermind their electoral representation). With their supportive newspapers (like 'The Express' and 'Star') running endless anti-immigrant front page stories. For something we couldn't talk about it was hard to avoid. Perhaps Spiked and others are engaging in the Free speech campaign because they too are engaged in a displacement activity. Just as I am - which pile of marking should I be concentrating on, instead of this....

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