By Benjamin J.M. Kaufman
We mostly assume Britain to be a secular state. We no longer sit in pews and listen to polemics from priests. Indeed, we often criticise religious figures when they stick their noses into ‘our’ moral and ethical issues; such as abortion and gay marriage . “For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” . The irony of this phrase being that it comes from the writings of St Paul. However, we seem oblivious to idea that our discussions are still dominated by a ‘religious’ mindset. For some reason there is a distinction between, ‘religious’ and ‘ideological’ groupthink.
The most significant example of such behaviour is the ‘NUS No Platform Policy’. The concept being that certain individuals should not be given a platform to speak due to their ‘perceived’ political identity. This idea has been brandished against institutions of free speech like the ‘Cambridge union’ as well as other campus’. How exactly this is any different from the, ‘holier than thou’, sentiments that were synonymous with religious moralising remains a pervasive mystery. Again there is irony in hearing the call to, ‘Ban this filth!’, coming from the younger generation.
An intriguing example of such behaviour was the debacle surrounding Kate Smurthwaite’s planned performance at UCL. The woman who described herself as a, “left-wing, feminist, atheist comedian and activist” , found that her gig was cancelled after plans to picket the event were revealed. The organisers of this protest were ironically the ‘Goldsmith’s Feminist Society’ in an unofficial capacity. This just serves to show that ‘no platforming’ affects everyone, not just ‘evil fascists’.
Tim Squirrel supported such behaviours saying, ‘free speech isn’t absolute’, to defend the cancellation of the debate on ‘abortion culture’. We must take into account the, “very real impact on the lives of others”, and we must consider, “what it means to privilege a particular person’s speech”. Both statements imply that Tim has some problems with the concept of a ‘free debate’, and seems to indicate a view point where an arguments ‘worth’ is measured utilitarianly from within his pre-existing worldview. He is, ‘holier than thou’, and believes he has some mandate to judge who should be privileged and whose ‘feelings’ matter the most.
Tim is one of many ‘enlightenened’ that currently reside in positions of authority throughout our academic establishments. Obviously the National Student Union stands out, with its high positions practically teeming with ideologues. The ‘safe space’ policy seems to apply only to people who agree with you while ‘No platforming’ serves to expand this safe space so that it is as wide as possible. The result is a growing alienation of many students from political discussion and debate. With many deciding it is better to say nothing than risk judgement from their overly vocal peers. A good example of such an instance was the banning of the, ‘Nietzsche Club’’ , for reasons that the writers that the club was interested in were, “on the extreme-right, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, anti-Marxist, anti-worker and have had connections, direct or indirect, with Italian fascism and German Nazism.” That such criticisms could lead to a club being closed surely indicates that the environment on campus is severely swung in the favour of left wing ideologues. People who seem to view it as, ‘problematic’ that the opinions of people who disagree with them might be ‘legitimised’ .
Such individuals do not view language as neutral, and thus seek to influence the ‘politics’ of interpersonal relations through such things as, ‘problematic language’, ‘problematic associations’, ‘problematic views’. In the words of a common ‘progressive’ slogan, ‘The personal is political’ . It is a natural successor to the ideas of Foucault, save to the fact it seems to be constructing new ‘epistemes’ is liberating and thus are engaged in recreating the ‘invisible systems of power’ embedded in language to suit their ideological objectives. The confrontation between the personal and the political is shown by Foucault’s own refusal to identify with the larger ‘LGBT’ movement . He refused to identify as ‘Gay’ presumably because he saw the damaging effects that the establishment of a new ‘episteme’ on sexuality and the gender identity might do. Foucault’s criticisms were simply concerned with ‘power, one feels he would be equally be able to criticise the power structures developing today. Whether he would do so is a question of Foucault’s integrity.
One of Tim’s points on ‘freedom of Speech’ was that it obviously exists because writers can publicise their opinions in respected newspapers. Firstly there is a profound ‘false equivalence’ here. The student political scene is profoundly uneven, dominated by people who ironically see the platforms they occupy as ‘uneven’. The logic of these people is that, as the world is geared against them, they are allowed to discriminate certain opinions and alienate those of a differing perspective. Residents of Manchester University will be well aware of this. The student newspaper is dominated by ‘toxic masculinity’ stories and ‘feminist issues’ . To confuse the ‘freedom’ of people like Brendan O’niell to speak with the average student is profoundly dishonest.
Secondly, is the idea that you are somehow anti-orthodoxy, and are preserving the freedom of the minority to speak. I would stress that the ideas of a minority of people can become the orthodoxy of the majority. To deny that is a failure to observe political history. I would posit that the views that are protected by the idea of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘no platforming’ are, in real terms, the orthodoxy. They wield the most power and influence in the realm of student politics.
Following from this is the much touted phrase, ‘freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of criticism’. This is again ironic coming from the same people who advocate ‘safe spaces’ and ‘no platforming’. One must question the blindness to hypocrisy of such people. It is a luxury of those in ‘power’ to use such statements self-servingly. Observe, the usage of ‘feminist standpoint theory’ to undermine one’s criticism by telling a man that they, “Cannot perceive the problems due to their gender”, or that they “simply aren’t educated properly”, or telling a woman that she has ‘internalised’ her misogyny. The ideology is internally coherent and operates much in the same way the church used to. One could not criticise the church if you accepted its definitions, for they predicated the orthodoxy’s conclusions. In the same way one must be intensely suspicious of the new ‘definitions’, for they behave in a similar way. Foucault stated that, Where there is power, there is resistance.”. Following this is the question, “which side is resisting these mechanisms of power?”
People often ask for a separation of church and state. One thinks the more important question is whether ideologies, with such patently fascistic mechanisms and desires, have the right to the culturally privileged positions they maintain on campus. Obviously these words will be unable to reach those of you with their impenetrable armour of ‘self righteousness’ donned. They will perceive themselves as fighting systemic inequality. I commend such people on their bravery, but this doesn’t concern your crusade. It concerns the possibility that you are ‘misguided’. It concerns everyone who doesn’t agree with yourself confirming justifications.