Wednesday, 1 June 2016
Free Speech on Trial
Hush. Tell nobody. I may be breaking the law by even thinking these thoughts, let alone writing them down. Paul Grange had what he thought was a funny idea for a sick joke, so he had it printed on a tee-shirt and now he may be facing a prison term. Why? Because he committed the now cardinal sin of offending ‘certain people’. As it happens I have literally zero interest in or concern for the ‘victims’ of H***s***ough, other than being uneasy about the way that the ‘V’ word now appears to confer special privileges. It’s not just the denizens of the city of eternal maudlin grief though; it is all too easy these days to self-identify with one of an increasing number of victim groups and demand different treatment.
The special snowflakes and their safe spaces on university campuses around the western world stamp and screech that they must not be offended. Similarly, the Caroline Criado-Perezes of the misandrous neo-feminazi sect insist that their views alone be considered and all others dismissed. Even Turkey’s President Erdogan demands his own personal right not to be the butt of jokes, no matter how easy a target he makes of himself. And you can forget about imagining this is only about genuine verbal violence, even relatively mild humour faces the same charges; it is now practically illegal to tell a joke if another party fails to find it funny. Soon this could be grounds for divorce; "Dey bombed ar chippie!" could be cited as spousal abuse.
But it gets worse: as the architects of their own butt-hurt choose what to find offensive they also get to to claim a special status above that of mere mortals; they imagine themselves as crusaders for justice, irreproachable and morally right. In the extreme they get to create new and lucrative roles as advisers to higher powers – real powers – as to what is appropriate behaviour for everybody else. Joining the ranks of economists, climate-fear peddlers and racism-definers is a new class of expert – the offence-adviser – whose weapon of choice is ‘hate speech’. It’s a booming business and could prove lucrative; students are already studying ways of identifying ever finer grades and shades of anguish.
Nobody denies that words can bite but, in Britain at least, we used to refuse to let words cause actual harm. Stiff upper lip, ignore and walk away... don’t let them see they’ve got to you. There is an inevitability in the constant desire to seek recognition and redemption; perversely it only keeps making it worse. The offence-seekers garner no respect for their very public outrage, but they can’t seem to see why and would prefer to see crime where there is little other than questionable taste. And their persistence has paid off.
Do you find this offensive?
No longer are these moral freedom and justice warriors alone in their fight. Their high-pitched screeches have recruited powerful allies and now the EU is giving itself powers to decide at which point your free speech becomes hate speech. Instead of ignoring you or trying to appeal to your better nature they will simply criminalise your opinions and in policing opinions they will be repressing your ability to express what you think. Thought crime is real. Think twice before you post that witty repost... It is beyond a joke.