Clearing the air: a further defence of free speech | Daniel Clark

Freedom is quite fantastic. It was freedom that meant I could write my article for this website (here) about my thoughts on gender pronouns and no-platforming and it also meant Gabriel Rutherford could respond to my article (here). It is also freedom that means that, in this piece, I will attempt to tackle – head on – some of the accusations raised.

First on the agenda is this issue of the University of Oxford. I would like to emphasise that I did not claim that the university itself was telling students that they must use gender neutral pronouns: I explicitly wrote that ‘some students at the University of Oxford’ want ‘he’ and ‘she’ to be dropped – which Rutherford does acknowledge is the case. In my initial article, I also stated that referring to somebody with an incorrect pronoun is an offence at university, which Rutherford rightly queries. Misgendering is often stated to be an example of transphobia, which Oxford’s Transgender Policy identifies as harassment, and is punishable under the University’s code of conduct. However, I am happy to clarify that this is not explicitly stated by the University, and I apologise for any confusion this may have caused.

The accolade of a university enforcing gender neutral pronouns should be left to the University of Sussex, who have written in a Gender Inclusive Language Policy that ‘If a person’s pronouns have not been stated, gender neutral language must be used. Once stated, a person’s pronouns must be respected.’ Of great concern is the verb ‘must’, which can otherwise be read as ‘you have no choice’. This is very disturbing as it terminates any sort of intellectual debate about the issues, as it deems certain ideas to be out of bounds. Conveniently, we are brought quite comfortably onto the concept of no-platforming, which Rutherford calls a ‘good thing’.

The University of Sussex recently introduced a new 'gender language' policy
The core argument in defence of no-platforming is that ‘we cannot allow hatred to flourish in our society. It is important that bigotry is weeded out.’ Thomas Sowell has said that ‘If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules, and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labelled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago, and a racist today.’ The point that Sowell is making is that, suddenly, certain ideas have been deemed ‘dangerous’ by self-appointed censors and – instead of critiquing them – they are simply not allowed to be voiced. This is disgraceful, especially upon consideration of the startling fact that who decides what can and cannot be said is utterly subjective, and usually dependent upon the whim of the Regressive Left (and, increasingly, the alt-right too.) The feminist Germaine Greer faces serious opposition whenever invited to speak at universities because she does not believe that transgender women are women, even though she does emphasise that this is ‘an opinion, not a prohibition’. Strangely enough for the anti-free speech brigade, she has not magically changed her mind because she was not allowed to speak, or because she had glitter thrown over her. An opinion does not go away because you do not like it.

There is one thing in Rutherford’s piece that I agree with, which I shall quote here: ‘If I invite you over to my house to hang out and you turn out to be a monstrous racist, I’m going to kick you out of my house.’ With it being private property, and only you involved, anybody is more than entitled to tell somebody to leave their own home. However, a university should not play by the same rules as your home. It is an institution where ideas should be freely exchanged, concepts criticised, and arguments reinforced. The university is no longer in loco parentis and students should not decide that, if they do not want to hear somebody speak, nobody else should hear it either. Rutherford is correct to identify that universities ‘should be places where the mind broadens, not closes.’ Declaring an idea unsuitable for public consumption, no matter how unsavoury, does not achieve this. And declaring an idea immune from criticism does not achieve this either.

There is one final rebuke that I would like to make. Rutherford, it appears, took issue with my reference to George Orwell, because conservatives should get their own figurehead. I reject this characterisation of me as a conservative. I am a libertarian, and an unflinching one at that. I do not agree with some of the beliefs of Milo Yiannopoulos, but I will defend his right to tell them, and I will be buying his book for good measure. Allow me to quote the great George Orwell, whose legacy belongs to no group of ideologically connected people: ‘The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.’ Make no mistake: ‘don’t say that’ is authoritarian regardless of who says it.

As a parting word, I would like to thank Gabriel Rutherford for an exacting and challenging critique. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear ‘the other side’, and I hope that those who stringently disagree with me also have. We should not just have freedom to agree, but freedom to disagree; long may that continue. 


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