There is good news for those “flat Earthers” who still think the Earth is flat (yes – bizarrely they still exist), or for those that hold to creationist views winning over evolution, or for those who still believe that the Inquisition was right to imprison Galileo for “heretically” believing that the Earth went round the Sun. The “truth tellers” may yet again be denied a platform, well, at least at the best universities in the UK and USA. The reason is that Free Speech and Freedom of Expression is just about over at these institutions.
A recent survey of British universities has noted that most – some 90% – were now disbarring Free Speech and Freedom of Expression in some form. The survey carried out by “Spiked” concluded that of the total, 55% were now classed as “Red” institutions in that they now “banned and actively censored ideas on campus”. And no, it was not the trendy new ex-polytechnics that are most at fault. Actually, it is the renowned likes of Oxford and Cambridge and the best of the “red brick” and “Sixties” universities in the elite Russell Group which are the worst offenders.
For it is those who do disagree with the current “politically correct” orthodoxy or challenge it at these institutions are likely to be silenced by University authorities or their student unions, on the grounds that they are likely to “upset” minorities on the campus. As a result, in this new Mao-like “Cultural Revolution” several speakers (even past defenders of the rights of minorities) as well as newspapers, have now been banned from the campuses of certain universities for not having “acceptable” views. Even the statues of past beneficiaries such as Oxford’s Cecil Rhodes have been threatened with removal or destruction for their past misdeeds.
Fair enough you might say, if such individuals or organs are, or have been, encouraging violence or the persecution of minorities, then perhaps they deserve to be silenced. However, now even University lecturers and professors are on their guard lest they are denounced by their students for saying anything “controversial”. This pressure is leading to self censorship of uncomfortable truths and even a rewriting of history as modern day commentators attempt to retrofit modern views of morality onto the past.
The authoritarian killjoys are also determined that lecturers and their students are not allowed to have any fun either as one Nobel-winning professor of biochemistry found out to his cost when he told a misinterpreted joke. Meanwhile students wearing Sombrero hats for a laugh were similarly admonished for being “racist” towards Mexicans.
It is, of course, the students themselves who are losers in other ways as well. For they are now being denied the joy of the cut and thrust of intellectual debate, the benefit of new ideas, and perhaps eventually even being denied access to the truth.
And in case you think that this is only happening in UK universities, the same is reported to be happening at universities in USA. Meanwhile, fearful of being branded as racist, even the German police, have admitted to censoring the fact that certain criminal acts had been perpetrated by certain immigrant groups.
The only partial good news in this censorship story is that, so far, is not primarily scientific thought and ideas that the po-faced censors are targeting, but more political thought and observations. Having said that, inevitably there is some crossover and it can only be a matter of time before scientific facts will have to be officially authorised as well.
While political correctness is well meaning and has its heart in the right place, this attack on Free Speech has to stop now. It has to be realised that any damage to Free Speech caused by institutions such as universities and even by democratically elected governments (Hitler and the Nazis were democratically elected) makes it more likely that democracy and freedom will founder.
The right of Free Speech does, of course, mean that those deniers of the measured rise in global temperatures, mankind’s moonwalking, a spherical Earth, evolution, and probably worst of all, those deniers of the holocaust, will get to have their say, however unsavoury that prospect sounds. Nevertheless, it remains best thing to have and the right thing to allow. For at the end of the day, it is Free Speech that is the best defence against tyranny, extremism and ignorance.
Post script: Other nations, of course, prevent free speech, execute protestors by pretending that they are terrorists, or even prevent their citizens from doing innocent pastimes such as playing chess. Saudi Arabia can now been accused of doing all three. Religious authorities within the Saudi kingdom have just issued a Fatwa banning the game of chess on the grounds that it might encourage gambling and the missing of prayer. Chess, of course, is one of the few games that can be played between astronauts in orbit and ground control back on Earth. By the way, chess and its “chatrang” forerunner, gained most of its early popularity under Islam.