Saturday, October 03, 2015

A brilliant article on Freedom of Thought

No apologies for returning to the subject of freedom of speech and expression.

Nick Cohen gave a short speech recently about censorship to the No Boundaries conference at the Bristol Watershed Theatre on how censorship affects the arts, museums and libraries.

He has summarised the speech in an article for the Spectator which you can read here and which is exceptionally good.

In fact I think it's possibly the best expression of the case for freedom of thought which I have ever read.

He starts out by highlighting the problem that political correctness itself, very frequently, fails to be politically correct. As he writes, many, though not all, writers and speakers who would think of themselves as progressive

"have twisted themselves into the position where they cannot condemn sexism and homophobia in ethnic and religious minorities for fear of being racist."

"Artists, writers and comedians therefore do not cover one of the great hypocrisies of our age; a hypocrisy which is genuinely racist if you think about it: for how else would you define an idea which holds that equal rights for women are the birthright of white-skinned women in the rich world but not of brown-skinned women in the poor world?"

He goes on:

"Political correctness has an obsessive belief in the power of language to reveal hidden wickedness."

One ‘inappropriate’ remark, one slip, uncovers vast prejudices hiding behind the masks of repeatability. Hence the ‘twitter storms’ about ‘gaffes’ or ‘misspeaks’ which fill the papers in the absence of news. Hence the academic analyses of this novelist or that film maker’s hidden biases.

Then he sets out six ways in which politically-correct ideas are not true:

"It is not true that oppression only emanates from white western elites.

It is not true that conservatives are always wicked.

It is not true that those who oppose conservatism are always good.

It is not true that artists with admirable sentiments must be able to produce great or even tolerably good work.

It is not true that artists with conservative or indeed reactionary sentiments must produce bad or terrible work.

It is not true that you can change the world by changing language. Indeed the desire to police language is an easy substitute for the hard work of political campaigning."

He then argues that the pressures which lead people to think like this are likely to get worse in terms of how to deal with them, he concludes:

"The first step is easy to recommend and hard to follow. I know it is difficult when you fear Islamists may kill you, or the police won’t protect you, or demonstrators may close you down, or the government may accuse you of promoting terrorism. Nevertheless your automatic response to a demand that you change or pull a work for anything other than artistic reasons, should be:

‘No.’"

The article is well worth reading in full.

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