The Curtailment of Free Speech and Free Inquiry

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Hate Speech

Hate speech laws are a growing phenomenon and Ireland is no exception.A real problem is the vagueness of hate speech laws. According to Censored by Paul Coleman:

  • There is no universally agreed definition of what constitutes hate speech.
  • Hate speech laws are vaguely worded, contain a large subjective element, rely on the perception of the listener.
  • They do not necessarily require falsehood
  • They rarely require a victim.

It seems that if the complainant feels offended that constitutes enough reason to bring a charge of hate speech and the burden then lies with the accused to refute the charge. This amounts to the shifting of the burden of proof which is another even more fundamental violation of our law.

A related phenomenon is that of Concept Creep such as hate speech is violence; domestic abuse is violence.

In 2016, University of Melbourne psychologist Nick Haslam published a seminal paper on the phenomenon of “concept creep” in psychology. Haslam proposed that several categories of meaning had expanded within psychology over a period of several decades, and that this expansion had occurred both vertically and horizontally. These categories included abuse, trauma, mental disorder, bullying and prejudice.

Orwell:If liberty means anything it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear

A point seems to have been reached where we are no longer allowed to offend anybody.  In any gathering where debate is vigorous things will be said which are offensive to at least a few people. As Orwell said: If liberty means anything it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.

Democratic nations have over centuries evolved robust rules designed to protect free speech seen as a bulwark of the state and a protection against one of the dangerous tendencies of democracies, namely the tyranny of majority opinion.

De Tocqueville pointed out 200 years ago in his work Democracy in America that the great democratic danger is enslavement to public opinion. The claim of democracy is that everyone decides for himself through the use of the natural faculties. But very few people apply their reason to the determination of the hosts of issues which present themselves every day for the consideration of which they have neither the time nor the capacity. Some kind of authority is necessary for most and in the absence of anything else the common beliefs of the majority will determine judgment.

As JS Mill pointed out, the tyranny of majority opinion can be just as effective as the tyranny of law at silencing people and restricting behaviour and speech.

The University

The university is one institution which can help cure this democratic deficiency by compensating for what individuals lack in a democracy and being indifferent to public opinion. The university should exist for the sake of preserving the freedom of the mind and by encouraging its members to participate in its spirit. There is a need for an unpopular institution in our midst that sets clarity above wellbeing or compassion and that has standards.

The University can compensate for what people lack in a democracy by being indifferent to public opinion

The University as we know it is the product of the Enlightenment. It was recognised then that there would be tension between current beliefs and the quest for scientific truth. An argument had to be made that the free pursuit of science is good for society. It needed to be shown that the progress of knowledge is parallel to political progress. This was the ultimate ground of the belief that academic freedom and the principle of free inquiry within academia were thought to be essential to the proper working of the university.

But this has gradually been whittled away and aggravated by the new tendency on the part of student radicals to shut down speakers with whose views they disagree. The failure of university authorities in the US to clamp down on the radicals has only served to embolden them further. But it goes much further than this:radical staff members now endeavour to police what shall be deemed legitimate research and to outlaw what they don’t like. The principle of free inquiry itself is now under attack. Out of the many examples available here are a few.

1.The editors-in-chief of two esteemed scientific journals together with the National Science Foundation, and the international publisher Springer have all surrendered to demands from the radical academic Left to suppress a controversial idea. This idea, the ‘Greater Male Variability Hypothesis’ (GMVH), asserts that there are more idiots and more geniuses among men than among women. The fierce protests from some vociferous academics caused a hitherto unprecedented act:Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole  A published peer reviewed online paper suddenly vanished two weeks later, was withdrawn as though it had never existed.

Who will be the next, and for what perceived transgression?

2. In August 2017, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island was criticized for removing a news release about a peer-reviewed study published in PLoS One by one of its academics—Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher at Brown’s School of Public Health. Littman’s article, titled “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports,“ discusses the phenomenon by which social media and peer pressure seem to have fuelled the recently observed trend by which young teenagers (typically girls) suddenly declare themselves transgender. The paper infuriated transgender activists, who claim that the entire notion of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is a transphobic invention. Both Brown and PLoS One also were attacked as Brown’s enablers.

3. Another example is Kenneth Zucker’s work on desistance among children afflicted with gender dysphoria at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Following a lengthy misinformation campaign against Zucker, the transgender lobby was successful in having him fired in 2015, notwithstanding his status as a leading researcher in the field.

A solid majority of Americans think people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those deeply offensive to others

On the other hand there are studies which show that a large majority of Americans are unhappy with these occurrences and the growing polarisation is evidence of this.

In a report “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” commented on here most Americans share more common ground than the daily fights on social media might suggest—including a general aversion to PC culture.

Indeed, while 80 percent of Americans believe that political correctness has become a problem in the country, even more, 82 percent, believe that hate speech is also a problem.

Yet hate speech laws continue to exert a polarising influence. Once again it is the case that a small but very influential minority exerts enormous leverage over the whole. This group, dubbed progressive activists in the report, constitutes just 8% of the population but is the only group out of the seven  sectors into which the population is divided which backs political correctness which it does strongly.

A final note:  A solid majority (59%) of Americans think people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those deeply offensive to others.