Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Freedom of speech is a hot topic in Hong Kong. Likewise in the U.K.
Although, I have you say the dilemmas arising are different. Yet, each raises important questions, whilst demonstrating that life is sometimes complicated. It's a reminder that your rights are not absolute. Plus, exercising them without restraint has consequences.
Words have power, that much is true. But in the U.K. certain words and political or social platforms associated with them are not welcome. New words have entered the lexicon; safe-spaces, micro-aggression, cultural appropriation and toxic masculinity. Invisible, potent barriers are being erected to ensure that people aren’t offended. On campuses across Britain debate is being shut down. Students are being spared views that challenge. The process is ongoing, widespread and shocking.
Safe spaces started as an idea to curtail ‘hate-speech’. These have morphed into places where alternative opinions and positions are not welcome. The safe space shields the students from offence or challenging ideas. Or acting like grown-ups. The result is graduates who are hypersensitive dogmatists. Whilst safe spaces are a stupid idea, cultural appropriation is laughable. This is when a member of a racial group borrows the culture of another. This has led to black students confronting white students with dreadlocks. Take this to its logical conclusion … curry can only be eaten by South Asians. It’s palpable nonsense. But this is what happens when you normalize such behaviour.
Moreover, this nonsense is pervasive. Germane Greer a renowned feminist intellectual was threatened with a ban. Cardiff University accused her of something called ‘transphobia’. Greer's crime was to assert an opinion that a transgender man can’t be a woman. This opinion offended the self-appointed judges of such matters. Last time I checked there is no law against being offended.
Next, we have the strange case of Peter Tatchell. This life-long gay and civil rights campaigner, is suffering the wrath of intolerant students. Again, the label is ‘transphobic’ with a dash of racist. His accusers produced no evidence for these assertions. It’s McCarthyism; make unfounded allegations, start a witch hunt. This is all rather baffling when you consider Tatchell's track-record. This man has campaigned for gay rights, against wars, for animal rights and on green issues. And this makes no difference to the radical new left. His main critic declines to debate him. That tells you everything you know. By the way, she is Fran Cowling the LGBT Officer of the National Union of Students.
It gets worse. Lincoln University Students Union banned the Conservative Society from its social media channel. Why? They had the temerity to point out that the university had a low free-speech rating. You can’t make this up. Next, they'll be burning books. After all, they're already insisting that statues be removed.
The race to be the most left-wing and politically-correct is breeding intolerance. The enlightenment, which brought us the modern world, is being rolled back. Keep in mind that the arbiters of what can and can’t be said are often reluctant to speak in public. They hide in the ‘safe space’ of their laptops firing off barbs. These tactics are illiberal and undemocratic. It amounts to a form of totalitarianism. Further, it's creating a culture of victimhood. Students enter the world of work sensitised to look for signs of micro-aggression or bias. With that mindset, they will find it.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong student teachers at the Education University are using freedom of speech to welcome a suicide. This week the 25-year old son of an unpopular education minister jumped to his death. His mother was an unwelcome choice for a position in government. None of this excuses the callous and cold-blooded celebrations of her misery. The heartless perpetrators used a so-called ‘democracy wall’ to vent their hateful sentiments.
The student union then sought to defend the posting on the grounds of freedom of speech. In a mealy-mouthed comment, the head of student union made no apology. Common decency tells you the posting is unacceptable. Further, it's got nothing to do with freedom of speech. If you can’t grasp that, you shouldn’t be a teacher.
The backlash has started. It's reported internships for Education University students are cancelled. Headmasters are declaring they won’t recruit its graduates. The truth of this is difficult to discern. Nonetheless, I'll bet student teachers from the Education University won't be popular choices.
An important life lesson is being promulgated here …. actions have consequences. Plus, clouded judgement and distorted thinking are present at both ends of this issue. Freedom of speech is something no reasonable person would curtail. Having said that, this is not black and white issue. Common decency and humanity are relevant. When the students of the Education University are mature enough to reflect on this, I’m sure they will regret their actions.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.