Written by • Published 21st May 2018 • 5 minute read

NO – By Will Tait

It’s now official – I’ll be heading on a tour of the Nation’s universities with my “Burn all Tories, but especially Universities ministers” show kicking off at LSE next week.

I don’t suspect this would be allowed to go ahead, which brings me to the not so funny thing about hate speech. It only really feels like it’s hate speech when its directed at you – when it’s not, it becomes this weird but essential intellectual form of discourse.

The recent intervention by Sam Gyimah treads the fine line between freedoms and state intervention. At risk of discovering irony, Gyimah has banned banning, and exposed his political alignment. The issue has become a top Tory priority after the high-profile cases of Julie Bindel, Peter Tatchell and Jacob Rees Mogg resulted in their university speeches being cancelled or protested at because students at each rallied to have them called off.

The university debate comes back to safe spaces, an issue often ridiculed in the press but in short, determines the right for people to seek higher education without pseudo-intellectuals turning up to speak about how they don’t exist or list the number of human freedoms they should be restricted from accessing. All three of these cases, unsparingly, are connected to the LGBT community and go some way to planting in the ground the shortcomings we are making as a society when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable. Trans people exist. Fact. Gay people deserve the same rights as heterosexuals. Fact. Your thoughts contrary to this aren’t interesting additions to the debate. They are a pointless waste of time.

Freedom of expression is the only human right that is by law, restricted by duties and responsibilities. This is because it does something the other human rights do not, it infringes on the others. Your right to privacy or freedom from discrimination are weakened by others freedom of speech. It’s therefore often a balancing act.

What absolutely isn’t happening here though, is the stifling of human speech in some anti-intellectual pursuit. Not only are these student’s miles ahead of the rest of the country educationally. They are also politically canvassing in their free time. They are not in need of intervention and they certainly don’t need to be told what to think. They are not following J Peterson around in search of entry-level humanities, they are fighting against opinions which belong in the 18th century. Our ability to silence hostility and ridicule stupidity is the essential ingredient to the intellectual cake. Not everyone deserves to be heard at university, it is an intellectual hierarchy where your right to speak is balanced against the quality of your thought. This populist oversight is a step backwards. 

YES – By Peter Jackson Eastwood

Banning the banning of things might seem a counter-intuitive tactic for protecting freedom of speech on campuses, but, it is the inevitable outcome of the decision to hike tuition fees over five years ago.

Universities are more like businesses than ever before, and this has changed the dynamic. Students now see themselves as customers and have an increased sense of selfish entitlement as a consequence. No business wants to lose customers, and so universities seem unsure whether to impose more order on their charges or continue to afford them free reign.

Campuses are traditionally left-wing enclaves, this is nothing new. What is worrying is that the pockets of hard-left, extremely politically-active minorities who pervade campuses are going increasingly unchecked. This is creating an on-campus narrative that is so overtly centred around being ‘progressive’ that anybody who deviates from it can be labelled anything from alt-right to misogynistic, to entitled, to transphobic, to racist.

Firstly, the gratuitous use of these labels completely delegitimises their impact. Once you lump people like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jordan Peterson in with the genuine hate figures, you both damage the credibility of your argument and provide said hate figures with an ally in the free speech debate. You also create a vitriolic environment that leads to a dangerous ‘them against us’ narrative.

And as the Left pushes Left, the Right veers further Right. In the arms race to become the most tolerant, we’ve achieved more intolerance. Feminist societies trying to ban iconic feminist forerunner, Germaine Greer, young men turning to self-help from Jordan Peterson due to feeling victimised, it’s all becoming very confused. Even the NUS was embroiled in an argument over anti-Semitism a couple of years ago, a problem that has escalated significantly at a grassroots level for both Labour and Momentum in recent times.

Societally we are becoming more intolerant by the day. It feels as though grand-standing and reinforcing what makes us different has taken precedence over the will to discuss, understand, and debate.

If you’re educated into this mindset in an academic echo-chamber then it’s no surprise that you might treat alternative viewpoints with hostility. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Young people need to be challenged and exposed to potentially upsetting ideas from both sides of the political spectrum. Shove the trigger warnings, if speech is truly hateful or ignorant then you should have the ability as a student to counter it. If you can’t, then what are you doing in Higher Education? It’s much easier to tackle uncomfortable ideas that are out in the open rather than letting them fester underground.

Recently, Scotland prosecuted a comedian for teaching a pug to do a Nazi salute. When pugs are hate crimes, when discord is omnipresent, and when universities have failed to get their house in order for years, something has to give. If the government don’t step in to change things, then who else will?

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