"Fox takes on the PC Brigade and Social Justice Warriors who want to restrain free speech."by Jessica Abrahams / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
I Find That Offensive! by Claire Fox (Biteback, £10)
The limits of the right to free speech have become the centre of one of the biggest debates of the internet age. In her new book, Claire Fox—libertarian and media commentator—takes on the “PC brigade” and “social justice warriors” who seem to want to restrain free speech.
Fox’s argument runs roughly as follows: we live in a “culture of offence” in which simply stating that one is hurt or offended by something is enough to shut down debate. This is the product of a thin-skinned health-and-safety generation, who are unable to grasp the distinction between physical and psychological harm.
The greatest manifestation of this, she argues, is taking place on campuses, where students demand “safe spaces” and “no platform” speakers with whom they disagree—but Fox’s target is much broader. We should not be concerned about hate speech, verbal bullying in schools or abusive Twitter trolls, she writes, because these are all “just words.”
Perhaps the biggest problem with Fox’s argument is the blunt denial of the fact that words can have consequences. Our deference to offence has sometimes inspired violence, she claims—pointing to the Charlie Hebdo massacre—and yet in almost 200 pages she fails to mention a single case in which “offensive” speech—racial, homo- phobic or political, for example—has itself led to violence.
The shame of it is that there is an important debate to be had here—and Fox’s book serves as a useful way into it. But as with most debates, this one requires nuance—and that is something you won’t find here.