Nobody on any side can afford to ignore the free speech warsby Tom Clark / February 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Britain is in the midst of an almighty argument about how to argue. Who gets to speak? On what authority? What language is acceptable—what words are off limits? Any other discussion we might want to have will be doomed until we can settle these questions.
Headlines scream about snowflake students “no-platforming” anyone who hasn’t quite mastered the latest terms for transgender people. The government has tasked a new regulator with upholding free speech on campus. We ask a lawyer whether we need a British First Amendment. And we turn to a couple of student journalists (Marta Santiváñez and Emma Yeomans) to tell us what’s really happening. They cut through some alarmist myths, but do confirm that there is, these days, often as much emphasis on who gets asked to speak in debates, as there is on what is said.
For those in the “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” camp, even that is a grave concern. In a sparkling polemic, Lionel Shriver homes in on what a call-out culture, obsessed with “cultural appropriation,” means for writers. If, she argues, novelists are no longer allowed to offend anyone, and are no longer free to imagine their way into lives very different from their own, then that is the end of fiction.