The UK has taken the correct action by legislating academic freedom and freedom of expression at universities. It is clear that universities are incapable of self regulation – – so they will have to be regulated. If they don’t like the legislation and think it goes ‘too far’ that is too bad – they brought this on themselves. They don’t deserve the stature they have in society or the public funding they receive. Hopefully even more forced reforms are coming soon.
Yes to your first point, but not to your call for more regulation.
A short generation ago, freedom of expression and academic freedom were so taken for granted in the West that rehearsing the case for them seemed unnecessarily quaint and boring – an abstract topic for sixth form debates rather than for real world policy-making.
The recent legislation gives a statutory basis to freedoms that had previously been adequately respected due to shared cultural norms. While it’s a pity that this change became necessary, it’s good that the government has now acted.
The price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance.
But I’m doubtful about the case for governments to regulate universities beyond the recent measures, unless perhaps to ensure that recruitment and promotion processes are not used to subvert these freedoms by the back door.
I have lived and worked in countries where universities are heavily regulated. They are not more free. And global rankings show that the quality of their research suffers.
Governments inevitably need to take a view on priorities for the allocation of taxpayers’ resources for research and skills training – although even here an arms length arrangement mediated by professionals with expertise is likely to be least bad.
The rest should surely be left to social and economic market forces to value institutions that cherish freedoms and thrive, and to relegate any that don’t to obscurity.
Over time, such forces may even restore a cultural mindset where banging on about such basic freedoms becomes boring once again.
Amerika put the pen in front of the gun.
A Loud Voice scares more than a bullet.
My 1st amendment is more powerful than any 2nd.
Yes, the writer misses the core issue: What is false is almost always more beautiful than what is true. The truth has one hand tied behind its back. Good writers know this. Some — Socrates is the best example — speak only and never write. The written word does not know who it’s speaking to.
Shut them all down and start fresh.
Canadian universities are even worse. Poilievre will do nothing about it. He should be saying – ‘if you screw up once, you lose 5% of funding per year ….until it is fixed’
We need to articulate why free speech is a good idea, and not just regard that as a given, because for young people who have only ever been exposed to a “hate speech is harmful” narrative, it is not a given. Free speech allows for policies and proposals to be challenged, and ultimately for bad ideas to be rejected and good ideas to be adopted. In the absence of free speech, we used to burn heretics, sacrifice children to appease the gods, blame plagues on Jews poisoning the wells, treat illness as being an imbalance of the four humours, and believed the sun went round the earth. Which was all very stupid and wasteful, and led to needless poverty and suffering. A greater level of free speech enabled the western world to get rich while the rest of the world stayed poor. Suppression of free speech led to the Holocaust, the Soviet Famine of the 1930s, and the Great Leap Forward. We don’t need free speech for its own sake. We need it to avoid stupid and dangerous ideas gaining traction unchallenged.
‘We need to articulate why free speech is a good idea …’ Very true. For most people growing up in the shadow of WWII, it was accepted because we had seen or had parents that had seen the consequences of totalitarian fascism and socialism. Younger generations have not.
“Younger generations have not.” This is why history repeats itself over and over and over and over and over again. We never learn.
Yeonmi Park gives the most incredible and moving testament to this in an April speech. THIS is what young people should be exposed to at large left-wing universities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XfACN_U-GE
To heck with that, THIS is what adults in the west should be exposed to as well.
Such a small frame, such a huge amount of bravery.
With the advent of the digital Euro (which is coming). Europeans will be exposed to having every transaction tracked. Freedom of any sort will not exist. You will not be free to hold or express the wrong position on anything.
One might say a perfect case of “Turkeys voting for Christmas “. And serve ‘em right!
Indeed, there are whole flock of canaries in the coal mine keeling over to signal the noxious gas of a totalitarian regime being imposed. Nigel Ferage’s inability to obtain a bank account and the HoC Committee threatening dire consequences for those MPs who dare to traduce their decisions are but a couple. But who will save us from the indoctrinated pigs that believe that some pigs should be more equal than others? There seems to be no realistic party untainted by the ideology.
What hyperbole! I truly regret, for example, that a former prime minister has been found out lying, lying and lying again. Should there be no sanctions at all to this? It is arguable.
But, the idea that any standards of whatever kind in a democratic society, even if inevitably having to be administered by fallible human beings, is a prelude to totalitarianism, is an absurd exaggeration.
The vast majority of people’s monetary transactions can be tracked already. This may well be concerning, but it is a huge overreach to claim that this means the end of any freedom of opinion.
True. But… what we see at the moment is two things happening together. 1. the convergence of a number of technologies which make make surveillance both more pervasive and more effective and 2. an increased willingness on the part of governments to use the tools already in their kit, to impose extra-judicial sanctions on dissent.
The archetypal example of 2 would be the Canadian Government’s decision to lock participants in the trucker protests out of aspects of the financial system. But George Monbiot had a piece in the Guardian yesterday about companies applying for injuctions on potential protestors and sending the legal bill for their fees to the indviduals injuncted…
Given that we’ve recently has anti-terror legislation re-purposed to check people were emptying their bins in the correct fashion, it’s not ridiculous to worry about the confluence of new technologies, a new political will to use it and the absence of any serious instituitional pushback.
See my comment above
I do not understand how you can ignore the gathering storm and dismiss the multiple examples of the erosion of our liberties and free speech over the past two decades. The villain – proudly – is the Progressive Leftist Identitarian New Order and its aggressive Equality ideology. Who do you think brought in Hate Speech? Who is demonising the author and the courageous JKR? The BBC, publishing and theatre have all totally caved in to the Diversity Industry and embrace this State ideology. Dissenters on covid lockdown, Islamism, the BLM, Net Zero fanaticism ..you name it…are by and large banished from the airwaves. See the Question Time audience frozen with fear and hands down on Rwanda?? You can taste the terror. China 68. We will probably be arrested and fined for criticizing the Privileged Privilege Gauliters of Parliament (arses). Free speech has been lost in this country because we first surrendered our common law, let in rogue human rights legislation and because the Progressive control of media and law has gone unchallenged by the hapless conservatives. It is not about politics. Even Kathleen must grasp this. It is a quasi religious culty phenomenon enforced and reinforced by SM groupthink. The Progressives see themselves as THE ELECT, higher chosen moral beings. And the Elect are given full licence to despise, punish traduce the non Elect – the nasty oiky whiteys who threatened their criminal property heist. The Elect do not believe in free speech; only their speech. Snd they hate dissent. They are very dangerous and very deranged and they now run this manor. Expect Unherd to be properly Unherd in future unless you wake up.
“THE ELECT, higher chosen moral beings.” Sounds terrifyingly similar to 1939 in a country that, today, makes great gasoline powered automobiles. Verstehe?
Ich verstehe!!! But I really do not think the idea of Politics – Right v Left – is in any way relevant here. I believe that dark religion – the religious ideological ferment & fanaticism of early Reformation – provides the very best guide to the New Elect worldview. They sit above politics, and way above the Unelect – the Damned (that is oiky non Remainiacs). They serve new Higher ‘moral’ purposes and new gods; commitment to say truth telling in journalism or integrity in law are secondary old values, jettisoned if they conflict with the New Way. These entitled detached progressives in our elite really do see themselves as a Higher Caste. They have escaped the sordid old identity of being English/British (shameful raycist imperialist slavers all!!!) and are reborn New Europeans, bound in a mission to shatter privilege and all forms of discrimination….(as they sit guzzling expensive wines in their untaxed £3m Islington townhouses with NHS rainbow & BLM.posters in the window bossing the gardener, the two cleaners and the pretty Czech nanny). Study the Calvinists! And remember that bad religious ideology is as supremacist & authoritarian as the political totalitarians of the last century. They are cold eyed fearful and hateful. Beware them.
QUISLINGTON not Islington.*
(* First coined by Fraser Bailey Esq, a notable commentator on UnHerd back in the days of The Great Panic.)
All the right words just not necessarily in the right order. (Thank you, Eric)
One needs 2 feet to walk straight a left & a right .
Your brain is also bicameral perhaps using both would help.
Try addressing the argument you snide
Colonel ‘bonking’ Bob Stewart DSO, MP, is currently being prosecuted Under Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, for making an ‘alleged’ racist comment. The CPS have insisted this prosecution goes ahead in the ‘ public interest’.
That legislation was brought in under the late Lady Thatcher, so I suspect the ‘cancer’ within our so -called society is far, far, deeper than even you may think.
(* Perhaps the good old French are about to show us the way as they did in 1789?)
Interesting. You are right of course. Thatcher impeded IRA access to airwave too. But the present Identitarian hysteria and cancel culture feels bigger, different and more scary. It is a mind virus and panic which since EQA 2010 has overwhelmed all the arms of the British State – law, media, education, civil service – yet also exists independently in woke groups and individuals, notably again in our governing elite the New Elect. It is being evangelized 24/7 by the BBC. Yet more evidence of this progressive impulse/reflex.. heavily mixed with crude authoritarianism and disdain for liberty – comes today from Ireland; an incredible Orwellian new law on free speech has been proposed.
A general observation, not a criticism of your comment but I dislike that the term progressive is now synonymous with the left. Surely you should be progressive in your thinking with any political leaning? It defines the right as non-progressive and ‘conservative’ does the right no favours either.
I agree. It is a shame that this word has been lost to the Left in common parlance. I do not think it is meant kindly. It is so hard to describe those on the Left. They are illberal and authoritarian; their net zero fanaticism is anti growth, totally unprogressive, as is their reverse race caste hatred for Brex non grad working classes. Woke is just too weak a word. If you peek into their ideological worldview, you find a scary quasi religious intolerant mania…hence why I think The Elect is best way to understand what has gripped our elite and the rabble outside. Meanwhile conservatism has vanished in practice from the political arena. Thats the New Order/Technocracy Rule State for you…
You sound precisely like many of the well intentioned Jews in Germany during the late 1930’s, who never accepted that dangerous times were just ahead. Look what happened to them. A common explanation was, “we own businesses and homes, it can’t happen to us!” The same seeds have been sown today and we also have the maligned use of social media to fan the flames of hatred.
Yes they ignored the Progressive voices of the day.
Mr Tree you are paranoid of global warming correct ?
It’s not the Tracking. The CBDC’s will give governments the Control of your bank accts. That’s whats new and terrifying.
And even if we use cash the proliferation of cctv (Chinese) means our transactions can, on the whole, still be tracked and checked.
If you doubt this is where we are heading, Nigel Farage’s bank of more than 40 years has recently closed his accounts without explanation and none of the other banks will allow him to open an account. You cannot exist in this day and age without a bank account. The people responsible should be dragged before the courts and held to account
I shake my head in disbelief to see so many smug idiots, mostly young people, paying at checkouts with their mobile phones. It only they knew where this will inevitably lead, which would be obvious if they could be bothered to give it a moment’s thought.
And in thirty years, carrying a switched on mobile at all times will probably be compulsory, so all one’s movements can be traced as well as all one’s financial transactions. (The ostensible justification will be so that everyone can promptly receive Government alerts, for safety’s sake or some similar bollox.)
I agree with your general point, but the presence of free speech can also spread toxic and hateful ideas. Witch-hunting in Europe was suppressed for nearly a thousand years, until the invention of the printing press allowed Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of the Witches, to become a best-seller in the Renaiisance (second only to the Bible for 150 years) during a period of volatile climate change. In the 21st century the persecution of the Rohingya in Burma was facilitated by social media. We need not only to articulate why free speech is a good idea, but also why people need to think for themselves rather than accepting conventional wisdom.
Very useful reminder. Much as I support free speech, it is easy to take an unrealistically rosy view of it.
In the 21st century the persecution of the Rohingya in Burma was facilitated by social media
An interesting example. Would you like to explain what the persecution of Christians in Africa, Central Asia, Pakistan, China and many other places is “facilitated” by? You don’t need social media when you have religious fanaticism.
Also remember ‘Radio Mille Collines’ in Rwanda.
Rather than ban or legislate freedom of speech at universities, perhaps one of the first mandatory classes taken by students should be: The Responsibility of Free Speech and its History. The course should focus on the danger of suppression of freedom of speech but also the heavy duty that accompanies it and the destruction of individuals and their lives because of “woke” rhetoric and accusations.
Well said, but how absolutely extraordinary that you of all people should object to the fact that some people describe ‘Bloody Sunday’ as ‘Good Sunday’?
Illogical is it not?
I don’t want to ban it; I just don’t think they should do it.
Without wishing to sound impertinent, but were your around at the time may I ask?
University humanities departments depend on government spending. They will ally with those who support that spending and try to silence those who question that spending.
The trans lobby are opposed to science, empiricism and logic. They are fighting for a return to the pre-scientific age: censorship, dictatorship and the ultimate cancellation which is murder. That is why we must stand with Kathleen Stock.
Some might and will argue that you’re overstating the threat from the trans lobby by referencing murder. But in light of the widespread “Kill terfs” slogan on the placards and t-shirts of militant trans rights activists at rallies and demonstrations and the huge number of death (and rape) threats they send to women online, you’re absolutely right to make this point.
I agree: “Kill terfs” couldn’t be clearer as an incitement to violence, and the police should immediately be arresting anyone bearing such slogans. And this should equally be applied were anyone shouting or bearing a placard reading “kill trans people”.
It is not nearly as bad an act of incitement as silently praying in the street.
Good point! If in doubt, always pick a soft target.
The motivation of the police is very dubious : they clearly are unlikely to arrest anyone shouting ‘kill terfs’, because they did nothing about people bearing placards saying “Behead those who insult isl*m”. And they should have reacted in the strongest possible way.
Nobody ever seems to want to ask the underlying question: why do we need all these universities and academics anyway? There are far too many of them, they cost far too much and most of their output is only capable of holding down non-jobs in the public sector.
Please address your complaint to Sir Anthony Blair, who created this mess in the first place.
Tony Blair’s masterstroke… get young people off the unemployment register and get them to pay for it with their own money.
And thus encourage them “to rise above their station” (as we used to say) and then endure a lifetime of bitter disappointment.
Not necessarily. I had the misfortune to have to visit Worcester hospital this week. Wondering who could be responsible for the shambles I looked up the chairman and chief executive whose academic credentials were not worth the paper they were written on from the university of who gives a t*ss.
Interestingly the chairman, a former member of the communist party, was in charge of the West Midlands Health Authority at the time of the events that led to the Mid Staffs scandal (up to 1,200 patients may have died as a result of maltreatment and neglect) , and was pressured to resign from his position with NHS England as a result. He also had an issue with apparently claiming £6,000 in one year for first class travel which is odd (but not) for a former communist.
So you see a poor academic record and and a career untainted by success is the ticket to a wonderful career in our NHS
He had ‘form’, he was a Communist, and once a Communist, always a Communist.
The bacillus of Communism STILL pollutes our national life and every level and is FAR more dangerous than a ridiculous little event such as COVID.
From before 1939 we have been totally feeble about is, and should for example have executed all of our Atom Spies and other MI6 traitors without exception.
What did we do instead? Execute an Irish-American nutter, who was not even a British citizen for making somewhat tasteless remarks on the Wireless! Bravo Britain!
But many will never pay off their loans, so our children’s children pay for it.
Sir John Major was the main culprit!
The English medieval Church once held similar sway, that is until the splendid Master Thomas Cromwell ‘savaged’ it almost beyond recognition.
Would Sir Anthony Blair be prepared to follow the path of say the Abbots of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester? Or even Latimer, Cranmer, or Ridley for that matter?
ps. Wasn’t Sir John Major equally culpable?
I want to ask that question! The article is predicated on the assumption that academia must be filled with people debating trans stuff all day to begin with. Why? Nobody outside the academy is reading these papers and probably even nobody inside it.
How about, anyone who publishes anything on race, gender or trans related topics just immediately has to repay all grant money received from the government, and can never receive any ever again? That wouldn’t solve free speech in academia but would at least be a good start. As Stock demonstrates, there are apparently plenty of people willing to pay academics to write about such things all day anyway so it’s not like universities must do so.
Another piece of the puzzle regarding excessive Uni intake – those with lower academic/intellectual confidence are much more likely to cave in to peer pressure; so it is not surprising that we are seeing an uptick in herding behaviours, as campus numbers swell.
To brainwash the youth and get them heavily into debt at the same time. What a wizard wheeze…
The brainwashing occurs at school
Sadly now even at ETON,
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Socialist.
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”
That’s all very well.. but WOULD those people have spoken for you? The evidence suggests they would not, and their arrest made no difference to your position.
For the sake of balance it could just as well have been:-
“First they came for the Fascists and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Fascist.
“Then they came for the Priests , and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Priest.
“Then they came for the Irish and I did not speak out,
Because I was not Irish .
“Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”
This is true. They choose their first victims carefully – someone no one really wants to defend. So the first person banned from YouTube was Alex Jones – obnoxious conspiracy theorist. They ended with President of the United States. The Canadian media regulator CRTC banned RT News from cable service and the internet last year – dirty Russians! But now they are proposing Fox News – allegedly for transphobia. I have no doubt cancelling publications like this one and Quillette is their ultimate goal.
My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to defend it against any consensus, any majority anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.
What the political left, even in democratic countries, share is the notion that knowledgeable and virtuous people like themselves have both a right and a duty to use the power of government to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on others.
Many months ago the wonderful David Starkey posted a video wherein he explained, as only he could, the dangers past and present, of the Tyranny of the Know Betters. The irony is of course that these people are actually No Betters, their superior ideology is strictly a product of their own Disney World of delusion.
This cabal of “justice”, so firmly entrenched in progressive politics along with their media toadies shouldn’t have a care in the world about unfiltered criticism. why give a second thought to what some troll says when one is engaged in such good works? What threat could social media sniping possibly pose to a movement so firmly set on course to rebuild a just and equitable world?
Perhaps the problem is that the progressives haven’t actually been right about anything they’ve bleated about for the last decade or three. The impending Climate Armageddon has proven to be almost entirely nonsense at great economic cost.
The progressives were wrong about Trump, claiming he could never get elected and if he did he would bankrupt America and cause WW3.
They got Brexit wrong. (damn proles)
The Covid pandemic was a universally mismanaged fiasco, causing social, medical and economic damage it will take years to fully appreciate.
A dirty teacup in a gypsy caravan would have been just as reliable as anything the Know Betters have been telling us about the Russia Ukraine debacle.
And don’t forget the Gender Wars and the march of the Alphabet people. A motley collection of the perpetually confused, latent exhibitionists and sideshow hucksters have convinced legions of the gullible that their subjective re-inventions of the English language are actually legitimate. Never before has so much been demanded from so many by so few.
No wonder there’s a war on free speech. The progressive house of cards can’t stand even the slightest breath of criticism.
Sadly even the “wonderful” Dr David Starkey cravenly capitulated eventually.
Did he? He apologised as I recall about the “so many damn blacks” remark – and although apologies are never accepted by the progressive Left, I do think nonetheless he made a stupid comment originally and was justified honourable in doing so.
I’m sorry but your last sentence doesn’t make sense.
Very nice and useful distinction – between freedom of speech for individuals, and limits on what you can say on behalf of the institutions you are part of. Could one also make a distinction between individual (re)actions and organised harassment campaigns, demonstrations etc.?
As a slightly off example: The UK national footbal (socccer) team. No one could object if Gareth Southgate or Marcus Rashford want to support Black LIves Matter. They can kneel to BLM all they want – on their own time. But by setting up their kneeling ritual at the start of the national world cup games, they are speaking on behalf of the nation, its footballers, and its entire population. And they do not have the freedom to promote their own personal policies on other people’s behalf.
There will be some players in that team who do not agree but who are forced to go along with the ritual which is even worse
This may be inappropriate, but I suggest people read a recent essay by Andrew Sullivan entitled “Gay Rights And The Limits Of Liberalism.”
I apologize to both the author and Unherd about referencing a similar article. I found it particularly insightful.
“Homosexual citizens absolutely deserved equal rights, but the question of homosexuality itself would — and should — always be open to dispute and debate. Since a liberal society contains both fundamentalist preachers as well as lesbian atheists, it cannot resolve the core question. So it shouldn’t try. And it should celebrate, not bemoan, this ideological diversity.”
Thanks for the suggestion. I like that he rejects both warring extremes, as they are advanced by groups he calls “theocons” and “transqueers”. Many of the most prominent champions of ideological or viewpoint diversity seem, like Sullivan, to have sought refuge at Substack.
It is reasonable to expect tolerance from others. It is not reasonable to expect acceptance from others.
If a man wants to wear a dress and live as though he were a woman, he is entitled to expect from me a tolerance as it is unlikely to have much impact on me. He has no right to expect me to believe that he is a woman.
Yes. Ditto “respect” and “courtesy”.
I always try to be courteous to others, unless they are discourteous to me.
But my respect has to be earned, not assumed or demanded.
So I too understand that some people are “trans”, and should be given the same right to live the life they want as everyone else. But not privileged over others.
And the screeching trans lobby will never get me to deny the science that you cannot change sex, only the outward appearances that we assign to male or female.
100% correct. Unless someone advocates direct violence against others, democracy requires us to tolerate opposing viewpoints. It doesn’t mean we have to agree.
In the US there is (or certainly: was) a motto: “I completely disagree with what you say but I defend to the bitter end your right to say it.” Or something like that. It is clear, simple and principled, and does not require a philosopher to understand it and to make it understood. (Meanwhile, with great appreciation for KS’s impeccable logic, as always)
In the 1990 some KKK folks in Georgia, or some other state like that, got it in their heads that it would be a good idea to march down 125th Street in Manhattan, which is in Harlem, and at that time was the center of black culture and life in NYC. They applied for a permit and Giuliani, who was the mayor then, rejected it, saying something like “racists are not welcome”. It was the Amsterdam News, the city’s prime black newspaper, that intervened and convinced Giuliani to issue the permit.
A smallish contingent of KKK came, they marched down the avenue quietly and uneventfully, and went home. I lived n NYC then and was very impressed – this is America!
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
That quote is often mistakenly attributed to Voltaire (1694-1778), but was actually penned by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, (pen name S.G. Tallentyre) in 1906, purporting to capture Voltaire’s mindset, and confusingly placed within quotation marks in her book “The Friends of Voltaire”.
Yes, indeed, that was the old conservative’s mindset in response to the liberal’s ramblings. Today’s liberal mindset is to firmly place a foot on the throat of a conservative to shut them up.
That is not liberal at all, but a modish form of extreme Progressivism or well-heeled neo-Marxism.
In the end no one wants to have their bank accounts abruptly closed like Brexiter Nigel Farage. Political persecution is everyone’s future who holds to and speaks an unapproved position. The more convincing you are, the more of a threat you are.
We’ve been here before, when a great part of a university’s output was religious in nature. Dissent, from Galileo to Darwin, was career-threatening. But in terms of academic development, dissent is absolutely essential to challenge the divine right of kings. An inquisition-controlled academy that is only allowed to wrestle over verses in a divine book will discover nothing, compared to the free-for-all rough-and-tumble of enlightenment-based university that fosters dissent and debate.
Isn’t the idea that people aren’t really cancelled, something I hear from leftists all the time, also what they same people tend to call ‘Gaslighting?’ An evil man twirling his moustache is confused and would like to know.
I teach an introductory course in statistics at a London university and introduce the concept of mutually exclusive events. I was reading over my notes recently and noticed that I stated that male and female were mutually exclusive categories. I mentioned it last year but I think I got away with it. However, I must confess that I am concerned about making this statement again this coming Autumn.
How stupid is that?
As far as I know nobody has yet claimed to be both male and female, but only neither. So ‘mutually exclusive’ is probably safe (for now). ‘Mutually exclusive and exhaustive’, on the other hand….
Actually about 1 in 200 people have intersex characteristics, and a much smaller subset are quite evenly split. Still, no documented person has ever, for example, been able both to impregnate someone and give birth. In separate hypothetical instances of course, or else it would be weird. 😉
Unless you identify as a snail
True. I thought the discussion was still (barely) confined to the human realm.
Doesn’t it come down to a true binary; small or large gametes?
I think I get the wink or nudge.
(If so: Though I wouldn’t call them mutually exclusive, I’d say brains and nuts are often in binary conflict)
I see I mistook your meaning after all. I’ll concede: According to your precise definition, male and female are mutually exclusive binaries. However, in a few cases this is not phenotypically apparent, even without makeup or combat boots, length of hair, etc. to skew the look one way or the other.
I give percentages…
This is a good treatise on free speech in academia, but it seems to me it misses a salient point: academics (i.e. professors and lecturers) do not regulate speech on campuses. Administrators do. And the motive in most cases of suppression by administrations is not ideological, but rather an innate desire administrators of anything almost universally have: to manage things to the least possible level of turmoil. Ideas matter less than organizational peace and quiet. After all, why should I support free speech if it makes my job as an administrator more difficult? I’m not paid to enhance free speech. I’m paid to run an organization as efficiently as possible. And if that means quieting (aka cancelling) this voice or that, then so be it.
And the apparent fact is that the majority left leaning academics are more vocal than the majority of right leaning academics. So which voice is easier to quell? Rule 1 in administration of anything: when forced to choose between opposing views, always choose to side with the most vocal voices because to side with the less vocal is organization suicide for an administrator. Make decisions that ruffle the least feathers.
Good point, and this is why the “long march through the institutions” appears to be successful. Only now are we starting to see something of a backlash.
What you say might well be true of most administrators, William, even implicitly (or explicitly) part of their job descriptions. But what you say is very cynical, too, and very discouraging. I’m not convinced–not yet–that no one becomes an academic administrator without some sense of a higher calling than maintaining order at the cost of intellectual and moral integrity. In fact, I can think of at least one piece of evidence (from Wikipedia) to the contrary: the “Chicago Statement.”
“Following a series of incidents in 2014 where students at various schools sought to prevent controversial commencement speakers, the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago was formed and charged by the President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs in July 2014, to draft a statement that would articulate the University of Chicago’s “overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.”
Paul, your point is well taken. However, the Chicago Statement is, I fear, the exception rather than the rule. And it gets a Wikipedia article for that very fact. It is cited because rises above the tide of cancellations that subsume free speech in favor of discouraging dissent.
And in the reality of day to day university administration, this tide of cancellation has its roots in middle and lower level administration, not the executive level. There is an old saying in business: “those who have the least amount of authority tend to use it the most.” Cancellations begin because of this lower level organizational unwillingness to commit to ideology over efficiency at the lower levels. They simply can’t be bothered. There are too many papers that need pushing.
And that is the true irony of this piece. The clothes this cancellation wave wears is ideological purity (suppress ideological dissent). But underneath, if you pull back the kimono, what you see is an administration that has no real ideological commitment. They are all too willing to go along with that suppression as an acceptable price to pay to make peace with the most vocal of their organization.
Okay, William, I can’t argue with you (or John) about the prevalence of corruption. I’d like to do that, but I can’t. My own personal experience as an academic–I could regale you with many stories about being betrayed by colleagues (not only by bureaucrats)–has taught me that the university, like just about every other institution in our time, is both morally and intellectually bankrupt. I’d rather remain naïve than acknowledge the terminal illness of society, but old age pushes me relentlessly toward cynicism. And yet I’m still unwilling to give up on human nature itself. As individuals and even as communities, we do have at least some choices to make.
Only a few days ago, I got into a (futile) argument of this kind with a friend, a much younger man. He’s a teacher, although he has a passionate interest in the politics of Quebec separatism. Unable to convert me on rational grounds, he now argues (irony notwithstanding) that reason is nothing more than a thin veneer that people manipulate in order to legitimate the emotional longings that are inherent in romanticism and nationalism. And for him, now, “that’s okay.” My friend is actually a kind and generous person, one who still supports the rational enterprise of democracy, not a postmodernist theorist or a woke ideologue. And he is certainly not yet a budding demagogue who would intentionally inspire frenzied mobs. But even he now understands his own nationalism as a secular religion of the fundamentalist kind–that is, beyond debate. So I came away from that argument more hopeless than ever.
It’s true that emotion evolved earlier than reason and is more deeply rooted in human nature. But the relative fragility of reason doesn’t make it less important (or even less natural) than emotion as an innate feature of the human condition. On the contrary, it makes the daunting task of cultivating reason–not manipulating it, and therefore distorting it, to support personal or collective self-interest–more important than ever.
Here’s more evidence to support your point of view, William. God, this is depressing. What follows is an excerpt from Jamie Sarkonak, Academic Freedom Trampled to Prevent ‘Harm’ to Trans Students,” National Post, 29 June 2023; https://nationalpost.com/opinion/jamie-sarkonak-gender-critical-professors-demotion-is-an-attack-on-academic-freedom?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NP%20Platformed%20newsletter%202023-06-29&utm_term=NP_Comments
Labour arbitrator agrees Kathleen Lowrey did nothing deserving of punishment, but backed her poor treatment anyway
The labour arbitrator in May decided that Lowrey’s dismissal was not an act of discipline and did not violate her academic freedom because, in his view, it was simply a matter of making the department run smoothly. To his credit, he ruled that union protection should apply to professors carrying out administrative roles like that of associate chair (arbitrators of the past haven’t been so generous, so the decision on this front was a win for labour). Lowrey’s expression of gender critical views wasn’t worthy of punishment, he wrote, but it did render her “unable to carry out the job in a way that served … the department’s needs.”
“The associate chair’s role requires a person who can act and be seen to act as a supportive student advisor, a committee chair able to move the business of the faculty forward and so on,” explained the arbitrator in his decision.
“The disputes over the treatment of transgender students within the university were live and controversial. It would be difficult for anyone to act as a chair or assistant chair that, of necessity, had to deal with such issues, not just as they arise, but in this case once they had clearly arisen.”
In other words, the arbitrator said that because Lowrey would potentially encounter transgender students in the course of her duties, and because she proclaimed to not believe in gender ideology, her removal was acceptable. He tried to say that she was being demoted for the effects of the expression of her views, not disciplined for her views. He went as far as declaring that “the case is not in any way a ruling on the strongly held views of the protagonists in the debate over transgender rights and accommodation, or over gender critical views.”
But calling the sky red when it’s blue doesn’t make it red. In reality, the arbitrator drew a distinction without a difference. Lowery was demoted for her views, because her views — her belief in biological sex and disbelief in gender ideology — were deemed incompatible with the extra administrative duties that she took on.
“what you say is cynical”.
Reminds me of my father’s saying that a realist is a cynic who knows what’s happening.
Academics cannot institute a binding regulation, but they might stifle or demonize divergent views. I think John Stuart Mill and his Libertarian offspring get this one right: Your personal liberties cannot be allowed to crush the same personal liberties for another legally competent adult citizen. It’s correct for a professor to have a measure of authority and influence, but not to silence or pre-emptively squash disagreement.
No specific mention of it here, but I did read Srinivasan’s piece in LRB and was struck that in the last few paragraphs she brought up the ‘tolerance’ of the Left. She specifically mentioned an individual who demonstrated her tolerance in the 1980’s and 1990’s….. which made me wonder whether that was the last time someone from the Left was tolerant. Perhaps the Left’s tolerance died with Isaiah Berlin in 1997?
In my youth I used to read Science Fiction stories where our Hero’s fleet of good ships met in space battle with the Totalitarian fleet of bad ships. The bad ships each had a Political Commissar on board to ensure compliance with the Party Line. The Political Commissars could even overrule the Captain.
You could argue that our Fleet of Universities forging ahead into the glorious future has accumulated Political Commissars who interfere with the smooth running of each ship. They should be scraped off, like barnacles.
It’s deeply depressing that we’re discussing the value free speech in the 21st Century after having gone through the 20th. My late in-laws, who were children during WWII (father-in-law was enslaved by the Nazis when he was 15, and later by the Communists until he was rescued), warned his son and me back in the 80s that our freedoms were very tenuous and, if we didn’t fight to protect them, the horrors of Soviet suppression, oppression, silencing, and punishment would be our fate, too. I scoffed: “ Nonsense! This is America! Freedom of speech is the very first and most important right protected by our founding document!”. And yet, here we are, being spied on by a completely incompetent but punitive government and “cancelled” by those perfectly willing to curry the favor of the goons and weirdos that somehow hold positions of authority. My own daughter, who really should know better, argued with her father and I about the perceived “excesses” of free speech. That’s how deeply disturbing this has become. It used to be self-evident that suppression of information and shutting down opinion was clearly a totalitarian impulse. And now, in Western democracies, we’re made to defend it? Speak the h*ll up about everything, I say, and defend to the death that quintessential human right.
So a 14-year-old can be forced to study hardcore Critical Race Theory, without any balancing view, or be told to leave the AP English class? That’s based, of course, on a recent real-world example. I’m in primary agreement with you, but my own brand of digital outspokenness seems to compel me to find exceptions to almost any absolute claim.
Good post, thanks.
When free speech dies shortly after out of favour people start dying. Everyone needs the right to say what they believe and feel no matter how many people agree or disagree with them. People don’t have to listen. Indeed the answers to a lot of the issues that have generated a lot of heat but very little light in recent years are growing a thicker skin and selected deafness. All the “hate speech” laws should be repealed. Yes they were probably well intentioned but are living proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
FFS. Stock says sex is immutable, that ‘trans-women’ are not women and never will be. That is not controversial in anything but a populist sense, it is basic fact. What is controversial is the idea that men can be women. That is nonsense on stilts and can only be made ‘true’ by bullying, censorship and in Ms Stock’s case and others, persecution; short of the Gulag so far but hey let’s be progressive about it…
Do i detect the opening salvoes of a battle between philosophical rivals being launched here?
If so, let battle commence! The prospect is delicious, and it matters.
“False beliefs cause actions to go wrong in various ways and can sometimes lead to disaster as reality suddenly hits you in the face.”
This is exactly what has happened everywhere that the “trans women are women/sex work is work” falsehood has been imposed on the public.
Incarcerated women have been raped due to the first and sex trafficking has increased due to the second (see: London School of Economics study, which demonstrates what common sense should tell us, which is when you destigmatize sex buying, you increase demand, and since there is never enough willing “supply” to meet demand, traffickers are incentivized to traffick).
But women like Amia Srinivasan don’t know any incarcerated women or trafficking survivors. She, like others of her kind, are like toddlers with guns. These sheltered little girls have far more power than they can handle and do far more harm than they are aware of.
Thank You for another great article!
If you’re ever in Llano Texas, check out Cooper’s Pit Bar B Q and Fuel Coffee House – those places are the best!
Indeed. It appears that Amia’s views are derived from surfing…
Fair-minded and self-aware. A thoughtful, well-crafted, and sustained argument. Direct and free of hyperbole. Top marks for the former professor (just thin wordplay, no disrespect intended).
You’re doing it again AJ Mac – your critiques remind me of a gourmet sampling a plate of delicacies or a fine wine. ‘Top marks'(?) – a tad patronising don’t you think.
Yes it is, on the surface. But it isn’t meant that way, it’s just my oft overbearing sense of humor or jokiness, something I kind of inherited from my loud Irish-American family, though they aren’t responsible for my lame pun above. Be sure to keep calling out any perceived patronizing tone on my part though (even when it is flagged to indicate a level of self-awareness, or mea culpa of a sort). Or, in language likelier to raise a heated response from you: If you find your critiques of my critiques to be hearty and satisfying, by all means: dig in.
Couldn’t have have gone as far as a gold star?
Yes, I have one left here for Dr. Stork.
I am appalled that Stock would advocate for restrictions on any kind of speech. Restrictions on speech should be anathema to any member of a free society for one very simple reason. Who gets to define what speech should be restricted, in Stock’s case who gets to define speech that chills. I might agree with Stock’s examples but what if someone decides that something else is speech that chills. We can never be sure who will be empowered to make the decisions.
A culture of openness and appreciation for the free flow of ideas is the ideal, the only ideal. There will be times like today when freedom leads to a censorious culture and unjust things happen to good people like Stock, but all we can do is ride it out and keep calling for freedom. If we start passing laws, we only set a course down a very slippery slope. Humans are imperfect and there will always be an ebb and flow of tolerance. You can’t change people and sometimes it is very hard to change laws when they have unintended consequences.
Do you mean her advocating for the suppression of “speech” which seeks to close down the rights of others to speak freely?
Being appalled by that: would it go as far as seeking to deny her the right to advocate on behalf of free speech by preventing the suppression of free speech? There’s a deep philosophical point here; being appalled about it requires further explanation. What is it that appals you?
While there are certainly other ideals such as altruism or non-violence, a world of totally unrestricted speech (which I gather you are appalled to see restricted in any situation or place: in a classroom of children? in a church or house of government?) is indeed ideal, in the sense that it is not a full-fledged reality. It never was and can’t ever be. For example: libel, direct incitement to violence, or shouting fire in a crowded theater when there isn’t one.
And Stock’s proposed “regulation” is particular to major institutions. The unfettered speech of a censoring dean or university president can serve to stifle the speech of many others. Any view can still be expressed–if not with zero professional risk–but not on behalf of The University, which is bigger than any one person or single generation.
“It’s because if audiences are not exposed to a wide enough range of viewpoints about a given controversy, they will start to assume that the matter is settled. Worse, they might assume that everyone reasonable agrees the matter is settled, and so dismiss naysayers on the presumed authority of their favourite media sources. And their favourite media sources might be wrong.”
The climate change playbook as employed by the BBC et al in a nutshell
An American perspective here, but hopefully it holds global relevance.
I was listening to music when a song by Dixie Chicks came on, and it reminded me of when cancel culture came from the other direction. In the early ’00s they made disparaging remarks about then president George W. Bush while touring overseas. The footage was broadcast on American news and, as country stars, they lost their mostly conservative fanbase.
Another facet of that era which is significant for the same reasons is the PATRIOT Act. This weapon wielded by conservatives (albeit less along party lines, PATRIOT Act received bipartisan support) was used against them later, especially during Covid lockdowns.
My point is the same one made in favor of freedom of speech. We should be very hesitant when limiting rights of our political or ideological enemies, because we inevitably limit our own rights. When the next election cycle brings those opponents into power, they have a new way to stifle your dissent.
True. And there tends to be a back and forth stakes-raising or oneupmanship of biased restraint that can end in bloodshed. But the violence–to put it mildly–doesn’t end the conflict and we are faced again with the challenge of engaging with our opponents, now in the bloody aftermath.
Add into the mix ‘the astonishing power of social pressure’ – experiments have reliably shown that around 40% of people deny the evidence of their eyes in order to fit in:
There is no room in the academy for a serious thinker like Kathleen Stock but the very mediocre Ania Srinivasan prospers. It really is time to close the universities. It would be for the best. I‘ll find a new job and it will probably even pay better.
I’ve been saying for some years that scholarship made out fine without universities for two millenia, and we should give serious thought to closing them.
“The second fact is that everyone thinks their own beliefs are true”
Not really. There is a third state. I know that 2+2=4 but I believe that Trump won the election. Now, if I permitted myself, I know perfectly well that he lost, but if my tribe requires me to not know it, then I dutifully do not know it — which permits me to believe it. IOW, we are quite capable of believing things we know to be false and to do so without admitting to ourselves that we are liars. One simply does not listen to one’s internal truth-teller and the problem goes away.
I never became an academic, but I do have a philosophy M.A. and a lifetime of reading intellectual history behind me, and I have a sense of solidarity with (if not quite a feeling of belonging to) a philosophical tradition that stretches from the pre-Socratics through Husserl and Jaspers to Professor Stock herself. I’m saddened, but hardly surprised, to encounter further evidence that the inmates are labouring in customary crack-brained fashion to take over this asylum as well.
The greatest phrase ever spoken in defence of free speech – “I disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it” – should be branded with a red-hot iron on the buttocks of anyone who believes that the law should provide sanctions to regulate the expression of opinion, right, wrong or plain misguided.
It seems to me one of the things that needs to be added to the “Freedom of speech” debate is location i.e. where you say what you say. After all you have total freedom of speech at Speakers Corner but only those around you will hear what you say at that time (and perhaps the odd tourist with a video camera). Never makes the news of course. However, if someone puts something on the internet it can be read around the world. It maybe “lost” as most of it is, it may go “viral” at some point and be read by thousands, it maybe dragged up 10 years later etc.
The Good Left bites its lip and stares nobly into the middle distance,…
There seems to me to be a profound lack of self awareness that is an emergent property of a self-regarding righteousness that it is the default moral reality.
Our default setting as social animals is to adopt the tribal norm- to defend our members and react with antagonism to our opponents. This is quite well understood. However I think we underestimate how psychologically unusual it is for us as humans to think and act with impartiality. Indeed, I suspect that many simply do not have the cognitive wherewithal to think and act differently. Or if they do, to have the motivation and love of truth, to bother to be impartial. No one believes in unfettered freedom to say what one likes. Regrettably though I think it is a minority who believe in the right of their opponent to be able to express themselves.
It’s not unusual for High Priestesses like Srinivasan to object to being challenged. But challenge them we must.
As much as I support free speech but I also don’t think it can realistically be upheld as an absolute participle for any length of time. A cohesive society will always contain social and religious taboos that will inevitably encompass language. Our current problems with free speech come from a lack of agreement over what one can or can’t say in public, due to the large number of conflicting belief systems in circulation. As long as everyone has their own set of blasphemies that are constantly called out by their peers, the conflict will continue.
It’s true, as you say, that conflicts will continue as an enduring feature of the human condition. Meanwhile, though, we have to muddle through.
All the more reason for governments and institutions to abandon censorship and let people argue about everything.
All the more reason, moreover, for people to argue in the public square and therefore to take responsibility for challenging ideas that they consider either wrong or dangerous instead of waiting passively for “authorities” to step in and control everyone.
Is it ever possible to take a neutral position on the importance of free speech? … Occasionally, someone on the Right will complain about the suppression of a position or person they don’t agree with, but usually more to avoid complaints of inconsistency than anything else.
That’s a no-win construction if there ever was one. Stock answers her own question here – yes it is possible, and right wing people routinely do it. But they deserve no credit because, apparently, she looked into their minds and learned it’s done to avoid inconsistency … which is the definition of being neutral to begin with!
I really wish Unherd relied less on academic writers. Their output always seems to have logical fallacies like this, usually in service of their ideology. It’s boring.
In just the same way that some faith groups have blasphemy laws to shut down dissenting voices, the wokerati have the notion of “hate speech”. They are not curtailing your freedom of speech, they are preventing you from engaging in hate speech.
Whatever the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act is or is not, I am sure that Sir Humphrey is satisfied with it.
I think that it is always difficult and challenging to write and to speak outside the Overton window. We humans are social animals and we sensibly know we should curb the crazies. And the curbers are, of course, the high-status people — leaders, priests, academics paid by the state — and their job is to keep the radicals on a short leash.
Of course, in the current moment, where the educated class that has ruled for the last century is approaching its sell-by date, it is tempted to cheat. ‘Twas ever thus.
When will we see a published collection of Professor Stock’s essays and journalism? She writes about these difficult subjects at least as eloquently as Joan Didion, cooling wielding the knife but leaving reader refreshed and hopeful for the cause of truth. Karl Popper’s legacy lives on. Go on, publish! I would be first in line at the bookshop.
Shouting this out in our aggregate newsletter this week. dowhatyouretold.com
“The second fact is that everyone thinks their own beliefs are true” The correct distinction is beween those who know the truth and those like JM Keynes: “when the facts change, I change my mind: what do you do sir?”
I have read this article more than once, but I keep getting lost. I kind of understand the individual paragraphs, but I cannot get a general sense of what is being said. If I were asked to summarise it, I couldn’t.
I am sure it is just me.
I enjoyed – and learnt from – this well-argued piece. On a point of detail, are not the Oxford Uni lgbtq society and the lgbtq campaign actually different things (the former being social, and the attempted suppression coming from the latter). Confusing I know, and I could be wrong…
Surely the one and only benefit of COVID* was that it taught us how superfluous Universities really are, and that everything an CAN now be done ONLINE?
Thus sell off the architectural important one(s) to AirB&B and demolish the rest for car parks.
(* Plus, and through no fault of my own, the opportunity of lifetime to invest in PPE stuff, with resultant gargantuan profits.)
I hope this is you in your satirical provocateur mode.
But there is a large kernel of truth in what he says.
If universities were really for learning from the best minds, the best lecturers in the world could deliver all the lectures etc online with some labs for the sciences etc to undertake practical learning.
But as we know, that is no longer their raison d’etre (if it ever was).
In the UK at least they are principally businesses, which exist mainly to maximise their revenue stream etc.
It could be done, but it simply isn’t the case that there s any equivalency between physical and remote presence, even with a prepared lecture. That is doubly true of a seminar or when there are questions after a talk. The immediacy and sensory engagement of being involved in a real discussion of attending to the claims of someone who is actually in front of you, is different in both degree and kind. (I’ve taken graduate courses, and occasionally taught college students via Zoom). And of course music, medicine, science (chemistry lab?!), and the arts are an absurdity under a virtual plan.
The kernel of truth contained in Mr. Stanhope’s remarks above is about as large as that contained in the claim that a teenager is fine without any real-world interaction: Look at all of his online friends!
The insistence of the 17th century Scotch Presbyterian Church that everyChurch/Kirk had a school attached to it to promote literacy (of the Bible) ensured that by say 1700 they had a literacy rate of about 80%. Autodidactic measures actually worked!
By contrast England had to wait until the Education Act of 1872 before things literacy rose above 17%.
Obviously it is axiomatic that some subjects must be taught on a University campus but far too MANY need not . A cull is required, and soon.
A more reasonable take this time, Mr. Stanhope. Autodidacts will always emerge but the better version of that need not, cannot be forced–it comes from the self. Advanced research and study still requires a measure of guidance plus special collections and brick and mortar resources to thrive or produce scholarship that is worth a damn.
Where you and I can probably agree: Far fewer students should go to college at all. Twelve years at a desk, concluded or perhaps followed by a few years containing practical training or preparation for a trade/career should be sufficient, even a better fit for most students. (Why is 12 years some preliminary stretching routine!)
When I was a student at non-prestigious colleges, both around 1990 and more recently after returning for grad degrees, there were several weak students in almost every class. Young adults who didn’t like to read or want to be there, weren’t “good at school”, or contributed little of value. This was far less true of graduate students, of course, but still not rare.
I’m guessing you may have encountered a significant minority or such indifferent or net-negative students even at Oxbridge when you matriculated all those decades ago.
But what is the source of your literacy numbers? While the Dutch were once far ahead of England, I’ve seen far higher estimates, even for the 17th and 18th centuries, and even for women.
You don’t even need the ‘online’. I’ve ben furthering my knowledge for decades, in privacy, using books.
Amia’s photo speaks volumes.
“And it’s strange that many progressives refuse to consider this general point.”
Translation: “It’s strange that many progressives refuse to contemplate too closely any evidence that might just possibly lead to the self-insight that they’re hypocrites.”