by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 27
January 2021
Response
11:53

George Monbiot’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ is a dangerous idea

Some of my fellow lockdown hardliners are going off the deep end
by Peter Franklin
Why suppress obvious nonsense that isn’t going to inform government policy? Credit: Getty

Lockdown sceptics? I’m sceptical of them. Indeed, I’m a lockdown hardliner: I’m pro maskanti mass air travel and believe that pandemic disease poses an existential risk to humanity.

I also thought that the claim that the ‘lockdown mentality’ was a permanent threat to our way of life was wildly overblown. But suddenly I’m not so sure. The fact is that some of my fellow hardliners are going off the deep end.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


This morning The Guardian published a column by George Monbiot, which calls for Government restrictions on free speech:

“We have a right to speak freely. We also have a right to life. When malicious disinformation – claims that are known to be both false and dangerous – can spread without restraint, these two values collide head-on. One of them must give way…”
- George Monbiot, The Guardian

The one he want us to give way on is free speech: “When governments fail to ban outright lies that endanger people’s lives, I believe they make the wrong choice.”

What does he mean by “outright lies”? The examples given include “vaccines are used to inject us with microchips” and other conspiracy theories. But why suppress obvious nonsense that isn’t going to inform government policy? Monbiot’s answer is that ordinary people might believe it and refuse to get vaccinated — thereby putting themselves and others at risk.

On this basis, he proposes a time-limited ban on the most blatantly false claims — “running for perhaps six months”. But why stop there? Why not set up a Ministry of Truth to provide an ongoing means of suppressing dangerous information? If lives are at stake, then isn’t that all that matters?

Consider the following example. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Germany decided to accelerate the shutdown of its existing nuclear power stations. There’s compelling case that this move unnecessarily prolonged Germany’s dependence on coal-fired power stations, thereby exposing people and the planet to life-threatening pollution. It’s an argument that George Monbiot should be familiar with, because he’s made it himself on a number of occasions (here, for example).

So if the risk to life trumps free speech, should those who advocated for accelerated nuclear shutdown have been suppressed? Indeed, wouldn’t there be a case for proscribing the organisations who were at the forefront of the shutdown campaign — for instance, the German Green Party?

There is a moral distinction between spreading blatant lies and failing to adequately weigh-up the balance between different risks. But, in practical terms, the latter can be more dangerous — because it appears to be reasonable and therefore can influence more people, including policy makers.

Therefore on the logic of lives at risk, the Ministry of Truth would be more gainfully employed making examples out of fallible experts than uncredentialed grifters.

In any case, who would make the necessary judgments? August bodies like the World Health Organisation — which initially discouraged the use of masks before changing its mind? Do we want to prosecute dissenters who disagree with official advice that may subsequently be shown to be wrong?

Monbiot is right to point out that the right to free speech is not absolute. But to significantly extend the sensible curbs that currently exist would have a chilling effect on public discourse — and hence a means by which mistakes in public policy can be exposed.

The irony is that a proposal designed to protect life could end up endangering it. Perhaps George Monbiot should ban himself just to be on the safe side.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
118 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

The arguments proposed by Monbiot and his ilk are rooted in the basic assumption that people are not capable of thinking for themselves and therefore need to have a nanny state on hand to protect them from everything, up to and including themselves.

I cannot express how much I despise this view of humanity.

Mark H
Mark H
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It’s exactly that sort of thinking that was the foundation of apartheid. Our group knows best, other groups are inherently untrustworthy, so we will control what can be said.

In effect they managed to cancel about 80% of the population of the country, maybe more…

The ideologic basis of apartheid had its own kind of self-consistency, sustained by selective filtering of conflicting evidence. That kind of defective thinking & wilful self-delusion seems to be increasingly common today, and it doesn’t seem to be limited by political tribe.

David Lawler
David Lawler
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Tha arguments proposed by Monbiot are rooted in Guardian readers assumptions that they are the master race.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

Hahaha, David – that made me chuckle! Cheers for that!

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

Snowflakes are (brace yourself) widespread among the DT/DM/Sun/Express crowd.
Quite a few are here – btw.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Hi Jeremy, always nice to read your cheery comments.

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
2 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

some truth to that unfortunately!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

Oh Christ – I’d forgotten all about Monbiot, having completely given up on The Guardian some time ago. He was ‘out of my life’, along with the rest of them. Nothing, but nothing, recommended by anybody who writes for the Guardian these days should ever be adopted by any government, organisation or company.

Walter Brigham
Walter Brigham
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Nor anything recommended by Washington Post or New York Times. An honest Ministry of Truth would have their hands full right there.

stephen f.
stephen f.
2 years ago
Reply to  Walter Brigham

A fellow in DC printed up bumper stickers that read “I don’t Believe the Post”.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
2 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

”Daily Post ”from New York,Printed Full on hunter biden,Cocaine binges and Ukrainian ‘Trade deals” When twitter,Youtube,Facebook censored anyone who veered from their Globalist censorship

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Well said. But isn’t it astonishing that the left unblushingly proposes direct, totalitarian controls? Ten years ago, any suggestion that they might, one day, do so would have been laughed to scorn – chiefly by the left themselves. True, the left is innately totalitarian; but only now do they dare to unveil these central tenets in the clear light of day, which is in itself a testament to how much power they think they have.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

The far left clearly believe that with the woke/intersectional movement their time has come. Now they must set about discrediting and marginalising the conservatives. Labelling them “Far right” and therefore unacceptable is a start.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Moonbat is one of the most useful people in journalism, along with Suzanne Moore and to some extent much of the BBC, in that if you take any of these people’s opinions and believe whatever is so far as possible its polar opposite, you will arrive at a sensible view.

I don’t mean that literally everything they say is always 180 degrees wrong; that would be silly. If Moonbat were to say that to stay dry in the rain you should take an umbrella, that’s not really an opinion, and hence it doesn’t follow that you should in fact leave your umbrella at home.

But if, as in the linked article, he says something like “Any control by governments of what we may say is dangerous…But the absence of control is also dangerous”, that’s plainly arrant b***s because it asserts two mutually-exclusive opposites to be equivalent and equally true. When he opines that “The BBC…thrills to the sound of noisy, ill-informed contrarians”, this is exactly wrong: the BBC pushes conventional soft-left opinions on literally everything. When did it last “thrill to the sound” of Nigel Farage, Piers Corbyn or Jordan Peterson? When he whines that “Lobby groups funded by plutocrats and corporations are responsible for much of the misinformation that saturates public life”, it’s a reminder that Black Lives Matter, Marxist pseudo-intellectuals, the BBC and Extinction Rebellion, who “are responsible for much of the misinformation that saturates public life”, aren’t “funded by plutocrats”.

So long live Moonbat and his profound, utter wrongness on literally everything. If he weren’t there to misguide us, we might be wrong about everything, too.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

With Polly Toynbee, literally everything she says really is 180 degrees wrong.

I would be a multi-millionaire now if I had taken every predictions she has made in her Guardian column over the last three decades or so, and bet money on the opposite happening.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

And if you’d applied the same principle to everything with A E-P predicts over at the DT you’d be a billionaire!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

You’re not wrong. If Toynbee were to state that the sky is blue and the grass is green, I’d seek another view.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Suzanne moore Quit the ”SlaveSupporting” Guardian six months ago,due to Bullying on her views of ”Feminism” she is a paper tiger?..Shows how cra** The Gates foundation is,Funding ”The Guardian” and ”The Observer”

Tom Fox
Tom Fox
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Moonbat and Toynbbee are different. Toynbee, always wailing on about the poor, has three homes: A villa in Tuscany, a nice little cottage in the countryside (is it Sussex?) and a million pound house in London. Monbiot is just a raving hippy while she is a cynical harpie. Mind you, Lord McAlpine was FAR too kind to the snivelling, libel spreading rat Monbiot. He should have destroyed him in the courts, never mind accepting his apology and a bit of community service which he let him off with.

Alex Hunter
Alex Hunter
2 years ago

Peter,

I respect your view. The issue I have with Monbiot’s article (and this is the case elsewhere in the Guardian) is the quite deliberate conflation of ‘lockdown-skepticism’ with ‘Covid-denial’.

Despite what Monbiot et al would like us to think these two things are not the same. One is, quite reasonably, questioning the policy response to the pandemic (i.e. is the cure worse than the disease), the other is fringe conspiracy as you have outlined.

From my perspective one of the most interesting things about the media response to Covid is how keen Guardian commentators are on ever more authoritarian measures. First lockdown (should be harder, faster and more draconian) now the restriction of entirely reasonable policy challenge.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Hunter

Branding skeptics as “deniers” is a rhetorical device aimed at painting them and their arguments as illegitimate. The whole point is to stop debate in its tracks, with a religious-like zeal if necessary. The heretics cannot be allowed a voice, now can they.

The last thing they want is for the policy itself to be scrutinized. The proles might discover that the emperor is naked after all. At the very least they’re noticing that no one who issues these mandates and directives is ever impacted by their consequences.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Robert Jenrick & Matt Hancock on January 27,Complimented Mainstream media,for their Support!!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Hunter

The same conflation goes on with climate change scepticism. There’s a taxonomy of doubt, from “isn’t actually happening” through “is happening but there’s nothing we can do” to “is happening but is not worth preventing”. The left – and it is the left – conflates all these positions into one, which is “denier”, aiming to discredit all by associating them all with the most extreme.

Of course, as the left only tolerates one view of everything, its instinct is to assume there is also only one opposing view, too. This is why to a leftist, everyone to your right is a fascist.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes. I remember the arguments when people called themselves Global Warming Sceptics. This just wasn’t allowed and the media was advised to say Global Warming Deniers instead.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Hunter

Even people who deny that COVID exists have the right to speak freely; others can choose to believe them or not.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 years ago

He’s hardly the only one pushing such a thing. Twitter has made itself the guardian of “science” by blocking or shutting down anyone who dares not toe the Fauci line, even when that line deviates from past claims.

But to significantly extend the sensible curbs that currently exist would have a chilling effect on public discourse
yes, dear author, that is the whole point..to cast any deviation from the officially approved dogma as heresy. This is like the jihadis, just without the fatwahs. For now.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

“We have a right to speak freely. We also have a right to life. When malicious disinformation ““ claims that are known to be both false and dangerous ““ can spread without restraint, these two values collide head-on. One of them must give way”¦”

It’s a no brainer – the one to preserve is the right of anyone to say whatever they like. Always. No matter how false, how distasteful, how odious. Without that, we have nothing.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

you’d think it is a no-brainer, but a horde of leftists disagrees.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

They do, and it makes me panic a destructive reckoning may be coming. The horrors of WWII cured the right in western countries of their authoritarian streak. A century on, and it seems the left are now about to play out a repeat.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago

Current government policy of mandatory business closure and stay-at-home orders and face masks is exactly the opposite of Pandemic Emergency Response plans in force as recently as February 2020. (Apologies – UnHerd moderated out the relevant quotes and reference to the Department of Health policy document).

So, to follow Monbiot’s illiberal reasoning, we should be incarcerated not only for disagreeing with government policy in its current form, but for agreeing with government policy in its recent form.

Interestingly, A Guardian article published in February 2020 still publishes extracts from the then-current Government planning document that are the opposite guidance to the current formulation, rendering its editors liable, one supposes, to the penalties their newspaper recommends.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Lyon

You make a good point. Leftist doctrine in particular is so unstable that yesterday’s dogma is today’s heresy and tomorrow’s dogma again.

Notice also that Moonbat is careful not to say what penalties he’d propose for disagreeing with him on anything. Presumably some sort of Gulag?

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

In Saxony, Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein, I gather they are preparing “camps” to detain those who are identified as presenting a threat to social norms and community interests.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Lyon

Masks remain the greatest example of this, from “they’re useless” to “wear one or you’ve got blood on your hands”. There’s a lot of 1984 around.

I beleive blue, white or green masks work best – those are the colours that medical people wear.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Although there is a perception that the wearing of facemasks by the public in the community and household setting may be beneficial, there is in fact very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use in this setting.

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Pandemic Preparedness Strategy, February 2020

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Lyon

Why would a pronouncement in February (when next to no-one in the West knew what was going on) carry any weight now ?

Try : Face masks considerably reduce COVID-19 cases in Germany Mitze et al Dec 22 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

for something a bit more up to date.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago

No proof they are any damn use at all. Correlation does not equal causation; a lower number of “cases” (which means anyone with a positive test, these days, not numbers of actual sick people) in a community where most wear masks everywhere could be due to a wide variety of factors..

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
1 year ago

As you will see from Figure S2 in the supplemental section, mask wearing was the last restriction to be brought in – 3 to 5 weeks after the 32 other restrictions had been implemented, which is why this study is probably unique.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago

The states in the U.S. where most people wear masks everywhere – even outdoors – and have been wearing them for the longest time have the highest rates of COVID infections. I don’t think one has to be a scientist to conclude from that that masks don’t work.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
1 year ago

Citation for this assertion please.
Yes, you do have to use a smidgeon of science to support an opinion otherwise, it’s just an opinion – as irrelevant as any other.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago

Um, this is not a high school debate club; I don’t “have” to do anything. Look it up yourself if you’re interested; not my job to do your research for you.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
1 year ago

Already done and ongoing which is why I quoted the German study because it is different from all the others.
Still haven’t found a study that bolsters up your assertion that masks = more Covid

Angus J
Angus J
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Lyon

The revolution always ends up eating its own.

David Lawler
David Lawler
2 years ago

Privilidged Guardianista wants to persecute anyone who disagrees with him. Is anyone surprised?

Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

I think he’s looking at a symptom, not a cause. A reason for the rise of alternative realities, is that many individuals don’t trust official sources or official explanations, particularly from parts of the media. Why the distrust? Because those official sources have, in the recent past, developed a habit of manipulating and cherry-picking the truth to support a particular narrative.

This would explain why many of the same distrusters and dissenters can be found across a range of issues. In discovering manipulation in one area, they then work using the assumption that all statements are manipulated and not to be trusted at face value.

If, then, you want to return to a ‘shared truth’, rather than attempt to crush dissenting opinions, take a look in the mirror and ask what official sources and mainstream media need to do to regain trust.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Exactly. We might have some faith in the state and the media if they didn’t to us so relentlessly and if they didn’t get everything wrong so relentlessly. To be fair, the state appears to have got the vaccination programmer right, but that is the first thing that it has got right for over 30 years.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

I’ve had the experience many times where a writer I respect says something I know to be untrue (or at least not clear cut) – basically repeating some standard trope, and that then makes me question everything else they have said and anything they say thereafter – especially if they then proceed to suggest actions based on what I know to be misconceptions. This happens especially when journalists with a political agenda co-opt ‘facts’ about technology to support their stance – when any tecchy working close to the wire would know the stuff they are saying about technology is nonsense. That is not to say there isn’t plenty of room for opinions (and I have plenty of those) or uncertainty, because the rise of algorithmic technologies means an avalanche of questions about our relationship with machines are now ringing our doorbell. But boy, there’s ssome complete rubbish about technology being spouted by people who wouldn’t know a line of code from their elbow.

I guess we all need to separate out what are clear cut facts, from shifting developing scenarios which require changing opinions, with the caveat that the opinions may change again. And all that again seperated from purely personal opinions based on our beliefs, again caveated as such.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
2 years ago

Free speech is not just for your friends and those you agree with, but must also be for your enemies and those you disagree with. Otherwise it’s not free speech.

opn
opn
2 years ago

The eminent Byzantine historian Norman Hepburn Baynes, a Gladstonian Liberal, made it his war work during the Second World War to publish an English translation of Hitler’s speeches (2 vols., OUP, 1942). Friends suggested to him that he should equip the text with footnotes. He declined. The speeches spoke for themselves.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
2 years ago
Reply to  opn

Thank you! An excellent contribution!

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
2 years ago

The natural, atavistic reaction of the left is always suppression of speech. Partly, it’s because there are no arguments on the left so you have to shut down your opponents, but I think the key sentence is this one: “Monbiot’s answer is that ordinary people might believe it and refuse to get vaccinated ” thereby putting themselves and others at risk.” That is pure vanguardism, and it’s absolutely indicative of the mindset that assumes — not believes, simply assumes — it knows better than “ordinary people”. It’s why the left doesn’t trouble itself with the cost of exchanging freedom for security. You won’t need freedom once the proper people are in charge.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe Francis

Yes, it is naïve to think that we have freedom of speech.

Making up an idea, which is NOT true, I cannot say, “I don’t like my neighbour because he is black.” Is it good or bad that I can’t say this?

What if I say, “I don’t like my neighbour because he ginger.” Is that better or the same?

What if I say, “I don’t like my neighbour because he is German and my father was killed in the war.” That sounds as if I am asking for sympathy but is it really better?

What if I say, “I don’t like my neighbour because he is fat and ugly,”

On VE day we sat in our street with a bottle or two of wine – neighbours from houses around us. Some women were dressed in long gowns but most were in jeans. We were talking about Covid 19. One person said in a very clear voice, “They say that ethnic minorities suffer worse with Covid 19. And that’s good isn’t it.” There was silence for about 5 seconds and somebody else said, “Did you see the football last night?”

I have told this story to a few people and mostly their reaction were that I should have stood up and walked away. Would that not have denied free speech?

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The way the stupid comment was handled was the best way to handle such comments, by ignoring it and refusing to be any kind of audience to it. The person who said it, having gotten the embarrassing silent treatment, probably will not say such a thing again. Lesson learned, problem solved, community peace and harmony maintained. But this solution I think is unacceptable to many o the woke young. They want people like this to be punished, to suffer. They want people around them to put themselves into the role of punisher, and if they decline – as people in your community did – to take on that role, they’re accused of being just as bad as the ones who make the racist comments.

Bill McCardle
Bill McCardle
2 years ago

I first came across George around 30 years ago in Oxford when as an environmental campaigner, possibly councillor, for some cause or other and he was telling the audience that people should live of the land and only shop in their own town or street ideally. He was nuts then and is nuts now. His latest wizzo idea to curtail free speech comes from someone who is so blinded by one hatred (call it the Trump/Boris political strand) he is unable to fully grasp the greater hatred he proposes. I just don’t get it why these “intellectuals”, mostly on the left it must be said, don’t see that sooner rather than later such a law under such a Government will come for their free speech. Then for them. I suppose they don’t really get what socialism has done in practice. It’s all an airy, fairy, lovely Theory to middle class, Oxbridge grads.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
2 years ago

It’s particularly ironic this being published in the Guardian, which will delete any comment opposing the idea that people can be “born into the wrong body” and that a man becomes a woman simply by declaring it so. Well, it used to delete these comments – now it simply does not allow comments on this topic.

As far as I know those two claims are entirely unscientific and essentially amount to a delusion. But perhaps new scientific evidence has emerged that the Guardian is party to.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
2 years ago

How refreshing to read a coherent identification of the sinister, totalitarian impulses and presuppositions that lie behind Mr Monbiot’s thought ” and behind the organisations that support such thought.
And how refreshing to read a line-up of comments that are so consistently supportive of Mr Franklin’s arguments. His last sentence is brilliant!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

A Monbiot stamping on a human face forever…

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
2 years ago

No doubt Mr Monibot’s Ministry of Truth would suppress dangerous information such as the real truth based on actual facts and unbiased scientific consensus and not all the ideological pseudo truth that is broadcast or published which is the real danger.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 years ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

where is ‘consensus’ mentioned within the scientific method?

Mike Buttolph
Mike Buttolph
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

There is usually a consensus in science, just as in most fields of knowledge. But it is an essential feature of science that every consensus is provisional, and there are established means to challenge it.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Buttolph

that provisional aspect is missing of late, whether the topic is covid or climate change. It’s just pure appeal to authority.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Consensus usually comes after a long time when experiments have been repeated with the same results and there is nothing more to argue about. Or, maybe, when all research grants go to those with the idea of the moment.

janetimmins
janetimmins
2 years ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

Puzzled so I thought I’d better read Monibiot’s article. He writes “I would like to see an expert committee, similar to SAGE, identifying claims that present a genuine danger to life and proposing their temporary prohibition to parliament.” So no not a Ministry of Truth but a committee that discusses stuff and then asks parliament to ban such stuff if it’s dangerous. Frankly that’s just sounds clumsy – functionally impossible, so don’t worry we’re way beyond 1984.
Perhaps George was trying to generate a bit of debate – the Guardian didn’t open up his article for btl comment.

Darren Cranston
Darren Cranston
2 years ago

I think Monibot’s first sentence “”We have a right to speak freely” is to be picked over even before delving into his insane notion it should be removed. Does anyone believe we have a right to speak freely in any of the Anglo-sphere? i’ve lived on both sides of the pond, and whilst the US side has it enshrined in the first amendment, if you step into the arena of wrong-think you can and will be instantly cancelled.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
2 years ago

This is my experience too. I recently migrated to the US from Europe. For what is reputedly ‘the land of the free’, I find that free speech is very restricted, especially in the field I am in (academia). One of the benefits of not being born and raised in the US is that I’m blithely ignorant of the speech codes surrounding certain issues, so I just speak my mind, and only realize afterward that I said something that was construed as offensive.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Also, what you can say in New York is not the same as what you can say in Louisville,Ky.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

That’s very true. I live in rural conservative America, but often visit friends in a nearby liberal city. They are worlds apart. There are two Americas and their paths hardly ever cross unless it’s to antagonize each other.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

I don’t have the answer, but I think we can all see that the wide dissemination of utter nonsense especially on social media does cause real problems. Vaccine scepticism is an interesting example in that it doesn’t map at all well with the usual ‘culture wars’ tribes – there are ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ wing sceptics, as well as millions of ordinary people.

We are not so absolutist about free speech as the US has been, but we need to be very wary about further restrictions. The policing mechanisms would very likely become dominated by ‘woke’ institutions. They could well decide for example that arguing that ‘transgender women are not in all respects the same as ‘menstruators’ is a crime likely to lead to the mass suicide of transgender teenagers, and that such arguments should therefore be suppressed. And many other examples…

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Actually Andrew I don’t think “we can all see that the wide dissemination of utter nonsense especially on social media does cause real problems.”
I don’t use any social media at all, and regard those who do, and who are influenced by it, as abject cretins. If they weren’t cretinously swallowing tripe off Twitter, they’d be finding it elsewhere. Stupid and credulous are their own reward.

We’ve already seen what censorship of dissent looks like. It looks like transgender activism on Twitter.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Vaccine scepticism is a perfect example, to the extent that it is an exercise in reasoning rather than outlook. There is no rational reason why a healthy person would incur a so-far unquantified health risk from vaccination with this experimental substance in order to obtain the quantified lack of benefit to him, to others and, by extension, to the NHS. Yet it is precisely this kind of reasoning that is to be prohibited.

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Lyon

Pretty weak argument. The vaccines have been proven safe, the benefit is not getting the virus or not getting sick with it, the benefit to society is not spreading it. Unlike Monbiot though I wouldn’t ban your speech.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
2 years ago
Reply to  Eugene Norman

The vaccines have been proven safe

Have they, though? This virus just came out last year. As of yet, it’s impossible to perform a longitudinal study on vaccines for it. Myself, I’m pretty wary of imbibing a biological concoction lauded by an establishment that I’m beginning to deeply distrust.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Exactly: in effect we are being “asked” (for which, read: compelled) to take part in a live Phase III trial.

It is way too early to conclude the vaccines have been proven safe. A few months’ evidence? How can anyone be so certain?

We can only hope they all work without side-effects, but it seems expressing a common sense-based pragmatic approach to their eventual desired success rather than heralding them as the panacea before data exists is less preferable to either:
– Johnson style boosterism / overpromising / political desperation; and/or
– the kind of loony one-eyed intolerance that Monbiot advocates.

David Redfern
David Redfern
1 year ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

I read a Press Release from Pfizer the other day which stated that as of no more than a month ago, their medical study hadn’t been submitted for peer review.

With a little bit of fag packet arithmetic, it also seems that the trial for immediate adverse effects on 43,000 patients would be unlikely even to have been completed by now, and that was for just the first jab.

The whole vaccination process is sailing along on a wing and a prayer, but as big pharma has been absolved of all legal responsibility by the UK government at least, then Pfizer are free to rake in the cash with no risk whatsoever.

They couldn’t get that vaccination into me with a javelin, and I’m supposedly in an at risk group.

Merck have abandoned the vaccination race saying it’s far less risky to contract the condition than accept a vaccination.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
2 years ago
Reply to  Eugene Norman

Not necessarily. I am going to get vaccinated as soon as it’s available to me because I am 64. However, the vaccine studies do show a small but significant number of serious side effects, especially in younger people. Our thirty year old daughter would be crazy to get vaccinated given this risk, when her risk of serious illness is virtually zero if/when she contracts the disease. Her husband has already had it, as has our adult son. It’s gotten to the point where she is considering deliberately getting infected by visiting with friends who have it.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Leaving Monbiot to one side, are lockdown hardliners and anti-conspiracy theorists the same thing in certain peoples eyes? Because I am a lockdown sceptic, but certainly don’t buy into the full bouquet of conspiracy theories. And whilst we are about it Mr Franklin, please explain why South Africa’s epidemic curve is trending sharply down with no hard lockdown?

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
2 years ago

It seems to me that there are at least three schools of lockdown scepticism which. have nothing to do with conspiracy theories. One is that personal freedom is so valuable that any interference with it is intolerable, whatever the costs to society. (This is the argument, for example, for going to war against a totalitarian enemy). Another is that the damage caused by lockdown in terms of human life and prosperity is likely to be higher than some other policy, such as the Great Barrington plan. A third is that lockdown is not in fact effective in doing, well, whatever it is that lockdown is intended to do. None of these is necessarily a “conspiracy theory”

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Exactly

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago

And india’s

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Yep

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
2 years ago

I suspect it will all become clear in years to come. Don’t forget the countries that properly locked down and are doing well. I don’t know the answer. I’m neither for or against lockdowns but feel we must try something. UK seems to have tried everything apart from a very strict lockdown and made a mess of everything. At this point in time we can debate until we are blue in the face and make comparisons galore but in truth it is only time will tell.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
2 years ago

Hindsight always was a wonderful gift. Problem for Boris is he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. And anyway can you even imagine where we’d be at now had Corbyn and his trusty side kick Dianne Abacus won and were now directing our show. Gord help us all!

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
2 years ago

Oh I am not saying they would have done better and I’m not particularly having a swipe (please don’t make this political) but our death rate is very high and our economy is in a mess – so to date we have a no win situation. In this case hindsight will indeed be a fine thing for all the countries that have been affected and employed different methods. Simple statement. Time will tell. Should there be another virus crisis hopefully we (as in the world) will have learnt lessons.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

The only countries that have susceptible populations that have fared well iro infections are those that shut down hard and early – lock out. Their economies have taken huge knocks.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
2 years ago

As have most economies that have suffered at the hands of Covid. In time we can look at what people did and what worked well and what didn’t. Too early to tell yet. I’m not making judgements because all the data isn’t in yet.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
2 years ago

Looking at the SA government website looks like they have had restrictions since mid December, with further turning of the screw in early January. Summer there, now.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

I live here. There are some new foolish restrictions in place like beach bans that have no effect. They have a blanket ban on selling alcohol which is just crazy as it shuts down restaurants and tourism. They have shut down indoor shouty alcohol places which is a good idea. And huge crowded stadiums. They have a curfew which has no effect. They have no hard lockdown. Work places, travel, malls, shops, restaurants are all open. It is business as usual in many respects. People live cheek by jowl in poorer areas and cannot even begin to practice social distancing. Taxis are full to the hilt. The epidemic curve is plummeting down.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
2 years ago

Very good to hear from someone actually on the ground.
Let’s hope that your local epidemiologists, virologists, immunologists and public health people do enough digging and delving to come up with some hypotheses for your particular outbreak dynamics.

Nothing like real life experiments to generate new ideas.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago

Maybe it’s due at least partly to population demographics, i.e. a very young population compared to those of most of Western Europe, and also with a lower average life expectancy. One thing we know for certain about COVID-19 is that it’s overwhelmingly a disease of the elderly.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago

“There is very limited evidence that restrictions on mass gatherings will have any significant effect on influenza virus transmission…There is also a lack of scientific evidence on the impact of internal travel restrictions on transmission and attempts to impose such restrictions would have wide-reaching implications for business and welfare…Although there is a perception that the wearing of facemasks by the public in the community and household setting may be beneficial, there is in fact very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use in this setting.”
-Department of Health pandemic Influenza Preparedness Team. (2011). UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011.

This is the guidance that was in force less than 11 months ago, in the UK’s pandemic emergency response plan. According to Monbiot, one might be imprisoned for quoting it now.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Lyon

Were governments (worldwide) bounced into the lockdown and other restrictions by MSM demands that “something must be done”?

George Lake
George Lake
2 years ago

“this won’t be the next Black Death” your own words Mr Franklin from the 11th February last, and so it has transpired.

Hardly an “existential risk to humanity is it?Perhaps when SARS IV arrives I shall believe you.

As for Monbiot, better men have been hanged in the past.

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago

Yep astonishing. This gentleman goes from criticism of falsehoods so obviously nonsense that they can’t be causing much harm to attacks on eminent scientists – an Oxford Professor no less – for suggesting alternatives to dominant views. Mambiot is like the Inquisition against Galileo (when he disagreed with the science of the day). And read the generally supportive comments – Fascism is not dead!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Judith Curry, a climate scientist, disagrees with many of the tenets of climate science, notably its claims of certainty. Presumably she’d also be silenced, in line with the left’s crucial tenet that there can be only one opinion allowed on anything.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
2 years ago

With so many dead from covid we not only need our right to speak out, ask difficult questions and express unfashionable opinions, we have a moral obligation to do so.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
2 years ago

Speech should be banned only for 2 reasons;
1) child pornography
2) inciting violence

Otherwise people should be free to burn flags, tell lies, etc.

David Redfern
David Redfern
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

There’s also things like defamation which must be considered.

If Climate itself, Global Temperatures, Hurricanes, Floods, Droughts, Glaciers and Wildfires etc. had the ability to sue for defamation of character there would be no ‘climate crisis’ as the loony left would be buried under an Avalanche of legal claims.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
2 years ago

A good response to the argument that “someone” should be in charge of deciding what can and cannot be published is to say “OK, then, I’ll do it. It’s a tough job, but I’m ready for it”. The proponents of a “truth czar” will then proceed to explain to you why it’s not such a good idea after all.

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
2 years ago

Don’t get me wrong – this kind of thing hasn’t made me run to the warm embrace of right wing Conservatives, but it sure does seem as if the authoritarian impulse is bubbling up in the left wing contingent.

It just amazes me how someone like him can fail to see the problems of what he proposes. People ALWAYS have justification as to why ‘this time’ the speech must be banned…’for the good of society’.. you know. You don’t think the Chinese government uses that exact same rhetoric?

But even Peter gets it wrong here about free speech. There is no wishy washy equivocating about this. If free speech isn’t pretty much absolute (beyond actual direct threats or incitement to harm) then it isn’t free speech and it will continually be eroded according to various agendas (as it has been for some years now).

The frog is already in hot temperature water and doesn’t realize its being boiled.

I regularly meet people claiming to espouse progressive liberal values who then proceed to demean and misunderstand free speech as long as the issue in question is something they don’t like.

and of course they always have ‘justifications’ for their calls to diminish free speech that seem perfectly reasonable to them.

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
2 years ago

Monbiot would probably have critics of the Syrian war arrested.

https://www.theguardian.com

Apparently it’s far right these days to oppose American foreign policy. Who knew.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
2 years ago

“In any case, who would make the necessary judgments? August bodies like the World Health Organisation ” which initially discouraged the use of masks before changing its mind? Do we want to prosecute dissenters who disagree with official advice that may subsequently be shown to be wrong?”

The idea reminds me of the charge of “premature anti-fascism” which was levelled at suspected Communists during the McCarthy era.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
2 years ago

Monbiot is an extremist-that is what he specialises in. Climate Change? The end of the world is…er Nigh. Rewilding? Yes do it, especially floodlands. Free speech? Much too dangerous.
In the 1650s, Monbiot would have worn a black hat, cast piercing eyes, banish Musick, and bang his pulpit.

What a relief a decadent Charles II must have been. By the way, now there’s a thought…is this the future?

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

Yes, I watched ‘The Crucible’ recently and was much amazed at the resemblance between the false accusers and the mainstream media today.

pauls7973
pauls7973
2 years ago

It’s the way of all totalitarian regimes – one view, one truth, zero critical thinking and God forbid, diversity of opinion.
This is how MSM, the BBC, our schools and Universities are leading us.
As America tries to shut down Fox news, Big Tech de- platforms and our ‘woke’ ambassador, Prince Harry seeks to censor whatever he doesn’t like.
Quite why is the question? I guess it’s so much more neat if we all believe, or pretend to believe, exactly the same = makes us far easier to control.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
2 years ago
Reply to  pauls7973

Yes, but the fact that they are doubling-down may not be such bad news. As long-held institutions begin to crumble, they often become increasingly totalitarian as they struggle for continued relevance.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

Masks don’t work. Asymptomatic spread is not and has never been a major spreader of diseaes. The quality of healthcare for the elderly has taken a nosedive without family members being able to supplement care and advocate for their elderly relatives. This is why lockdowns kill. The lunatic lockdowners have never made a coherent argument to the GBD declaration point of how society shifted most of the burden and risk to the working poor while the wealthy remain relatively risk free in their bubbles. We are definitely NOT all in this together

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Very good, especially the last two sentences.

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
2 years ago

Bear in mind that people such as GB only want to allow ‘Their Truth’ and anything which differs or opposes ‘Their Truth’ will therefore be banned.

David Redfern
David Redfern
2 years ago

Monbiot is an idiot.

“claims that are known to be both false and dangerous”

If they are known to be false and dangerous, then why do they need to be censored?

Or is it only the elite, educated, pseudo intellectuals who gets to choose for the proles what is false and dangerous.

I used to have some time for the moron, but no longer.

jamesbrad1011
jamesbrad1011
1 year ago

George Monbiot,just another crazy and dangerous Marxist headbanger..

Phil G
Phil G
1 year ago

Monbiot and his ilk continually make claims that left wing policies such as nationalisation and state handouts will help the poor and improve society. The evidence from history around the world is to the contrary (remember the Guardian journalists touting Venezuela as the model for Britains future just a few years ago).

I believe many would agree then that some of Monbiot’s jounalism is spreading dangerous untruths. He should therefore start by gagging himself.

David Redfern
David Redfern
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil G

Moonbat? Gag himself?

Too fond of the sound of his own voice, and of course he has to make a living and knows full well that by spouting his radical, far left crap will see him well recompensed.

Do we imagine for a moment he ensures the fair distribution of his own wealth? Not a chance. A few years ago the money grubbing b’stard was moaning that £70k wasn’t enough to live off in London!

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
2 years ago

The most likely phrase to be heard from the lips of a modern, soi-disant ‘liberal’ (and the Guardian is rotten with them) is: “You can’t say that”. Not only have they never read Mill, I doubt if most of them have even heard of him.

Craig Bishop
Craig Bishop
2 years ago

Hang on. This is George “flipflop” Monbiot, who famously changed his mind on, what was it again – oh, yes, climate change. So, nothing big, then. In his own blog, going back a decade or so, which is no excuse for ecorape, he acknowledged that he had flipflopped on post-Kyoto climate policy. As such he is guilty of heinous, violent untruths and should be therefore deplatformed and preferably locked away in a house for the criminally mendacious. Much like a leopard cannot change its spots (unless of course it is a leopard cub growing up, in which case it does indeed change its entire body camouflage), a Guardian writer simply cannot flipflop between such weighty global matters, even if he or she is a flagellential opportunist.

juanplewis
juanplewis
2 years ago

Monbiot should not throw stones inside the greenhouse where he grows his organic magic mushrooms. He opposed Golden Rice and claimed it was overhyped and ineffective. A blatant distortion of truth. If the government paid him heed, he might be the first one to be treated with an iron fist.

David Redfern
David Redfern
1 year ago
Reply to  juanplewis

Golden rice is now accepted and available in Pakistan I believe. The seed is available free from Monsanto to farmers with a turnover less than $10,000 a year (every subsistence farmer on the planet) and the inventors have dispensed with royalties.

stephen f.
stephen f.
2 years ago

This nascent totalitarian is going to encounter a kind of “Heisenberg Principle” in that he must pick a moment in time to freeze in order to determine the acceptable opinion. “No reason to fear-go about your business” Lockdowns are necessary” Masks are not needed” Masks are a moral duty”…lift the Covid rock, and many unpleasant latent tendencies are exposed.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

Not necessarily. The acceptable opinion can change; you just erase the past so that there never was a different acceptable opinion.

Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

Alan Dow
Alan Dow
2 years ago

Monbiot, along with all who dogmatically assert that dissenting voices are ‘spreading dangerous misinformation’, should take note of the following dictionary definition:
>> Positive, adj.: Mistaken at the top of one’s voice.<<
(from Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary)