Saturday, September 10, 2011

Free Speech in Decline in the West

It is back to school week and so it is an appropriate time to reflect with a certain degree of nostalgia on the good old days half a century ago or so when Western society, and universities in particular enjoyed the right of free speech.

How long will it be before this blog is shut down? I don't know; that is why I keep writing. I expect a long vacation at some point in the future and I can rest then.

Mark Steyn has a great piece out on the decline of free speech rights in the West in the decade since 9/11. The terrorists terrorized us and free speech died. Actually, one should not use the passive voice; it was murdered by politically correct, cultural Marxists out to undermine the foundations of our culture so we are softened up for the Revolution. Anyway, Mark reflects on how the jihad against Christianity and the political liberalism that came out of it is going these days:
Had John O’Sullivan and Kathryn Lopez chanced to be strolling by the Driftwood Beach Bar on the Isle of Wight when, in the course of oldies night, Simon Ledger performed “Kung Fu Fighting,” they would have had no grounds for complaint, even if he’d done the extended dance remix. However, the passersby in question were Chinese, and so Mr. Ledger was arrested for racism.

In such a world, words have no agreed meaning. “There were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown” is legal or illegal according to whosoever happens to hear it. Indeed, in my very favorite example of this kind of thinking, the very same words can be proof of two entirely different hate crimes. Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary “moderation” he’s been knighted by the Queen. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal was interviewed on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was “immoral,” was “not acceptable,” “spreads disease,” and “damaged the very foundations of society.” A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard’s “community safety unit” for “hate crimes” and “homophobia.”

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a “barmy doctrine” growing “like a canker” and deeply “homophobic.” In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for “Islamophobia.”

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for Islamophobia.

Two men say exactly the same thing and they’re investigated for different hate crimes. On the other hand, they could have sung “Kung Fu Fighting” back and forth to each other all day long and it wouldn’t have been a crime unless a couple of Chinese passersby walked in the room.

If you don't think this is crazy, you must be missing something. The most important sentence philosophically in that quotation is the one I bolded: "In such a world words have no agreed meaning." Steyn's humorous stories have a philosophically serious point: in the absence of metaphysical realism, the nominalism of late modernity disconnects words from their referents and makes them susceptible to manipulation by the powers-that-be so that anything you say can be twisted into meaning whatever they want it to mean. Not only is truth no defense; neither is the actual meaning of words. You literally cannot know if you said something illegal until Big Brother informs you after the fact.

I started with a reference to universities. Here is an interview by Ezra Levant with the lawyer for the University of Calgary students who have been expelled for expressing their constitutional right to free speech because the bullies in the administration dislike the content of their ideas.

It is amusing that Canadian Association of University Teachers, the leftie union, thinks that Christian universities do not have academic freedom because you have to sign a doctrinal statement in order to be hired. They are fine with Canadian universities deciding after the fact whether what you said is illegal or not according to the latest version of group-think among left-wing faculty and administration members. That isn't incompatible with academic freedom at all.

If the CAUT really believed in academic freedom or free speech in general, they would be fighting the University of Calgary tooth and nail. And they would be up in arms about the angry Left physically preventing Ann Coulter from speaking last year at the University of Ottawa. But no - those atrocities are just fine. What we really need to be worried about is a few small universities where they still believe in God.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Waiting with breath abated to hear your thoughts on Bush/Tyndale.