Significant Quotations #4 Freedom of Speech a Deadly Sin?

I’ve chosen this quote from George Orwell as it seems so relevant today, despite him having written it more than 60 years ago. I suppose it emerged from his famous novel “1984” and his many essays in which he said:

“Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships – an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction.”

Orwell may have been writing with communist totalitarian regimes in mind at the time, but who would have thought that it would currently be occurring in Great Britain? I’m referring specifically to the issues of “no platforming” individual politicians and academics in our universities, and also the way that our police now seem to be focusing on Twitter-speak and categorising them as “hate crimes”. Here’s a couple of examples:

A few days ago Oxford University UNWomen Society cancelled the invitation at the last minute to Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary of the U.K. Government. Ms Rudd is not a fascist, not a communist, not a member of some fringe extremist party or group but was “no platformed” because these students didn’t want to discuss or hear about how her policies as Home Secretary had impacted on women becoming more involved in politics.

Several weeks ago a former policeman, Harry Miller, became concerned about how gender recognition was being politicised and absorbed into law (!) to shut down debate or academic scrutiny. He decided to express his own opinions on the issue on Twitter, not attacking any individual but satirising the issue. For example he wrote “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me F****rs.” He was investigated for a “non crime hate speech” whatever that is, with police even calling on him and asking “describe your thinking to me here” and if that phrase alone isn’t Orwellian I don’t know what is! He took his case to the highest court in the land …… and won.

Freedom of speech, or the lack of it, has become so bad in this country now that it has been deemed necessary from some people to set up The Free Speech Union. Here’s the opening words from their website:

“Free speech is the bedrock on which all our other freedoms rest, yet it is currently in greater peril than at any time since the Second World War. The Free Speech Union is a non partisan, mass membership organisation that stands up for speech rights of its members. If you think there’s a risk you’ll be penalised for exercising your legal right to free speech, whether it’s in the workplace or in the public square, you need the protection of the Free Speech Union.”


Finally if you want to read further here is a well balanced article written by Tim Farron, the ex leader of the UKs Liberal Democrat party, How Political Correctness Went Mad Not one of my favourite politicians but what he has written is worth a read.

Categories: Philosophy

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8 replies

  1. At least the courts haven’t gone mad if the fishy guy won his case. Squelching opposing opinions and over-policing personal expression is taking society the wrong direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your views with which I do agree. I spend a lot of my online time watching/ listening to the similar views of the Canadian academic, Jordan Peterson – as published in numerous YouTube videos.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In my understanding Dr. B. We can try to eliminate discrimination that is systemic, but it is folly to try to eliminate prejudice by fiat or other coercive means. Discrimination as we define it here in US is overt and evident from measures, data, etc. Prejudice can be held inside for many years. I have relatives in Alabama who are as racist as they can be. I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. I could never reason or talk them out of their prejudices in a million years, but I can enact laws to protect and aid the people that they might “discriminate” against. For example, for years, cross burning was accepted in many parts of the Deep South. Today, it is considered a hate crime and punishable by law. The more that people work and live with people of other ethnicities the more I believe they come to see the common humanity they share. If we can take the barriers out of the system that prevent people from associating with people who are different, perhaps we can change things in a couple of hundred years more. We have come a long way since 1865, but we still have a long way to go in the USA. I don’t think two wrongs ever make a right. But judging right and wrong can often be a matter of perspective. IMHO.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well said! A lot of prejudice in this country is quite different from the US. Some of it is institutionally covert despite protection laws. Agree entirely about not solving the problems by fiat or coercively but it must play a part and be rigorously applied. It’s the low level stuff that worries me as this is what is being wrongly policed. However the aspect of no platforming has become a major concern in our universities resulting in a lack of any balance in debates about environmental science, transgenderism to name but two. Our young people are shutting down core skills of debate, challenge, argument, etc.

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      • It is a shame when one side refuses to hear the other side. I spent many years listening to the Patriot Radio 1440 AM talk show in the US. My friends wondered why and what was wrong with me. I simply wanted to hear what people I vehemently disagree with had as their reasons and logic for their beliefs and actions. I may have still reached my own albeit biased conclusions but at least I knew what my opposition politically was thinking. Thanks for your replies. During this time of virus I think the Internet has been a godsend for many people world wide.

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  4. Excellent article by Farron and post. The major takeaway I get is “I do believe that political correctness can actually be a good thing. When applied properly it speaks of treating people with dignity and respect, and not dismissing or denigrating them because they are different from me. But the negative side of this is that it is often zealously policed by disapproving Twitter warriors, ready to orchestrate a pile-on.” The problem seems to be the zealots that take everything to an extreme or think they have the brains to judge everyone’s intentions and actions. I could go on forever about the stupidity but I think you have nailed it very well. You might find my blog on Double Standards interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your comment John. I read your suggested article and as you said, I did find it interesting. It seems to me that it is the application of laws designed to eliminate discrimination that is the root of the problem, the current example being “hate speech” here in the U.K. Should rappers be allowed to publish songs/music that preach hate and violence against people of a particular skin colour just because they are of a skin colour that is oppressed? I’m minded of two wrongs not making a right.

      Liked by 1 person

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