- What is the top thing that your ideological opponents misrepresent about your position?
- What is the top thing that your opponents say is a tenet of your position, but about which there is in fact much disagreement between you and your allies?
- What’s the worst argument that people on your side put forward for your position?
- What’s your opponent’s best argument?
Here’s an interesting example of how misinformation spreads through subtle misrepresentation of the facts.
‘Party refuses to let ‘gender-critical’ woman join’ reports The Times (£):
The Liberal Democrats have told a “gender non-conforming” woman who does not accept that humans can change sex to join another party.
This is accurate. The woman in question wrote an email to the Liberal Democrat’s, describing her views on transgender people and stating “I do not believe people can change biological sex.”
Someone from the Liberal Democrats responded. They recognised that the woman’s views on transgenderism were at odds with party policy, and politely told her she would be better off elsewhere. Continue reading “Trans rights: a short case study in how the media spreads misinformation”
Free speech is supposed to be facilitate human progress. In its ideal form, it enables debate and causes us to iterate better political policies, better cultural outputs and a better society.
One aspect of freedom of expression I think about a lot is the way in which disagreements happen. I’ve expressed dismay at how some free speech advocates seem remarkably uninterested in listening to other points of view, and only really care about their own right to offend. And I’ve noted how many spats seem to disintegrate into a competition over who can first reach a place of unassailable piety. Continue reading “Anger, Contempt, and Constructive Disagreement”
Over the past few days a debate has erupted concerning a tweet posted by the historian Mary Beard. Here it is.
Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. But I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain “civilised” values in a disaster zone. And overall I still respect those who go in to help out, where most of us wd not tread.
— mary beard (@wmarybeard) February 16, 2018
This Tweet provoked a furious backlash from people accusing her of a kind of veiled colonialism. Professor Beard wrote a follow-up blog to clarify her remarks and posted a photo of herself in tears. One of her Cambridge University colleagues, Priyamvada Gopal, posted a scathing critique of Beard’s tweet and clarification, writing
I’m afraid that your good intentions notwithstanding, it is precisely this genteel patrician racist manner and this context of entrenched denial in which your tweet on Haiti, ‘civilised’ values (scare quotes noted but not enough, I’m afraid) and disaster zones was received. … Your subsequent blog post, to not put too fine a point on it, did little to help your cause and is regarded by many as a ‘no-pology’, a stubborn refusal to see what was wrong with your original post and taking refuge instead in the familiar posture of wounded white innocence.
On 23rd March I was delighted to take part in a debate at Goldsmiths College, hosted by the Goldsmiths Student PEN society, on the subject of ‘safe spaces’. It was an opportunity for me to iterate an argument I have been putting forward for a while: that perhaps ‘safe spaces’ are not the anti-intellectual, anti-free speech innovations that many free speech advocates take them to be.
I will append the text of what I said to this post when I get a chance. I also plan to write a short summary of the debate and where I think it takes us. Despite my arguing, on this occasion, for the principle of safe spaces, I think the other speakers’ critiques of the particular wording of the Goldsmiths SU Safe Space policy was very persuasive. Continue reading “A Room of One’s Own? Safe spaces as an enabler of free speech”
Last month I was privileged enough to participate in the annual House of Lords Chamber Debate. It’s the one time during the year when people who are not members of the House of Lords are allowed to sit on its benches and debate.
This year the debate was about free speech and its limits. I made a short contribution about the practicalities of censorship and surveillance, and said that free speech should be about dialogue and conversation. Continue reading “Free Speech and Democratic ‘Buy In’”
Despite having written very little on this blog about the United States Presidential election, I’ve been following it closely. My main source of news and commentary has been podcasts: The FiveThirtyEight weekly round-up in particular. But I’ve been reading mainstream news sites and blog commentary too.
Even as she makes history as the first woman to run for president, and even as she prepares to become the first woman to take the office, Hillary Clinton is still the victim of sexism. Most analyses attribute her lead to the to the failings of her opponent: Donald Trump is egotistical, misogynist, racist. He is under-prepared and has led a shambolic campaign. There is an implication that Clinton—a historically unpopular candidate—is not winning on her own merits but because The Donald has thrown the election to her. In another year (so goes the argument), against another candidate, she would lose. Continue reading “Why Hillary Clinton Will Win”
Dear People Who Write Open Letters to People Who Write Open Letters —
As is customary with this form, I must begin by stating whether or not we have met. We have not. But in many ways, I feel like you. In fact, following my Open Tweet to People Who Write Open Letters this morning, it could be said that I am you. I share your concern that the Open Letter form has become a cliché, and your worry that we are reaching Peak Open Letter, bringing an ennui that can only be described as Open Letter Fatigue.
Time for a moratorium on "An Open Letter To…" think pieces? What does that style of writing achieve that a straight essay/op-ed does not?
— robertsharp59 (@robertsharp59) September 26, 2016
You claim that Open Letter writers being presumptious and arrogant. You claim that they are cowardly. You claim they are self indulgent.
On all of these counts, you are mistaken. Continue reading “An Open Letter to People Who Write Open Letters To People Who Write Open Letters”
I’m a week late in logging the fact that I was also quoted in the Guardian last week, praising debating societies.
If a perception of this kind of competitive debating as old-fashioned and the preserve of public schools and university societies goes unchallenged, then we lose a great deal. Robert Sharpe [sic] of the worldwide writers’ association English PEN sees charges of elitism as a shame, because “the skills one learns through a good debate are crucial for modern life. Political events continue to remind us of the importance of persuasive arguments and good oratory that appeal not only to our rational side, but our emotional side too.” He also thinks the ability to see the other side is particularly important. “The essence of free speech is that we allow people with whom we disagree to speak. Wrongheaded views will be aired. But free speech means no one gets the last word. We can – and indeed, we should – use our own right to free speech to challenge expression we think is unpleasant or wrong. To do this we need to be equipped to argue in public. Debating competitions are a fantastic way to teach this important skill to young people.” Later this year, English PEN will join the Chamber Debate in the House of Lords, in which students from state schools across the country will discuss the issue of free speech.
I was never in a debating society at university but I have debated at both the Cambridge Union and the Oxford Union in my time. Continue reading “Quoted in the Guardian, Praising Debating Societies”
First published on the Huffington Post. After this was published I received some challenging, passionate and extremely useful discussions about it on Facebook. I will add some more thoughts about the video and my article in a separate post.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are going viral. Social media users have discovered ‘One Man One Woman‘, a short animation about same-sex marriage.
In the clip, a mother tells her daughter, Sophia, that only straight marriage is in Jehovah’s ‘plan’ and that people should abide by those rules if they want to reach paradise. The sequence ends with the little girl revising bible quotes so she can explain to Carrie, her school-friend with two Moms, the true path to paradise. Continue reading “The Homophobic Jehovah’s Witness Video Teaches Us Lessons in Parenting and Pluralism”