If You Have Time, I Think I Would Find The Answers To These Questions Helpful

  • 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?

Trans rights: a short case study in how the media spreads misinformation

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”

Anger, Contempt, and Constructive Disagreement

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.
In reality, the marketplace of ideas, if it exists at all, is corrupt and monopolised by those with money and power.
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”

Notes On A 'Civilised' Debate

Mary Beard
Historian Professor Mary Beard posted a picture of herself in tears after being accused of racism

Over the past few days a debate has erupted concerning a tweet posted by the historian Mary Beard. Here it is.


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.

Continue reading “Notes On A 'Civilised' Debate”

A Room of One's Own? Safe spaces as an enabler of free speech

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.
You can listen to a recording of my speech on the player below, or on SoundCloud. The Goldsmiths PEN Facebook group carries photos of the event and full audio.
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”