Last night I became aware of a post from the Guardian where the author presumes to claim that to have free speech is poisonous to our democracy. The idea is that because there are trolls out there who sling abuse, express “hateful” or politically incorrect views on the Internet, or send death threats, then the Internet and freedom of speech are a threat to our democracy – which is stupid. It was part of a series of articles called “the web we want”, dedicated to “ending online abuse”. And as others have noticed, it’s nothing more than a way to showcase their inability to handle any speech that isn’t sanitized to their liking or ideologically agreeable. And if you think that’s bogus, consider that the Guardian actually published a quiz where you play a moderator and decide which comments to block and see how they stack up against what the Guardian moderators think – should you answer “Allow” to the responses, you can find out that the Guardian comprises of people block public comments on the basis of ideological difference, or even on the basis of criticizing the Guardian’s credibility as a news source. Below are examples.
Also, they recently vilified Stephen Fry as a privileged asshat for criticizing trigger warnings as oppressive – oh, and they tried to say it was about child sex abuse. That they go out of their way to vilify someone as privileged because of their opinion, along with that article about free speech “poisoning” democracy.
I was genuinely shocked and disheartened to see a British, and supposedly liberal, paper openly endorse articles that campaign against freedom of speech and against the right of others even to offend. That is until I remembered that the Guardian actually had an article as recently as two weeks ago where in the central platform was that the Internet is exclusively teeming with hatred if uncensored on the basis of the Microsoft Tay fiasco (you know, that chatbot learning AI that was a stupid idea anyway). And only months ago, I distinctly remember a Guardian journalist claiming that banning porn on campuses somehow gave students more freedom of choice, which is not just stupid, only makes sense if you believe that war is peace, slavery is freedom, and ignorance is strength. Seriously: banning porn actually increases freedom of choice? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
But honestly, shit like The Guardian just makes me convulse at the state of British politics – a state that has this illiberal pile of journalistic excrement masquerade as the conscience of the British press and supposedly liberal British society, where brainwashed souls preach the “evils” of liberty and how “good” it is to punish those whose views are “below the line”. Again, people who believe that war is peace, slavery is freedom, ignorance is strength and, in their case, censorship is freedom of speech and victimhood is righteousness.
To me it kind of makes sense in the UK because our political culture, at least in my opinion, isn’t like America’s – otherwise, more people besides liberals and libertarians like myself would be outraged by the literal denouncing of freedom of speech. I can’t help thinking that if this were America and an it was American paper or pundit who denounced freedom of speech in the name of public good, in no unclear terms (and I say that because sometimes politicians can get away with all kinds of bullshit if they hide it or dress it up well enough), then literally almost everyone would be against that paper or pundit.
For most Americans, freedom of speech is like one of the laws of nature, at least in the public consciousness. This is because the United States of America enshrines freedom of speech as part of its Constitution, and that Constitution is powerful in the minds of every American who isn’t one of those Christians who thinks the word of “God” trumps that Constitution – it’s even got some real meaning in my mind, and I’m not even originally from America. I admire that, and I have admired it always. It’s like an oath that politicians can easily be held accountable to by the people and the Supreme Court if they try to mess with civil liberties. What’s more, while America is certainly not perfect, in my mind it’s probably the only country that set out to establish itself on the modern ideal of liberty from birth – that was the goal of those Founding Fathers who created a new nation in 1776. I deeply admire that too. America hasn’t had a history of always living up to liberty and justice for all, but in our hearts and minds at least we know this is a genuine betrayal of values because we know those values have been at the heart of the nation’s vision from the beginning. As long as the people believe in liberty, and it’s clear in their minds that liberty is under attack, they don’t stand for it.
In the UK, as far as I know we don’t have anything as binding and powerful as the US Constitution. To me, we are only partly a liberal, secular society, and we have a parliamentary government whose members to me only endorses freedom what it suits them, and usually it’s just us liberals and libertarians, and a few papers and journalistic outfits, who are against that. And in this country, the police can sometimes arrest you for offensive speech (like in the case of Matthew Doyle), and the police in some parts even think they have the power to police online speech (like in Glasgow for instance). To me, The Guardian are now only acting as a voice for an illiberal political establishment in the UK – a voice that’s polite enough to appeal to the.
Also, the main powers of our government are unscrupulous vampiric conservatives and often vaguely illiberal socialists, or at least they seem illiberal to me; under Ed Miliband they actually agreed to Tory censorship of the Internet, Gordon Brown’s administration asked their former drugs adviser David Nutt to leave for challenging the government’s drug policy (he suggested drugs like cannabis should be reclassified because they are less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco), and even now there’s quite a few Labour MPs who’ve had a tendency to endorse illiberal policies such as blasphemy laws and maintaining the criminalizing of prostitution, the latter especially in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s statement that we would decriminalize prostitution. Then there’s Labour MPs who are just crazy. There’s actually a Labour MP named Aysegul Gurbuz who was recently suspended because she claimed Hitler was “the greatest man in history”, and another MP named Carolyn Harris who pulled the hair of her aide after she found out she was a lesbian. The Tories may be assholes, but Labour are sometimes not much better. Not to mention, Britain’s history is not one of a country that valued liberty, but of one that valued the absolute rule of monarchy under “God”, and even though we have a secular parliamentary government, we maintain a royal family that does nothing and has no business existing – this fact alone tells me that either we still endorse royalty as part of our British identity and heritage, or that it’s not clear where our values lie.
Those who know me might be able to imagine why I don’t feel I belong in such a culture. And in all truth, I would probably rather live in an imperfect country where liberty is still visibly enshrined as the highest ideal and has sought liberty from the beginning than a country than country that is supposedly secular and liberal but will embrace illiberalism when it suits them. No matter America’s imperfections, even it’s clownish political behavior, no matter how many times I’ve criticized it, it sometimes feel like I’d rather be in America than be immersed in Britain’s noise.