Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
In debates, a competitor should say ‘Point of Misrepresentation’ when their arguments are being misrepresented by opposing debaters. In absence of respectable rebuttal, people sometimes reach for risible and ridiculous retorts. In the cavernous cocoons of Twitter, one person – who shall remain unnamed – decided to respond to my article on offensive Hallowe’en costumes in the following way:
Was wondering when we’d see the right wing blogs screaming about freedom of speech. I couldn’t help but notice there was no screams of freedom of speech issues over women dressed as Twin Towers. But when a union draws a line at costumes which are offensive to people who aren’t white… out they come… e.g. [my article].
Firstly, my article did not “scream”; I avoid writing when upset: sharp anger dulls rational thought. Secondly, wearing clothes concerns freedom of expression, not freedom of speech. Thirdly, my article did not once include the phrase ‘freedom of expression’; it discussed the poorly-defined criteria of the Guild’s Hallowe’en dress code. Fourthly, I state that prospective offence is an insufficient reason to refuse entry to someone dressed in a Hallowe’en costume, and the response is an insinuation that my statements were somehow racist. This is called a non-sequitur.
Fifthly, I published the article on Thursday morning, but only became aware of the women dressed as the Twin Towers late that evening. My point remains resolute: being offended should not warrant legal sanctions, nor should people be barred from venues based upon prospective offence. I don’t say this view to be popular. Indeed, restraining our feelings of offence to stop them blossoming into censorious action is even more necessary when ideas or expressions are extremely unpopular.
Lastly, I am accused of “screaming about freedom of speech”. I did no such thing, but I can provide an argument from expressive freedoms. Venues can, of course, set their own further rules on dress and behaviour. However, universities are ancient sanctuaries of thought, research and debate. The ability to inquire underlies our discovery of truth, and so is the keystone behind our personal, social, cultural and scientific development. Universities, including their students and their elected representatives, should resist even minor attempts to restrict freedoms of thought, speech, expression, reading, inquiry, research and publication. All facets of accepted wisdom were once considered radical or even offensive, so ideas and expressions which are merely offensive should not be restricted – especially on university campuses.