Freedom of Sp-

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Freedom of speech is a very thorny issue at the moment, and the latest spike in this thorn-bush is the proposed visit of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, to the UK.  Here are two views on that proposed visit:

https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/EXCLUSIVE-Franklin-Graham-on-visit-to-UK-I-m-not-coming-to-preach-hate

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/07/us-evangelical-preacher-franklin-graham-uk-critics

Now I never particularly liked Billy Graham; I’m generally suspicious of popular preachers and prefer dialogue to evangelism, but his son seems to take it to a whole new level, denouncing Islam as a religion and gays and lesbians for the usual tedious reasons.  Apart from the fact that he seems to have a very short memory about the practices of Christianity (many of which are similar to fundamentalist Islam today) people naturally take offence and think that his views have no place in a multicultural society.  And when I read about him in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Graham

I tended to agree.  I don’t want those views spread over here.  No thanks.

But there’s the thing: people used to say, ‘I disagree profoundly with what you’re saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’  People used to say that freedom of speech meant the freedom to say anything except to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded building.  So here’s the question: does insulting Muslims in a multicultural society constitute shouting ‘fire!’ in a burning building?

Last weekend’s Observer contained an opinion piece entitled: ‘Even Those with the Vilest of Views Have a Right to be Heard.’ (I can’t link to it as the whole thing is behind a paywall.)  But the premise of the article is that people like Martin Sellner of ‘Defend Europe’ who stop charities from rescuing drowning refugees, or Lauren Southern who thinks Hitler was just a Social Justice Warrior who got lucky, should not have been prevented from entering this country because their views, no matter how vile, have a right to be heard.  I totally disagree.  But here’s the thing: where do we draw the line?  Where is the division between strong opinion and hate speech?

I’m quite uneasy about some current tendencies.  I disagree profoundly with Germaine Greer’s comments on transgender women (although according to the article here she seems to have backtracked a little)

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/12/germaine-greer-tells-qa-her-trans-views-were-wrong-but-then-restates-them

as they were not a helpful contribution to the debate.  But I don’t think they constitute hate speech.  They constitute strong, blunt, even rude opinion – but that is not something that should be shut down.  Yet many universities have decided to ‘no-platform’ her.

We should think about this concept of ‘platforming’.  There is a difference between somebody having a ‘platform’ – being allowed to express opinions unopposed – and being on a platform as part of a debate with other speakers.  But surely, even if you have a platform, in a wider sense the debate goes on anyway?  People respond on social media and in the press; often these things make the news and magazine programmes faster than the speed of light, triggering an even wider range of opinion.  So maybe instead of ‘no-platforming’ people like Greer we should be saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re cogent enough.’  Robust debate is essential in any healthy society – and surely if universities are about anything they are about fostering this?  If students cannot hear and rebut strong opinions, no matter how much they dislike them, then what kind of adults are we producing?  There is already too much of a tendency for people to stay in their own little enclaves (especially on social media) where rarely a voice is heard from outside.

On the other side of the debate I hear stories of vulnerable young people struggling with identity and sexuality; I hear stories of attacks proliferating after certain people are allowed to speak; I hear of hatred on the rise.

So what do we do?  A line must be drawn somewhere.

Personally I was pleased that Martin Sellner and Lauren Southern were turned away at the border.  Their views are so extreme and their actions so horrid and harmful that I don’t want them here.  Then again at the same time I would like, Louis Theroux-style, to have the opportunity to debate with them.  After all, how else can we change their minds?

It concerns me greatly that nuanced debate is being shoved aside in favour of something resembling a gladiatorial conquest.  Yes, it’s painful to have your deeply-held views challenged, but it can be beneficial.  A debate can often (though not always) change people’s minds: it can also help to clarify your own views by setting them up against other people’s.  How well do your arguments stand up?  Do they have holes in them?  Are you as well-informed as you imagine?

As I’ve said before with the trans agenda, only with debate can true acceptance (as opposed to putting up and shutting up) come.  Only with open debate can understanding arise.

Yes, there is a line between free speech and hate speech.  But where the hell is it?

Kirk out

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What ARE the Odds?

Wow.  There’s a first: me actually agreeing with an article in the Spectator.

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/02/can-we-have-an-honest-debate-about-gender/

On the other hand, perhaps it’s a case of the Spectator agreeing with me – because, let’s face it, this article says practically word for word what I said in my post a few days ago – in fact, what I’ve been saying for a long time: that there is a new orthodoxy emerging about gender which does not want to be challenged, and that we need a debate about this.

Now I know the Spectator is a reactionary rag but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and to my ears this article is quite reasonable.  OK so they take the opportunity to have a pop at Corbyn – which is quite disingenuous, since any politician (apart from UKIP or Jacob Rees-Mogg) would have said the same – but other than that they make reasonable points.

I’m worried that the gender train (the gender agenda?) is hurtling so fast towards its destination that people are going to be crushed under the wheels, perhaps already are being crushed under the wheels.  My argument – and I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again – is that we need a thorough, ongoing debate about this or else like Brexit it will derail us all (I’ve probably mixed a metaphor there, but hey – if Shakespeare can do it…)  Because we had the debate about homosexuality, we had the debate about women’s rights, and these are now pretty firmly established.  But it seems to me that those pushing for trans rights are simply trying to hop on to an already running train without paying the fare.  ‘You’ve accepted gays and lesbians,’ they seem to say, ‘so let’s cut to the chase and accept this.  No arguments.’

I have heard in more than one quarter the suggestion that trans people (including children) should be accepted without question.  But here’s the rub: to accept a person as a person is not necessarily the same as to accept a particular narrative about that person.  So, whilst I do strive as a Quaker, to accept my fellow humans and to answer that of God in everyone, I do not accept the orthodoxy of the trans agenda without question.

Nor should I: nor should any of us.  Everything should always be questioned – and now more than ever we need to open that debate; because shutting it down is not the way to go.  I have heard people complain (and not Daily Mail readers, either) that they feel constrained in this debate, that they have to keep their thoughts to themselves, that they ‘can’t say’ what they think lest it be construed as hate speech.  But there is a world of difference between respectful debate and hate speech.  On the one hand, you have a legitimate enquiry into the problem; on the other hand you have – well, Germaine Greer.  Just to give one example that comes to mind.

The subjects I would like to see discussed include:

The likely effects on partners of a person coming out as trans

how we deal with children who exhibit gender dysphoria

what we do about toilets

what we do about women’s groups where often intimate subjects are under discussion

what we do about areas where privileges gained as one gender are carried forward into another

This is just a starting framework.  And I refuse to believe that this cannot be done in a respectful manner.

Kirk out

I Self-Identify as a TERF

We hear a lot these days about ‘self-identification’ – the right to define yourself as whatever you feel you are and not be defined by society.  Now, in theory I am all for this; but in practice none of us exists in isolation.  We all have relationships, we all have contexts in which we exist.  There are tensions between the individual and the family; between the individual and group; between the individual and the wider society in which we all exist.

The individual ought not to be completely defined by society.  The society in which I grew up tried to define me in certain ways: that I should look a certain way (wear skirts and make-up), behave in a ‘ladylike’ manner (no swearing, no drinking pints) and aspire to a certain level (marriage and work as a teacher or nurse).  The career options for most girls were office work, factory work or the two professions I have already mentioned.  You were expected to work until marriage and if you worked after marriage, to do so part-time.  You were not expected to aspire to anything higher.

But nor do I believe that the individual has an unfettered right to self-identification; to demand that society (which is after all, other people) accept whatever they say they are and adapt itself to their needs.  And my fear is that the gender debate is heading in this direction; of saying that there are many genders and that a person should be accepted as whatever gender they say they are and called by whatever name and pronoun they wish.

Now, leaving aside the wider issues, which I’ll come to in a minute, this presupposes certain difficulties right away.  It’s hard enough to remember names at the best of times: we live in a mobile society where most of us meet new people all the time; so that to remember a variety of names and pronouns which do not correspond to our previous experience of gender, can be confusing and difficult.  To be berated if we fail adds insult to that injury: I once went to a ‘conference’ on gender where there were seven or eight of us, and to remember who wanted to be called ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ or – god help us – ‘ze’ was beyond me.  I suspect the average person in the street wouldn’t even try.

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/may-you-have-an-interesting-day/

To sum up so far: society has certain expectations, that a person will present as either male or female, and be addressed accordingly.  Some people don’t fit into those categories – or don’t look the way you’d expect their gender to look.  Some people demand the right to be treated as whatever gender (or non-gender) they say they are.

So much for the social difficulties.  Now for the relational ones: as I’ve said before, if you are in a relationship and one partner decides to self-identify as a different gender, that has implications beyond their individual rights.  It has profound implications for a marriage or long-term relationship because that relationship is effectively being expected to switch from straight to gay – or the other way round.  It may be that some people’s sexuality is fluid, and that they can make those adjustments without too much hassle.  Equally it may not.

As far as parents are concerned (I don’t speak from experience here, so feel free to argue the point) I suspect it’s less of an issue.  The parent/child relationship doesn’t depend on gender the way that a sexual relationship often does, and although there may be profound adjustments to be made it doesn’t threaten the basic relationship.

So much for relational problems.  Now to speak of wider society, and a number of issues which are emerging.  Should transgender people be able to use the public loos of their choice?  I guess where there are cubicles it might not be so important; but I can’t say I’m totally comfortable with someone who may still be physically male using a public toilet at the same time as I do.

But this is the tip of the iceberg.  Should trans women be able to join women’s groups?  Should they be able to sit in on sessions where women are discussing intimate issues such as abortion and abuse?  Would you feel comfortable with that?  I’m not sure I would.

Then there’s the thorny question of what you might call privileges gained as one gender being carried over into another (I realise I’m concentrating on M to F trans people here, but that’s where most of the problems are).  Should athletes who still have a lot of masculine musculature be allowed to compete as women?  Should men who gained certain positions at work be allowed to retain them as women?

And why is all this happening now?  Is there an element of men wanting what women have, now that women have (supposedly) equal status?  Is it womb envy?  Or can you be born in the ‘wrong body’ and if so, how?  We must be free to ask these questions, but there is a great deal of resistance to debate, particularly in what I’m going to call the trans lobby.  There’s an orthodoxy emerging, that we must accept the new status quo without question.  Well, sorry – but I never accept anything without question.  Ever.

Which leads me to my tongue-in-cheek title.  Because of course I don’t self-identify as a TERF: nobody self-identifies as a TERF because it’s like one of those irregular verbs:

‘I have doubts about the trans debate; you are prejudiced: she is Germaine Greer.’

TERF is a label used for others; hence no-one is likely to self-identify as one.  But we need to debate these issues, and we need to do it respectfully.

And we need to do it now.

Kirk out