Freedom of expression is one of our most basic rights, however in the present day we are not entitled to that freedom. Students’ Unions and outspoken university societies have ensured that we are only allowed to express ideas that these organisations agree with. This is because 2015 was the year that not causing offence became more important than meaningful progress.
Last year ‘No Platforming’ spread across universities like wildfire. Any public figure who ever expressed an opinion that was construed by a few to be offensive was faced by a barrage of abuse and ultimately banned from speaking on campus. How can it be that in the 21st century we have this level of censorship?
It all began when some people decided that they needed protecting from being offended. Instead of debating with those who they disagreed with, ‘Safe Spaces’ were created where students could bury their heads in the sand. While there is a place for people to speak with those who are like-minded and protect those who are vulnerable, it should not come at the cost of freedom for everyone. What should instead happen is that the ideas generated in these environments should be taken out and debated in a public forum. If people do not want to debate publically they of course have the right to choose not to, but unless you are open to discussion with people of differing opinions you should not publically declare what you believe. It happens all too often in our society that people say what they think is right and refuse to listen to anybody else.
‘No Platforming’ is not a new idea however, but something that has been going on for millennia. Just think about the dominance of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and how their worldview was pushed onto every citizen. If it was not for a brave few who dared to speak out and think differently we would still be living in a world without science.
At university we have the perfect environment to debate the important issues of our time and it is such a shame that this is under threat. It is rare to find so many gifted individuals from different cultures and with such different ideologies in one place that is designed to broaden our knowledge. If we capitalised on this and allowed everyone to express their opinion rather than limiting who can speak to those who are like-minded to avoid ‘offence’, we could have much more meaningful debate.
What we should aim for is a society where the only words that can’t be spoken are those that we can’t think of, and instead of saying ‘you can’t say that’ we should be asking ‘why do you say that?’.