Don’t take nice to a gun fight

I enjoyed this piece by Lindsay King-Miller in

In You Can’t Kill Racism with Kindness, King-Miller writes: 

“My goal is not to create a country where everyone tolerates each other, agrees to disagree, and goes about their business. I cannot agree to disagree on whether poor people deserve medical care, whether black people deserve safety from police brutality, whether my queer family deserves equal legal protections.

These are matters of right and wrong, not questions of opinion.”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot given the recent moral panics over LGBT* people and trans people in particular: I’ve been very loath to call people exhibiting bigoted behaviour or espousing bigoted views as bigots, because that’s not nice. But I’m doing so as not to harm the feelings of people who are actively trying to stir up hatred against particular minorities.

King-Miller again:

“Calling a racist a racist might make him sad, but it doesn’t oppress him in any way.”

When I posted the link on a forum I hang out in, another poster quoted French feminist writer Christiane Rochefort’s comment that oppressors don’t realise you have a grievance until you pull out the knives. I’m in a less militant mood so I’ll talk about Karl Popper instead.

In 1945, Popper described very well what has been happening with far-right arseholes on Twitter and what’s happening in certain sections of the UK media right now. He called it the “paradox of tolerance”.

The paradox of tolerance is what happens when you tolerate the intolerable: neo-nazis, for example, or bigots.

“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant,” Popper wrote, “if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

He wasn’t arguing that we silenced the intolerant, however, provided that “we can  counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion”. However, “we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.”

This is inevitably caught up with the issue of free speech, which some people seem determined to misunderstand. Free speech says that nobody can stop you from having particular views. But it doesn’t say that you have a right to have a platform for those views.

You can make a painting that’s really anti-semitic but you don’t have the right to have the Louvre replace The Mona Lisa with it.

You can write a book about how lesbians are just awful but you can’t force Diva magazine to review it.

You can write a song about how you really hate working class black people but you can’t force Stormzy to cover it.

And so on.

This is where the controversial topic of no-platforming comes from. No-platforming started off as an anti-fascist tactic, with universities refusing to give a platform to the likes of the National Front and the BNP. We can’t stop you being big old racists, the students said. But we can stop you from being big old racists here.

In an ironic twist, some vocal former no-platformers such as feminist writer Julie Bindel now face no-platforming themselves, from the same kind of angry students that used to no-platform the NF and the BNP. I say “same kind” but thanks to tuition fees the students are also paying customers now, with expectations of what their money should and shouldn’t be spent on. Some of those students, the trans ones and their allies, don’t think it should be spent on giving people who say awful things a platform to promote their book or raise their media profile at the expense of other, more vulnerable people.

We can’t stop you saying awful things, the students are saying. But we can stop you from saying awful things here.

It’s not silencing people. As if. The people being no-platformed reach a collective audience of many millions through national newspapers, BBC TV and radio and social media. Some, like Katie Hopkins, seem unaware of the irony in campaigning against our supposed tolerance for hate speech and then whingeing when people try to no-platform them. As she said on her LBC radio programme:

“Why do we pride ourselves in being a tolerant country when being tolerant seems to mean that we give these individuals free reign to say what they like?

Hopkins’ bosses at LBC clearly agreed, and when she posted a tweet suggesting a “Final Solution” against muslims she lost that particular platform (although it’s sad that the end of her Daily Mail career wasn’t because she called foreigners cockroaches and other repellent things; it’s that her losing-libel-cases habit was too expensive for the paper to stomach. Like a cockroach, she’ll be back).

There’s a great XKCD comic about this very thing.

XKCD free speech

It’s not silencing. It’s just saying not here.

I’m okay if that hurts some bigots’ feelings.