Banning The Anti-Ban Society

by / February 3, 2016 Comment, Print 13 Comments
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by Maurice Banerjee Palmer,

Perhaps I am an enormous hypocrite, for last year in these pages I wrote:

Banning things is neither a popular nor the most effective way of improving behaviour. Students’ Unions are becoming increasingly associated with banning opinions or things, leading to being caricatured as left-wing killjoys intent on enforcing their groupthink – not facilitators of a broad experience.

And now I’ve put in a UGM motion to ban an LSESU society that accuses the SU of banning opinions to enforce groupthink instead of facilitating a broad experience. Right.

What happened? Have I undertaken Anti-Freedom February? Well to be honest, I don’t really want to ban the Speakeasy/ Free Speech society. But I want to make a point; that, and it would be hilarious if the anti-ban society was actually banned.

I think the Speakeasy/Free Speech Society is self-important and ill-informed. My focus is on their feature in the London Evening Standard because that piece of misinformation went out to three quarters of a million print readers and millions of online users, who have no other information to go on. I’ll outline the issues here but flesh it out over the course of the week online. I don’t deny that the current trend of what is being called ‘campus censorship’ ought to be debated. But let’s do it with a bit of accuracy and fairness.

Firstly, they are ill-informed. At best Speakeasy/Free Speech seems to be naïve to the limits on freedom of expression. At worst they pretty much endorse hate speech (which is illegal). Moreover they don’t seem to have put any effort into understanding the rationale behind safe spaces, or their effect. And for a supposedly pro-debate organisation they don’t seem awfully keen on putting across the other side of the argument.

Secondly, they are self-important. The first thing I thought when I saw the article in the Evening Standard was ‘Who on earth are these guys?’ Really, where have these crusaders been? Why weren’t they up on stage with me when I was fighting Meat Free Mondays? Why aren’t they side- by-side with Xiaoyuan Li and Peter Lyon lambasting the SU in The Beaver? Where are their posts on LSE Memes for crying out loud?! Instead of actually doing any debating, our three musketeers have decided to set up a society in the name of debate and get their faces in the papers.

The second half of their self-importance is that they seem to fall into a group of people who don’t like a perceived focus on women and minorities. They seem to be looking for a victim card to play and to ‘confuse a loss of advantage with an act of oppression’, to borrow Robin Ince’s phrase. Justified or not, the maligned SU measures are aimed at solving a problem which they don’t seem to find serious and for which they explain no alternatives.

And the problem is serious. In 2016, unfair discrimination is alive and well. Women are paid 14 percent less than men. Compared to the white British able-bodied Christian man, in general you’re likely to be paid less if you’re part of an ethnic minority, disabled, a woman or non-Christian. Why? Well, we can start with the fact that you’re half as likely to get a response your CV if you have a foreign-sounding name.

And they have a silly name. First they don’t seem to be clear about whether they’re called the Free Speech Society or Speakeasy. But ‘Speakeasy’? Really? Not only is it reminiscent of a tacky bar in Shoreditch, it seems they missed the bit about ‘speakeasy’ being a word to describe the act of speaking quietly.

Editor

  • michaelmobius1

    “Firstly, they are ill-informed.”

    Talk of the pot calling the kettle black……oops racism

    “The second half of their self-importance is that they seem to fall into a group of people…”

    They seem to fall into a group of people? Nice visual image.

    Students lol

  • suchan104

    For an article that accuses Speakeasy/Free Speech of being “ill-informed” the author seems extraordinarily ignorant.

    “seems to be naïve to the limits on freedom of expression”. That would be limits defined by you of course.

    “they pretty much endorse hate speech (which is illegal)”. Well of course that depends who is defining hate speech. There are plenty who think that Katie Hopkins indulges in “hate speech”. There are those who think Donald Trump indulges in “hate speech” and there are those who think that any criticism of Islam, Christianity or any other religion is “hate speech”. Of course half a century or more ago it would have been illegal (and running counter to the general consensus at the time) to promote homosexuality as a normal and healthy part of humanity, or to argue that black people are equal to whites. Had those ideas not been challenged by brave souls speaking out then nothing would have changed. Ideas need to be challenged constantly or we all fall into the mediocrity of groupthink. You attempt to use the law as a defence but hate speech laws are highly subjective and inconsistently applied. Consider: Lefties shouting abuse at delegates arriving for the Tory party conference or Muslims shouting abuse at a Remembrance Day parade to honour our war dead. Legitimate protest? Or “a communication which is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone”? According to the strict letter of the law this is “hate speech” but nobody is arrested or charged, except where violent acts have been committed. So the “hate speech” law is an ass. Debating stupid ideas in public is a far more effective means of destroying support for them. Only continually debating the irrational hatred of homosexuality, gender or racial discrimination has made people more tolerant and aware.

    “Secondly, they are self-important.” So they speak up for their ideas and that means they are “self-important”. I’m just wondering what that makes you for writing this article. This kind of argument is devoid of any intellectual content.

    “for a supposedly pro-debate organisation they don’t seem awfully keen on putting across the other side of the argument” It’s not a debating society! It’s a society that campaigns and believes in free speech. It is not up to the society to put forward both sides of an argument. It is up to supporters on each side of a debate to argue the merits of their own ideas. That goes for your Meat-free Mondays too.

    “The second half of their self-importance is that they seem to fall into a group of people who don’t like a perceived focus on women and minorities.”

    Well first of all it’s not the job of a Free Speech society to focus on women and minorities. Those groups have plenty of advocates within LSESU and elsewhere, and it has nothing to do with the issue of free speech. However those of us who believe in free speech are sick and tired of being told that we cannot question religious ideas or militant feminism or any other idea in case it offends somebody. It seems as if your resentment is focused on the fact that they are NOT focusing on those groups and are willing to tolerate speech that might be offensive to others. Going back to my previous argument, what do you think would have happened if people had not stood up 40, 50, 60 years ago and talked about the rights of gay people, or black people or women, for fear of offending people? Nobody would have become enlightened and nothing would have changed. Your comments about discrimination, important as they are in their own right, are irrelevant to any discussion of the principle of free speech.

    The whole substance of your article is ignorant and you seem to bear some personal resentment towards the Speakeasy/Free Speech society, presumably because you disagree with their ideas. Disagreeing with them is your right and you’re free to express that, as you’ve had the opportunity to do here, but it really is a poor attempt. Instead you’ve resorted to sneering.

  • Carl Barjer

    I take it this is a piss take? Some sophomore attempt to be ironic? If you’re serious, god help the world when your generation take over!

  • MoW

    i don’t like them so im going to get them banned!!! oh dear. how childish and illiberal you are…

  • CommentTeleView

    What an incredibly vacuous piece of writing! Being hard of thinking is a disability one doesn’t usually associate with the LSE.

    • Carl Barjer

      Perhaps that association will become more common after this?

  • jpz70

    It sounds like you want to ban them because you are jealous of their publicity.

    Self-important?

    It seems incredibly ironic that you claim this about someone else, you spend half of this article talking about yourself and your personal achievements, and how therefore these people are not as worthy as you.

    “WHAT ABOUT ME, NEWSPAPERS???”

    I see you’ve finally hit the newspaper headlines, but it appears to be uniformly poor press for yourself.

  • Askias

    Dear mister Palmer,

    Let me start off by saying I do not envy you. If I, a student from another country, have heard of your actions, I assume less friendly people as well. For that reason, I would rather have left you alone. However, if you did intent to start a debate, I could as well participate. Much like yourself, I study law, and it is to that aspect of you I will be appealing the most.

    You did nothing wrong, of course. You filed a motion with your student union, as is your right. You did so to make a point, though it is unclear to me what that point is supposed to be. You stated that the so-called ‘Free Speech Society’ is ill-informed and self-important. How this is supposed to be a basis for restricting their right to free expression eludes me, though your future writings might shed some more light on that.

    ‘’Freedom of Expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of [a democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress, and for the development of every man.’’ (European Court of Human Rights, Handyside v. the United Kingdom, 7 December 1976 paragraph 49) Ignoring the outdated use of ‘every man’, that judgement stands to this day as one of the foundations of the principle of ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Europe. As noted back then, ‘’it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.’’ (continuation, same paragraph)

    To curb any accusation that I do not know what limits to Freedom of Expression exist: from paragraph 56 of Erbakan v. Turkey (6/7/2006): ‘’[Tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of human beings being a foundation of a democratic pluralistic society], as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary […] to sanction of even prevent all forms of expression which spread, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance […], provided any ‘formalities’, ‘conditions’, ‘restrictions’ or ‘penalties’ imposed are proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.’’ There are several parts of this statement that laymen might not understand the full gravitas of, primarily ‘sanction’, ‘justify’, ‘intolerance’, ‘proportionate’ and ‘legitimate aim’ but I am not talking to a layman.

    I cannot speak for any member of this society, for I never met any of them and have little desire to do so. You called them naïve, which I cannot contest. At worst, they supposedly endorse hate speech, which I’ll have to insist is not your call to make but of a judge after an indictment by a prosecutor, with ample opportunity for the accused to make their case, as opposed to a blanket ban.

    You said it would be ‘hilarious’ if they’re banned. I fail to see the joke. The idea that these specific people got it into their head their freedom of speech is oppressed was humorous, but that humor was gone when someone (you) decided to prove them right, and became alarming the second it turned out that was possible. Rather than the terms laid down in European Human Rights, which state in no uncertain terms that ideas which ‘disturb any sector of the population’ are protected, their existence has been thrown before a majority vote, possibly the biggest misunderstanding of the entire idea behind freedom of expression as a protected right possible. I appeal to your knowledge of the basic fundamentals of the law: what good is protection if it only works when it’s not needed?

    You say they don’t put any effort in understanding the other side of the argument. I do not doubt this, I am no stranger to organizations with names that contain ‘freedom’ or ‘freedom of speech’. Their lack of will to understand any other viewpoint is irrelevant to the question whether they actively seek to repress them through official means, as you’ve decided to do. If – and you’ve given no indication that this is the case – there is any indication they actively seek to trample the rights of others, the correct response is not to violate their rights in return. I do not have to explain the importance of structured procedures to you.

    Your further argumentation can only be described as petty, though I’m fairly sure it wasn’t meant as argumentation in favor of a ban and only you speaking ill of the individual members. Speaking your mind is your right – as it is theirs – so I have no issue with your ‘first half of their self-importance’ beyond that this is not a reason to ban a society, and it shows a strong lack of professionalism to place it in an article written in reaction of your (justified or otherwise) attempt to restrict someone’s speech.

    When you arrive at the second half of their self-importance, the reasoning becomes rather bend. You claim they’re looking for a victim card. Days before I would have laughed at any claim they made to any such status, but you’ve validated it for them. Your actions have made it very clear they have little protection and even less recourse for their basic rights. That is not a loss of advantage, and where I would not have seen a need for their existence before, I do now. That might be the opposite of your intentions, but how else does one describe a situation where you decide to threaten someone to prove that they’re not under attack?

    You do not offer a justification for this, although you seem to think you do: ‘’ Justified or not, the maligned SU measures are aimed at solving a problem’’. This ignores the most basic tests for any proposed infringement on any right: a definitive need and proportionality. It is wholly insufficient to demonstrate a problem exist somewhere. A ban would require a thorough argumentation why this measure, namely to silence these voices against the ‘maligned measures’, will address the problem, and why any lesser actions would not be sufficient (Erbakan v. Turkey). That is the standard of the measures you’ve sought to take and if you’re even the slightest bit worthy of your future law title, you’ll uphold them. This is not a joke, mister Palmer, and it reflects very poorly on you that you saw it as such.

    You make in this piece no attempt to justify the actions beyond showing that discrimination exists (‘showing’ isn’t quite the right word, but the two numbers you do cite are actually less bad than the figures I was aware of, this is an editorial not an actual law case, and I have no desire to challenge the notion). I doubt banning this society will address any of these instances of oppression, as you yourself admitted banning opinions does little to influence them. It will, most likely, create a new one. The intentions an sich are not suitable justifications for the proposed action and I can’t imagine someone of your education would think they are.

    The law has been often complicit in upholding oppression, throughout history. Why you, apparently a bit of an activist yourself, are not on any barricades when a fundamental right can be nullified by majority vote is not entirely clear, but the answer seems to be that you dislike these specific people. Shame on you for that, and shame on your Student Union that they’d consider such a process. Your unversity is a public institution and each and every restriction on the speech of any person present has to be justified. In this area we tread with highest caution, lest we tread on someone else.

    Besides the moral implications, you also very much poisoned the debate you claim to try to start. To show ”Accuracy and fairness”, you decided to try to get the society banned. How that constitutes ‘fair play’ presumably makes sense in your head, but it doesn’t in mine. How do you propose they talk to you after you sought to deny them their very existence a week after they started? If they were open to your opinion before, they surely won’t be now, and in the process you’ve sent a clear message, far beyond your campus, that you have no interest in open debate. I’m wondering whether these is one aspect of your intended message you have not managed to get across badly.

    And they apparently have a stupid name. Someone who names their glass house ‘LSE Memes’ should not throw stones, mister Palmer. And who names their paper ‘Beaver’ anyway?

    Jokes aside, I ask forgiveness for not signing with my name. As I said, I do not envy you.
    A Law Student.

  • Askias

    Dear mister Palmer,

    Let me start off by saying I do not envy you. If I, a student from another country, have heard of your actions, I assume less friendly people as well. For that reason, I would rather have left you alone. However, if you did intent to start a debate, I could as well participate. Much like yourself, I study law, and it is to that aspect of you I will be appealing the most.

    You did nothing wrong, of course. You filed a motion with your student union, as is your right. You did so to make a point, though it is unclear to me what that point is supposed to be. You stated that the so-called ‘Free Speech Society’ is ill-informed and self-important. How this is supposed to be a basis for restricting their right to free expression eludes me, though your future writings might shed some more light on that.

    ‘’Freedom of Expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of [a democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress, and for the development of every man.’’ (European Court of Human Rights, Handyside v. the United Kingdom, 7 December 1976 paragraph 49) Ignoring the outdated use of ‘every man’, that judgement stands to this day as one of the foundations of the principle of ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Europe. As noted back then, ‘’it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.’’ (continuation, same paragraph)

    To curb any accusation that I do not know what limits to Freedom of Expression exist: from paragraph 56 of Erbakan v. Turkey (6/7/2006): ‘’[Tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of human beings being a foundation of a democratic pluralistic society], as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary […] to sanction of even prevent all forms of expression which spread, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance […], provided any ‘formalities’, ‘conditions’, ‘restrictions’ or ‘penalties’ imposed are proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.’’ There are several parts of this statement that laymen might not understand the full gravitas of, primarily ‘sanction’, ‘justify’, ‘intolerance’, ‘proportionate’ and ‘legitimate aim’ but I am not talking to a layman.

    I cannot speak for any member of this society, for I never met any of them and have little desire to do so. You called them naïve, which I cannot contest. At worst, they supposedly endorse hate speech, which I’ll have to insist is not your call to make but of a judge after an indictment by a prosecutor, with ample opportunity for the accused to make their case, as opposed to a blanket ban.

    You said it would be ‘hilarious’ if they’re banned. I fail to see the joke. The idea that these specific people got it into their head their freedom of speech is oppressed was humorous, but that humor was gone when someone (you) decided to prove them right, and became alarming the second it turned out that was possible. Rather than the terms laid down in European Human Rights, which state in no uncertain terms that ideas which ‘disturb any sector of the population’ are protected, their existence has been thrown before a majority vote, possibly the biggest misunderstanding of the entire idea behind freedom of expression as a protected right possible. I appeal to your knowledge of the basic fundamentals of the law: what good is protection if it only works when it’s not needed?

    You say they don’t put any effort in understanding the other side of the argument. I do not doubt this, I am no stranger to organizations with names that contain ‘freedom’ or ‘freedom of speech’. Their lack of will to understand any other viewpoint is irrelevant to the question whether they actively seek to repress them through official means, as you’ve decided to do. If – and you’ve given no indication that this is the case – there is any indication they actively seek to trample the rights of others, the correct response is not to violate their rights in return. I do not have to explain the importance of structured procedures to you.

    Your further argumentation can only be described as petty, though I’m fairly sure it wasn’t meant as argumentation in favor of a ban and only you speaking ill of the individual members. Speaking your mind is your right – as it is theirs – so I have no issue with your ‘first half of their self-importance’ beyond that this is not a reason to ban a society, and it shows a strong lack of professionalism to place it in an article written in reaction of your (justified or otherwise) attempt to restrict someone’s speech.

    When you arrive at the second half of their self-importance, the reasoning becomes rather bend. You claim they’re looking for a victim card. Days before I would have laughed at any claim they made to any such status, but you’ve validated it for them. Your actions have made it very clear they have little protection and even less recourse for their basic rights. That is not a loss of advantage, and where I would not have seen a need for their existence before, I do now. That might be the opposite of your intentions, but how else does one describe a situation where you decide to threaten someone to prove that they’re not under attack?

    You do not offer a justification for this, although you seem to think you do: ‘’ Justified or not, the maligned SU measures are aimed at solving a problem’’. This ignores the most basic tests for any proposed infringement on any right: a definitive need and proportionality. It is wholly insufficient to demonstrate a problem exist somewhere. A ban would require a thorough argumentation why this measure, namely to silence these voices against the ‘maligned measures’, will address the problem, and why any lesser actions would not be sufficient (Erbakan v. Turkey). That is the standard of the measures you’ve sought to take and if you’re even the slightest bit worthy of your future law title, you’ll uphold them. This is not a joke, mister Palmer, and it reflects very poorly on you that you saw it as such.

    You make in this piece no attempt to justify the actions beyond showing that discrimination exists (‘showing’ isn’t quite the right word, but the two numbers you do cite are actually less bad than the figures I was aware of, this is an editorial not an actual law case, and I have no desire to challenge the notion). I doubt banning this society will address any of these instances of oppression, as you yourself admitted banning opinions does little to influence them. It will, most likely, create a new one. The intentions an sich are not suitable justifications for the proposed action and I can’t imagine someone of your education would think they are.

    The law has been often complicit in upholding oppression, throughout history. Why you, apparently a bit of an activist yourself, are not on any barricades when a fundamental right can be nullified by majority vote is not entirely clear, but the answer seems to be that you dislike these specific people. Shame on you for that, and shame on your Student Union that they’d consider such a process. Your unversity is a public institution and each and every restriction on the speech of any person present has to be justified. In this area we tread with highest caution, lest we tread on someone else.

    Besides the moral implications, you also very much poisoned the debate you claim to try to start. To show ”Accuracy and fairness”, you decided to try to get the society banned. How that constitutes ‘fair play’ presumably makes sense in your head, but it doesn’t in mine. How do you propose they talk to you after you sought to deny them their very existence a week after they started? If they were open to your opinion before, they surely won’t be now, and in the process you’ve sent a clear message, far beyond your campus, that you have no interest in open debate. I’m wondering whether these is one aspect of your intended message you have not managed to get across badly.

    And they apparently have a stupid name. Someone who names their glass house ‘LSE Memes’ should not throw stones, mister Palmer. And who names their paper ‘Beaver’ anyway?

    Jokes aside, I ask forgiveness for not signing with my name. As I said, I do not envy you.
    A Law Student.

  • Dodgy Geezer

    …And for a supposedly pro-debate organisation they don’t seem awfully keen on putting across the other side of the argument….

    Let me explain slowly how debates work, since you don’t seem to have been exposed to adult life yet. One side makes the best case it can for what it believes in. The other side does the same for its beliefs. And then the audience can chose, based on what they have heard.

    Looking at your case, I think I would chose the other side without any hesitation. Your case appears to be:

    1 – They are ill-informed because they don’t agree with me.
    2 – I am jealous of them because people are listening to them, and they don’t agree with me.
    3 – They think something important is wrong and I don’t.
    4 – They don’t think something is important and I do.
    5 – They have a silly name.

    And the above is the ‘point’ you want to make? it’s not really very compelling, is it?

  • andywade

    OK, now I’m scared. When my generation took over we got a government of hedonistic, cruel, selfish cokeheads, which was bad enough, but if this article and those like it are indicative, when your generation takes over, we’re going to get the love children of Stalin and McCarthy. God help us all indeed.

  • andywade

    OK, now I’m scared. When my generation took over we got a government of hedonistic, cruel, selfish cokeheads, which was bad enough, but if this article and those like it are indicative, when your generation takes over, we’re going to get the love children of Stalin and McCarthy. God help us all indeed.

  • whs1954

    So they’re ill-informed and self-important. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not. You shouldn’t want something banned just because it might be misguided or up its own backside, because that’s not supposed to be a sufficient reason to ban things, is it? It is depressing that this needs to be said.