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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.