“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing the whole world”
-J S Mill, On Liberty
How hard mankind has fought for a right to free speech. How many lives lost for the right to dissent on issues of the day. How many negotiations, treaties and laws signed to prevent public money from shutting down opinions it does not like. For this: a petty virtue signal by leftists whose idea of maintaining freedom is fake-screaming at police.
For those who haven’t heard, the USU has blocked an event organised by The Conservative Club, Students for Liberty and BROSoc, who intended to screen a film entitled ‘The Red Pill.’
The USU sent an email to club executives yesterday (11th April 2017) saying:
‘Due to the nature of the film’s alleged discriminatory content and the offence it could cause our members, the USU does not support this event.’
For those reasons, the USU made a decision that the screening would ‘not be eligible for any USU funding’ and that the clubs would ‘not be permitted to use any USU resources in the planning or running of this event.’
I am reminded at this point of something that Stephen Fry once said:
‘It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that.” As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more … than a whine. “I find that offensive.” It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I am offended by that.” Well, so [expletive] what?’
For those who are unfamiliar with the film, please read what our member Renee Gorman (trigger warning: female conservative) had to say about it. The short version is that it is a film about a self-identified female feminist who enters the world of the men’s rights movement and emerges not only alive (and arguably not offended) but having gained new insight into issues such as male suicide, lack of services for male victims of domestic violence, issues with child custody and men’s reproductive rights (among other more controversial topics such as societal tolerance of misandry).
The film is uncomfortable to watch, I will be the first to admit that. Given the rhetoric and policy pull of the current year, the film is certainly jarring. However, Cathy Young of Heat Street, in giving the film a positive review, said the film raised important issues that often go undiscussed and made ‘well-deserved’ criticisms of radical feminism. She also criticised the film for failing to adequately present the ‘dark side of the men’s movement.’ This criticism is of course fair. There are plenty of horrible people who don’t have even a basic conception of the equality of men and women and would fall below the standards of decency for humanity.
But this is not about protecting people from films that make them feel uncomfortable [by the way, feel free not to go to the event if you don’t want to see the film. This is about allowing uncomfortable and offensive ideas to be viewed – in part to sharpen our understandings of the rights of men and women but absolutely in the name of free speech.
Newsflash: a movie cannot hurt you. You will be okay – I promise. I promise you will walk away with your body still intact. I promise that the world will keep spinning. I promise you will still have all of your first-world rights – a great privilege compared to those living under tyrannical and oppressive regimes. Nor can a movie ‘intimidate and physically threaten women’ – careful now, the characters might jump out at you.
Free speech isn’t about allowing people to say stupid and offensive things for the sake of it ( though free speech of course includes this). It is about protecting people from those who have power from stifling views they don’t like or agree with. It is about protecting the little guy from those who have coercive force (read: can compulsorily take your SSA fees) or from government (who have really big guns) from enacting a modern day Ministry of Truth. J S Mill called this ‘the tyranny of the majority.’
J S Mill lopped a harsh critique on those who seek to shut down free speech:
‘There is no greater assumption of infallibility in forbidding the propagation of error.’
The infallible USU should be like a number of other progressives and strong feminists who said they would ‘come along to engage and debate, not to cause trouble’ and ‘encourage others to do the same.’
This is of course the same infallible USU who allowed the Political Economy Society to support and endorse a conference on the Hezbollah perspective on Syria. How hypocritical. It is the same USU who does not understand how their own regulations work. The regulation which the USU says prevents the screening of this movie (discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, age, martial status, religion or disability) does nothing more than ensure the event is open to all to attend. An event which in and of itself requires consent to attend and does not have any barriers (bar the $4 access entry fee) to attendance does not contravene such regulations. What regulation 10.j.xii does it to stop a club making a ‘men only’ event or making an event in which the club went around trying to do a Trump (a very important regulation indeed!).
In any case, the clubs intend to go ahead with the event and foot the bill privately. The event is open to all and all are encouraged to come and debate, critique and watch the film.
The battle for free speech is alive and well at The University of Sydney. It is a long road ahead of us.