The left wing at Cambridge seem desperate to ban just about everything

When will we realise no-platforming flies in the face of progress?

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I didn’t sign the petition to ban Trump from the UK but signed the campaign to ban Roosh V’s meetings. The line is sometimes difficult to draw, but the left wing at Cambridge seem desperate to ban just about everything.

As a lefty ‘feminazi’ (or so I was recently dubbed), I assume the expectation is that I’m instantaneously pro-censorship of all that offends me.

Actually, I take issue with the culture at Cambridge which seeks to ban or silence everything which does not fit into the echo chamber of left wing politics and political correctness.

Whilst I temporarily flirted with signing the petition to ban Trump from the UK, a moment’s pondering on what this would achieve (plus a few moments mourning whichever poor animal died to make his wig) and I realised this might just be counter-productive.

A feminazi

He’s a venomous shit-head, but banning him does nothing but strengthen his support.

“They’re attacking our freedom of speech!” cry the Trumps and the Farages and the rogue non-silent right-winger in college. A rally of adoring admirers flock to their feet. We are left with polarisation and resentment. The more we scream “shut up”, the more they scream “freedom”.

And in a way, they have a point.

I’m firmly against just about every prejudice out there, but you don’t fix racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia by banning every racist, sexist, homophobe and transphobe from talking. Movements don’t move forward unless you can debate, disagree and hold people to account.

We, the left wing of Cambridge’s student populace, face the same fate as Ovid’s Narcissus: so captured by the reflection of our own righteousness, we stare longingly into a pool of our own principles until we waste away to nothing. A pale narcissus flower is all that remains from our many hours of shouting and Facebook slacktivism.

The pool of principles

It’s not just the radical right who are being silenced. I used to genuinely believe everyone who voted Tory was evil or stupid. They’re not, they (generally) just have a different conception of what a good society means and how it is we get there.

You Tories shouldn’t have to coil back inside to dance awkwardly to the seventh rendition of Chelsea Dagger every time a politics chat opens up in the smoking area of Cindies. Tell me more about why trickle-down theory works and I will very drunkenly try to tell you why I disagree.

We have a semi-productive conversation (or would have had I not just rinsed £30 on jaegers).

Freedom of speech does not necessarily mean freedom from criticism. I might call you out on what you’re saying, but crucially I defend your right to say it. Let people make cases openly and have a free flowing argument. People have the right to be offended, but they also have the right to offend.

In the current climate, the radical student movements of the last century would likely be stifled. Feminist, gay and civil rights would not have moved anywhere without provocation. No-platforming used to be a very right wing thing, and is a conservative force. If you suffocate anything which doesn’t fit the current cultural grain, progress won’t happen.

A Tab Cartoon from last term when the Assange “no-platform” controversy raged © Ben Brown

Vitally, this isn’t a black and white issue, and there are contradictions in my own mind. Signing the petition to shut down Roosh V’s meetings in the UK was a gut reaction to his condoning of rape. There’s nothing very free about free speech which might destroy someone else’s liberties.

Maybe this is hypocritical; maybe, like in the instance of Trump, this campaign will only mobilize a more powerful reactionary force. I’m not sure yet whether I was right on this one.

There is a line, and it’s difficult to tell where that line is. I don’t know when speech becomes unsafe, but I do know the red tape has to be lifted.

Us lefties need to stop pretending we’re the only voice that matters, and free up debate at Cambridge.

If you want to write a response, whether on “no-platforming”, the idea of “progress” or anything else, don’t hesitate to email [email protected].