Author Archives: Allan Tweddle

Is pornography really free speech?

Pornography is notoriously difficult to define, but it is estimated that it accounts for 12% of websites and 30% of all web traffic. And while broadcast media is subject to ever more content warnings, or outright censorship, on racial or cultural grounds, explicit sexual content has become ever more acceptable on our screens.

Now, porn isn’t my thing. Watching porn as a blind person is akin to standing outside McDonalds, engulfed in the delicious aroma of Big Mac and fries, while not being able to find the door. Despite that, being a staunch believer in free speech, I’ve always supported the right of its makers and consumers to get on and enjoy themselves, provided they are not harming others in the process.

I suspect this is a common view, but an episode of The philosopher’s Zone podcast I recently heard has left me wondering. The Philosopher’s Zone, published by ABC, examines a different philosophical topic every week with the help of experts. You can listen to the relevant episode here in which Caroline West, a philosopher from the University of Sydney and author of the chapter on pornography in the Oxford Handbook of Freedom of Speech, considers whether pornography should be classified as free speech, or even as speech at all.

It isn’t written speech, at least not at the point of consumption. And it would be hard to argue that what passes for a pornography movie script can stand in as a representation for the final product. It is also not, for the most part, spoken speech either. I don’t suppose many folks consume pornography for the witty repartee.

But even if we assume that pornography does count as speech, it still may not fall under the protective umbrella of free speech. Legal scholars and philosophers have argued that there are plenty of things we would count as speech in the normal sense that no one would argue should be protected. Examples include criminal solicitation, defamation, perjury, and whites only signs. In a similar vein, there are plenty of things that would be counted as free speech that are not normal speech. These include flag burning, silent vigils, and sit-ins.

The conclusion, as far as I understood it, was that when we define free speech, what really matters is the underlying justification for why that speech should be free. John Stuart Mill’s argument that rational debate and the free flow of ideas is more likely to lead to true and justified beliefs feels relevant when discussing the activities of Extinction Rebellion, but less so when considering the latest R-rated movie. The same goes for the vital role free speech plays in a well-functioning democracy.

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The Enable Fund: a helping hand for disabled candidates

On 3 December 2018 the Government launched the Enable Fund to help disabled candidates with the additional costs they face when standing for political office. This can include BSL interpreters, personal assistance costs, accessible technology, additional transport costs and the like.

Any candidate with a serious physical or mental impairment can apply to the fund. However, any grant awarded must be used to overcome specific obstacles faced by the disabled person. It can’t be spent on campaigning or campaign materials. It exists to help disabled candidates overcome the many barriers to standing for elected office, and as a visually impaired …

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Solving the school places crisis without building a single classroom

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In the London Borough of Bromley, as in many places across the country, we are facing a massive projected shortfall in school places over the next few years. Councillors and activists from all parties are busy scrutinising planning applications for new schools of all shapes and sizes. But is it really necessary?

Imagine a school, let’s call it the Tweddle Academy (though pupils and staff just call it Tweds). Tweds was once a medium sized comprehensive with 1200 children on roll. Now it is an establishment providing all-through education for 2400 kids aged 6 to 18.

The school day at Tweds begins at 7.30am when children aged 6 to 12 arrive. They attend lessons until 10.20am, have a 20 minute break, then it’s back to the classroom. At 1.30pm they head to the school canteen for lunch before being dismissed for the day an hour later.

At 1.15pm while the younger pupils come to the end of lessons, teachers wait by the school gate to register the senior cohort. At 1.30pm, after the younger children have moved to the canteen, the 13 to 18 year olds begin their lessons. Their school day runs from 1.30pm to 7.30pm, with a 20 minute break.

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