Author Archives: Matt Harwood

On cancel culture

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A tenet of the liberal standpoint is freedom of speech and ideas – that debate with reasoned arguments is essential to progress and democratic participation. This seems to be a view that is being tested with what many call the “culture wars” of the moment, centred around racism (historic and current), as well as trans rights.

The charge is that activists on various sides look to deny people with opposing views the opportunity to express them. From pressuring institutions to cancel speakers, to hounding the opposition off Twitter, impassioned campaigners are trying to redraw the boundaries of what is acceptable and “up for debate”, and what is beyond discussion.

As liberals, where is that line drawn? And, further, is it OK for that line to be moved with the prevailing culture?

My gut reaction to debate being closed down is that it is unhealthy to do so when looking at the overall benefit to society. A free market of ideas is what helps us get to a better place, to make progress. But it’s only fair to test that – what would I feel uncomfortable about encouraging a debate about? Can I imagine allowing, as an extreme example, a pro/anti debate on paedophilia on a University campus?

To be honest, I can’t. To allow the suggestion that both sides would have a 50/50 split of credence would not seem reasonable. My criteria here isn’t the law (it should be perfectly acceptable to argue something should be legal), it’s the severity of disgust and opposition to the ‘motion’ I feel. Is this a good basis for trying to deny someone avenues to talk about their point of view?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 27 Comments

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