In a rambling column today, Martha Gill, one of The Guardian’s authoritarian scribes, attempts to take Dr. Jordan Peterson to task for launching Thinkspot—a new free speech-friendly social media platform.
Gill begins by listing a litany of hypothetical protests by imaginary “free speech” advocates: “Young people today can’t cope with reality and if you try to tell them about it you’ll get arrested” and other things that no reasonable person would ever say. Spiked! columnist Andrew Doyle was quick to point this out on Twitter.
Gill writes: “Free speech advocates also misunderstand the motivation of those who might want to shut down a debate: they see this as a surefire mark of intolerance. But some debates should be shut down. For public dialogue to make any progress, it is important to recognise when a particular debate has been won and leave it there.”
This may be difficult to understand, so we’ve translated it from Guardianspeak to English: “We get to decide which opinions are acceptable. If you wish to express opinions that are unpopular with Guardian columnists then you must be suppressed. We have the final say on what you can and cannot say. That’s what progress means.”
This is an endless, binary tirade between the ideas that there are things that should not be spoken of in order to preserve the purity of the greater good and that there are no subjects or ideas that should be disallowed. Free speech advocates are not saying that horrible things should be spoken of, but that they should not be singled out as things which must not be spoken of. As nuanced as that is, and as unnuanced as The Guardian is these days, this is a distinction that must be made.
Free speech is not something that should have limitations, and advocating for that view is absolutely not the same thing as advocating for all those things which are or may be said. This used to be something the liberal left was totally on board with before the moral panic took hold. There’s a line in Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders that states “I abhor your views but respect your right to have them.”
Liberal doctrine in the 1980’s was based in natural rights, with free speech being upheld in favor of artists, gay rights activists, civil rights activists, writers, and journalists. It was the conservatives in the American congress who were vilifying the speech freedoms exercised by the left. Rock stars and rap artists testified in congress and released collaborative albums. The left and the art world were united. They all flew the flag of free speech.
Slate used to run articles by Christopher Hitchens; Salon ran Camille Paglia pieces; The Guardian was once renowned for its arts coverage. These days, the purview of these outlets is reserved for woke broadsides against wearing deodorant or issuing warnings about the dangers of “digital blackface.” Indeed, these days, The Guardian is more likely to defame an artist than to acknowledge their right to have heterodox opinions.
Is it that the nature of discourse has shifted away from meaningful thought or is this what the public demands? The sheer numbers of people flocking to more serious engagement about the viability of ideas, attending Dr. Peterson lectures, and fighting back against progressive indoctrination would indicate otherwise. It’s a top down approach, from outlets like The Guardian, in an attempt to control the narrative, that the public is bucking against. It turns out most people are not mindless plebes waiting to be told what to think, but free thinkers who don’t want to be led. The more you reject The Guardian’s instructions, the more they will call you a “bigot” and a “boor.”
Gill goes on to slag various think pieces and deep dives like Jonathan Haidt’s and Greg Lukianoff’s seminal essay, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” an essay that correctly predicted the ineffectiveness and harm that censorious safe spaces and trigger warnings have on young people.
She refers, quite astonishingly, to the massive progressivist push to control language as “simple politeness.” It’s not. Claiming that ideological mobbing is just part of decent public manners belies how truly damaging it is to demand that things not be said. And that is the issue. It’s not about politeness, it’s about telling people what they can and can’t say based on nothing other than vague moralisms and social convention.
We had thought that The Guardian had reached their lowest possible point when they fell for a hoax and published an anonymous troll’s satirical essay entitled “‘Alt-right’ online poison nearly turned me into a racist.” But Gill’s failed takedown of Dr. Peterson and Thinkspot shows they can delve lower.
On the bright side, Gill’s pro-censorship screed is great advertising for Dr. Peterson’s platform. Her craven desire to see speech shut down only confirms that a robust free-speech friendly online platform is desperately needed.