Tag Archives: democracy

When We Are All Categorised

When we are all categorised
And government’s eyes
Can find the inner mind.
We, the fool
Will have let scientists rule.
But, perhaps in some places
We will kick over the traces,
And say “no!”, to the rule.

Writers and Free Speech

In “A Letter On Justice And Open Debate” https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/, the authors JK Rowling and Margaret Atwood (amongst many other authors and academics), speak out against what they label as “cancel culture”. They condemn the growing tendency to silence (or attempt to silence) those who express opinions which offend particular groups or individuals. And argue that the best way to deal with views with which one disagrees is by engaging in free and open debate, rather than attempting to silence those expressing such opinions.

The letter has provoked controversy. Take, for example this response from a WordPress blogger:

“there is no such thing as cancel culture. This is fans deciding they do not want to associate with sexist, racist, ableist, bigoted authors/artists/what have you, and deciding to not purchase future works from them.

It is also not censorship because the government is not coming in and forcing these authors to remove their books from store shelves or anything like that. Fans are simply refusing to support these artists anymore. Publishers have that same right. So do booksellers.” (see https://amberskyeforbes.wordpress.com/2020/07/08/cancel-culture/).

Whilst the blogger is correct that the government is not forcing anyone to stop stocking, publishing or buying books and/or expressing certain opinions, the fact that some authors are, for example removing their books from JK Rowling’s publisher is intended to put pressure on said publisher to stop publishing Rowling’s works. The publisher has (quite rightly) not bowed to such pressure. However, where they to do so, this could have the effect of depriving Rowling (or anyone else who expresses a controversial opinion) of their source of income. Sure someone as famous as JK Rowling would, in all probability find another publisher, but what about lesser known writers? In the latter case such people might well be deprived of their source of income. Depriving someone of their (legal) source of income is a big thing to have on one’s conscience is it not?

I do, of course defend the right of people to spend their income as they wish, and withdraw their books from particular publishers, for we live in a free society. However, actively calling for others to boycott the works of particular people (merely because one disagrees with something they have said) can very easily spill over into bullying. Society (or a section of it) does not possess the power to censor and/or ban opinions. It can, however create a climate in which authors (and others) fear opening their mouths in case they offend a particular group or individual. This is a very unhealthy state of affairs.

I have been told by one particular blogger (via a comment on their blog) to “educate myself”, as I expressed an opinion with which they took issue. My readers wont be surprised to learn that my response (had I voiced it, which I did not) would have been unprintable! The blogger in question was, of course perfectly entitled to their opinion (as am I). however telling people to “educate themselves” is not the best way to gain friends and influence people. Such statements come across as arrogant and are not the best way of encouraging free and open debate.

An acquaintence told me that he was thinking of writing a book on HIV/AIDS. The main character in his novel would be gay and HIV positive. However, my acquaintence (not himself being gay) was worried that where he to write his novel he would be castigated for writing about a subject of which he has no (direct) personal experience. Consequently that book will, in all probability never get written.

Of course when one writes or speaks about a subject about which one has no direct experience, one should be sure to do research prior to doing so. However, if someone wants to make a fool of themselves by writing a poorly researched book, or speaking on a subject with little knowledge of said subject, they have the right so to do. Of course we the reader/listner have the perfect right to point out their errors. Indeed it may be our duty to do so. But what neither the state nor society should do is to call for poorly researched books to be banned. Nor should either the state or society prevent people from expressing offensive opinions.

The advocacy of violence to achieve political or other ends is a criminal matter and anyone advocating it’s use should feel the full force of the law. However disagreeing with someone is not violence and its dangerous when people contend that the expression of measured opinion constitutes violence. As someone who is disabled (I am registered blind) I would be offended where someone to say that disabled people have no right to be employed, and that all anti-discrimination legislation should be repealed, leaving it to the discretion of employers whether to employ the disabled. However me finding this view particularly objectionable does not mean that the person expressing it has committed an act of violence. They have not. They have expressed an opinion which, in a democratic society they are perfectly entitled to do, and the best way of me dealing with their perspective is to argue against it. I may feel angry but the person has done no violence to me and I should not hound them on social media, nor should I call for them to be deprived of their source of income.

We live in a liberal society and long may we continue to do so.

If A Man Where To Say

If a man where to say
That in some way
A former colony was better off under British rule,
Many would call him a blithering fool,
An imperialist, or worse.
I will only say
In this ineffective verse
That its all going wrong
For Hong Kong.

If You Dare

If you dare
To say
(in the politest possible way)
That “the people in their judgement err”,
I swear
That the person of narrow mind
Will find
Some ugly word to throw at you.

“Fascist” or “elitist” they will cry.
I know that it is untrue,
But ’tis easier to lie
(Though inwardly you die),
Than to speak the truth
And have the roof
Come down on you,
For speaking what is true.

Sometimes I Think On Men Of Great Estate

Sometimes I think on men of great estate
Who would, of an evening late
Gaze over the countryside
And wonder whether democracy’s rising tide
Would bring civilisation to an end.

I can not pretend
That there was not in such men
A desire for their privilege to survive
Democracy’s rising tide.
Yet I regret
The idea that any fool
May rule
And I feel in my heart
That democracy and mobocracy
Are sometimes not that far apart

To all those who hate

There is a quiet place out of reach
Of those who hatred preach.
They prate,
And understand to late
Or perhaps not at all
That pride comes before a fall.

Words meaningful as a harlot’s compliment fall
On the ear
Of men who hear, What they want to hear.
The truth clear
Is, I fear
To often lost, in sound and beer.

The fanatic’s words drear
Will Fill the empty soul
Of those who’s goal
Is the destruction of the whole
Liberal project,
To which They object
Without knowing why,
Then, pointlessly die.

Freedom of Expression

On 19 May I published a poem entitled “Her Mother’s Daughter” (see http://newauthoronline.com/2013/05/19/her-mothers-daughter/). In the poem I address how a mother oblivious to the fact that her young daughter is engaged in sex work would react if she discovered her involvement in prostitution.   My poem provoked the following response from a lady engaged in sex work

“This is fucking horrible. This entire project is vile. What the fuck are you even doing creating a whole project about sex workers as a non-sex worker based on shitty stereotypes, asinine paternalistic bullshit and inane drivel? As a sex worker myself, this is gross. For the sake of humanity, please stop. You are propagating stereotypes and lies about us and this causes us DIRECT HARM. STOP STEREOTYPING SEX WORKERS. Stop speaking for us. We can speak for ourselves.”

It goes without saying that sex workers can (and do) speak for themselves and that they have every right to do so. However I am extremely concerned regarding the implied view that anyone who is not a sex worker does not have the right to express a view on the issues pertaining to prostitution. If we follow this reasoning to it’s logical conclusion then only black people should speak about matters pertainig to blacks, only white people on issues relating to whites etc. This way of proceeding would stifle literary and, indeed artistic expression and would lead to a debased cultural landscape in which writers and society more generally is frightened of expressing an opinion as it might, just possibly offend some one or other. As someone who is blind I dislike the stereotypes which some misguided individuals hold concerning visually impaired people. However I have no wish to prevent the expression of opinion. If I disagree with views being voiced I can (and will) challenge those views, not by calling for their suppression but by arguing against them as any believer in freedom should do.

As regards the substance of the above quoted criticisms, the commentor makes no attempt to express a contrary perspective. Rather she indulges in that age old trick of shooting the messenger rather than attempting to engage him in debate.

In point of fact I accept the right of sex workers to sell sex and the right of clients to purchase services provided that both parties are of legal age and coercion in the form of threat or violence is absent from the exchange. However that is not at all the same thing as accepting that prostitution has no harmful effects on those engaged in it. Ultimately in a free society individuals have the right to make choices which may harm them (that is an important right which should be respected), however that is not the same thing as saying that one has no right to express concerns regarding said choices. In a democracy free and open debate is essential.