Declaring an idea or opinion to be “problematic” has become the activist Left’s tool of choice for shutting down debate and attacking free speech
I have a real issue with the recent hijacking and misappropriation of the word “problematic” by new generation feminists, trigger warning-toting student activists and the right-on Left in general. You could say that I find it…well, problematic.
Until recently, expressing a right-wing opinion or questioning the inexorable rise of identity culture might have seen you branded by the activist Left as being offensive, racist, sexist or oppressive in some other way. The criticism may well have been a shrill overreaction to a perfectly reasonable and valid point, but at least you knew where you stood and of what you were accused. Today, you are far more likely to be noted and quietly logged by the New Age Censors as being “problematic” – someone possessing opinions which do not properly conform to the current orthodoxy.
Take the insult that is university-sponsored sexual consent classes for fully grown adults, in which lecture theatres full of browbeaten good guys (the few potential future rapists never attend, of course) are made to feel like they are a potential threat to society, and that sexual relations between autonomous individuals should be stripped of their intimacy through the adoption of affirmative consent checkpoints at every stage of the relationship.
Frank Furedi writes in Spiked:
Although those advocating consent classes use touchy-feely words like ‘openness’ and ‘exploration’, they are anything but open to exploring alternative or dissident views. From the perspective of the consent crusader, anyone who deviates from the prescribed script on consent is, by definition, ‘problematic’. The need to adopt a firm and inflexible line is justified on the grounds that the stakes are far too high to tolerate different views on consent. Why? Because the principal aim of consent workshops is to re-socialise the participants, to modify their behaviour, and overturn the social and moral norms that supposedly legitimate the oppression of others, especially women; hence the workshops target so-called lad culture.
And here’s Dan Hitchens in the Spectator, on the efforts by student activists to ban Germaine Greer from Cardiff University because the feminist icon has uttered “problematic” things about transexual people:
In the language of student censors [the word “problematic”] seems to have become one of the harshest terms of disapproval. Opinions are denounced as, say, ‘vile and problematic’, or (as the Greer-banning petition describes her views) ‘hateful and problematic’. What’s problematic about this use of ‘problematic’ is that, until recently, the word was generally used to draw attention to some difficulty, in an understated British kind of way. It is jarring to read it being hurled from the skies as a thunderbolt of judgment.
When feminists say that something is problematic, they are usually referring to words, behaviours, ideas, tropes, stereotypes and so forth that are factually inaccurate and ultimately harm women, people of colour, the LGBT community and so forth.
Which would be vaguely true if you swap out “factually inaccurate” and replace it with “contrary to my opinion”. And also swap out “harm” and replace it with “offend some”. Green continues:
We have to identify harmful behaviours and words to actively discourage them. This promotes a more just and equal world.
But of course Laci Green and her co-conspirators in Britain do not just want to actively discourage the speaking of words and ideas which are contrary to their own worldview. They want to banish them entirely, and do so by holding a gun to society’s head and basically threatening that failing to abide by these new rules will result in social media shaming, social ostracising and complete excommunication from public life.
But here’s the dark heart of the New Age Censors, as revealed by Laci Green:
The truth is, literally everyone and everything is problematic. The search for feminist perfection will cause burnout because there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. All of us have been born into a culture that teaches us toxic behaviours and words that actively harm other people.
[..] To improve, we need to need to encourage unlearning in our dialogue. We have to actively unlearn racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and all manner of oppressions. And that is a lifelong process.
This is dangerous stuff, the propagation of the idea that spoken or written words can cause physical harm. But this is absolutely centrist to what the leftist New Age Censors are trying to do. They are fully aware that controlling the language means controlling public thought, and they aim to bring all of us problematic people into conformity with their own narrow worldview by declaring any dissenting opinion to be “problematic”, and doing their utmost to suppress it.
And by far the best cover for the New Age Censors’ deadly assault on free speech is the wheedling claim that sticks and stones may break their bones, but words might kill them stone dead. As Brendan O’Neill wrote this week:
This idea that words are assault is a recurring one in the arguments of the Stepford Students. ‘Blurred Lines’ has been banned on campuses across Britain because it ‘violates’ rules against ‘sexual harassment’. So hearing a song is like being harassed. Some unions banned the Sun on the basis that its daily Page 3 girls (RIP) ‘normalise rape’. (Blaming young women who strip off for men who rape? Nice. This rehabilitates in pseudo-edgy lingo that old judge’s view that mini-skirted girls had it coming.) The Oxford students who prevented me from taking part in a debate on abortion last year said allowing someone ‘without a uterus’ to discuss abortion would harm their ‘mental safety’.
All of these things were deemed “problematic”. And all were duly purged from university campuses as the closing of the left-wing mind gathers pace.
Laci Green’s casual assertion that “everything and everyone is problematic” is hilarious but also telling, for it reveals how the New Age Censors of the activist Left plan to gain power and suppress free speech in the process.
If everyone and everything is problematic then we are all guilty of committing unwitting microaggressions and oppressive behaviours, all the time. With every breath that we take we actively “harm” another human being with our thoughts and words, goes this line of thought. And therefore we need people to continually tell us what is offensive – what new language is in, what Bad Words are out, who we may have inadvertently mortally wounded with a careless glance or an unpolished turn of phrase.
And that’s where the New Age Censors, the Stepford Students, the resurgent activist Left step in, always watching over your shoulder and always quick and eager to tell you when you have crossed one of the many invisible lines that they are busy drawing across our political and social discourse. Only the telling always seems to take the form of a social media lynching rather than a friendly pointer.
When the rules over precisely what can be said and how it must be phrased become so fiendishly complex that we are all liable to fall over them at some point, it grants enormous power to the gatekeepers, those swivel-eyed young activists at the forefront of modern identity politics. Not only do they get to write the rules, they and they alone get to sit in judgement as to whether those rules have been violated.
And pity the unwitting transgressor who entertains vain hope of ever again being allowed to step onto a British university campus. It doesn’t matter even if you are Germaine Greer and have led the charge for women’s equality for decades. The selfish, virtue-signalling young activists of today – people whose own micro-causes literally stand on the shoulders of people like Greer – will throw you under the bus and Trigger Warning you out of history because you failed to keep pace with the change.
Who knew that the petty tyrants of today would be cherubic-faced, smiley student activists, chanting mantras about keeping us safe as they imprison us in their closed-minded, ideological dystopia?
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