Today I will be a guest on the BBC’s flagship Daily Politics show, discussing the worrying and accelerating infantilisation of today’s university students and asking whether young people who need the protection of trigger warnings and safe spaces can possibly be trusted to responsibly exercise their democratic right to vote.
Last year, in response to a brilliantly provocative column by American law professor and political blogger Glenn Reynolds – in which he argued that today’s generation of coddled, micro-aggression fearing students have utterly failed to earn the right to vote – I went along for the ride, agreeing:
It is ironic that at the same time there is a push to lower the voting age in the UK – the Lords recently voted to allow sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to vote in the coming Brexit referendum – people only slightly older and now at university, who already have the vote, are busy regressing back into emotional childhood.
[..] Given the increasing number of campus incidents of precious snowflake students demanding that the authorities curtail their liberties for their own “safety” – and the fact that increasing age is the last, best hope of gaining wisdom – the idea of raising the voting age does start to feel awfully tempting.
Response written, I then didn’t think much more of it. That is, until the other week when I was contacted by the BBC and asked whether I wanted to state the same case on their flagship political programme, the Daily Politics.
The context of the issue is known well enough, and I have blogged extensively about the worrying and absurd rise of calls to outlaw clapping and booing, tearful temper tantrums about dress codes, stifling ideas by labelling them ‘problematic’, the tedious insistence on “safe spaces” and mandatory sexual consent workshops, all of which are flourishing on British and American university campuses.
Now, do I really want to stomp around like a little authoritarian, summarily revoking the franchise from every group of people who happen to rile me up? Well, as readers of this blog already know, I would generally rather leave the screeching, sanctimonious authoritarianism to those who do it best – the student activists busy cocooning their young minds in an ideologically homogeneous bubble, and purging any dissenting viewpoints which threaten their “mental safety”.
But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make the urgent case that if things continue on their current course – with children being raised to believe that “sticks and stones may break their bones, but words will kill them stone dead”, and growing up to become intolerant students intent on purging anybody who fails to fawn deferentially over their delicate sensibilities – then before long, none of us will possess the intellectual and social robustness required of an engaged citizenry. And none of us will make good voters.
I want to stop the rot before it gets that far. But doing so will require confronting some difficult truths. And among these truths are the fact that the world of academia (particularly in the US – but where America goes, Britain already follows) has become infected with a virus which produces legions of what can only be described as adult babies – people who are physically mature, but with the emotional and psychological resiliency of a toddler.
The extent of the rot was laid bare in Spiked’s 2016 university free speech rankings, which forensically detail the extent to which free speech is curtailed at every university campus and students union in the country.
To give just a few examples, at present there are 30 students union which have banned newspapers (no prizes for guessing which publications), 25 which have banned mainstream hit songs for being “offensive” and 20 which have banned clubs or societies. But they only take their cue from the universities themselves, nearly half of which enforce “No Platform” policies against controversial speakers and a fifth of which have already moved to import American-style “safe space” policy onto their campuses.
I’m due to debate with Conservative MP and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, as well as Labour MP Kate Green. It will be very interesting to see whether I am able even to extract any acknowledgement that there is a problem which needs to be tackled. However, with the Conservative government leaning hard on universities to protect the fragile minds of their students by banning extremist speakers and Labour poised to benefit disproportionately from the authoritarian student vote, I’m not expecting a tremendously sympathetic hearing.
Watch this space!
Watch me debate on Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Politics, broadcast on BBC Two at 11:30 for the start of the programme (and PMQs), and at 12:20 onwards for my segment.
Alternatively, watch live or catch-up on BBC iPlayer.
Bottom image: Honey Badger Brigade
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