Fighting Censorious, Safe Space Authoritarianism With Comedy

If the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is the disease, comedy and the human instinct to ridicule the absurd are penicillin

Stand-up comedian Steve Hughes has an excellent rejoinder to the current illiberal mantra, held by all devotees of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can kill me stone dead“.

In this excellent excerpt from an old routine, Steve Hughes skewers this baseless assertion and rejects the constant attempts to equate hearing disagreeable words with incurring physical harm.

As Hughes rightly says, when one is offended, absolutely nothing happens. The sky does not fall, pestilence and famine do not rain down on the Earth, one is not physically injured. On being offended, one can either respond and make a stand, or choose to let it go – both are valid options and people are free to choose between them, depending on the individual circumstances.

What is not valid are the attempts to circumscribe free speech – particularly the current fad of calling for “free speech, not hate speech” without realising the inherent contradiction – because the fear of giving or receiving offence is now so great that it overrides our commitment to the principles of a free, democratic society.

But though we must be vigilant in pushing back against these attacks on free speech, with university leaders and professors in particular needing to finally step up and take a stand for academic freedom, it is also worth recalling something which blog pointed out last year:

We must never forget that our best weapon in the fight against these petty, censorious students, these Orwellian tyrants in gestation, is the simple act of ridicule.

The more we take seriously and earnestly debate with these student babies, coming up with detailed arguments as to why it is in everyone’s interests that they tolerate the presence of someone with different ideas on their campus – or why they are wrong to terrify their professors with accusations of supposed microaggressions to the extent that they become unable to properly teach – the more their hysteria can begin to seem like a valid world view.

But of course it is not. Just as nobody takes seriously that diminished rump of eccentrics who maintain that the world is flat, so we should be careful not to take the bait every time some wobbly-lipped student demands the purging of a challenging book from the academic syllabus or the revocation of an honorary doctorate from a partisan figure.

That doesn’t mean that we sit back and do nothing, allowing these baby-faced tyrants to have their way. But it does mean all of us choosing more carefully how and when we pick our battles, and being willing to sit out a few rounds to let Trey Parker, Matt Stone and the good people at The Onion pick up the slack once in awhile.

Sometimes, earnestly engaging with those who seek to curtail freedom of speech and behaviour in the name of protecting the perpetually vulnerable from taking offence can be counterproductive, because deploying the well-trodden earnest arguments in favour of free speech only provides the Identity Politics cultists with another opportunity to state their toxic credo all over again.

Far better, in these circumstances, to keep one’s powder dry and let the comedians do the leg work instead.


Safe Space Notice - 2

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