No Platform Policy is BS & Thoughts on Freedom of Speech

Joonsoo Yi:

I do not believe that people are ill-driven, and that whatever they choose to do or say is in accordance with their moral compasses. There are exceptions to this, of course. When a drunk, otherwise mentally stable, person, assaults a random individual, then that is poor judgment, because in no culture would attacking a random passerby be morally acceptable. And once the drunk assaulter sobers up, the inexplicable act that he once committed becomes a regrettable one on his part. There are also cases where certain groups of people think they are doing “good” by harming people. When jihadi terrorists blow themselves up, they are doing so to fulfill “God’s work” by killing the “infidels”. As such, it is not always the case that we can always affirm moral relativism, and excuse detrimental actions on the basis that they are driven by good-will. But, so far I have discussed scenarios that involve actual physical damage, wherein there is very little room for a debate in determining which actions are permitted and which are not.

Free-speech is a different issue all-together, in the sense that it is both easier to curb and allow spoken words than a physical act, but its criteria for permissibility follows a similar guideline as the actions described above. As long as what someone says or does would not result in a bodily harm, it is ok. No one has the obligation to promote someone’s thoughts, let alone publicize and popularize them, but no one has the right to limit them if they do not invoke any bodily harm. If we can all agree (scrapping moral relativism) that democracy is fundamentally good, as most people do, then it is good that democracy not only enshrines the right of individuals to think freely, unbound by some standardized, state-regulated censorship, but also protects those who happen to have a minority view. As such, it would be hard-pressed to find someone who fundamentally denounces the idea of freedom of speech and discards it entirely, because the right to free speech provides protection to every person. So, if we all agree that freedom of speech is fundamentally good, and that it is important to preserve it, then attempts made to limit its capacity are wrongfully driven. Therefore, I don’t fundamentally agree with the No Platform Policy on the grounds that it impinges on a basic human right.

But, it must be conceded that the No Platform Policy is not driven by some evil intentions to derail democracy, as some opponents of this policy would claim. It is not the case that the No Platform Policy actively encourages bodily harm at the expense of other people, as in the case of a bar fight or terrorism. So, those who support the No Platform Policy differ from me morally, which is fine, and they should not be forced to abandon their views. The motivation behind the No Platform Policy is simple: prevent people from making remarks that might hurt other people’s feelings. As such, the No Platform Policy is driven by good intentions, both to protect people from bullying, and to punish the bullies by depriving them of those opportunities. However, those who support the No Platform Policy fall short in the following ways:

  1. The No Platform Policy inherently compromises the principles of freedom of speech by placing artificial limitations. Who decides what should be allowed to be said? Ultimately the individuals who decide on what can be said, and what can’t, have granted themselves the right as a moral arbitrator. This is not only pretentious, but hypocritical. If the motivation behind the No Platform Policy is to protect people, then it is contradicting itself by disparaging the voices of the people who happen to differ morally from the “moral arbitrator”. I do not need to give extreme examples to explain this paradox. If a university bans certain songs from being played on the basis that they are homophobic, or violence-inducing, then while it could very well be protecting those who feel discouraged from hearing those songs, it is stripping the others of the same protection, those who actually want to listen to those songs. Consequently, the No Platform Policy crumbles the concept of freedom of speech by determining a moral arbitrator, and by doing so, contradicts its aims by scrapping people of the protection that it seeks to provide.
  2. The No Platform Policy sets a nasty precedent. While no one would disagree that a member of the KKK (barring the actual members of the KKK) promoting deaths to black people should be given no platform, because it actually encourages bodily harm, it gives the moral arbitrator the right to ban anyone they deem “morally disagreeable”. The Speakeasy Society at the LSE is facing a ban, and they probably would get banned just because they could. In most campuses, student-run newspapers cannot publish any articles that might even slightly upset anyone in their respective student unions. Why? They don’t want to see someone’s feelings getting hurt.
  3. Those who support the No Platform Policy are free to have their own views in their free-time, but they can’t legislate their views into a policy that everyone else has to follow. The KKK example is one that incites violence. ISIS propaganda incites violence. Someone criticizing certain feminists for the remarks they made? I don’t think so. I think feminism is inherently good, and it is a good discussion to have here as the No Platform Policy is primarily centered around one’s sexual orientation. When a radical feminist says women should earn more income than men because they “deserve to… after centuries of oppression” or that someone who does not believe in gender binarism is a transophobe and should be “killed”, then though ridiculous as those views are, they are allowed to hold those views. But when the same people decide to actualize their views into an executable shape of a policy (i.e. the No Platform Policy), then they begin to infringe on the rights of the people who pose no bodily harm. And anyone who says their minority views are not represented, or claim that their views are actively “shut down”, as some have claimed, then they have never been outside of the United Kingdom. No where else in the world (including the United States) is the right to freedom of speech better protected than in the United Kingdom.
  4. There is a fine-line between hearing hurtful remarks and having a thick skin. There is no such thing as an ideal world, where everyone gets along in peace. Such is the reality. Everyone gets bruised one way or another, and there is no escaping this. So long as every person is not perfect, some people will find a way to fault that person, whether it is based on appearances (attractiveness of that person), lifestyle, race, sexual orientation, income level, or whatever. If we are to be consistent with the No Platform Policy, then why not ban speech which mocks someone’s wealth (whether they are poor, doing ok, or incredibly wealthy)? Why not ban speech which mocks someone’s lifestyle? And even if these issues are inconsequential compared to race and sexual-orientation issues, they face the same inevitable fate, which is that it is simply impractical to please everyone. Being a white person in certain parts of Seoul that still house American soldiers, is not ideal because that person would be subject to some form of racism on the basis that the image of a “Westerner” is not ideal. A straight guy who unknowingly walks into a lesbian bar in San Fransisco would be subject to some form of “straightaphobia” by some people (been there, done that). But these issues are not publicized because it would be politically incorrect to do so. The point is not to argue that these issues should not be dealt with, but that these are inevitable issues that confront everyone in one way or another. The hurtful racist, homophobic, or whatever label-driven, remarks will exist so long as humanity exists. In that case, legislating a policy in order to prevent “hurt feelings” is not only detrimental to the core of freedom of speech (as discussed above), but also preposterous. Some people should get on with their lives and learn to develop a thick skin, like most others do.
  5. Lastly, the No Platform Policy does harm to those who support it, because they do not develop intellectually by actively shutting down the voices of people who do not agree with them. If a group of people attacks someone on the basis of his/her sexual orientation, then they should not put up with it, and simply ignore them. But when a different group of people wants to have a discussion on “male privilege” and concludes that it is nonsensical, this is a matter of rigorous intellectual debate, which is very clearly distinct from hate-speech. However, the same kind of people who support the No Platform Policy seek to discourage this kind of discussion, labeling it as “sexist”. Someone who disbands the notion of “white privilege” is deemed racist, and the No Platform Policy supporters actively fight to give them absolutely no chance to speak. Ultimately, this chronic behavior of active disparagement regresses intellectual development by refusing a debate on the false pretext of hate-speech. If a white man decides that the notion that there is a systematic and institutionalized racism and sexism in the United Kingdom is false, and has good, logical, empirical, reasons to think so, then the people who are inclined to deny this person of a platform are depriving themselves of an intellectual discourse, whereby they could actually learn something they did not know previously.
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