Yes, ok, we bang on a bit about snowflakes here. But there hasn’t been a better time in the last 50 years to save such innocents from the delusions foisted on them by the chattering classes.
For so long, their self-appointed leaders have grown in self-esteem and influence by advancing a creed of victimhood, which has now reached its apotheosis in ‘no platforming’. They have claimed that minorities of any stripe – so long as they’re approved and not, say, Christian – don’t just need their rights protecting, but their feelings, too.
This is the argument put forward by Malia Bouattia, the president of the National Union of Students (NUS). Free speech ‘is universal’, she wrote in the Independent this week, but it ‘is not limitless’.
To extend it to everyone, she continued on behalf of her members (most of whom only joined to use the subsidised union bars), would mean ‘sacrificing some of our rights’. In other words – as Ben Spence paraphrases it on Spiked today – ‘you need to ban your way to free speech’.
Spence’s op-ed is actually a reaction to Spiked’s Free Speech University rankings, an annual reminder of the busybody, cotton-wool, querulous global culture that is finally being challenged at the ballot box. And, rightly, he points out the terrible poverty of thinking behind it.
Essentially, people like Bouattia haven’t grown up. Dilemmas, paradoxes, competing moral and ethical claims: in her mind, if they’re suppressed, somehow they will go away. And it’s an attitude that generations of do-gooders have now taken from the student union into public life.
Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol? Don’t care, ban it. Cigarette smoke can be accommodated indoors with adequate ventilation? So what, ban it. Students can decide if they want to buy a Daily Mail? No, much better to ban it. Slap warnings on chocolate and booze (and Ancient Greek plays). Stop flirting and fancy-dress parties. Preach a new Prohibition. That should make the world a better place.
Except, of course, it won’t. Ideas are no different from consumer goods. There will always be a supply for demand, but prohibition perverts the process. Silence a free-thinker and frankly, you nudge her towards the alt-right, the cartoon villains of the campus.
It’s tragic, really. Young adults have enough challenges after graduating. In facing them, they will need to understand that neither their ideas nor emotions are sacrosanct. In Britain, demographics and psephology have condemned them to conservative (and probably Conservative) government for decades.
Sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting ‘La la la’ is no longer an option for so-called ‘progressives’. We need to have a talk, and the door is always open. But if they won’t put their heads round, they can expect to be ignored. Which is a whole lot worse than being banned.