The threat to free speech

Rowling is Right! thundered the Sunday Times, a Murdoch paper. She is “justified in conscientiously stating opinions on issues of public interest without being deterred by fear of causing offence”. Trans people who are offended are “not entitled to sympathy”. Well, that’s me told. If she says the Scottish government is “playing fast and loose with women’s safety”, and stout defenders of women’s rights attack trans women because of it, I am not entitled to sympathy, and nor are the victims.

Once a society allows that people who feel emotional anguish are entitled to apology and moral restitution, there is no limit to the abridgment of free speech it will allow in the name of compassion. Radcliffe should think again. His comments are, to coin a phrase, offensive and hurtful to those who cherish liberty.

The emotional anguish I feel is fear. The repeated allegations in Rowling’s piece that trans people are dangerous, and women are terrified, may lead others to violence against us: possibly physical violence, possibly just social shunning, which is hurtful to a social animal. Rowling encourages transphobes.

This is not the standard “Free Speech!” argument easily answered, that you have free speech but no right to a platform, and no right to avoid condemnation for odious views. It is that it is oppressive to liberty to assert that trans people or our allies are entitled to an apology. Now, I don’t know what trans people would feel about an apology from Rowling, either now or in a possible future in which an entrenched hard-right government has gone on from hate of trans people to all LGBT, but the debased platform of the Murdoch Times

(oops, a bit of rhetoric there, I should not have read the Times article, its moralising tone is catching)

condemns Radcliffe for this:

To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups… — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred.

The “sorry” comes from him. There is no demand that anyone else apologise. He acknowledges that many people around his age have been deeply affected by Rowling’s books, and the positive message in those books remains despite their author’s views.

Is there any abridgement to free speech? Rowling put her anti-trans rant on her blog. There is no obligation on anyone to read it, but many did, including me. While some people may have distanced themselves from her or deprecated her views, that is also free speech. If the Times is entitled to condemn Radcliffe, then Radcliffe is entitled to condemn Rowling.

Oddly enough, I got the Times text from an anti-trans website which probably believes its readers would resent paying money to Murdoch, from a left-wing standpoint like mine. Sorry. If you agree with the Times and quote it approvingly, that says something about you, however much you might want to distance yourself from Murdoch propaganda.

Rowling’s remarks did hurt a lot of her fans. They were profoundly affected by her books, and it is hard for them, to see she is a transphobe and a person detached from reality when it comes to trans issues. Radcliffe’s sympathy for people who are hurting is the thing that most offends Murdoch.

The Times also had an article by Neil Oliver: “JK Rowling outrage is a load of hufflepuff that misses her point: Harry Potter author seeks fairness in women’s and trans issues”, starting with warm words about his love of her books. Condemning speech Mr Murdoch dislikes is permitted. Only condemnations of his dupes will be criticised. Of course he has a right, as the world is organised now, to use his billions to persuade people of anything he wishes; but he does not promote any recognisable or valuable concept of free speech. The threat to free speech is the control of so much speech by Murdoch. Rupert dislikes nothing more than sympathy. He loves outrage, disdain and hate.

2 thoughts on “The threat to free speech

    • I generally release it in the middle of the night. I write it, then schedule it, then tinker with it. I only publish immediately if it is urgent or if I have not published for a time. I was asleep when this came out, though awake early.

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