So You’ve Been No-Platformed?

Ah, “no-platforming”… a somewhat controversial tactic attributed mostly to the snake people generation. And for those with that particular browser extension installed, I actually did write “snake people” there.

It goes something like this.

Step 1: Person [A], while on a book tour, or speaking tour or generally milling about trying to justify their inexplicable life, says something monumentally awful. Like, I dunno, “trans-women are just men pretending to be women and grotesque” or “slavery was the best thing to happen to blacks” or “let’s stone the gays because God says so”. That kind of thing.

Step 2: A student union rep (it’s often an SU, you know, those major bastions of establishment power…) says “that’s bad” and follows the condemnation with some action, namely “I don’t want to debate you, and I don’t want to pay your travel expenses to host you any more”.

And that’s it. Literally, that’s it.

I don’t really want to condone the practice, exactly. To me, it’s a little petulant and often a case of SU officers trying to pretend that they wield actual power and responsibility – ha, as if! And it suffers from the occasional misfire that will see an under-represented voice quashed.

But, despite all that, it’s not exactly a major thing.

Say, you cancel a speaking or debate gig with Person [A], then Person [B]  – someone who otherwise never had the chance to speak – takes their place. Indeed, inviting [A] to speak effectively oppresses [B]’s exposure by default. There’s only so many hours in the day, and only so many pounds in the grant account to pay for train fares, someone is going to lose out at some point.

And, to be fair, no-platforming isn’t entirely unique to the world of supposedly molly-coddled students. If I call someone up and demand to use their living room to scream abuse at them, and then demand they pay me my travel expenses for the privilege and also give me free use of their megaphone to scream that personal abuse at them, they’ll almost certainly say “no”. And most people would agree that, in doing so, they would be within their rights. While not a perfect analogy, no-platforming isn’t a million miles away from that. “Oh, you want to take our money to come to us and speak? Sorry, we’ve seen the previews and we’re not interested, thanks.” Gee, that is something to definitely lose sleep over.

So, that’s it, nothing to it… oh, wait, sorry. I forgot. There’s a third step. Whoops, silly me, scatterbrain!

Step 3: Person [A] immediately goes total fucking apeshit everywhere. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, the news, newspapers, magazines, interviews, radio, TV… all to complain about the terrible oppression of their free speech!

So, there’s that, too.

And as much as I have a mixed-to-meh “well, it’s kinda naughty but not a big deal” attitude towards no-platforming, make no mistake – I think people engaging in Step 3 are the fucking worst.

Let’s take a look at it from a few different angles. If your only recourse to no-plaforming is to be interviewed in newspapers and magazines, and have your voice broadcast to millions of people, then your freedom of speech isn’t under threat.

This isn’t even a case of defining “freedom of speech” as “only the government can’t stop you saying it”; your freedom to speak literally has not been threatened at all. You just simply haven’t been invited to a small, insignificant corner of the world – congratulations, you’re now no different to the countless millions, nay, billions, that don’t get such privilege. You’re now invited to speak your mind at the exact same number of University of Fuck-Nowhere events as I am. However will you cope with such menacing injustice?

The oppression and censorship you claim literally isn’t happening to you. You have not been stopped from saying whatever you want.

This isn’t to say that if your only outlet really was that one-in-a-million shot at speaking in front of some students for 15 minutes, and you were no-platformed by some vindictive arsehole for no reason, that you don’t have a legitimate complaint. But 1) by-and-large, that isn’t what happens, and 2) I’m not addressing this to you. Please make your non-ironic stink and we’ll talk it over like grown adults in due course.

free_speech_chart

There’s an irony to how these people claim oppression by a simple act of a single person, or one, lone, insignificant organisation, not wanting to put up with their shit for an evening or two. Yet, often, the views being “censored” are very much of a kind that endorses (Warning: Social Justice Jargon Aheadsystematic oppression.

“Oh, you hate migrants, gays, transgender men and women…? Good for you, Skippy, but we’re not interested. We’re going to put your talk on the back-burner and invite someone with a more positive message, instead.” That’s it. That’s all that’s involved in this process. Yes, I’m sure it is a little tragic that we exclude people from certain aspects of one conversation happening in one place in the country at one time, but in the grand scheme of things I can’t help but shrug.

After all, if their speech was genuinely under threat, then how could we possibly know what they had to say in advance?

The answer: it’s 2016, we have the internet, and odds are they’ve been doing the speaking circuit for decades. We know what’s coming. I don’t need someone to come to me to say their piece – it’s out there, because speech in a western democracy is pretty free. We’ve read it. We were unconvinced by it. And those opinions are probably pretty mainstream, too.

I get it, I do. If you’re used to barging around getting your way, getting unrestricted attention and praise, and have people fawn over you saying “oh, aren’t you so brave saying these perfectly mainstream things in a safe environment!”, when someone comes along and slaps a boundary on you it will feel bad. But if your only opportunity to express how bad it really feels is in your nationally syndicated newspaper column read by millions, in a special magazine report with you taking centre-stage, in blogs shared by thousands, and on prime-time television and radio shows… just fuck off and get over yourself already because I’m sick of your bullshit.

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7 thoughts on “So You’ve Been No-Platformed?

  1. 1) The point of a debate isn’t necessarily to convince the person you’re debating with, but to convince people in the audience who are listening and who might tentatively agree with your opponent. Denying them a platform lets those people continue to silently believe whatever they believe without refutation, and they might not take your argument seriously if they think you’re running from having an argument.

    “As if it’s still worth trying to argue against the Nazi belief that Jew’s should be gassed, rather than just declaring that it’s wrong and ending it there. ”

    1b) Is anything wrong though? Not really, we just came to conclusions as to what we don’t like, and you’re probably making the assumption that your belief is right or part of some majority. If you’re going to believe strongly in anything, you should be able to quickly throw up an argument and support it when questioned.

    2) I’m not interested in “debating” someone on whether gays should be jailed, or whether women should be stoned for adultery – why is that worth my time?

    Why do you think Donald Trump rose through the primaries and ultimately won the election? Because of the snobbish assumption by many liberals that they were completely right, and they would rather retreat into their safe-spaces and mentally masturbate with like-minded liberals, rather than to argue against his platform among moderates, (or to even weaken enthusiasm towards Trump by engaging with the right.) What you’re allowing is for a silent majority to develop when you don’t give opponents a fair platform. Let me emphasize that in the absence of the perception of fairness people tend to give more credence towards conspiracy theories and contrarian viewpoints.

    “It’s like trying to refute Young Earth Creationism for the 25,576th time. It’s a solved problem, it’s not worthy of my brain space.”

    You’re talking about social problems, not science which deals with objective facts. Social problems are never solved problems because of opposing views that deal with normative statements. Not even if some intellectuals or a majority believe that say, “slavery is wrong,” that doesn’t mean they’re objectively right, and they still need to use persuasion (“slavery is bad for society because it is inefficient”), because otherwise their statements will never rely on objective facts.

    3) I don’t agree with breaking a contract and ostracizing someone just because he committed an unrelated societal taboo, that’s how SJWs think. I consider it unfair to anyone other than the prejudiced host who was still looking forward to hearing him speak on the issues he promised to talk about (and which usually have little to do with what he is being ostracized for), but I don’t think I’ll make progress with you there. If they were to deny offering him a new platform a second time after the fact, that would seem less unjust than denying him a platform they had already promised him.

    From your perspective, suppose a working priest was about to give a speech defending climate change at a private Christian university on Sunday, but he then publicly came out as a (gay) atheist on the Thursday before. Naturally the fundamentalists running the school (and maybe most of the student body) decided a degenerate shouldn’t have the right to corrupt any more minds by speaking at their sacred school yard and denied him denied the right to speak; this broken promise and censorship would be acceptable ethically in your view. It’s really the same problem when “bigots” come out on Thursday, because you’re openly enforcing your personal moral judgement on an unrelated issue and without allowing them to debate anyone fairly. You do this while believing you’re more right than them, and can treat them like scum, and break a promise, just as many fundamentalists would do without any sense of self-introspection.

    Reply
    • I can see why you think that. Those are some reasonable points. However, I don’t feel those refute exactly what happens in a case of “no platforming” as it actually happens. You’re talking about completely silencing someone, which doesn’t happen – they tend to remain very vocal. And you’re talking about shutting off all forms of debate or refutation, or questioning or counter-argument – again, doesn’t happen in reality because really we’re talking about stopping a physical in-the-same-room debate happening, where the mere existence of the debate endorses the legitimacy of all opinions. There’s still room for counter-argumentation and refutation from individuals – I’m merely saying there’s no obligation to host and pay for them if those views are known in advance and it’s not deemed worth it.

      But, kind of as an aside, I think you’re coming from a strange angle with some of your social issues, there. For instance, “slavery is wrong because it’s inefficient” is your first port of call as a reasonable argument against it? It strikes me as weird. Particularly since this is very much a “solved” problem, like in science, for most people who have looked into ethics and moral philosophy. It sounds like you’re endorsing a rather extreme form of moral relativism, in which nothing is right or wrong ever – which strikes me as strange because it’s usually those nasty leftists and silly “Social Justice Warriors” who are accused of that.

      Reply
      • You don’t have to completely silence a person to feed the narrative that they’re being institutionally persecuted. Fundamentally it seems to me that a feeble host who isn’t open to debating his worst enemies in public should have done sufficent research before inviting him, and even if there is a new development he should still honor the agreement even if he doesn’t send another invite. Besides, it is no trouble to hold a question and answer session after the speech if it is believed he will naturally discredit his own views or character under any line of questioning.

        Regarding your aside, yes I subscribe to moral relativism in the abscence of religion before espousing any political views, which is why of late I have recently found myself slipping further right towards identifying more with moderates than liberals because so many cling to dogmatic principles and call it objectively right. I think skeptics on both sides of the politcal spectrum should be able to first acknowledge the artificiality of laws, and the arbritary nature of the culture that govern us, even if social progressives observe “injustice” and then seek to enforce a set of arbritary principles while a libertarian might observe inequality and simply shrug. Mother nature is mostly amoral and the jungle has evolved under the principle that selfish might makes right. Even if we collectively decide to pluck the thorns off roses so we don’t get hurt, or that we want to protect butterflies from being eaten by ugly spiders in our society, that doesn’t mean we are ever objectively right.

        Reply
  2. The complaint is that their ability to debate is being silenced, because one person thinks they know what is best better, and absolutely refuses to let them talk. They’re well in their right to throw a fuss and draw attention to the fact that someone 1) broke an agreement 2) refused to let them talk, which I consider the worse kind of person.

    The person could be Hitler and I still wouldn’t want to deny them a platform, the job of skeptics is to tear at their arguments after they’re made and other intellectuals can defend the position they consider most reasonable.

    And you’re equivocating it wrong. It’s not that they completely lost the ability to speak anywhere which would be ridiculous to enforce, and is a ridiculous thing. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been denied a platform after it was already promised to them.

    Reply
    • Actually, no. I’ll take that seriously for a moment.

      1) The ability to debate isn’t being silenced. In many of these cases they have already been debated – or, they’re very clearly not interested in “debate” but in getting advertising for their own position. For instance, there’s no sense in debating “reparative therapy”, as the evidence is clear that it’s harmful. If someone wants a true “debate”, then they need to show positive evidence that their mind can be changed by an opposing argument. That’s rarely the case.

      2) You say you would still not deny a platform to Hitler. Now, his views are known. Well-known, in fact. And airing them widely could cause damage. They can also be refuted by skeptics and rational thinkers (and they have) without engineering something as artificial as a “debate” (again, usually just a codeword for people wanting to grab cheap publicity for their position – when you really get into science and skepticism, you’ll find there’s very little room for this naive notion of “debate”, anyway). And they have. Once that’s been done, there’s no sense in causing further harm to the world by lending these views any legitimacy. I’m not interested in “debating” someone on whether gays should be jailed, or whether women should be stoned for adultery – why is that worth my time? It’s like trying to refute Young Earth Creationism for the 25,576th time. It’s a solved problem, it’s not worthy of my brain space.

      3) You’ll also find I’m not equivocating anything. If someone wants to rescind a promise of hosting a debate, that’s their prerogative – there’s no moral obligation to follow through on that. If they rescind it based on new information, it would be perfectly acceptable to do so. Being able to say “I don’t want to do this any more” is the actual definition of consent, and you can’t have consensual, civilised “debate” without that. You are not owed a platform by anyone.

      Reply
      • In fact, I’ll also stick my money where my mouth is, there. I will happily change my mind, and switch my beliefs to free-speech fundamentalism, holing the ability for people to speak openly at any cost if you can demonstrate any of the following:

        1) That there’s benefit from re-tracing the exact same tired arguments again and again. As if it’s still worth trying to argue against the Nazi belief that Jew’s should be gassed, rather than just declaring that it’s wrong and ending it there. Or that it’s worth me opening up a quantum mechanics lecture with opinions on the lumineferous aether. Or that it would be worth any of the time, money, and hassle of hosting debates with people who aren’t interested in changing their minds.

        2) That there’s no harm to be had in airing opinions that have long been discredited. That there’s no bias that leaps across the divide and that no wrong impressions can be produced by the false balance implied by debate as has been done with things from creationism to global warming.

        3) That you can demonstrate or provide a good argument that absolute freedom of speech, at all costs, without restriction or caveat, is morally superior to protecting people or improving their lives in a tangible way.

        Because those are really my core points. People are free to attack what I actually believe, rather than what their asinine “SJW” memes have said I believe.

        Reply

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