Saturday, April 13

When we’re brave enough to talk

I once caught myself saying to my husband, “You just can’t say things like that anymore,” after retelling him what I’d overheard a friend say earlier that day. I didn’t disagree with what my friend had said. In fact, we shared the same values. But I’d cringed. I did know there were others out there who shared our opinion. But I also knew that most of us certainly knew better than to say it out loud in a break room.

I stood for free speech then, as I do now, but I hadn’t realised just how much our culture against dissenting ideas had affected what I chose to say.

At the Free Speech Union, we’re in the final phases of preparing for our tour with award-winning Irish comedian and author, Graham Linehan. Graham will be in New Zealand showcasing his recent book, Tough Crowd. His book goes into the details of his career in comedy, and then how his world changed when he spoke out on women’s rights.

He lost jobs, friends, and industry connections. He was the target of online abuse. His live musical of his highly popular show Father Ted was cancelled too. This was all because of the views he holds. Yes, not because of the content of his comedy or work, but the views he holds on certain issues. 

Because we at the Free Speech Union are opposed to hate speech laws, we’re often accused of being pro-hate. But how ironic is it that the same people who accuse us of this are forcefully shutting down what they perceive to be hate speech by verbally abusing the speakers they despise? All in the name of being ‘anti-hate speech’!

Something wrong with no-platforming is the sheer arrogance of it. If you want to say what you think, you’ve got to be alright with someone else talking. You don’t have to agree with them to be okay with that principle.

To give some censors the benefit of the doubt though, censorship can be a natural impulse. If what someone is saying undermines your strongly held values, you can feel like you’re doing the right thing to shut it down. But you’ve got to take a step back and look at the big picture.

When someone is cancelled in New Zealand, we get many messages saying, “I don’t even know what they wanted to say. How can I decide what I think if I can’t even hear them talk?”. They make a point. Not only should we all be free to say what we like, but we should have the choice to listen to who we like and form our own judgments and conclusions.  

Cancellation creates a huge ripple effect. How many of us self-censor because we’ve seen others punished for speaking up? I certainly do. And while I am often aware of it now, it’s still daunting to speak up at times.  

Graham would tell you that if we all spoke up, there’d be no way that the censors would win. He knows his life would have been easier if he hadn’t spoken out but says he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he hadn’t.

Graham brings an important conversation to New Zealand. All too often, we see cancel culture used, and, as a response, people keep their views to themselves. Daily, we receive messages from people telling us these stories. How much of the world’s vibrancy is lost due to us suppressing our own voices?

Sure, sometimes we choose not to say something because it’s the courteous thing to do. But how different the world could be if we didn’t keep our ‘unpopular’ opinions to ourselves. Maybe we’d find they’re actually not so unpopular after all – they’re just not ‘in’.

https://www.fsu.nz/

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