Tuesday, 12 November 2019

We must protect the right to free speech

THERE are a number of words and phrases in vogue today, the uses of which are often worryingly problematic. I expect Henley Standard readers will have others.

Challenging: Politicians and many public bodies frequently describe intractable problems as “challenging” rather than admit they have no answer and cannot cope.

Senior Thames Valley Police officers claim that the financial cuts present a “challenge” to providing the expected service and social workers usually use the term when describing totally dysfunctional families and individuals.

Even worse, the use of the term implies that the failure to resolve the situation successfully is the fault of the body or individual being “challenged”.

Poor: This word is often used in the context of lack of money being the reason for the underachievement of offspring. For example, universities are expected to lower entry standards to admit more students from “the poorest families”.

However, the different contexts for this financial lack are hardly ever statistically examined.

In a significant number of cases it is because the family has a history of “low employability” (a term defined by Adam Perkins in his recent book The Welfare Trait as lack of conscientiousness and agreeableness) and a consequent undue reliance upon the welfare state that makes the situation more entrenched.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has reported that it is this negative background that holds back the offspring of such families, not being poor itself.

Victim: There are circumstances where individuals, families and groups may be rightly and sympathetically regarded as victims.

However, the use of the term is now so general that any personal responsibility for a negative situation is largely ignored. Others are responsible. Blame must be laid at the door of society, the system or history, and this soul-sapping victimhood mentality is spreading.

Offended: The awareness of being verbally offended varies from person to person and from group to group and so does the awareness of being offensive.

Historically, the British people have robustly given and received offence through words and pictures (Swift and Gillray, for example).

The fear of being “offensive” is killing our traditional sense of humour.

Provided the comment is within the law and is not bullying, we need to develop the broad shoulders we once had, generally give as good as we may get and stop moaning

Community: The word is now generally used to refer to a particular religious or racial group in an area. This is seriously divisive.

We should return to a greater use of its original meaning as defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary: “All the people living in a specific locality”.

Highness (as used with royal): It is a wonder that in the 21st century we are still expected to address another person as “Highness” merely on account of birth or marriage. Logically, its use implies that the rest of us are Lownesses of some sort.

Cultural appropriation: This term suggests that it is a form of racism for members of one race to adopt or adapt the cultural mores of another.

Examples that have caused “offence” vary from a Caucasian wearing a sari to Marks & Spencer making and selling Bengali curry to a non-Mexican wearing a sombrero. Such nonsense is dispiriting.

The term “live and let live” urgently needs resurrecting.

Safe spaces: Some university students and others declare they need to avoid facts and ideas that diverge from their group-sanctioned views and respond to an unwelcome opinion not by reasoned rebuttal but by denying the right of the speaker or writer to express it.

What is happening to our democratic baseline of free speech?

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