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Defending free speech, making a name for yourself, and having a whale of a time

I like these people:

Free speech campaigners have secretly evaded a student union ban on two speakers who were deemed to have broken rules on causing offence.

The speakers, Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-styled men’s rights activist, and Julie Bindel, a feminist writer, were originally due to address the University of Manchester’s free speech and secular society in October to debate tensions between feminism and free speech until the student union stopped them.

Student leaders said that Ms Bindel’s views on transgender people were “transphobic” and that Mr Yiannopoulos was a “professional misogynist” and “rape apologist”.

However, Manchester’s free speech society proved to be made of sterner stuff. Its members created a new association, used a lecture hall as a venue and publicised the event only on the morning that it was to take place.

The Times, today.

Several aspects of this story lead me to wonder if I have slipped into a nicer timeline than the one I’ve been living in recently.

It was about students standing up for free speech against po-faced authoritarians. In 2015.

The university didn’t surrender. In 2015.

Better yet, it actually helped the good guys:

The university authorities themselves were part of the plot, agreeing to provide a lecture theatre as a venue for the rescheduled event and arranging for a large retinue of security staff.

More fun things to note include the fact that the process of nimbly outwitting the lumbering Students Union by adroit use of social media was obviously huge fun. These days if you want to build up a bank of happy memories of a rebellious youth to comfort you in your old age, you rebel against the Students Union. You could make a name for yourself that way. So could the Student Union apparatchiks make their names, as sour, whiny prematurely-withered prunes who couldn’t stop the music. No one will boast that they were part of Manchester Student Union in the good old days.

I have a personal grudge against Julie Bindel, and I could get irritated by Milo Yiannopoulos. Three cheers for them both for this.

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10 comments to Defending free speech, making a name for yourself, and having a whale of a time

  • Paul Marks

    Some students are standing up for Freedom of Speech against the collectivism of Student Unions – good news.

    By the way – why has the government not made Student Unions voluntary?

    Majority consent is NOT the same as individual consent.

    As Gough (Oriel Oxford, if my old memory serves) pointed out 60 years ago – John Locke presents no argument to show that majority consent is the same as individual consent, Locke just goes from individual consent to majority consent (in a rather slippery way).

  • Derek Buxton

    Talking of free speech, I noticed that the BBC put on over the last few weeks a series entitled “Free Thinking”. I did not listen because I do not see how they could do that. An organisation as blind to truth and impartiality as the BBC could never do any such thing.

  • James Strong

    Talking of rational thinking and critical analysis, I thought the BBC series ‘Free Thinking’ was truly brilliant. In fact it is probably the best series ever broadcast,on any subject and in any language. Ever.
    But I didn’t bother to listen.

  • Stuck-Record

    Does anyone think it is at all possible for identity politics and political correctness to become terminally un-hip?

    We know it’ll never happen from us laughing at it, but there is a tiny possibility that the naturally rebellious nature of young people will come to see it as the ‘Empire’ to rebel against. Especially if they continue to offer such hysterical cry-babies as those doing the rounds on YouTube at the moment.

  • Thomas Fuller

    @Stuck-Record

    “Does anyone think it is at all possible for identity politics and political correctness to become terminally un-hip?”

    I do, for one. It’s the natural course of events. Apparently Milo Yiannopoulos (of whom I also could get tired) is inundated with messages from young people saying how fed up they are with the professional offence-takers.

    I attended Sussex University, then as now a hotbed of leftiness, and I used to take pleasure in having a short haircut, wearing a three-piece suit and polished shoes, tie with a tiepin, etc., and pretending that my ambition was to get a job with Barclay’s Bank. Used to drive them up the wall and was the best fun I had there with my clothes on.

  • Richard Thomas

    Paul, I seem to recall that membership of the student union *was* voluntary but you’d have to have been an idiot not to sign up as they received a large sum of money to subsidize events and beer with and the political side of things was small and vestigial. This was some number of decades ago though.

  • At Edinburgh University, decades ago, membership of the Student’s Union was compulsory. In the run-up to the ’79 devolution referendum, some activists arranged a vote: belong to the national union of students or to a Scottish union of students? _After_ they had cleared away all hurdles to the vote, someone who had spotted the possibilities cleverly slipped in a third option: have no union at all. Activists then as now lived in a bubble, so in the short time available they did not work too hard to kill it – after all, the students woouldn’t be so stupid, so reactionary as to vote for it, would they? (Besides which, it meant giving up free money, as a commenter above points out).

    Answer, yes – the Edinburgh students would be that evil, that reactionary, that stupid! I heard they were even labelled ‘Thatcherite’ as the PC brigade in the University plumbed the depths of words to use against them. How the activists _hated_ that outcome. They held three more votes to reverse it, but every time the ‘no union at all’ majority grew larger. Eventually, a strange thing happened – an actual majority (~53%) of the 10,000+ or so students at Edinburgh bothered to vote – a most unusual thing for any student politics vote (in the UK, at least). Actually, I suppose two strange things happened, since the ‘vote until you get the right answer’ tactic failed – even backfired. After the third vote, which was ~ 80:20 IIRC, legal means were used to prevent a fourth vote and, for a time at least, Edinburgh students had no union and very few student officials (they kept an elected ‘societies convener” post IIRC).

    Times change and I suspect ratios have too, but the fundamental point of the story is probably still true. Burke’s picture of a field in which numerous cattle silently chew the cud while a few grasshoppers make the field ring with their chink is still relevant. Free speech in universities can be saved if you can force the activists to need actual functioning majorities for its suppression.

    Mind you, rumour had it that Edinburgh University was at one extreme in Scotland then (I don’t know how things are now). The standard joke was that if the professor walked into the lecture hall and said, ‘Hello’, the students in Aberdeen would say ‘Hello’ back, the students in Glasgow would go on talking, the students in Dundee would denounce his bourgeois revisionist manners and the students in Edinburgh would write it down in their notebooks.

  • Fraser Orr

    At the University of Glasgow we had two unions, the QMU and the GUU. The QMU was originally the “women’s” union, and the GUU the “men’s union” however they became mixed years before I got there. The QMU was super reactionary leftie, and the GUU was basically “I don’t give a fuck, I just want to have a good time”. So I joined the GUU, because, well, I didn’t give a fuck and just wanted to have a good time.

    Downside was that the QMU building was right next to Lilybank Gardens where the Comp Sci department was, and the chicks were hotter at the QMU. Fortunately, they had a reciprocity agreement, so I drank and ate and the QMU but was a member of the GUU.

    So you see, irrespective of my hormone and laziness driven hypocrisy, apparently competition is the answer.

  • Jason

    At LSE a certain amount of virtue-signalling was necessary if you wanted to get laid, however an acquaintance of mine – no doubt higher minded (or more handsome) than I – wore his solitary membership of Con Soc as a badge of honour. He would run rings around the received wisdom of the establishment lefties who just had no experience of this sort of thing, nor the mental agility to deal with it.

    Before the days of ‘no-platforming’ of course.

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