So the other week a university needlessly banned a feminist advocate for democracy from speaking at one of their events, an act which supposedly demonstrates our rocket-propelled downward spiral into a morass of relativism and political correctness.
It looks like nobody else will say this, so I will - I am intensely relaxed about this situation, and possibly even in favour of it, all things considered.
Why, you might ask?
Firstly, because this story has followed the standard trajectory of such incidents, which almost always go like this:
- Student group asks perfectly reasonable speaker to appear at public event;
- Some puritanical berk or glowering religious ballsack complains about it, on bullshit grounds of ideological deviation or offensiveness;
- A minor student administrator takes a fit of the vapours about potentially offending someone, somewhere, and disinvites the perfectly reasonable speaker;
- A great roaring crowd of self-proclaimed rationalists turns up on the university's digital doorstep, throwing kung-fu shapes and screeching about defending free speech, and then
- The matter comes to the attention of somebody sensible at the university, who immediately overturns the administrator's decision and reinvites the perfectly reasonable speaker.
It doesn't always go like this, but this precise flow of events has now happened so many times that we can predict with a fair degree of confidence that, whenever a speaker is disinvited somewhere, it will play out in exactly this fashion.
This being the case, I think we can agree that what we are dealing with here is usually a minor official making a bad decision, one that can be quickly and painlessly overturned. This not a particularly difficult problem to overcome and it should be easily dealt with in calm and reasoned tones, with no need for grand declarations or denunciations.
Now, there's a strain of thought* that says such incidents are reflective of a dangerous illiberalism in campus culture, one which reveals a far greater problem in the entirety of left-wing politics, or some such cant.
This hysterical message, most commonly conveyed in apocalyptic tones, does actually contain a grain of truth, and once again - I am entirely unconcerned by this.
It's certainly true that there are plenty of people knocking about who will get their knickers in a twist if you make certain arguments, e.g. "I don't approve of Muslim women wearing the headscarf", or "Prostitution is a really bad career choice", and so on. It's also true that certain individuals - not many, but actually existing - will attempt to prevent anyone making such arguments on campus.
Mostly, this is because students tend to be young and daft, and have always been prone to seeing the world in definitive terms that they will relax later in life. To a lesser extent, it's also because there's a small but vocal minority of tiresome knobheads wandering around, but this has always been the case.
Nonetheless, the actual real-world effect of such people's actions translates into a bit of hassle, rather than tyranny. We can, I think, all survive a bit of hassle by knobheads - we've all been dealing with it all of our lives after all, and we will probably survive a bout of knob-headery in even its right-on form unharmed.
More to the point, I see much of this as the inevitable result of our much-improved interpersonal relations in recent decades. When I was a kid, racism and sexism were indulged to a far greater extent, and homophobia was only seen as a serious problem by a few activists who were repeatedly mocked in the gutter press as a shower of loony-left woofters.
Now, not so much. The social unacceptability of these forms of prejudice has greatly improved everyone's lives, I think, and this situation is resented mainly by people who would prefer to go back to the bad old days.
Unfortunately, this has also spawned tiny gaggles of irritating self-appointed Commissars, mostly on social media, but occasionally bleeding out into the world. I consider this an annoying but entirely acceptable cost. The fact that these jokers get up the noses of e.g. Melanie Phillips or Brendan O'Neill is unfortunate for them and for others of their ilk, but is no reason at all to imagine that we're worse off now than we were before.
*I made an effort here not to launch into ad hominems, but I think that a few are called for. It's worth noting that the loudest screamers about campus activism broadly use student dafties as stand-ins for their political foes, none of whom are thick enough to give them the kind of ammunition that only a bunch of painfully right-on 19-year-olds can supply.
Suffice to say that I think this is a dishonest trick, and that any writer in their forties who regularly gets up on his or her high-horse to issue grand proclamations about student politics, is probably telling you more about themselves than they are telling you about student politics.