Last night I attended a free speech event in London, and it was a great opportunity to meet people from different sides who agreed on something rather mundane: freedom of speech.
The more I say "freedom of speech," the more bored I am by it. It’s not a particularly interesting topic of debate, and it’s fairly straight forward. Citizens of a free society should be able to say what they like, outside of the realms of threatening direct violence, without consequence from the law.
We all know how it goes.
I find that an increasing number of those who consider themselves a part of the ideological left are realising this is a value that has been left behind. I’ve argued before, in a video about Jonathan Pie actor Tom Walker, that free speech wasn’t merely "forgotten" by the left, but actively opposed by those most fervent and active campaigners. Anybody who has been fired, kicked out of education, or been harassed by the far left, know this to be the case.
As we see more on the left realise this damning mistake, a new paradigm shift in how the right and left communicates will appear. It’s already happening, you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Find yourself as a conservative among the company of non-SJW left wing activists, and you’ll notice a distinct lack of hostility. It’s quite refreshing actually.
In these circumstances, it’s easy to let your guard down, and in most cases that probably won’t cause you any harm. Being in these circumstances more frequently, however, has made me wonder what will happen after this paradigm shift. It’s great enjoying the company of those I disagree with without hostility, but what happens when things change?
I’m not saying we use left-wing free speech activists and bin them off when we’ve won the free speech debate. I’m not saying we stop being friendly with people with whom we disagree.
What I am wondering, however, is how the new debate starts, where it starts, and within what parameters it will start? Will the left still be able to handle us, when we’re unleashed and unpunished?
What will happen, in a hypothetical world, when social justice has been squashed and ordinary debate resumed? The left-and-right allies battling for freedom of speech will pick up where they left off, and a new politics resumes.
And the parameters will be significantly wider. Perhaps in an environment of free speech, the differences between us are amplified. Believe me: if and when free speech laws are loosened up (or in the UK’s case, brought into existence!), debate is going to be significantly more polarising.
It’ll be a force for good I think. People may no longer be scared of talking about cultural issues, and I think many young people will be less likely to go down an increasingly more radical route.
The same won’t be true for the far left, though. Antifa and communist groups have never been held to account by the law on any great scale, and they’ve never had to worry about their freedom of speech. I fear that they will simply become yet more militant.
And between the cultural warriors concerned about the British identity, and the far-left agitators who will remain out on the streets, will be a group of reasonably left-wing people who campaigned for freedom of speech.
I wonder how well many of these people might respond to this brave new world. Their own side won’t have changed, but the "right" will have. The amount of people who agree with us won’t have changed, but the voices speaking up about it will have done.
I wonder, I really, genuinely wonder, how the free-speech left will respond to this – because once we establish an environment of free debate, our side wins. Look what we can achieve even in the face of government and far-left tyranny. We have Brexit and Trump.
Just imagine what we can do on a level playing field.