Friday, 22 December 2017

Why Safe Space is Bad for Your Health

Afternoon all.

It's true enough that none of us like being challenged, criticised or disagreed with. We all prefer the warm glow of being told that we're right, that we have hit upon some searing point that is very rarely exposed or illuminated, that we're a rare voice of sanity in an increasingly mad world. Being challenged and cross-examined about your thoughts or ideas can be bloody hard work, a trip outside your own comfort zone into the 'real world' of someone else. Rather than recalling things sequentially from the card index in the brain, we're forced to slalom at someone else's instruction, perhaps answer questions we'd never considered, from a perspective that isn't really ours.

This is why I'm inherently suspicious of 'ideologically pure' people - having spent a bit of time on the Libertarian wing of politics a few years ago, I found it to be something of a 'filter bubble' and 'warm glow society' (dare I say, its own type of 'safe space') for like-minded ideologues who preferred stroking each others' egos on the internet to anything more substantial. Whereas totally 'pragmatic' people who believe in precisely nothing are dangerous because they are prepared to believe in anything for the sake of personal gain, the purely ideological present their own malevolent threat, refusing to be tempered by context, the need for gradualism or even decency.

The trouble with these 'filter bubbles' is that they can very easily descend into a game of who can 'outpure' each other on the ideological front, leading to real silliness. A massive flashlight regarding the 'batshit insane' wing of Libertarianism came one morning when a fella started arguing quite loudly on the old LPUKE website for the legalisation of child pornography, on the basis that, well, watching it wasn't the same thing as doing it and didn't amount to a violation of the non-aggression principle - ergo, it should be filed under the "I'd rather you didn't but I'm not going to have you arrested for it" category.

Whatever the arguments for and against (and no, I don't think we should legalise child porn before you ask, although a few people seemed to be in agreement with him) there's a more important point here when I look back at that morning a few years ago. This is where the occupation of such bubbles ends, in an obsession with marginal issues and a total detachment from what it palatable to people of a different socio-political denomination or none. I got sick of telling my fellow Libs that banging on about how great it would be if we could legalise crack and heroin next week was not a bright idea. In a room full of people who support at least some drug legalisation that's an interesting conversation, but be assured, just about everyone else is off down the fire escape.

A couple of Christmases back I remember getting in a discussion with a friend of a friend on social media, who was genuinely arguing that a person involved in and benefiting from theft from their place of work is not doing anything 'all that bad' and should be treated with some degree of leniency. Now that falls down rather rapidly on three levels, 1) if the theft is on any sort of scale then that could lead to other people losing their jobs in cutbacks, or not getting pay rises etc. 2) the person benefiting from the theft did it for personal gain rather than as some form of protest against 'the man' and was highly unlikely to have been in abject poverty or anything like that, 3) once you defend this then surely you're consenting to him or her nicking your stuff if he or she feels like it?

Thought not.

Now this fella was a 'younger person' in his 20s and I looked forward to hearing his response, seeing as I'd raised these points in a respectful way. His actual response was to shut down anyone disagreeing with him, myself included, and essentially non-platform them. It also became very clear that he'd 'discussed' this subject with a raft of like minded people and received the personal validation of a "well said" from at least most of them. As for the matter in hand, it's a straightforward Marxist way of thinking - poor, oppressed worker gets his own back on evil, exploitative bourgeois boss (who should have been paying him more in the first place) by helping himself to a few quid out of the till. All to feed his starving and malnourished kids and absolutely not for his own gain, promise.

Of course it's completely off the wall, but yes, I understand the 'logic' of this completely.

This proletariat vs bourgeoisie concept is a good example of what is probably the most tragic consequence of a lifetime spent around people agreeing with each other, namely the dehumanisation and demonisation of those who are not considered to be on message. One of the most destructive and dangerous elements of any one-party state, one of the biggest single reasons they end up in poverty, human rights abuses and mass murder, is this depiction of all who are not in complete agreement with the regime not simply as people who are opposed or agnostic, but as traitors, the fifth column, racists, fascists, communists, whatever the appropriate label happens to be at the time.

Once you have stripped your 'enemies' of their humanity, then anyone who wishes to inflict sub-human types of treatment on them is free to do so. See Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or basically any other hellhole for furher details on how propaganda can be used to get 'the people' to sort your enemies out for you.

With that in mind, the notion of 'safe space' within educational establishments in particular is one which I'm deeply alarmed about and genuinely believe not just to be wrong-headed but potentially dangerous, particularly as it brings with it a hefty wedge of the 'one party state' thinking I've just outlined. While it used to be 'edgy' views on social topics that led to some sort of non-platforming, it seems that the regressive left (who control most student unions these days) have moved into 'economics' as well. Arguing for lower public spending would see someone like Milton Friedman likened to Hitler or Slobodan Milosevic, and almost certainly non-platformed from most universities.

I'll repeat it because we know it's absolutely true - the quite brilliant (and not remotely dangerous) Milton Friedman would be widely non-plaftormed these days. Please, please reflect on that and if you're inclined towards believing that 'safe space' does more good than harm, think again. I can see a situation in about ten years time where Conservative, classical Liberal and Civic Nationalist groups are banned altogether from further and higher education campuses. As for the dubious contender on the charge, the 'alt right', it's clear as a bell that they would simply have different proscribed groups and different sacred cows if they got their hands on the machinery of the state.

Anyone who suggests that their ativists should become teachers so they can indoctrinate kids (as was suggested at the UKIP conference a year ago) is absolutely terrifying and clearly no lover of freedom of expression either. Now we also have groups like the President's favourite, 'Britain First' and the shiny new 'for Britain', led by the 21st century Joan of Arc, banging on about the day that the boot is on the other foot and how they're going to use internment on their enemies. Sorry, I meant 'terrorists', but then who would get to decide who all the 'terrorists' were? The stupidity of the small number of sane, reasonable people who join such organisations never ceases to amaze me.

They claim to be persecuted and in a narrow way yes, they probably are, but then do they stand for an altogether different way of doing things? Or would they impose their own version of political correctness, a 'safe space' for themselves and people who think like them, while that space became deeply unsafe for everybody else? Let's just say I wouldn't trust them to prove me wrong. My good mate Stuart Heal commented to me last week "y'know Daz, I never thought we'd get to the point where people like us were considered the sensible, moderate centre ground". I laughed, but of course Stuart is correct as he normally is. Sanity, logic and reason are lonely vocations these days.

In short, time spent talking and listening to people who disagree with you is not simply good for your spiritual and emotional health, it's highly necessary if you want to avoid the risk of turning into a warped, nasty and narcissistic little bastard. When I first set about writing this I was going to focus on something along the lines of "your opinion does not have an automatic claim on a certain amount of respect in the way that your personal dignity does - an attack on what you think does not and should never constitute an 'assault' in the true sense that needs to be stopped from happening". My good mate Chris Coey quite skillfully blew me out of the water on that front the other night, said that more conciesely than I ever could.

So,,,here's something you rarely hear. Safe spaces, people spending time only amongst people who agree with them, leads to worse tribalism, the dehumanisation of those who see things differently and, ultimately, is largely responsible for the squalid and nasty public discourse we currently have to endure. Someone who disagrees with me is, well, they're someone who disagrees with me - they're not 'scum', a 'traitor' or part of some 'fifth column' which wishes me personal harm. If he or she is giving a speech about a contentious topic on a night I'm free then I might go along and ask some awkward questions afterwards, it's only words after all.

Horrors, I might even change my mind about something - stranger things have happened before.

The alternative is to sit in a cave (cyber or real) with my like-minded pals, lamenting this individual and banging on about what a 'bastard' or 'bitch' they are, stripping them of their humanity, hoping they're involved in a motorway pile-up (copyright Morrissey vs Johnny Rogan) and giving a veneer of legitimacy to someone who might engage in some form of politically motivated violence. Meanwhile, we disappear up our ideological sphincters and try to be more Conservative/Socialist/Libertarian than each other, end up chatitng complete shite amongst ourselves. I'm not surprised that political parties are as useless and inept as they are, they are essentially 'safe spaces' on a national scale.

It's clear as a bell what 'the right approach' is and, as I seem to be saying rather frequently these days, we need to recognise that it's not about 'us' and get over ourselves somewhat. The Brexit 'debate' legitimised the branding of all in favour of leaving the EU as racists or xenophobes, while the mud being flung from the other side of the road was and continues to be about 'traitors', which includes anyone who voted Remain, judges doing their job and upholding the law, or members of parliament remembering the 48 per cent who voted Remain and asking questions of the government rather than engaging in jingoistic tubthumping.

Both 'sides' have dehumanised the other and both seem to have convinced themselves that they are being persecuted, that the other side is getting favourable treatment. Everyone involved needs to drop this petualant crybully modus operandi, get over themselves just a little and grow up before we sleepwalk into an altogether nastier form of tyranny. The state of public discourse post-Brexit has reached a foul new low from which we show no signs of recovering anytime soon - a low we have reached as a result of having too much 'safe space'  among members of our sad little tribes, rather than too little.

It's incumbent on all of us to reject the comfort of an unearned warm glow, dismiss the temptation of 'safe space' for ourselves and respectfully welcome those we profoundly disagree with. If we refuse, then we lose the right to complain when that process of tyranny is turned on us at a later date, along with the built-in auto-correct of the thuggish and unpleasant making utter fools of themselves and standing out like a sore thumb in a different climate. Once you resolve to respect those who think differently to yourself, you earn the right to walk away with honour when that is not reciprocated - to paraphrase the song, opinions don't hurt people, knobheads do.

I'll be doing one more about a topic I was asked to cover on either Saturday or Sunday, so here's some music and have fun in the meantime. Thanks for reading and I'll see you soon.


  1. My tribe is diatribe. Anybody who dislikes my diatribe is free to not read or listen.

    Safe space and no platforming is a threat to knowledge and learning which has been growing enormously in recent years. The most fragile of ideologues have moved on from insisting that it should be a crime to offend them to saying that you must not be allowed in their presence if you disagree with them.

    I greatly appreciate the demolition of this pernicious practice which has been done by Daz Pearce and Chris Coey in excellent articles. I am also a little surprised and happy to hear that Universities Minister Jo Johnson is apparently going to make a speech condemning the practice today. It is very long overdue. The safe space nonsense was dreamed up a few years ago, but the NUS and far left groups have been 'no platforming' since the 1970's. The fact that people like Peter Tatchell and Germaine Greer have been denied the ability to address audiences just reinforces how narrowly sectarian these people are. It is taken for granted that anybody to the right of Jeremy Corbyn is denounced as a fascist, but even those with life long leftist credentials are condemned for deviating in any minor detail from current hard left orthodoxy.

    A tiny core of extreme activists (in groups like the Socialist Workers Party and at the heart of Momentum) drive these policies apparently oblivious to how they are showing themselves to be identical to the extremists of the right who they despise. Book burning by Nazis is just a more theatrical version of no platforming for opposing ideas.

    It is important to remember how the far ends of left and right have historically acted in the same way. The Nazi party was a socialist workers party (their official name of NSDAP means national socialist German workers party). Hitler, Mussolini and Franco all believed in command economies which would curb the market and suppress the influence of private corporations. Stalin was a Russian nationalist who rejected the concept of worldwide revolution in favour socialism in one country, i.e. national socialism. The Russian communists seized private property into state ownership rather than just the state controlling the economy as in the fascist states, but in practice it was the same concept of a command economy. The communist and fascist states were both violently anti-semitic. The coercion necessary to keep their tyrannical governments in power resulted in the murder of tens of millions of people. Most historians agree that the communists were actually responsible for more deaths than the fascists.

    I do not accuse all the advocates of 'safe space' and 'no platforming' of being potential mass murderers, but I do say that they need to look to how they are being manipulated by zealots with very sinister objectives.

    I became a Marxist in my teens because I had a vision of an ideal society and was persuaded by the arguments advanced by Karl Marx. The horror of things like apartheid and its right wing apologists in the UK made me believe that revolutionary change was needed. It took many years for me to come to know that a planned economy is impossible and perfectibility of humans is a quasi religious delusion.

    Like me, Katharine Birbalsingh was Marxist when she was young. She too changed her mind when she better understood the facts. She spoke at a Tory Party conference to explain her ambitions for education. Just because she spoke to Tories she was screamed at as a traitor by people who she had never met. She wasn't put off. She went on to found and become headmistress of the Michaela Community School. Whatever you think about her education methods she has provided people with choice. The opposite of what the no platformers are trying to do:

    1. A rather good comment Mal, thanks for adding something to the discussion as your insights as an ex-Marxist are particularly valuable.