I recently wrote an article criticising Stormzy’s performance at the Brits. In short, the piece spoke about whether music had become too political, the dangerous comments made by Stormzy and how such comments contributed to today’s “culture of hostility” towards difference of opinions. As you would expect, there were a large corpus of comments on the article. These comments were personal, substandard and narrow-minded. Ironically, they proved my point about a “culture of hostility.”
Whilst I was happy to see the piece instigate a debate, it saddened me that such a debate couldn’t be executed in a way which was mature and reflective of our diverse society. The personal comments regarding my surname, assumptions of my political beliefs and the immaturity of various critics was frankly embarrassing. Worse, many didn’t seem to notice that by defending Stormzy’s right to free speech (something which I did not argue against), they were contradictory and doing a disservice to themselves when they then insulted my own right to free speech.
I believe this issue isn’t just exclusive to my Stormzy piece or someone with my views. What it reflected was empirical proof of a society where the freedom to speak is coming at an increasing cost. It further demonstrated that people are treated as vandals for merely being or believing differently.
In 2018, we should be proud to live in a society where we can hold different views, have the platform to express those views and challenge those views we disagree with. What we shouldn’t be proud of is a society who struggle to fathom that some may not boast the same opinions as them and decide to use insults (the cheapest form of criticism) to reflect their dismay at such dissenting opinions.
John Stuart Mill once said that silencing free speech “robs the human race” and with that I agree. What makes this concerning is that this is not a new issue. You can go as far back as Socrates, if not further, to see free speech being silenced. And yet, over 2,400 years later we are still seriously unable to deal with differing opinions.
In a world of social media, when we’re not silencing dissent, we are stifling it through aggression and personal abuse. What makes this a tragedy is that we can already look at our history to see that we are stronger, bolder and braver when we allow people to be different. If we shame and berate people for legitimately and maturely expressing their beliefs, we subject ourselves to the risk of being no better than our blinkered and close-minded ancestors.
This may sound dramatic but the risks posed are not unfathomable. An example would be the Jacob Rees-Mogg event at UWE. This highlighted that instead of conversing with Rees-Mogg in a mature fashion, he was instead approached with hostility and shouted down. This demonstrates that these risks can and do materialise into real, physical action.
As a society we should be stood united against such events. However, to do this successfully it means embracing those views we disagree with, engaging with those views we disagree with, and encouraging those views we disagree with to still be expressed. That way we can debate and discuss them in a manner which is mature and reflective of the tolerant democracy we are lucky to live in.
So, let’s encourage difference, not shut it down or insult it because it doesn’t sit comfortably with our own worldview. The moment we employ mockery, personal insults or immaturity, we have already lowered the tone and potential to have a rewarding and interesting debate.