Recently, a Polish friend in her second year of an arts degree complained that people at her university blanked her when she tried express any scepticism about the left. Far from being a raging Conservative herself, she was simply pointing out that Socialism in practice could be far removed from the theory - her family experience in Socialist Poland was a proof of that. She said their response felt like when "there are people in the room that have cancer, so no one jokes about anything serious, though the cancer case is different as people are being differently motivated".
It seems like their reaction is typical of the increasingly close minded attitude among students. From Rhodes Must Fall to the campaign against Germain Greer at Cardiff University, we seem to be engaged in a constant effort to silence those we don't agree with. Don't get me wrong, I am not in favour of European colonial exploitation or biologically defined gender, but there are better ways of opposing their views. Letting Greer come, but not turning up to her speech and putting up a plaque to contextualize Rhodes seem a good bet. Taking away their freedom of opinion and expression does not. So why do we feel the need to silence others?
Maybe it's because we like to feel that we're right. But if this is the case, we need to be careful that we don't end up eliminating democracy in the process. Since democracy relies on everyone's ability to challenge those in power. And how can we do that, if people are shamed into keeping their views to themselves?
Now, I'm not saying that all students are a power-crazy bunch trying to take over the world. But, it is inevitable that by silencing others we are making a statement that some views should not be expressed. Think of those students (and I'm sure there were some) who wanted to hear Greer speak for example, if she was banned they would have been effectively forced to closet their views? This is a real problem, especially when it comes politics. The Guardian ran an article in the aftermath of the General Election last year, blaming Tory shaming for inaccurate opinion polls. Now, in the ran up to the EU referendum, I'm often surprised that my friends, who never speak out against the EU in public, say that they're voting OUT. It makes me wonder how do we actually know that our views are correct if we never let anyone disagree?
But perhaps that's precisely the point. As Zack Goldsmith taught us - there's no need to justify your views if you can simply accuse your opponent of extremism. Student groups are also in on the trend. After Bouattia was elected NUS president, student groups that oppose her views were quick to accuse her of extremism, dismissing the election process itself as undemocratic. But is she really more extreme than societies that refuse to criticise what Desmond Tutu described as an apartheid state? But, that's not really the point. What I take issue with is the claim that Bouattia is somehow unrepresentative of the student body just because she her critics disagree with. I for one thought that in a democracy we should expect some difference of opinion. Well are they any in tune with the student body? The first Union to threaten dissafilliation has a long history of individual College Unions disaffiliating from it, for one.
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