Published on August 10th, 2012 | by TAY0
To be or not to be offended?
Opinions, opinions. We live in the era of opinions. Benevolent or malign, banal or sublime – we are bound by a multitude of opinions. Whether the opinions are yours or mine, Starkey’s or Heseltine’s; this is a time where views and news are easily confused off a post-Orwellian thought-crime. “Facts are stubborn things,” said John Adams to the Boston jury. Opinions on the other hand are … well, opinions.
No sooner than England had got knocked out of Euro 2012, a few internet trolls begin tweeting racist remarks towards spot-kick villains Ashley Young and Cole. Apparently, it is typical of black players to miss penalties. They might possibly be too young to remember Pearce ’90, Biaggio ’94 or Southgate ’96. Perhaps they have a heap of empirical evidence to qualify their claims. Maybe they don’t think of Mario Balotelli as black. To me, it’s more likely that a couple of morons, hiding behind their keyboards, deliberately posted spiteful comments to try and stir a reaction from the social networking masses. In hindsight, they did it a bit too well.
Grotesque as the assertions were for any England player or fan to endure in the immediate aftermath of another tournament defeat, they were reassuringly met with scorn by fellow twitterers. And that’s how it should have ended. “The police won’t bother me mate i can assure you” tweeted one of the belligerents. Unfortunately for all of us they were wrong as the police have since opened an investigation into the matter.
An obligatory slap on the wrist will not satisfy the liberal voting bloc. When Fabrice Muamba suddenly collapsed at White Hart Lane English football was stunned and, until his miraculous recovery, showed the heart-warming solidarity which makes the Premier League what we all know it to be – the best in the world. The story was emotional. Public opinion was unilateral. All it takes is for one idiotic student of 21 years to tweet attention-seeking, racist garbage to stir up public outcry. The police surfed the wave of public opinion, almost instantaneously arresting Liam Stacey who subsequently served 56 days in prison.
The police have since bragged about the ‘swiftness’ of dealing with Mr Stacey, capitalising on the general feeling towards the Bolton striker. A debate was never entertained because all eyes were on Muamba, not some immature tweeting twit. Ask yourselves and others around you whether you think Mr Stacey deserved this sentence. 56 days for a racist remark? Peculiar, is it not, that the collaborators in Stephen Lawrence’s racist murder still walk the streets today? The police may be keen to rid the non-Aryan skeletons which occupy their cells and now do so by attacking individual liberties on the back of populism and naivety – of which we are all collectively guilty. Concerned we ought to be, that police work now boils down to monitoring social networking sites and arresting people for merely holding an irrational opinion.
Fast forward to the Olympic Games and you might notice the continuing trend between celebrity, twitter and the police. All the flag-waving jingoism, anticipation and optimism the public feel for British athletes to deliver on the world stage were encapsulated in the reaction to young diving prodigy, Tom Daley. Already a national treasure at the age of 18, the public and press had raised expectations of a gold medal. When Daley and his diving partner, Peter Waterfield, fell short of a podium position a disappointing whimper swept through almost every TV set in the country.
“You let your dad down I hope you know that,” read one of the ‘malicious’ tweets, referring to Daley’s late father who died of cancer. As with Cole, Young and Muamba the same conditions and formula led the police to act tough and showcase their authority in what was ultimately another public relations stunt. The force of the law acted not to protect the reputation of an adored young sportsman, but his sensitivities. Daley’s popularity was enough for the public to refrain from questioning why the police subsequently arrested a 17 year old for being immature over social networking. Many will tell you the ‘offender’ got what he deserved. In fairness to Daley, he did not report the tweet to the police, rather he used the same social networking tool to isolate and embarrass the author of the comment. However Dorset Police did not need an invitation to involve themselves in this battle of opinion from the greater war of thought.
To be or not to be offended, that is the problem. Tolerance is something we should indeed aspire to. But defending an individual’s right to be offended is the wrong path to this actualisation. When you think about it, what does it even mean ‘to be offended’? The term has accumulated much influence in British culture and mannerisms. Coupled with the equally flimsy concept of ‘respect’ (an extraordinary name for a political party) British society has become obsessed with not offending those who may be easily offended, namely ethnic and religious minorities as well as popular public figures. Now the law is playing a greater role in protecting the sensibilities and fragile feelings of these said-be groups. The public is willingly substituting John Stuart Mills’ harm principle in favour of the offense principle and the constraints on freedom of speech that comes with it.
Paedophiles and racists. Everyone reserves a special contempt for both paedophiles and racists. The latter however needs to be reviewed against Mills’ harm principle. A racist action or prejudicial grievance is not the same as tweeting how useless black people are at penalties. We all have prejudices, but we do not always act upon them discriminatively. Nobody wants to read or hear racist comments, but you cannot stop them from being written or said. If you prevent a person’s freedom to speak you compromise your liberty to hear them. You don’t have to like what a racist person may say or believe, but you do have to accommodate their opinions, so long as it passes the harm principle. I say all this to you as a member of the British Asian community – not that it should make a difference, even though I know it does.
With liberty, true liberty, comes excess. Fringe opinions against the monotony of the status quo should not only be allowed for, but defended. What worth would liberty be if we cannot test the parameters of what is and isn’t deemed palatable? To whom should the task of deciding what is safe to read, write, speak or hear be assigned to? Should the force of the law be used to protect us from such ‘dangers’? Would you really want to live in such a sterile, tedious world? It increasingly seems that we already do; some even welcome it. The ‘extreme moderate’ Benjamin Franklin believed that those who sacrifice their freedoms for a moments security are deserving of neither. Those who tried to prosecute the ‘airport bomber’ Paul Chambers should take note. Food for thought for those who think, and still value it.
In a free world opinions may be rendered useless. Under a regime of censorship an opinion, no matter how extreme, becomes revolutionary. Just bear this in mind before you muzzle the monster next time.