A social or an anti-social world?

EDITORIAL

Debate over free speech has surged into national headlines thanks to the banning of speakers and cancellation of booked venues in opposition to the views they espouse, and in response to threats from those who do not want them given a platform.

Naturally this has provided these speakers and others a much bigger platform to discuss their views, the relevance (or not) of them, and how society might have become hamstrung by political correctness.

It seems an own goal from the protesters and keyboard warriors, although they are not the ones actually closing off venues. In the case of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, the Canadian promoters of what are seen as extreme views on topics such as feminism, gender, immigration and Islam, it appeared as though the alternative site chosen after being denied access to Auckland Council buildings was a set-up for exactly this outcome — a music venue that had much to lose if musicians and music-lovers pulled support, which they duly said they would.

The truth of the matter is that many New Zealanders range from uneasy to deeply upset about what the rest of us see as the progress society has made over the past generation or two.

To deny this and shut down people who speak to their fears is counter-productive. It is much better to allow these people the right to speak publicly, to debate with them on all matters where they misrepresent or are misguided, and persuade with the vision of inclusiveness and understanding that the majority already support.

Society has benefited hugely from the so-called political correctness that has seen racism, sexism, homophobia and many other disturbing and harmful prejudices move from the mainstream to the fringe. The prejudices of the past were deeply ingrained, though, and while it is frustrating for many how prevalent some remain at lower levels in society, it is no surprise that they do still exist.

The internet and social media have created an open slather for free speech, for comment and “facts” of all stripes that in the past were moderated by established media. How society responds to this is a work in progress.

Debate over free speech has surged into national headlines thanks to the banning of speakers and cancellation of booked venues in opposition to the views they espouse, and in response to threats from those who do not want them given a platform.

Naturally this has provided these speakers and others a much bigger platform to discuss their views, the relevance (or not) of them, and how society might have become hamstrung by political correctness.

It seems an own goal from the protesters and keyboard warriors, although they are not the ones actually closing off venues. In the case of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, the Canadian promoters of what are seen as extreme views on topics such as feminism, gender, immigration and Islam, it appeared as though the alternative site chosen after being denied access to Auckland Council buildings was a set-up for exactly this outcome — a music venue that had much to lose if musicians and music-lovers pulled support, which they duly said they would.

The truth of the matter is that many New Zealanders range from uneasy to deeply upset about what the rest of us see as the progress society has made over the past generation or two.

To deny this and shut down people who speak to their fears is counter-productive. It is much better to allow these people the right to speak publicly, to debate with them on all matters where they misrepresent or are misguided, and persuade with the vision of inclusiveness and understanding that the majority already support.

Society has benefited hugely from the so-called political correctness that has seen racism, sexism, homophobia and many other disturbing and harmful prejudices move from the mainstream to the fringe. The prejudices of the past were deeply ingrained, though, and while it is frustrating for many how prevalent some remain at lower levels in society, it is no surprise that they do still exist.

The internet and social media have created an open slather for free speech, for comment and “facts” of all stripes that in the past were moderated by established media. How society responds to this is a work in progress.

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