Over the last two weeks the story of Carol Thatcher's comment has been drizzled over the press like some overdone and excessively ascerbic vinegrette that often, inadvertently, floods one's caesar salad due to the chef's recklessness. Though foul tasting it might seem to some of us, at least to others, in taste, it may be rather quite different. The point being that offence is very much a matter of personal sensitivity and emotional sensibility, as opposed to something that one can have a fixed judgment on, say like rape. Further proscribing those that express themsleves in the way they wish to is an attack on liberty, as the freedom of choice of expression is very much a part of a human's personal autonomy, and thus dignity. To excoriate people for the intolerance of others, would create a nation in which relations between people were based on of mistrust of one another, if not fear. A nation that censures those who wish to express themsleves using a golliwog against political correctness, rather than an attack on race, is a mark of an intolerant nation.
Personally, I laughed. I told my uncle (who, like myself, has a rather dark complexion) that she was specifically referring to him. As a chair of a free-speech society my intuition was, of course, surprisingly rather different. But who would honestly not be embarresed by being offended by such a comment- it would be child like, surely? We Brits, we take it on the chin. Reading the papers day after day, I was looking for a list of apologies for those who were willing to own up to their childish reaction of 'I am offended'. But none was forthcoming.
The immaturity was put forward by those I expected. Some of the coloured lot of our society for starters (who seem to be suffering from some bout of self-induceable post-colonial race complex) and some left-leaning, quasi-liberal apologists. The rants of the former went along the following lines: That their forefathers had been slaves or governed by force or some other irrelevant and illogical gibberish, thus 'How could she?' 'Are you a slave?'I thought- then grinned, realising that, of course, another more subtle slavery was at work. This was the limit of a human mind that could only digest what it was not senstive to. What I would term 'obtuse perception'. It should become a psychiatric's diagnosis. 'I cannot accept this idea, or thought or speech as it makes me uncomfortable'- a fortiori, I am a child. Please treat me as one; censor all that affects me. And if that is the truth' well- who cares?' I'd rather not know than be offended. Of course, I am making a leap here, that between a statement or a piece of speech and an opinion. But are they so disparate? Does one not follow from the other? And if so, is to censor one not to censor the other? Since when has the nation of ideas and enlightenment become the nation of visceral censorship? We are, dangerously, heading that way. The decision of the Home Secretary to ban Geert Wilder, yesterday, is another example of this. We ban to stop people from being offended. We thus treat them like children, and the state then moves into that dangerous corridor when it can control ideas and opinion by approval or disapprobation. We need to treat both of these instances with more care and think deeply about the implications of this approach. Once we move into the realm of offence and violence, we move away from discussion and Parliamentary democracy and into the breakdown of the rule of law. In this only might is right, by virtue of offence, and those that are liberal and mature in their outlook with more reflective views get pushed on the way-side. With the loss of ideas becomes the loss of thought that can be valuable to our nation as a whole. For this reason we should preserve our hard fought freedom of speech with absolute rigidity-it is the catalyst that makes Parliamentary democracy (Government by choice and election) function. I would thus urge for those who are offended to grow up and apologise, as there is something more at stake here than their selfish, visceral sensitivities.
(Copyright Birkenhead Society).