It’s pretty tempting to tell people to shut up when they’re wrong isn’t it? And, if you have the clout to let you do it, it’s even more tempting to make them shut up. On an individual level, stopping someone from espousing their poisonous opinions can be one of the ways of demonstrating to them that their prejudice is not socially acceptable.
So is the same thing true on a bigger scale? If ‘society’ wants to show it does not accept a prejudice what better way than shutting down those who spout prejudicial garbage?
Hang on, isn’t that censorship?
This week the BBC reported TFL’s announcement that they would ban the bus adverts paid for by the Core Issues Trust which would have read “Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!”.
News of the planned adverts sparked substantial outrage amongst those who felt that the campaign strongly implied that homosexuality was an illness which could be cured. Personally I think it’s fairly clear that the minds behind this campaign are deeply homophobic, and I’m delighted that on this occasion a large, powerful body has chosen to use that power to stop these adverts. As well as reducing the harm that these adverts could have done, this sends a clear message to those homophobes that their prejudice will not be tolerated, at least by TfL who said the adverts did not reflect a “tolerant and inclusive” London. Hurrah!
Unsurprisingly the Core Issues Trust described the move as censorship.
And in censorship is bad right? Or is it only bad when you are censoring nice people? But if you are censoring baddies, does that make it OK?
So, censorship is a tricky subject. How do you tolerate those who refuse to tolerate others?
One of the roots here is the do-as-you-would-be-done-by principle. You wouldn’t like it if someone told you that you weren’t entitled to your opinion right? But if someone’s opinion is prejudicial derogatory to a particular group of people, should they be entitled to shout it from the roof tops, and furthermore, is society obliged to provide them a soap box to stand on?
Any possible structure of society has its advantages and disadvantages. And one of the disadvantages of a ‘free and fair’ society is that you are going to get people who think they have the right to disrespect the rights of others. One way of dealing with that element is censorship, but this can be a dangerous thing.
So, in this case, should we exclaim “Yes, this is censorship and a damn good thing too!”. Do we accept that censorship is a necessary evil but still feel guilty about it, even if it is that cliché of ‘the lesser of two evils”? Or should we try to argue that it isn’t actually censorship at all?
TfL doesn’t appear to have published a press release about this yet. Out of academic interest I tried to visit The Core Issues Trust website to see if they had released anything nicely quote-able about what they presumably see as a huge injustice to them. I couldn’t – because their website is throwing up a 509 error (bandwidth limit exceeded.) I sincerely hope that’s because of the large numbers of people wanting to point and laugh, rather than gratefully racing to get ‘the cure’ thanks to the increased publicity the CIT are getting because of this.