Murdering opinions

Between school and university, I spent several months as a lowly scientific assistant in a government Pest Control Laboratory.

It was a good introduction to my first “scientific community,” consisting of a bunch of friendly, and sometimes eccentric, biologists ranging from the double-barrelled ex-army scientific director of the place, to the most junior researcher, one of my two immediate bosses, a bearded Mancunian who did research on moles and bemoaned the fact that he earned less than his brother did working on the Ford assembly line.

There was also a range of scientific support staff like myself, together with various animal keepers, secretaries and Ken, the gamekeeper, who used to shoot rabbits for us. There was also a middle-aged grey-coated messenger whose name escapes me, probably the lowest in the pecking order, to whom I passed the odd remark, but who kept himself to himself. Let’s call him Percy. You had the impression that, as a simple soul, he was somewhat intellectually intimidated by all the PhDs and the academic conversation.

When politics was discussed, although some of the guys, being “intellectuals,” were Labour supporters, the dominant opinion was Conservative. This was, after all, traditionally-minded Guildford (or actually Worplesdon, for those who might understand the distinction).

I can’t remember exactly what one particular conversation was about, though I have a vague idea it may have involved something about serving in the military. Whatever it was, conservative views were being expressed, when suddenly Percy the messenger burst out with a diatribe of radical socialist views. He spoke eloquently for about three minutes before lapsing into embarrassed silence and sloping off saying he had other work to do.

I agreed with very little of what he said, but it always struck me as significant how this ordinary, quiet guy must have been keeping his real views on life to himself in an environment which, if not in any sense hostile, was alien and unconducive to them. Good for you, I thought. To be human is to have the freedom to speak one’s mind, and the social structures of the scientific laboratory had, inadvertantly, made that difficult for at least one human being created in God’s image.


Oddly, what reminded me of that episode after nearly fifty years was the decision to speak out by someone ostensibly quite unlike Percy: the actor Laurence Fox, son of the venerable actor James Fox and educated at Harrow and RADA. His decision was precipitated by the decision of his alma mater RADA to invite the submission of scripts, subject to formulaic constraints on the proportional representation of women and other minorities. Fox realised that this was both nonsensical, and the culmination of restrictions on a whole raft of opinions which he held, but which it is somehow “forbidden” to voice in acting circles.

He spoke out partly, perhaps, because a recent painful divorce made him less bothered by others’ opinions of him, and partly because he doesn’t want his children to grow up in world where thought is censored. Nevertheless he was fully aware that, despite his strong professional reputation, his honesty might mean he never works again.

That has also been the experience of many others. In the world of stand-up comedy, a younger guy, Alistair Williams, began to ask questions when a routine he did that appeared to advocate for Brexit suddenly led to work drying up and being shunned by his peers.

Why, he asked, were my anti-Brexit jokes OK, whereas the one which really connected with what audience members were thinking is anathema? He began to realise that the issue was not just Brexit, but a whole swathe of opinions one was no longer allowed to hold.

It seems that within all walks of life, odd individuals are coming up against these barriers increasingly, leading to professional ostracism, loss of jobs, or even investigation for “hate speech.” The nurse sacked for offering to pray with a patient; the doctor sacked for being unable to deny science by recording transitioned males as “women” in medical reports; the oceanographer sacked for reporting that the Great Barrier Reef is not dead; the primary-age child asking to be excused from lessons on same-sex marriage; the preachers arrested for mentioning (generically) sin; the football fan imprisoned for exposing the official suppression of the investigation of child sex-abuse rings; the ex-policeman who, after Tweeting on the science of gender, is questioned by police who have a brief to “challenge belief systems” (presumably by the yardstick of some offically approved belief system); and so on.

There are some significant differences between these modern experiences and those of Percy half a century ago. His “silencing” was purely local to his workplace (no doubt he expressed his socialism freely at the pub with friends, or at politcial meetings), inadvertent, and without consequence. Theirs (which is to say, “ours”) is everywhere public in our society, perfectly intentional on the part of those furthering the agenda, and loaded with adverse consequences ranging from being de-personed on social media to being prosecuted. Or slugged by Antifa.

The wonder is how easily the rest of us tolerate this descent into totalitarianism. It maybe that some of us are too young to remember any other world, and the rest of us are old enough to be ignored as mere leftovers of imperialism, racism, and white patriarchy. We’re not all so old, though.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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5 Responses to Murdering opinions

  1. Robert Byers says:

    AMEN . from Canada. Your so right. speech/thought is being punished by those who are in aiuthorioty or presume to be.
    Yes hATE SPEECH has become a term to stop conclusions/opinions.
    indeed stopping hate has become a right of our leaders.
    Thank you for blogging on this. i see everywhere, in Canada recently with Don cherry, people complaining about speech/thought control.
    Its everyones fault. Recently I was banned from a orgins blog but not for any moral accusation but simply having wrong scientific opinions.
    I say its time in america, the most free, and then the rest of the English civilization nations to START OVER.
    did god givev us freedom to think and speak? YES! thus do we have the freedom of speech to speak the truth, justice, as we see it? YES! anything other then this is illehal oppression overthrowing the contract of the people with anyone who governs them. John Locke said so.
    if we have this freedom then to allow it we have a legal/poltical freedom of speech that means we can say things that are inaccurate or hateful.
    except for agreed ideas on slander there must not be any infringment on freedom of speech. Good grief they uise this to justify pornography which is NOT speech!
    We must demand our freedom and speech freedom for thoughts and speech.
    they must obey us or they can not rule us.
    E do not need to invent anything. WE already, especially in america, have our rights of thought/speech.
    In short they can not punish us for hate thoughts or hate speech. not just us complain about wrong interpretations on this but they must not use these tricks to control us.
    it will get worse and so more will complain.
    we must get this equation right. We can get along but contentions show there is a serious oppresion going on. yet its our fault if we become slaves.
    I fight and your fighting. i think most would agree with a well made case that we are free and have free thought/speech as our birthright.
    However don’t get hurt. if its bad ITS BAD.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Robert

    As you know, I’ve sometimes questioned your apprehension of some scientific matters. But the “free speech” solution to disagreement is to reply with counter arguments, to keep silent and give the opponent the rope to hang himself, or at a pinch to say, “Look, I’m a scientist and you’re talking rubbish.” Robust free speech all round. The totalitarian response is to ban someone.

    This becomes a lot more serious when those “banned” or in other ways silenced are actually qualified people with a minority view, and then the situation becomes truly oppressive. Groupthink has become all too common even within academic and scientific circles.

    • Robert Byers says:

      Anwn. Free speech is our heritage, right, and what we uniquely successfully acheived in the English speaking world and so these days are just anoother opportunity to show how well founded is your freedoms.
      Its our turn to defend what we already possess.

      • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

        Liberty of speech and conscience was very directly a result of the turmoil of the Reformation. I’ve been studying the history of my own church this year (c.1650) and those were issues absolutely relevant then, for which they literally fought and died.

        Even secular freedoms (for the Deist and Atheist skeptics) was won by the sufferings of the Non-conformists of the generations before.

        That history shows that serious attempts to stifle such uncomfortable freedoms in the name of “banning hate” is not only doomed to fail, but will almost inevitably lead to civil unrest.

        • Robert Byers says:

          Yes it was evangelical dissenting protestants who figured out that to get our way we had to allow everyone to say and think what they would.
          Freedom of speech comes from Gods freedom for mankind but also from self interst of those who are in the minority.
          We have already this freedom and banning speech/ideas based on accusations of hate is simply illegal and historically absurd. No civilixation ever banned hate or demanded love. its just a left wing excuse to ban certain things they are passionate about.
          We must start from the demand we already have freedom of thought(conscience) and speech, especially in america, and any infringment is illegal. they must obey these freedoms.
          i don’t think civil unrest would happen as its not to most people important enough. however our freedoms should be important enough to make us agitate and complain.
          unconditional surrender to our existing rights to speech/thought freedom.
          If that means we are free to hate and express it then so be it. whoever said we couldn’t. anyways its false accusations of these things that comes after they acquired this absurd power of speech/thought control.
          they are sneaky.

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