I am deplatformed for hate speech

There have been some high-profile cases recently, in American, Canadian and British universities, of allegedly controversial speakers being disinvited, heckled or even assaulted in order to prevent “hate speech“. This has fed into a debate about the whole purpose of academia, and even the wider question of freedom of speech. One commentator recently reported that to those under 35, belief in freedom of speech is equated with fascism, which even if only partly true is a big deal. Being over 35, I’ve only just realised that, in a non-academic setting, I was quietly deplatformed for hate speech a couple of years ago.

I’ll explain why, but let me first link to piece of spontaneous banter I personally witnessed back in 1970, leading into a song by The Who at the famous Isle of Wight Festival that year. The relevant section is that before the song – pause at that point, or read on as you listen to a set that proves The Who were the greatest live band in the world.

You must understand that it was widely known at the festival that perhaps a majority of the half million or so who’d come to see an unparalleled line-up were Europeans, so Pete Townshend’s quip about coming home to “a load of bloody foreigners” was both accurate, and ironically funny – as the Germans sitting around me who cheered loudly proved. It was also, though, the case that French anarchists had come with the stated intention of breaking up the festival (they certainly succeeded in souring the atmosphere and demolishing the Woodstock myth of peace and love), and so there was probably a note of protest and appeal for sanity in Pete’s comment. But if he said the same now it would certainly be reported by some of the press as racist hate-speech, and I think the world would be a poorer place for pressuring artists to be seen to be bland and inoffensive.

I mention this snippet because it may have been lurking in the back of my mind when I wrote my only mildly controversial song, which was an ironic treatment of blind prejudice called They All Look the Same to Me. Its composition was interesting, because I woke up having dreamed the hookline, involving the title being sung twice with different syllables stressed, which seemed a pretty catchy idea. But then, I thought, why on earth those particular words, which are, of course, what racists proverbially say about others.

I’m intrigued that Hillary Clinton recently used a near-identical phrase ironically, and rather than being interpreted as her mocking of bigotry, she was immediately publically pilloried as “offensive and insensitive.” In my view, though I don’t like the woman, she was making a useful point off the cuff, and her detractors are not only crass, but destructive of the subtle discourse that real humans have engaged in throughout history.

And that’s what has made me understand better that what was constructive in 1970, and even when I wrote my song in 2003, has now been arbitrarily declared evil. Let me continue the tale.

The weekend after my dream, a young person desperately and unsuccessfully trying to find employment in London told me, “If I was blind or in a wheelchair I’d easily get a job.” Now that was inaccurate, nor even particularly seriously spoken, but it was not in the least malicious, arising only from her own lack of success. But it immediately suggested to me what my dreamed song should be about – a bigot refusing to give to a disability charity because he doesn’t realise his shared humanity, and even using his clich√© in the wrong setting. I’d actually come across such people when collecting for a cerebral palsy charity.

In verse 2 I envisaged the same guy seeing attractive young women about their business and simply not understanding their culture – whilst regarding them as unattainable sex-objects. Any other middle-aged men out there?

Verse 3 saw him bracket so many people as non-people that the whole world looked the same – even life on other worlds would turn out to be no different. So at the end I had him retreat into himself from everything, asking us to turn out the light and wake him up if anything interesting happens. To my delight, when I told my musician brother the lyric of this verse, he said he knew a guy with exactly that attitude.

So all in all it seemed a pretty successful structured song, arguing that bigotry tends only to isolation. So that when I was asked, for a second year running, to play at a local town folk festival, I took the song along – especially as I was accompanied by two saxes, and it suited that line-up admirably. I explained in the introduction that it was a song about bigotry, and added the line, “The opinions in this song are not those of the author.”

So I was surprised a day or so later to get an e-mail from the stage-manager relaying a complaint from a couple who, apparently, had been deeply offended because they have a disabled son who has faced discrimination (not present), and they had walked out during the first verse. “Such things should not be said,” they said, “even in jest.” Well, a civilised three-way correspondence followed, in which I explained my purpose in writing the song, and in which the organiser reassured the complainant what a warm and inclusive human being I really am.

But I noticed I wasn’t asked back the following year, or this year, and the Hillary Clinton thing has made me realise that were I to sing that song in public now, it wouldn’t be a complaint from a sensitive parent I received, but more likely a police investigation into hate speech following a protest from a disabled rights activist on the lookout for trigger-words. And it’s not even a university campus, but a seaside town.

We seem to be building – all too rapidly – a society in which art and discourse as the tossing round of deep issues is being replaced with a standardized, and strictly enforced, presentation of only certain matters using “certain” standard formulae. I could present a bigot in art, as long as he was wearing a swastika badge and spoke in monosyllables. And died horribly, of course.

In fact (and delightfully ironically) everybody is being pressured to think and speak identically on such things – which actually confirms the jaundiced viewpoint of the protagonist in my song. Everybody is beginning to look identical. “Turn out the light, and wake when there’s something new.”

I suppose for completeness I ought to link to the song in question, in the hope that my heinous hate crime isn’t noticed by the authorities, academic or political. It’s nothing much – not necessarily even a good song. But do not click the link if you require a safe space, or are under 35.

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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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6 Responses to I am deplatformed for hate speech

  1. Robert Byers says:

    Excellent thread.( Cool you were at the wight thing. its famous now). So true and i think about it a lot.
    There is a desire to impose conclusions on society/our nations by discrediting oppoite conclusions as ism’s.
    I heard that in britain its a crime to say homosexuality is a sin!! i read that somewhere
    I don’t agree there is now or ever was racism, sexism, anti-senetism, religious bigotry, or any general concept like that in human nature or actions.
    INSTEAD there is actions, accusations, conclusions9however sincere) of one to ward another. Good or evil, right or wrong.
    In other words redunctionist philosophy will just see a equation in human nature or real or imagined hostility of one toward another.
    These term,s came recently from the left wing, although a common tactic in human history,
    Its just traditional accusation/defence BUT there is no trial.
    The accusers have become dominat in making change.
    The accusers do not have to prove their case before judgement is done.

    The remedy is the historical one.
    We have the natural right as free men to think, speak, as we want in our nations.
    Anyone stopping us is breaking this natural law and poltical contract.
    Unless they stop us by dUE PROCESS.
    There is no due process. Accusation is indictment.More it doesn’t matter if someone says things you don’t like. You still must not stop them.
    its the non defence if these simple historic rights/contracts that has allowed, especially the left, the ability to silence truth, untruth, the good, the bad.

    How about this blog?
    If i say i don’t agree, passionalet;y, that women should be in the military or police, except in special operations, the left would accuse me of being a sexist. WHICH means evil/bad, and wrong. SETTLED.
    Would this blog also say that and edit/ban my statement or me?(No I won’t say it again its an example)
    Is it sexist? NO! Sexism is a concept that makes the person wrong/unjust/unkind.
    Thats why it must cease to be a term in our society. its false in its esssence and any real injustice toward women would be covered by saying INJUSTICE TOWARD WOMEN.

    Its more then making us alike. its imposition of conclusions on people and enforcement. Opposition is be denied.
    its a tyranny of forceful people in certain circles who have no authority to govern us.
    We the governed must demand back our natural/contract rights on conversation and talking.
    Its literally about government. Call John Locke and the Who!1

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      Though I think you often lay yourself open to criticism by the way you express things (and by some of what you express!), the core of your post is right: we do no service to mankind by dividing malice and sin up into specific new “micro-crimes” that close down any real exploration of where evil actually lies.

      As for IoW 1970, in retrospect I’m glad I forked out my ¬£3 and lost so much sleep. I should mention that the Who started at 2am: at 3am they started doing the whole of Tommy and I was nodding off, so my mate Simon and I went back to our tent and tried to sleep, unsuccessfully. Melanie was on next.

      Not many people can say they dozed through a Who concert.

      • Robert Byers says:

        I like micro-crimes. i moght steal it. YES thats right. Human nature, and its injustices , has not changed from the begining.
        so the new tags, including this HATRED concept, are just the regular stuff.
        I say the new tags allow, sometimes and often, the ability of the accuser to prevail without investigation/trial.
        thatys all it is.
        Thats why it must be defanged and ended.
        NPT END legitamate accusatyion and definition but end the accusers domination .
        I do see it also as largely created in the last century by the left wing. the right did it with accusing comminism to every activist but still its mostly left wingers.
        it is very wrong and very evil often.

        You MISSED the WHO! Ouch! Maybe the star attraction in retrospect. maybe not.
        It was famous, I think, also for dylan not doing well, joni mItcheel saying folks wwere acting like TOURISTS, and hendrix in a bad mood. Unless i’m mixed up about those concerts.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          Bob Dylan was actually the year before. Joni was mistreated by the politicos. Hendrix was pretty OK, though on a downhill spiral that saw him dead within the month.

          Jethro Tull were brilliant, Doors were dull, Free were fantastic, Donovan was dire, and Fairfield Parlour (the only band with which I had indirect persoal links) bombed – only to become a cult band 25 years later!

          • Robert Byers says:

            I was going to say I understood Jethro Tull was well received but though i had the wrong concert.
            It was Dylan I had wrong. Interesting you say the doors were dull. Odd Donavan was dire as i thought he was about the sunny side of hippi music.
            I don’t know Fairfield parlour but will try to remember to seek them out and the cult status.

            • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

              I was, and am, a great fan of Donovan – he taught me a great deal on guitar playing and songwriting. He was just very off-form that sunny afternoon.

              I was not really familiar with the Doors, but some friend said I’d really like them. However, I was underwhelmed with the moody darkness – partly explained by Morrsion having only just been released from jail.

              If you’re researching Fairfield Parlour, search under their previous name of (English) Kaleidoscope. Innocent hippiedom fueled by nothing more than Bulmer’s cider!

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