I wrote this blog last year sometime but was too scared to post it, today I realised my fear is less important than standing up for what’s right and considering freedom of speech is somewhat of a hot topic right now, it seems like a good time to revisit it:
This morning I stumbled downstairs, as I always do, to collect a cup of coffee and slosh it up the stairs where I retreat back to my bed, with the curtains still drawn, to sup my coffee and slowly make my way through my various social media feeds. You see, I need to know what I’m facing before I get to my desk. No surprises. That way I have time to compute it all in the shower and on my drive to work. It’s a messy and kinda lazy system, but it works for me.
Today the first thing I saw was a post in one of my women in gaming groups about an impending audience with a controversial outspoken figure that was coming to the local area. The post itself was calling for ways to stop the talk going ahead. I was astounded. What gives any one person the right to shut down the speech of another? I’m not a fan of said figure, but I believe everyone has a right to speak about their observations and beliefs. Everyone. I find the notion that any one individual has the right to stop someone else speaking just because they don’t agree abhorrent. I should have saved my shock, it got worse…
A general rule of the internet is not to read the comments. I read the comments. They weren’t good. ‘Where can you find a good hitwoman (sic) these days? *knife emoji*” read one, “Get hold of the local antifa!!” declared another and, probably the most revolting of them all “What about finding out about the people who have bought tickets and outing them?”.
Let’s take a moment to break those comments down:
‘Where can you find a good hitwoman (sic) these days *knife emoji*” – Disgraceful. Either you’re pro violence or anti violence, you can’t be anti violence when it’s against people you like and pro violence if it’s against people you don’t like. That’s pretty much fascism. I personally don’t believe harming someone because I don’t agree with them is an option. This commenter wanted an individual dead because they don’t align on their politics. Can you think of anything more bizarre? I can’t. Even if the person you’re calling the death of is simultaneously calling for harm of others – it’s still not OK. We are not children, we do not deal in tit for tat. Don’t stoop to their level. Why not open a dialogue with the person you disagree with instead? Why not flex your intellectual muscles and request a debate? Seriously – why not? And just to clarify – shouting your opinion at someone is not debating.
“Get hold of the local antifa!!”: You want to bring in a group that have been known to seriously injure people who oppose them? And let’s be clear, all you have to do to oppose them is where a hat they don’t like. They don’t have a conversation with the hat wearer about why they may be wearing said hat, they just want to hurt them. I really don’t like flatcaps, would any of you guys support me if I went around beating people up for wearing flatcaps? Does that sound reasonable to you? No. Me neither. I don’t care what you believe in, I just want you to be honest – do you want to be at risk someone of attacking you on the street for the views you hold? Because it goes both ways, we’ve seen it in very recent history. If you advocate it when it comes to people who oppose you, then you are also advocating it happening to you, your friends, your family.
“What about finding out about the people who have bought tickets and outing them?”: Just… give me a minute here… you want to invade people’s privacy to ‘out them’ for having an opinion that’s different to yours? Seriously? You want to shame people because of their politics? Now, aside from the arrogance displayed by believing that your politics are the correct politics and anyone else’s are so wrong they should be shamed for it, do you really think you’re going to get people to understand your point of view by shaming them? Do you think that would make them more likely or less likely to see things your way? I’m almost certain it’s the latter. That’s worth mulling over.
Of course, everyone has a right to protest that which they don’t agree with, and that’s totally fine. However, a protest should not be violent. A protest shouldn’t call for injury to your opponents. A protest shouldn’t see the ‘good guys’ throwing tear gas and punching the other side. Even better than a protest would be a conversation. Identify the people you don’t agree with and find a way to open dialogue about them.
I wanted to write my advice to the group, but have become increasingly scared of the backlash having a level head seems to bring. The likely route, and one that I have witnessed many times, is that anyone who comes into a riled up group and suggests inviting the person they don’t agree with for a nice chat will be labelled a nazi, a sexist, a bad feminist, someone who doesn’t have the mental capacity to compute the subject, stupid. “You’re either with us or against us”. Personally, I think that mantra is intensely short sighted. We are human, no human is simply one belief. I would put money on there being some kind of common ground if we took the time to talk to each other, and yes – that common ground may be tiny but it’s a good place to start. The paradox of intolerance is most certainly a thing, but we should be picking our battles. Ultimately, there are people out there who shock for a living, that’s how they make their bread and butter. If we shut down their events, or run at them with violence, we’re giving them the platform they want. Look at Richard Spencer – most people hadn’t even heard of him prior to him getting punched. Now he’s holding rallies in Charlottesville that are being attended by the media and (thankfully) not many others, but because the media are covering it he still has his platform.
The sad fact is I’m seeing opinions like this daily. Especially in our beloved games industry. I’m seeing people call for violence against those they don’t agree with, I’m seeing people refusing to speak to others/blocking accounts because of their politics. I’ve heard HR managers say horrible things about people who voted one way or another. This is all a big part of why I suffered with my mental health so much last year – witnessing this vitriol that seems to be growing and creating more and more intolerance. We seem to be living through some kind of bizarre war on freedom of speech.
We live in turbulent times, and the only advice I can give is to listen. Listen to everyone. I make a point of listening to both sides of the political spectrum, no one can ever accuse me of living in an echo chamber. I find that the more I listen, the more I understand, the more I can see the humanity in people and understand why they may have the views they have, and then I know how to challenge them. Shouting on the internet doesn’t achieve anything, shutting someone’s right to talk or listen does nothing but create frustration, rage and ultimately an even more divided society than we have now.
I don’t know how much more I can stomach. I’m also preparing for the friends I will lose for simply voicing this. The irony is I will likely be blocked or unfriended by some for simply asking people to denounce violence and listen to each other more. What a world.