Tonight’s episode of Question Time -10.35pm on BBC One – will feature the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin.
This appearance follows a debate concerning censorship and the objectivity of the BBC. A number of people would censor Nick Griffin on the grounds his far-right opinions are offensive, ill-considered, illogical, hateful, and harmful; that by allowing him to have his say, his opponents give legitimacy to his vitriol; that the best way to deal with the hate-filled individuals who vote for the BNP is to treat them like children and ignore them.
The wonderful thing about logic is that the logical option does not always benefit the person who holds it: logic allows us to overcome our prejudices and selfishness by giving our thought processes over to something larger than ourselves. My moral principles are based on logic and so while I would like to censor Nick Griffin, my principles will not allow it: if all human beings have equal rights and all have an equal right to express themselves, then even humans whom I disagree with have an equal right to express themselves. Logically they must then extend the same courtesy to their opponents lest they get mired in contradiction.
I feel this requires further explanation. all people have the equal right to express themselves but that does not mean that what they express is equally valid. Statements have values: the statement 'Whales are conspiring to destroy the Moon' has less value then the statement 'Plants perform photosynthesis to produce energy' - I am therefore legimately entitled to refer to the first statement as 'stupid'. Inductive reasoning of Nick Griffin's past statements reveal that his statements tonight will probably lack qualities of education and reasoning and will hence probably have less value than those of his fellow panellists. The point is that he has an equal right to say them. Freedom of speech requires that we allow all statements to be equally said not that we have to treat all statements as equally valid.
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” – John Stuart Mill.
Such logical reasoning is typical of the political left and liberals. We quietly intellectualise and point to logic and history as indicators of the contradictions and horrors that a far-right agenda can allow. When a group of people arise whose argument is too stupid to debate, we fail to engage them: ‘Why treat people equally? Well, the contradictions arising from the alternative are too numerous and obvious to go into.’ But then stupid people listen to the stupid argument and soon two of the stupid people are voted into democratic government.
Freedom and equality are so obviously good things that we didn’t think we had to fight for them. We allowed our parents and our grandparents to do that for us. And now people who don’t understand want to take them away and the time to fight has come. We have to let people like Nick Griffin onto the political stage so that we can fight them. We have to show that our ideas are stronger and that logic defeats hate. We have to fight for freedom even if the battle is a small one.
“If you're in favour of freedom of speech, that means you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” - Noam Chomsky.