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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Alice Dreger on left-wing censorship of ideas

This story is such a clear-cut example that I'd be tempted to dismiss it as atrocity propaganda... except that Alice Dreger is a scholar whom I respect and view as honest. If events happened in anything like the way she describes - and I have no reason to doubt her word in what is very much a factual, step-by-step account - we're seeing somebody ostracised and otherwise punished for opinions.

The situation is that she was asked for permission to republish an essay, in this case her piece entitled "What If We Admitted to Children that Sex is Primarily About Pleasure". So far, so good. After some negotiations, the piece was actually republished. But then it was taken down because in other work by Dreger she has expressed views that the publisher disagrees with. That is highly illiberal. It sends the message that your work will not be published, irrespective of its merits, if your publicly expressed views on other matters are not considered acceptable.

Dreger is, of course, well known and she has a range of publishing opportunities. But many other people who share her views on various issues may not have her kind of bargaining power (which she'd probably consider not all that great in any event). The effect is to add to a cultural climate where open, honest debate is chilled.

This is not, of course, government censorship. But if we value the liberty of thought and discussion we will not fetishize government censorship as a unique evil. Indeed, some government censorship, such as efforts to ban revenge porn, may have very little effect on the liberty of thought and discussion: in such cases, no opinions or ideas on general topics are being suppressed. We should all be able to find ways to express our ideas and opinions without resorting to those sorts of attacks on individuals.

Government censorship is, nonetheless, a special concern (partly because of the frightening powers wielded by governments and their agencies). But on the gripping hand, there are many ways, falling short of government censorship, to stifle and distort the free expression and discussion of opinions and ideas. A policy of blacklisting the writings of particular individuals, as has happened here to Dreger, is just one of those ways.

If Dreger has some incorrect views on trans rights issues, then by all means dispute them. But don't ostracise her for them, and don't smear her as some kind of transphobe when she is nothing of the sort. Those are silencing tactics. That is authoritarianism.

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