Picking and choosing

But David Edgar sees things differently. He sees them strangely, too.

For most of the past 30 years, being in favour of free speech meant being in favour of good things (notably honesty about sexuality) and against denial and repression…Now we are having to defend things we disapprove of, such as the glorification of terrorism or, indeed, calls for censorship. The conundrum that one of the things liberals have to tolerate is intolerance hasn’t needed to be at the forefront of debates on free expression before. It is now, and it should be.

‘One of the things liberals have to tolerate is intolerance.’ No it isn’t. I don’t subscribe to any principle that requires me to tolerate intolerance or to defend things I disapprove of; one of the principles I subscribe to is that things should always be judged on their merits. I think free speech is a good but I don’t think it’s the only good and I don’t think it should always trump other principles; I think it depends. I think free action is a good too, for that matter, but that doesn’t commit me to defending all actions; it depends.

Yes, it is bad for wives to have to obey husbands, or for parents to renounce gay children, but such attitudes were common among this continent’s indigenous peoples until relatively recently – and people coming to live in Europe should not be asked to disavow them as a condition of entry, any more than they should be forced to express opinions on any other matter.

Ah, but that’s not the issue – you’ve given yourself too easy a case there. What about ‘people – men, perhaps? – coming to live in Europe’ who beat their wives or daughters, who take their daughters out of school, who coerce them into marrying someone they don’t want to marry? Or who beat up their gay children rather than merely renouncing them? That’s the issue – not disavowals in airports, but actions.

The title of that bit of wisdom is ‘Sorry, but we can’t just pick and choose what to tolerate’ – which is quite laughable, in a depressing way. Yes we can. That’s exactly what we can do, and have to do, and do in fact do, all the time. We tolerate some things and not others, some actions and not others. Think again, David Edgar.

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