Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Students should be *tort* the difference between objective and subjective wrong

Students are meant to convulse - if one can not rebel during late adolescence, then pretty quickly you run out of time and the varied pressures of earning a living, maintaining a relationship and/or a family enforce a conformity of one sort or another.

The inventive and occasionally wacky ways that students rebel stretch from placing traffic cones on the heads of statues, toga parties, to Trotskyism. Sometimes students get more serious and do things that require some kind of intervention, like an addiction to Class A drugs, attempted suicide and supporting Stalin (Yes, Seamus Milne, I am talking about you).

So far, so juvenile.

However, in both the US and the UK, there seems to have emerged a class of student whose infantilism rejects the entire course of Western civilisation. Someone has offended their feelings with statements that they disagree with. Yet instead of responding to a challenge to their point of view in the the approved academic way- with rational argument- they have sought to attack their disputants with threats and bullying based on the idea that because they themselves are offended, that this forms the sole point of view to judge the case and to punish the guilty- for guilt there must be.

Yet there is no crime in propounding views that others disagree with- or at least no statute crime. There is, in Common Law, the concept of tort, which is to say the claiming of civil remedy where the plaintiff alleges actual harm has been created by the actions of the defendant. This is what has distorted (no pun intended) the legal process in both the UK and the US, for after all who is to say where mental distress might be found? Physical harm, and actual loss are fairly straightforward- for there is physical proof. Mental distress is a function of opinion, and in the case of these students, they suggest that only their own opinion of how offended or upset they may be is valid. This flies in the face of thousands of years of Western thought by placing subjective feelings above objective analysis. 

Of course the side effect is that freedom of speech must be ever more diminished, and in the end any self-selecting group can shrilly claim hurt from those they disagree with. Even in the US, where freedom of speech is a right protected by the constitution is struggling with this illiberal challenge, in the UK the threat may be graver still.

So even though I may disagree with a point of view, and indeed no matter how offensive I may find find such views, I will indeed "defend to the death" the right of my opponents to have their differing points of view. The sole limit is a legal one: where threatening behaviour is used, then that is an objective, statute crime (SNP cybertrolls please note).

Being nasty to each other might be a moral wrong, but it is not a legal one. In fact it is those who have hectored and bullied who are in the wrong, both subjectively and objectively too, since they objectively threaten the root of our entire system of freedom.  

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