Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus, edited by spiked’s Tom Slater, is published today. Bringing together writers and campaigners from the US and UK, it is a polemic against intellectual conformity – a demand that the university be an Unsafe Space. Read an extract from the book below, and order your copy from Palgrave Macmillan before 25 April to get it half price.
The explosion of Safe Spaces on university campuses shows where censorship leads if you let it run rampant. That is, nowhere. Political, intellectual and scientific progress is incumbent upon the free exchange of ideas, allowing the space for bad, old ideas to be challenged and good, new ideas to emerge. Safe Spaces are not only censorious – they’re cowardly. They encourage students to barricade themselves in with the likeminded, wallow in their own self-righteousness, and never bother with trying to engage with, let alone change, the world around them.
Safe Spaces originated in women’s and gay liberation groups of the Seventies and Eighties. Even then they were not without their problems, but they were, at the very least, outward-looking. They offered a place in which individuals could take a step back, formulate their ideas and then go back out into the world and change things for the better. They were a means, rather than an end. Now, the Safe Space is the end. The greatest achievement is retreat.
If students and academics want to change the world, rather than seal themselves off from it, then they need to turn their universities into Unsafe Spaces - places where any idea, no matter how offensive, challenging or disturbing, can be aired and contested. Here’s how to do it.
Say No to No Platform
Banning a speaker you disagree with is a copout. Telling someone to shut up doesn’t change their mind. And sticking your fingers in your ears and saying ‘la, la, la, you’re not there’ doesn’t mean you’ve won the argument. All it does is push dodgy ideas out of sight and save you the bother of having to articulate and stand up for your own. If you disagree with someone, argue with them, and trust in the audience to make up their own minds.
Reject the right to be comfortable
Once, radicals demanded the right to vote, the right to abortion on demand and the right, above all, to express themselves. That the demand of today is the right to be comfortable – from the ‘emotional harm’ of bad ideas – tells you everything you need to know about modern student politics. If you want to be emotionally comfortable, go back to bed, or the womb. The real world can be a pretty uncomfortable place. If you want to live in it, you better get used to it.