On the Recent Stephen Fry’s Interview Blunder

A response I wrote on Facebook, discussing the issue of his “victim blaming”


In short, Stephen Fry has infuriated many people on the internet by taking a position against political correctness going as far as removing statues or disinviting speakers from campuses. The most outrageous of his arguments was a comment about self-pity felt by victims of for instance sexual abuse as being the worst mental or emotional state one can be in, and that one should strive to get over it, rather than demand it being used as a basis for policy.

If you want to check out the interview for yourselves first, here it is:

My opinion on the matter is that there are many different things that can offend many different people, and if you accept the guiding principle of policy to be allowing censorship of offensive things, there will be a lot that will cease to be discussed in any public space.

Stephen Fry is not advocating sexual abuse, and therefore it’s not fair in my opinion to viciously attack him as if he was. What he says quite reasonably is that he would prefer for the offensive thing to be out there so that he and everyone else could point to it and criticize it, openly.

I’m personally offended by great many things, some of which do make me feel all kinds of strong negative emotions about certain people or myself, but I would personally not aim to silence anyone who’s trying to express his or her opinion of them. Let’s not forget that hate speech, while generally awful and of course insulting, is not actually exactly the same thing as doing the thing it apologizes for or advocates.

I can understand why it would seem that way to some people for whom this issue is personal, but I don’t see Fry’s opinion about self-pity being a mental state to overcome as a mean-spirited attack in the slightest. I’m not sure I agree with it on a personal level, but it is not victim blaming. Victim blaming is when you say that someone deserved an abuse to be committed on them. What Fry is saying is that it’s healthy to overcome a negative personal mindset that being abused can put you in.

And no, I’m not his fanboy. I don’t mind him, but if anything, I’m more of a Hugh Laurie person. I just think that a world with offensive things in it on public display is actually a place where the real problems get dealt with more. I don’t see how taboos help to address any issue.

If you don’t want to listen to someone speak, then don’t. If you don’t want to invite a speaker, then don’t. But there’s a difference between not inviting a speaker and then protesting them as they speak, and inviting a speaker and then protesting him or her so that they get disinvited before they speak. They will still exist with their offensive opinions doing things in the world, and the world won’t get any better, just more oblivious.

In the Czech Republic and many European states, Nazism is such a taboo criminalized by law. Well, Neonazism still exists, and having an aura of forbidden fruit is not exactly a hindrance to it. Additionally, I find it very important for it to be discussed, especially at universities. I believe that intellectuals, such as college students of humanities, are the very last group of people to be shielded from the reality of the subject matter they’re presumably studying. Does this really make no sense to you?

An example. One teacher of security studies specializing in extremism (infiltrating extremist groups to study them) is known to do Nazi salute in class from time to time at my former faculty. Why? Maybe he’s gotten a bit crazy because of his occupation, maybe for shits and giggles (time honored Czech tradition), maybe because he can (there might be exception in the law for discussing the matter on campus for scientific purposes). It hasn’t turned anyone into a Nazi yet. And it is kinda relevant to the subject matter, isn’t it. It also does the opposite of censoring it, it makes one think.

I think I’ve done enough to hang myself already. If you disagree with me and I offend you with this opinion, I’m afraid you’ll have to try to get it deleted if you believe that disinviting speakers for being offensive is a justified policy.

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