The free speech – hate speech dilemma

Populism is fuelled in part by political correctness that tells people their views cannot be aired. That was one conclusion of a panel of experts last week at a launch of a report by the think tank Demos. Those discussing the report, “Mediating populism”, thought that if views are silenced, they do not disappear, they only go underground to reappear more vigorously in the future, trampling on bounds of “acceptable” discourse. For example in Germany, where the Third Reich is taught as the most sombre warning, the suggestion that ordinary soldiers could be remembered well has morphed into a recommendation from a far-right leader that alarmed many Germans. The co-founder of the increasingly popular Alternative für Deutschland said Germans should be proud of soldiers’ actions in the two world wars just as Brits are proud of Nelson or Churchill.

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What the snow isn’t telling us

The thermometer outside my window this morning read minus 3 degrees Celcius, or so I discovered once I had dusted off the overnight snow fall from it. A mile from central London.

People say we’re experiencing a winter “how it used to be”. One could dream that Nature had forgiven us our decades – centuries – of burning excesses and had graciously turned the clock back.

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Archbishop Welby’s Lent author rejects ‘lazy’ formula of God as ‘He’

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book this year comes from an Italian academic and Benedictine monk called Luigi Gioia, who chided himself as “lazy” for not finding ways to describe God other than “He”.

The book itself, Say it to God: In search of prayer (Bloomsbury), is an insightful and thought-provoking meditation on dialogue with God, which Lord Williams, presenting it in his successor’s absence (Welby was in Switzerland), hoped would become an “instant classic of the English-speaking world”.

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Priests, Savile, Weinstein, Oxfam: What do the abuse scandals have in common? And it’s not sex

It happened in the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church was blamed.

It happened in the Anglican Churches and the Anglican Churches were blamed.

It happened in the BBC and its most loyal defenders cried, “Surely not!”

It happened in football clubs and a helpline for victims was quickly overwhelmed.

It happened in Hollywood and people began to talk of a culture of exploitation.

Now it has happened in the aid world and reports this week are urgently examining why.

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What’s curious about the Presidents Club dinner

Forgive me for being late to the afterparty with this, but the now-notorious the Presidents Club charity dinner touches on more issues than first meet the eye.

It’s easy to be appalled by the dinner, where women working as hostesses were instructed to wear skimpy dresses, and its afterparty, at which some of the guests – wealthy business leaders – harassed and groped some of them.

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Why do people say stupid things on Twitter?

If you had 140 characters with which to say write something that would be visible across the whole internet, why would you say something petty or offensive? Yet our habits on Twitter, which has 330m users, suggest we often do just that.

Toby Young, journalist, schools pioneer and Twitter abuser, enjoyed a reign shorter than Lady Jane Grey’s before quitting as non-executive director on the board of the new regulatory Office for Students.

His comments about women’s breasts, lesbians, another man’s breath (guess you had to be there) and apparently underworked teachers, ranged from vile to unfortunate-given-his-new-role-involving-students. He has since deleted thousands of tweets, but opponents have treasured up a choice few and republished them. Nothing really dies in cyberspace – except dignity.

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Brexit: why a rematch is democratic

When is the will of the people not the will of the people? Daniel Finkelstein argued in The Times yesterday that a second referendum on Brexit could not be held because “the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge”. He also characterised the June 2016 vote as when millions of people “challenged the interests and attitudes of the political establishment”.

But he depicts a simpler picture than – and the politicians he cites failed to foresee – the fractious muddle we have ended up with. For a start, we are talking about the will of 52 per cent of voters. And it has since emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg put out tweets about Brexit. So we may be falling over ourselves to uphold a result that reflects the will of some wily Russian hackers.

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