BY EFFIE DEANS
I had only vaguely heard of US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene before Twitter banned her. From what little I have read of her I disagree with what she has said about Covid, vaccines and many other issues. But I can only disagree with her if I am allowed to know what she says and thinks. By banning her from expressing non-mainstream opinions I am prevented from even being aware that these views are held. But the problem with this is that some non-mainstream viewpoints have in the past turned out to be true.
The media could argue that it should only allow people to express views that are true. But the problem with this is who is to determine whether a view is true or false? The scientific consensus would certainly argue that Jesus Christ did not walk on water, nor did he turn water into wine. If a someone today claimed that he could cure Covid by touch, the scientific establishment would certainly dismiss him as charlatan. But this means that by the standards of the banishment of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Pope should be banned from Twitter for claiming that Jesus Christ rose again on the third day.
Every saint requires miracles, but science tells us that miracles don’t happen and are contrary to all scientific laws. But then this means that anyone who expresses reliance on a saint, or who tells us that a saint helped in this way or that is likewise saying something that is false by the standards of science and should be given a number of strikes and then banned.
One of the difficulties with always going with the scientific consensus is that the history of science is full of theories that have been superseded. There are scientific theories which nearly every scientist believed to be true that later turned out to be false. Sometimes a single scientist has to fight against the whole scientific establishment in order to triumph in the end.
If I am told that nearly all reputable scientists believe something I will be inclined to take this as a good reason to believe it too, but I wouldn’t forbid anyone else from disagreeing as that single voice may well turn out to be correct. It probably won’t, but it just might.
I have witnessed from within universities being taken over by a sort of group think. Woke issues that were once peripheral to academic study have become the whole subject. The topics of race, gender, sexuality, slavery and colonialism which twenty or thirty years ago were barely touched on, have become so dominant that scarcely a book in the Arts or Social sciences is now studies which does not deal with one of them.
Ideas such as “white privilege”, “critical race theory” and the existence of multiple genders and none, which almost no one believed even a short time ago have become so mainstream that they are barely even questioned with those who do question liable to cancelled.
The 1619 Project developed by the New York Times, which views the whole history of the USA through the prism of slavery, arguing indeed that the American Revolution only occurred as a means of avoiding the abolition of slavery, depends on a self-hatred that would have been unthinkable a short time ago. It is as if an enemy of the USA wanted to undermine its people’s patriotism, self-belief and will to defend itself. Here is not an impartial sifting of the historical evidence, but rather condemnation beforehand and a search for evidence that fits in with the theory.
But if universities can be taken over by odd theories that no one believed until a few years ago, if trigger warnings can go from something ludicrous, to something obligatory in the space of five years, then can we really be sure when establishment orthodoxy represents the truth and when it does not?
I have been inclined for the most part to go through the pandemic doing what I have been told to do. We each have different temperaments. I am naturally cautious. I am shielding my mother and anyway I prefer to stay at home. I have been vaccinated three times and will get a fourth if offered. But like many others I have had some doubts about the wisdom of this or that pandemic policy. I have reflected on the numbers of people who might have died because they didn’t get treatment for cancer, plus the numbers of jobs lost and school careers ruined. I have at times questioned. The ability to question the established orthodoxy is what makes us a free society.
I am not a lockdown sceptic, nor a vaccine sceptic. I disagree with these views. But I would not ban people from thinking these thoughts or expressing them. If we ban people for expressing views, we think to be false this time, what about next time when the banned view turns out to be true?
I want the scientific consensus about vaccines and lockdown to be challenged vigorously, because if a theory is true it can stand up to some dissent and counterargument. The only way we can be safe in our scientific beliefs is if each of them is challenged to the limit.
If man made global warming is real as appears to be the case it can certainly survive a few voices crying in the wilderness that proclaim that instead we are heading for a new Ice Age. If our theories are sound and reflect reality, we don’t need to shut anyone up, nor do we need to ban them from Twitter.
Free speech is also about allowing people to say things that are false. If reality does not correspond to a statement, then it is unlikely to be believed by many for long. We must allow people to say things that are false, because how else can we protect a future Galileo or Copernicus or Pasteur from being banned for saying something the establishment believed to be false, but which in fact turned out to be true.
Who is to be the judge of what is true and what is false? It cannot be the BBC with its “fact checks”. Global warming is a fact, but so too the BBC thinks is a man giving birth. Twitter will allow without question the liberal orthodoxy, but initially forbid anyone from saying that the virus came from a Wuhan lab leak, until eventually this becomes the established view. One consensus is overthrown by another.
We all need a bit more humility about the truths we believe. We could be wrong. Better by far to allow those I disagree with to express freely what they believe than run the risk of someone deciding that what I believe is forbidden. So, I protect your right to speak falsely in order that I may tell the truth.
Neither the BBC nor Twitter can determine what the truth is. Only reality can do that. Even when there is a scientific consensus it may be overthrown. The greatest story ever told would have been banned by Twitter as misleading the gullible public into thinking that they need not worry about dying from Covid because a man born of a virgin could make the blind see and the lame walk and so could certainly raise them up again like Lazarus. All of this is contrary to everything that science teaches.
If you ban Marjorie Taylor Greene you might as well ban Jesus Christ too.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.