Academics Supporting Censorship and Suppression of Ideas
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
14 December 2022
When we think of censorship and the suppression of ideas, we don’t usually think of academics engaging in either. Historically, that is not the case. Academics have been wheeled out time and again to support reactionary ideas and even the suppression or censorship of ideas they do not agree with or offend their paymasters. Recently academics at Edinburgh University have engaged in both through their union, UCU, of all things.
The recently produced documentary Adult Human Female is at the centre of the controversy. The film deals with the issue of women’s rights and how those rights are being eroded, when not eliminated completely through the advance of a trans right movement that seeks to remove women only spaces, reducing the meaning of woman to that of a feeling any man can sign up to whenever he feels like it. The film is available online,(1) however, the decision by Edinburgh University to allow a screening of the film to be hosted by Academics for Academic Freedom provoked the ire of not only trans activists but also of other academics at the university. That a given group of academics would disagree or object on moral, intellectual or philosophical grounds to a film is not only their right, it is to be expected. The whole point of academic debate, peer review of articles, and debate is that all ideas are open to challenge, should be debated and argued about. Some ideas should even be opposed, in the sense of not being accepted as valid. But that is not what is happening here. The UCU called for the film not to be shown.(2) They asked for the film to be suppressed without actually seeing it. But even if they had seen it, the decision would be highly problematic for academics.
Yes, part of the problem is the vexatious issue of trans rights and the infringement upon women’s rights. It is difficult to separate the content and arguments of the film from the call to cancel the showing. In the end the film makers argue for the defence of women’s rights against the current fad and assault on science and reality that women don’t exist, outside of the mind and feelings of those who say they are women and that there is no material basis to being a woman. However, there is an issue with how academics approach such topics. Part of the current war on rational thought includes the slogan of no debate, no platform for those who disagree with the trans activists on this issue. Indeed, people such as Kathleen Stock, Germaine Greer and others have found themselves in situations where calls were made for them to be banned from events where they were due to speak on topics that had nothing to do with the issue of trans. A similar situation arises with increasing frequency in the US on the issue of Palestine, where academics and activists find themselves banned because of their support for Palestinians and even find themselves being accused of anti-semitism and losing their jobs.
Marxists and the wider left, including liberals have traditionally defended the right to freedom of speech to varying degrees. Some have at the same time defended their right to protest about the meetings, events etc. but not the call for censorship. Not calling for the censorship of a film is not the same as thinking it is a good idea.
Ireland has a long history of censorship, in a country dominated by Catholic dogmatists who wielded power in the state institutions and the universities, they attacked, vilified and suppressed those who disagreed with them on various issues such as the conflict in the north, divorce, abortion rights, contraception and books on abortion were still being banned as late as 2012. The Catholic high priests in the universities did their worst. The modern-day priests of the woke movement, just like the Catholic priests believe there are sins for which there can be no forgiveness and that the sinners must repent, though repentance is not always enough. The apology must frequently be abject and humiliating.
Films were regularly banned or denied a screening in Ireland. The Life of Brian was one such film and I listened to a pirate tape of it, long before I got to see the film. It was considered blasphemous. It does contain a scene where one of the protagonists says he wants to be a woman and have babies. He is ridiculed by the rest of the cast. That joke would probably be deleted if such a film were made nowadays. Likewise the French director Jean-Luc Godard’s film Hail Mary was also banned in Ireland as late as 1985. I had to see it in at an illegal showing. It was also considered blasphemous. Joseph didn’t believe Mary’s tale of how she became pregnant, so the Archangel Gabriel came down, gave him a few slaps and knocked some sense into him. And now in 2021, the new high priests are banning films such as this one and also the earlier film Dysphoric.(3)
What else does UCU disagree with? Are there are any books that UCU feel should not be stocked in university libraries? Let’s start with Mein Kampf, a thoroughly objectionable piece of work, but one that the late Marxist historian Rayner Lysaght once commented to me was worth reading if only to know what the enemy’s argument was. Or let’s pick a more mainstream book, The Clash of Civilisations by Samuel P. Huntington, a book that became a reference point for right-wingers as it put forward a basically racist argument about future conflicts being between “retrograde” Islamic societies and “forward looking” Christian societies and gave this nonsense an academic veneer. His book is widely available in university libraries throughout the world, despite its use as justification for Bush’s reactionary War on Terror.
No one called for it to be banned, withdrawn from university libraries or anything of the sort. Instead, Tariq Ali wrote a reply The Clash of Fundamentalisms which explained how in reality the US had and still finances Islamic fundamentalists and played a key role in their rise. He also spoke about US fundamentalism and modern-day colonialism. His book sold well but not nearly as well as Huntington’s and is not as widely available in libraries.(4) And of course his book is better than that pseudo intellectual rubbish from Francis Fukuyama, The End of History.
In the US, right-wingers have always sought to have books banned or removed from public libraries or school libraries. In 2021 – 2022, 1,600 books were banned in different school libraries in the country.(5) Some of them are books by transgender activists, in fact the number one spot is a transactivist book, showing that they are also victims of the same tactics they employ themselves. Amongst other titles are The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Though over a longer time frame, books such as Animal Farm, 1984, Of Mice and Men crop up as clear winners of this “prize”. Anne Frank’s diary even gets banned.(6) Of course, other books such as Abigail Sheir’s Irreversible Damage was suppressed commercially with Amazon cancelling a paid advertisement. Amazon’s attempt backfired which frequently happens with attempts to censor.
If films screenings can be cancelled, so too can books as we have seen in the US. I shudder to think that UCU will soon call for Kathleen Stock’s book Material Girls to be banned as well. It is a slippery reactionary slope they are on. They are also wrong about the issue. No one can change sex and women’s rights are under attack by men. The union dragged its heels for years whilst Kathleen Stock was being harassed on campus by students, on whom a university education is wasted. The situation got to a point where cameras were installed to protect her, but the students were not expelled for their threats of violence. UCU eventually put out a mealy-mouthed statement about defending her academic freedom and then put in the big BUT about trans. In order words they essentially justified what had happened to her.
But they were very energetic and quick off the mark to get a film showing cancelled. It says a lot about academia, the current sorry state of universities and the churning out of molly coddled, highly sensitive idiots who think they should never have to face reality, that they can define reality away. It is as Engels put it about authority, “These gentlemen think that when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves.”(7) You can’t change reality by redefining it. You can call men women, but that doesn’t make them women. You can cancel films or ban books, that doesn’t and won’t make the issue go away, and you would think academics understood that. But apparently not. Those who support this nonsense deserve to have their doctorate’s cancelled, as they apparently can’t use their critical faculty at all and their support for censorship will go in history as the infamous act of cowards.
(1) The film can be seen at https://adulthumanfemale.info
(3) Film can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8taOdnXD6o
(4) The book can be obtained from Verso Books https://www.versobooks.com/books/852-the-clash-of-fundamentalisms
(5) CBS News (10/11/2022) The 50 most banned books in America https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/the-50-most-banned-books-in-america/
(7) Engels, F. (1872) On Authority https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1872/10/authority.htm