Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tonight we burn responsibility in the fire - banning papers is wrong

I think sometimes the answers to many deep moral questions lie where they always do, in a Jam song.

After hearing about the latest University student union to embarrass itself by passing a motion to ban sale of The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express from their shop, I couldn't help but hark back to Funeral Pyre by The Jam, a pounding warning against the book burners of fascism.

Down in amongst the streets tonight
Books will burn, people laugh and cry in their turmoil
(turmoil turns rejoiceful)

On its own it really doesn't matter what a single union shop in London agrees to stock, or not. My local newsagent doesn't sell copies of Investor's Chronicle because people don't walk in off the street and buy it. So the truism remains, if you don't like something, don't buy it.

Shed your fears and lose your guilt
Tonight we burn responsibility in the fire
Well watch the flames grow higher!
But if you get too burnt, you can't come back home

I've looked at the motion passed at City University last week and a barely comprehensible one tabled in support of the censorious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that seems to think the country most worthy of student ire is the only stable parliamentary democracy in the Middle East.

We feast on flesh and drink on blood
Live by fear and despise love in a crises
(what with today's high prices)
Bring some paper and bring some wood
Bring what's left of all your love for the fire

It would be a cop-out to point out that barely 200 students attended the meeting. So would it to point out that I tend not to buy the Daily Express or The Sun. I do however skim read the Daily Mail when I see it knocking around and do occasionally buy the Mail on Sunday. I like Peter Hitchens, Rachel Johnson and Dan Hodges and I think the investigations into financial malpractice by the Financial Mail team play a key role in keeping the sector honest. I also happen to agree with much of what Alastair Campbell has to say about the Mail generally - the worst of Britain's values posing as the best. But who do you think really benefits from this censorious showboating in the name of fighting racism?

And as I was standing by the edge
I could see the faces of those who led pissing their selves laughing
Their mad eyes bulged their flushed faces said
The weak get crushed as the strong grow stronger

One of the paradoxes of our times has been the knee-jerk reaction to things we don't like and a quick call to ban things. I'm convinced it's formed a key plank of the backlash against liberalism that has resulted in Brexit, Donald Trump and the triumph of identity politics that has defined Labour's core purpose over and above looking to represent working people.

Instead of all this, let me tell you a story about about how two mates of mine met. They were on a flight to Europe to watch England somewhere and caught each other's eye because they'd both bought The Guardian and The Sun. When I lived in Bristol a fellow Labour activist once spotted me at our local newsagent and asked an assumptive question that I'd come to get my Guardian. I purposefully bought the Financial Times and the Sun that day.

We seem to have lost that ability to think plurally and open ourselves up to other ideas. Social media has undoubtedly made this worse. Our algorithms set to validation, agreement and that ever more hostile view of anything that isn't in our sphere.

Censorship is always wrong, always.

But the greater tragedy in all of this is we've created a funeral pyre in our own minds.

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