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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Censoring Ourselves

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When fascists come to power, their first act is to stifle free speech such that their one-dimensional view is all that can be heard in the new political climate. But a healthy democracy also exercises censorship - in the self-reflexive form. Whilst theoretically preserving the right of anyone in a democracy to speak out, in practice we are made through our free press and our right to vote hyper-sensitive to extremism, such that the immoral voices that are the inevitable tributaries of an all-encompassing political system rarely flow into the mainstream.

There is consequently a fine line between the shape of censorship from above, which is the hallmark of fascism, and the result of censorship from below, which is the mark of a democracy. It is a line which was drawn - not finely, but in the mass of two opposing crowds - outside the Oxford Union last night, and one that those protesting against the debate started to cross. Naturally I deplore David Irving, and am aware that his writing is opinion masquerading as "history"; the facts of the Holocaust simply do not sustain Holocaust denial. Likewise, Nick Griffin is a right-wing thug in a pin stripe suit. But to prevent these two from sharing a platform, from exercising their right to speak their misguided minds, shows perhaps the more worrying move in politics than fascism (given that the BNP have no chance of power): the belief that a politically correct society which maintains a monoculture of opinion equates to a politically healthy one.

It does not. A democratically robust society is one in which Griffin and Irving are permitted to raise their voices, so that the majority of us - supported by the proof of the factual errors of Holocaust denial and our historical knowledge of where the right wing has the potential to lead us - can censor them through the evidence alone, allowing the facts to speak for themselves on our behalf. As it is, the chants outside the windows of the Union building were - inadvertently, naively - ringing out for the central censorship Griffin himself would probably like to exercise. Were this debate to have taken place outside a mosque in Bradford or a Synagogue in Israel, I would have some sympathy with the protesters, presuming them to be driven by personal anxiety rather than a misguided reason (and it is true that when the BNP comes to town, racist incidents increase). As it is, for such scenes to occur in that great secular cathedral of supposedly enlightened and rational debate, the University of Oxford, is deeply depressing. At least one of the newest universities, East Anglia, is leading the way by rejecting the NUS policy on "no platform for fascists."

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Posted by Alistair at 1:29 pm


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