If you want to learn, be humble, or the more accurate quote from Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher is “Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

We live in an age where discussion and debate is limited to the outpourings on Facebook and Twitter, where insulting and shouting down someone else with opposing views is the norm, and ultimately with another modern day disease …. “no platforming”. So many British Universities have no-platform policies banning people from speaking at debates whose opinions they disagree with. In some cases academics and visiting professors have been banned from speaking about their research too. I get the feeling that in their respective countries many years ago the arguments between Newton and Leibniz would have been no-platformed too! Discussion and disagreement is no longer about learning, it’s only about winning!

A further and more pernicious example is now occurring in Ealing where Pro Life activists are banned from “demonstrating” outside an abortion clinic. The local councils have used specific powers to create a “buffer zone” around the clinic. The local MP is attempting to have such buffer zones implemented nationwide. The fact that these zones are in public areas and there is no example of intimidation or abuse seems to have passed them by! Pro Life offer prayer and advisory services! In fact ALL of the intimidation and violence has come from a group trying to have Pro Life banned! The reason that the councils are creating this no protest zone is because they have no evidence whatsoever of intimidation or violence to prosecute someone with. A magistrate would throw the case out when he heard that all they were doing was handing out leaflets and offering advice.

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My final example is of the current furore surrounding the Rivers of Blood speech, as it’s called, by Enoch Powell from 1968 in which he spoke out against mass immigration …… but didn’t actually use those words “rivers of blood”! The speech is due to be broadcast again (today) after 50 years (BBC programme) and as you might imagine there are various groups and individuals around the country “foaming at the mouth” (only a metaphor you understand) to have it banned. I’m willing to bet that a great many of these protesters have never heard the speech and are being driven by group-think. Actually, I have never heard the speech either but I would quite like to hear it as I am more than capable of forming my own opinion of it thank you very much!

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So, “discussion and disagreement are dead” if one group, however minor it may be, dislikes or is offended by something ….. it’s banned, outlawed, made illegal even. And THIS is what’s making the world overall a far more dangerous place, NOT a standoff between Russia and America …. because they  discuss and then disagree! Our culture and society advances on the back of disagreement, because debate and disagreement conducted in a civilised manner can open up new positions, compromises, and a middle ground that satisfies ALL. We’ve lost it!

Here’s a general philosophical article recently posted about the death of disagreement, think of your own examples, search your own experiences.

 

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