In the Star Trek episode “Remember Me”, the ship’s doctor Commander Beverley Crusher finds herself alone on board the Enterprise as the physical universe collapses, slowly crushing the ship.
Our world is shrinking too.
Not the physical world though – the sphere of acceptable discourse.
Yet the average person cannot detect the process at this stage – they sit in the centre of it as it shrinks, vaguely aware of an increasing sense of claustrophobia, but as yet untouched by any real effects.
Those that first detect the shrinkage are those who spend considerable time at the border – those that are at the limits of acceptable discourse, pushing at the boundaries of free speech.
Journalists, comedians, political activists.
The effects upon them are becoming profound.
Journalists are becoming confined – in the case of Julian Assange, literally.
For others, the chilling effect is well captured by the late Bob Parry (broke Iran-Contra), who died recently. He said……
“More and more I would encounter policymakers, activists and, yes, journalists who cared less about a careful evaluation of the facts and logic and more about achieving a pre-ordained geopolitical result – and this loss of objective standards reached deeply into the most prestigious halls of the media. This perversion of principles –twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending the journalistic principles of skepticism and evenhandedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues”
Comedians are being told they cannot express themselves in ways likely to offend – Konstantin Kisin was asked to sign a “behavioural contract” by the School of Oriental and African Studies (part of the University of London) which “would have stopped the 35-year-old from telling jokes which were not “respectful and kind” and banned twelve forms of offence. The form declared: “By signing this contract, you are agreeing to our no-tolerance policy with regards to racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism. Student leaders argued that the contract was necessary to preserve the student union as a “safe space” and a place for “joy, love and acceptance”.
And political commentators are being constrained and de-platformed – Ben Shapiro has encountered ongoing problems on college campuses, Jordan Peterson has endured a lengthy attempt at character assassination by the mainstream media (this laughable attempt by C4’s Cathy Newman being the most hamfisted of them all) and even Germaine Greer has fallen foul of the thought police for her views on gender.
These types of people will always be the ones that endure first the crushing outer rim of our shrinking sphere, and we should surely listen to their warnings and be disturbed by their persecution?
Because although there is still plenty of elbow room for us in our lives, as yet untouched by controversy, history teaches us that a once the sphere of acceptable public discourse starts to shrink, it’s not long before those in power with a political agenda in constraining criticism start to control and then accelerate the process by insisting that language that they don’t like should be considered anathema.
And that way lies tyranny, which usually costs blood to defeat.