...free to think freely


18th January 2022

Public, Private, and Freedom

Talking to a friend yesterday about the party to which I belong I found myself explaining the difference between that party and the Liberal Democrats. I listed two: Europe and Wokeism. This led to quite a lengthy discussion in which she said she had no objection to a “trans woman” using a women’s toilet because she thought people should be able to choose how to live as long as it affected nobody else. However, she was very much against the extremists who she believes set “trans people” back by making demands which deny others their own autonomy. She cited the case of lesbian women who felt pressured into accepting advances from people who look like men and being called transphobic because they don’t fancy them.

My current opinion differs from hers at several points of detail, but what struck me was her point about people being free to make decisions which do not affect others. Reflecting on that led me to think in more detail about what it is not to affect other people and how that is actually at the heart of the definition of Diverse Diversity.

Another word for something I choose, do, or believe which does not affect others is Private, whereas something which does affect others is Public, and that is the nub of the whole issue. It is, I think, quite reasonable to say I should be able to be whatever I believe I am in private, and even to own that in public, but that is about my beliefs and actions. What I cannot reasonably do, is try to control other people. If I encounter people who do not accept what I believe, I am entitled to argue my case, though I cannot force them to listen. If they do listen, they are entitled to respond with an argument from their own position. That is how knowledge advances as arguments are weighed.

The problem comes when I start to insist others accept my position even though my argument does not convince tham, or I demand they accept my position without any justification. Then I have invaded their private space and I deny them the ability to be themselves by insisting they conform to my view of the world. It is all about autonomy and the fact we cannot push our own freedom to the point where it denies someone else’s. That is not respectful.

I think most people would accept people ought to be able to do what they like inside their own home, especially if they live alone. If they live with others they need to be respectful of the needs of the others and that might limit their freedom to do whatever they like. However, when they pass through their front door into the street they are no longer in private and their behaviour must reflect that. Of course, even in our homes we should take care not to disturb neighbours in theirs by, for instance, making a lot of noise. In the street, though, we are on show and need to moderate our behaviour accordingly.

Deciding to go outside is a private decision, but once in a public space I have to interact with others and must avoid doing so in ways which impinge negatively on them. If I drive, there are rules I must obey. Even as a pedestrian, it isn’t legitimate for me to wander in and out of the road in a manner causing danger to myself or the traffic. I am entitled to walk down the street, but not in a way which endangers others.

Wokeist tyranny arises from a failure to respect the boundary between the private and the public. Wokeism tries to make the private opinions of the wokeists the public policy of everyone else, denying them the right to privacy and demanding only those who agree with the wokeist’s beliefs take part in public life. Wokeism does not expect to argue its case but to demand unquestioning allegiance to its claims through intimidation or slander. Wokeists seek to control through coercion instead of convincing through a logical case. All this is an imposition on the private freedom of everyone else.

This control can take many forms. I have already mentioned intimidation and slander. Another is the control of language. Language is both private inasmuch as I use it to express my own views and might use it in special ways to do so, but must also be public if others are to understand what I say. By forbidding the use of words I can limit what others can say, and by coining others I can set up false binaries where none really exist or make novel concepts seem normal. In the opening paragraph I have used several terms I would not normally use, but as I was summarising what someone else told me I had to reflect the language she used, rather than concepts I would own. The plentiful use of the terms trans man and trans woman, for example, bounces the reader or hearer over the controversy about whether, and in what sense, such states of being actually exist. The extension of these by adopting stereochemical terms to create an opposition between these states and that of everyone else adds a false sense of scientific legitimacy despite the actual meaninglessness of using terms intended to apply to molecules for human beings, for we are not molecules. Wokeism seeks to control by controlling the terminology in which thought on the issues can take place, and thereby controlling what can be thought.

This sleight of voice depends on the very fact it seeks to deny – the binary nature of human psychology. We come in two forms, male and female and, I would suggest, that is so central to much of our social interaction and to the survival of our species that it colours our whole view of the world. We tend to see the world in terms of opposites. Electricity is understood in terms of negative and positive, magnetism as North and South. Two different lighting levels have become light and dark. Temperatures are hot and cold. People are good or evil. Most of these are not true opposites, simply differences we analyse as equal and opposite deviations from some arbitrary mid-point norm. Even male and female are not true opposites. We might be on opposite ends of a transaction in sexual intercourse, but at all other times men and women are simply two varieties of the same thing – the human person. Opposition is a perception we see everywhere, because that’s how our minds work, and that opposition is a convenient tool for manipulating people’s thoughts when arguments are weak.

Which brings me to the obvious question. If people resort to control and coercion to induce others to accept their position, is that because they have no convincing argument to offer? If they have such an argument, why don’t they use it? What do they fear that they use fear to silence debate?