Stephen Fry has criticised what he perceives as the erosion of free speech in the practices of avoiding ‘trigger’ words, creating ‘safe spaces’, and ‘no-platforming’ controversial speakers – policies that are often associated with university campuses across the UK.
Speaking to Dave Rubin on US TV, Fry was asked about what the interviewer called, “the regressive left, coming after language and free speech,” and whether this has become an issue in Britain.
“We fear that it’s going to happen more and more,” Fry replied, “because America leads and Britain follows in all kinds of ways. I think it started to happen in Britain with the attempted removal of statues of people who are considered unlikable – who were once beloved – and have become in a very 1984 way, ‘unpersons’.”
The 58-year-old actor and author then criticised what he identified as “deep infantilism” in modern society, and said people needed to grow up.
“In terms of how they think, they can’t bear complexity,” he said. “The ideas that things aren’t easy to understand. They want to be told, or they want to be able to decide and say, this is good, and this is bad, and anything that conflicts with that is not to be borne.”
He added that such a had manifested itself on student campuses across the country.
“There are many great plays which contain rapes, and the word rape now is even considered a rape. They’re terrible things and they have to be thought about, clearly, but if you say you can’t watch this play, you can’t watch Titus Andronicus, you can’t read it in an English class, or you can’t watch Macbeth because it’s got children being killed in it, it might trigger something when you were young that upset you once, because uncle touched you in a nasty place, well I’m sorry.
“It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place – you get some of my sympathy – but your self pity gets none of my sympathy.”
He added, “Self pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is we’ll feel sorry for you, if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Grow up.”
The argument around the line between free speech, and protecting the feelings of students has become a point of conflict at many universities around the UK.
Last week in Scotland, it was reported that a student was told she had violated a safe space by raising her hand during a debate.
Meanwhile back in February, life-long LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was subject to ‘no platforming’ threats ahead of a debate at Canterbury Christ Church University, after signing a letter opposing the tactic and defending peoples’ right to espouse anti-LGBT sentiment.
He described it as an example of “a witch-hunting, accusatory atmosphere,” symptomatic of a decline in “open debate on some university campuses”.