My abiding memory of this fairly appalling year is of the face of the young student at Durham University who shouted ‘Disgusting!’ at me as I left the main college building. This followed a very short speech I’d given to about 250 students but which, I suspect, he hadn’t heard because he’d probably walked out before it began. That, incidentally, is one of the reasons this story in which I find myself took a comparatively long while to break.
The speech was on a Friday evening — but it wasn’t until Monday, at the earliest, that the lefties got themselves into a real lather. Until then it had simply been a speech at which a very small minority of students had walked out before it began, neatly choreographed, for the simple reason that I was giving it. Only later did they read what I’d said and thus duly got themselves properly aerated. Can I suggest to the lefties that this is an object lesson? It is far better to stay and listen to someone speaking than walk out before they’ve opened their mouths, because then you have a chance to get really cross about what was actually said, instead of fuming about what merely might have been said.
Anyway, this kid, the one who shouted ‘Disgusting’. I came back into the building to ask him what about me was disgusting. I can think of quite a few things that he could alight upon. I sometimes wear the same boxer shorts for days, for example. I have a habit of picking my teeth with thin slivers of card. But this stuff, if he knew about it, wasn’t what bothered him. ‘Hello — what exactly is it you find disgusting?’ I asked in an affable manner. He was tall and with an intelligent face. Faces, of course, can be deceiving. ‘Your views,’ he replied, particularly with regard to transgender issues, which he described as ‘hate speech’.
Ah. I said to him: ‘Look, we both want the same thing — that transgendered people should be able to enjoy lives without fear or discrimination. The only difference is that, for largely biological reasons, I don’t think that a man who transitions into a woman actually is a woman, scientifically, whereas you think that is an essentialist position and believe that they are actually a woman. So we have a difference of opinion. And we can talk about it as we are now, amenably. But my opinion is scarcely one of hatred, is it? It is hardly disgusting?’
To this he had no answer. His face was a mask of confusion. He was confused not by my terfist position on transgenderism, which he must have heard many times before, but by the fact that he was debating, reasonably, with somebody who was the fount of all known evil. It simply did not compute. He began to withdraw from the discussion, still looking perplexed. Nearby, one of his allies, a female student, screamed: ‘You think all Muslims are savages!’ At which point I left. It had been like talking to someone from a cult.
They are kids, of course. I have no great objection to them not wanting to hear me, and though I disagree with them on a bunch of social issues, I wouldn’t condemn them for their beliefs. They are, I think, very misguided but the intention behind their hyper-liberalism is largely benign.
What is not benign, though, is their implacability — and this gets us to the root of the problem. These kids have never had their views challenged, they have never been gainsaid. Through years of secondary school, their world view has been created in a vacuum, every shibboleth, no matter how absurd, indulged by their teachers. They are wholly unfamiliar with the notion of an opposing argument. And so when they meet one, their response is to run away with their hands over their ears and then scream abuse from a safe distance. One of the poor kids said she was left ‘literally shaking’ when she read (later) what I had said. Stop shaking, then. Man up a bit. It’s just an opposing view. Use logic, facts and rhetoric to defeat it. Don’t just sit there crying.
The worst of it is they are still indulged even when they get to university. The authorities at Durham immediately took the side of the literally shaking, screaming, minority of extremists who had walked out and later held a demo demanding the right never to be subjected to opinions with which they disagreed. The authorities concurred with them: indeed, they should never have to listen to stuff with which they might disagree or even take offence. It is their right never to have to do so. Such a strange position for a university to take.
Flailing around in their blind panic, the students then took it out on the professor who had invited me to their college, an old and valued friend called Tim Luckhurst, who has been effectively suspended from his duties at the university and now, ludicrously, fears for his job. The university knew in September that I would be coming to speak, because Tim was kind enough to have told them. But now, in what seemed a pathetic — to use a choice word — attempt at ingratiating themselves with the far left of the student body, the university has retrospectively taken offence. Their treatment of Professor Luckhurst has been beyond despicable.
And yet it has come to be what we expect from universities, hasn’t it? What we expect, and what we get, are proud proclamations of their commitment to freedom of speech followed by the immediate disavowal of that commitment and the persecution of anyone who has taken that proclamation at face value. The kids, meanwhile, will continue hearing only one view, because who now would invite a social conservative to speak at a British university?