Trigger Warning – Mick Hume

Written By Jake Garner

“To seek to ban the right to hate should be seen as no less an outrageous interference in the freedom to think for ourselves than a tyrant banning the right to love. The best way to counter hatreds and ideas we despise is not to try and bury them alive, but to drag them out into the light of day and debate them to the bitter end.”

Trigger Warning: Noun: A statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc. alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing or offensive material.

Mick Hume’s more concise version of his book by the same name, Trigger Warning, is everything a political eye-opener should be. Though the particular version in discussion here is, as mentioned, a shortened version of the original book, there still remains a clear focus among its small pages; that of ‘free speech’. Hume has one question which he aims to resolve over the course of the minuscule tome; is the fear of being offensive killing off free speech? In this article I don’t want to express my own subjective opinion on the matter, but instead I want to highlight the brilliant way in which Hume tackles the important question.

“The biggest victim is not the one who is taking offence; it is the rest of us, robbed of the opportunity for open-minded discussion and free debate that offers our best hope at the truth and deciding a way forward on controversial issues.”

In the midst of a genre that is saturated by political thinkers and overly complicated books, Hume manages to introduce the idea of free speech, and the problems that work to hinder it, in a way that is digestible to the reader. His points in favour of complete free speech are made clearly, assembling them together using a neat systematic approach that allows for a wider audience and reception. There is certainly no intense or supreme ‘intellectuality’ needed by the reader in order to access his ideas. Instead, Hume challenges the notions that hinder free speech using eight smart chapters, each one dealing with a different issue. Seriously, why in fu*k’s name can other great political thinkers not write in the same manner? Mick Hume truly is the Brian Cox of political thought. I mean, don’t get me wrong here, I do enjoy other political writers too, but sometimes it is a case of wading through an overuse of unnecessary jargon just to get to the point. If there is one thing, alongside the argument for free speech put forward in the book, it is that I am now a fan of Hume. Give yourself a pat on the back, I insist.

“As one US commentator had it in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, ‘The “but” in the phrase “I believe in free speech but” is bigger than Kim Kardashian’s [and] has more wiggle-room than Jennifer Lopez’s.”

In a short article, like others posted on That Fable Place, it would be a near impossible task to present to you a list of all his solutions and answers to the topic in question. That would just be downright silly now, wouldn’t it? The most I can do is offer a short insight into the subjects within Trigger Warning and give you a few ideas to ponder upon. What follows here is a list of issues that are often put forward by those who question free speech’s complete entitlement. It is during the course of Trigger Warning that Hume confronts each problem and offers an explanation as to why and how these sentences are working to kill the idea of ‘free speech’. It always comes back to the same point; is it offensive? Are these statements below not either ironic or contradictory to free speech itself?

  • ‘This is not a free speech issue.’
  • ‘Of course I believe in free speech, but…’
  • ‘We should defend free speech, but not hate speech.’
  • ‘Check your privilege before you speak to me.’
  • ‘Rights come with responsibilities.’
  • ‘We have the right to feel safe and comfortable.’
  • ‘We cannot tolerate intolerance.’
  • ‘That’s x-phobic.’
  • ‘You’re a Denier.’
  • ‘Free speech is all well and good but you don’t have the right to insult other people’s beliefs.

As mentioned, I am not going to provide any answers, or rather, Hume’s answers here. What I hope to have achieved here is an interest in this book, especially among the book and literature community. Anybody who enjoys factual or fictional writing should already be thinking about free speech in terms of what can and ‘cannot’ be said in the books that they read. Remember Salman Rushdie? Well exactly.

“As the writer Andre Aciman puts it, ‘if we can’t say what we think under out roof, then we have no roof’.”


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