Angelos Sofocleous, M.A. is a Philosophy Ph.D. student at University of York who works as an Interviews Editor at The Definite Article, Deputy Science Editor at Nouse Philosophy, and the Editor-in-Chief at Secular Nation Magazine. Here we talk more in-depth about updates since December, 2018 on the fallout of the reactions to a tweet and an article.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We’ve written a decent amount together. In fact, we have seen a development of secularism in Greece and in its education, and some of the aspects of personal and professional history for you (bumpy). Mario Zucconi quoted you and I in EU Influence Beyond Conditionality: Turkey Plus/Minus the EU. One of the most recent, relevant developments came in the form of firing or considered resignation from several positions as editor or leader followed by some opprobrium in public. You were President-Elect for Humanist Students, which has a triplet setup for incumbent and leaving presidents. Recently, you were a hated person. Some stood by you. Some still hate you. What was the feeling in the interlude since the last interview in 2018?
Angelos Sofocleous: Let me first start with a recollection of what had happened, for reminding those who were following the case when it happened, and informing those who will hear about the incidents for the first time.
On August 21st 2018, I retweeted a tweet reading “RT if women don’t have penises”. The original tweet was accompanied by an article from The Spectator titled “Is it a crime to say ‘women don’t have penises’?” The retweet was part of other statements and articles that I had written about sex, gender, and the transgender movement which included certain criticisms of the movement as well as suggestions on how it can be improved so that society can achieve overcoming sex and gender stereotypes. Through my statements, I also wished to express and support the view that humans are a dimorphic species; that is, a human being can be a male or female, allowing for certain cases of intersex individuals who, however, seem to be unrepresented, underrepresented or even misrepresented by the transgender movement.
Despite me deleting the retweet a day after, I was forced to resign from the position of President-Elect of Humanists UK, and a few days later I was fired by Ry Lo and Sebastián Sánchez-Schilling from the position of Assistant Editor of Critique, Durham University Philosophy Society’s journal, and by Anastasia Maseychik from the position of Editor of The Bubble, a Durham University magazine. These dismissals were found to be ‘unfair and undemocratic’ by Durham Students’ Union as they did not follow the procedures outlined by Durham Students’ Union, did not give me an opportunity to explain my views, did not gather a vote of no confidence from their members, and did not give me an opportunity to appeal the decision. Durham Students’ Union called for the journal and the magazine to apologize. The SU too, as did the magazine, but I have not yet received an apology from the journal.
As I noted in my resignation statement from Humanists UK “[my] views were taken to be ‘transphobic’ by individuals who cannot tolerate any criticism, either of their movement or their ideas, and are unable to engage in a civilized conversation on issues they disagree on. These are individuals who think they hold the absolute right to determine which ideas can be discussed and what language can be used in a public forum.”
“Living in a free society and being present and active in a public forum means that one often witnesses comments that she may judge as offensive, divisive, or derogatory. Living in a democracy means that one will often offend and get offended. That’s the price one pays for being a member of a democracy and not existing into her own bubble.”
The incident with the Durham University Philosophy Society journal was cited in the Supreme Court of the United States case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, INC., V. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Aimee Stephens. The Supreme Court explicitly says:
“In the U.K., Angelos Sofocleous was dismissed from Durham University’s philosophy journal Critique because he used his social media account to share another individual’s comment noting that “women don’t have penises.”
[…] As this Court rightly stated in Barnett, “[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” This Court should adhere to that same principle today, and refuse to compel the R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, or anyone else, to believe that men can be women.”
My deleted retweet was not taken favourably by Durham University’s Philosophy Department either. Following the incidents, I was bullied and harassed by Dr Clare Mac Cumhaill, an academic at the Department. Dr Mac Cumhaill had called me in her office and told me I had no freedom of speech for my views, was illegally in possession of my Bachelor’s grades which she used to belittle me, threatened me with expulsion from the University, falsely accused me of misgendering someone on Twitter, and other equally appalling and unfounded accusations. Prof Sophie Gibb, then Head of Department, was dismissive of my allegations and did not act according to the rules and regulations, and Prof Stephen Mumford, current Head of Department, recently issued a non-apology saying “I am sorry that you feel we fell short in your case.” after a complaint of mine against Dr Mac cumhaill and the Department was upheld following an investigation by the University’s Student Conduct office.
Such an apology is by no means an apology for various reasons:
a) An apology is not honest or heartfelt if it’s communicated via a third party. The mere fact that this was sent to the Student Conduct Office which then sent it to me leaves me doubting whether the Philosophy Department understood what they did wrong and why they needed to apologize. It feels as if Stephen Mumford, the Head of Department (HoD) was forced to issue the apology.
b) There was no reason for Stephen Mumford to mention that “While your complaint was not upheld”, other than out of spite and wanting to stress that the Department did nothing wrong, regardless of the fact that they did not follow procedure and acted against both University and Department rules and regulations, and included a number of lies and inaccuracies in their statement to the complaint and review investigators which I am exposing as I further appeal my case.
This is particularly weird to me as in my culture such a thing would never happen. An apology will never be communicated via a third party but directly to the person to whom you are apologizing or publicly so that the parties involved have assured each other that the issue is settled and that the apology has been received as intended.
c) “I am sorry that you feel that we fell short in your case”. This is a clear usage of a gaslighting technique and victim blaming. Stephen Mumford shifts the blame from the Department to me, essentially saying that the problem is not that they fell short in my case but my feeling that they fell short in my case. “I am sorry that we fell short in your case” is the appropriate response. To put it bluntly to make this point clear – “I am sorry I raped you” and “I am sorry about how you felt after I raped you” communicate two entirely different things, the latter alleviating any blame from the perpetrator.
d) The letter puts a lot of emphasis on the need of the Department to process things quicker. That was the least of my concerns regarding the harassment and bullying I received and I am surprised the Department is putting so much focus on that. The point of my initial complaint and the review request was about harassment and bullying. Regardless of the fact that this took a lot of time and that the Department allegedly decided to issue an apology to me 12 months ago (which was never communicated and I question whether such a decision was even taken), there are far more important issues with my complaint, some of which are of legal nature.
e) The complaint was not from, or on behalf of, the academic against whom I initiated the complaint. My complaint was primarily against the academic and only secondarily against the Department.
Due to the inadequacy of Durham University and Durham University Philosophy Department to deal with this case adequately and with respect, as well as the horrible and evil behaviour I experienced from Claire Mac Cumhaill, I am now appealing the outcome of my complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and also seeking legal advice due to the severity of the harassment incident and what this has caused me.
You said in your question that I was “a hated person”. This was indeed true – I faced a lot of hatred on Twitter and other social media, as well as in Durham University. This is also a symptom of depression – feeling that everyone hates you, that everyone wants to hurt you. In my case though it was not just an unjustified feeling of mine, but something true as I was experiencing, on a daily basis, people telling me how much they hated me or expressing hatred in their own vile ways. What for? For a deleted retweet.
There is this quote: ‘If you have haters, you must be doing something right’. This is by no means a rule as it can be easily misapplied and we can think of cases where this is not true. However, for a lot of time before the ‘women don’t have penises’ incident, although I was involved in activist circles and was publicly expressing my views on a variety of topics, I did not have any haters, I had never received a death threat, no one was disagreeing with me, and no one was exposing me publicly. Because of this, I felt I was doing something wrong. The fact that these things weren’t happening did not show that I was right in what I was saying, rather that I had not done enough to get outside my bubble and my comfort circle. You aren’t much of an activist or an opinion writer if you are only active within your own circles – you have to get out.
Once people started hating me, I realized I was doing something right – not that my ideas were right but that I was getting outside my bubble. A good analogy would be that I was previously within fans of my own football team and I felt comfortable and safe being in between them, but now I had gotten into the playing field, ready to get into an ideological battle with individuals who disagreed with me.
However, we don’t necessarily need to think of debate as two sides which are polar opposites of each other. Philosophy is the quest to truth and in a philosophical debate all sides should strive to build onto each other’s argument to reach a truth or a consensus.
Being hated is the price one pays for striving to be a public figure or expressing their opinions publicly. If you imagine you are speaking at an audience of a thousand individuals for years on a variety of topics, it is extremely unlikely if not impossible that there will not be something which offends someone or is hurtful to someone. Your job as a public figure is not to make everyone feel comfortable – we are not in kindergarten. Rather, your aim is to spark conversation and debate and give food for thought to individuals as well as the opportunity to challenge you.
Do your own thing. Haters will hate you anyway.
Jacobsen: Looking back, what were the long-term effects of these to your mental and emotional well-being?
Sofocleous: I fell into major depression. The backlash of that single retweet was immense. I would never have thought that I would make national news because I said “women don’t have penises”. It was so comical but at the same time it was something that had a huge negative effect on me. I felt that my whole life and my future in journalism and academia was collapsing.
What pushed me into depression was certainly the actions of Andrew Copson and Hannah Timson from Humanists UK, Ry Lo and Sebastián Sánchez-Schilling from Critique, and Anastasia Maseychik from The Bubble. And of course the compliance of Prof Sophie Gibb and Prof Stephen Mumford to me experiencing severe distress, bullying and harassment within their own Department. However, it was Claire Mac Cumhaill’s bullying and harassment that pushed me into depression.
No person who has not experienced depression can understand what depression is like. When you experience depression, you feel surrounded by a black fog, losing all connection to yourself, other people, and the world. The world of depression is gray, colourless, with no meaning or hope. You feel immense guilt all the time, as well as that everyone hates you.
Everything takes an incredible amount of effort to be done. Getting out of bed, making a cup of tea, getting in the shower; it’s all a struggle. You feel unable to concentrate on or pay attention to anything and focusing on getting things done seems impossible.
The weeks after I was bullied and harassed by Claire Mac Cumhaill in her office, the gas system at my house stopped working. I couldn’t even make the effort of informing the landlord or telephoning the gas company. I ended up washing dishes in the shower, which had an electric boiler, and slept feeling the cold of Durham, even though fixing the gas system was just a phone call away. The bathroom light was faulty too and wouldn’t turn on. It was a special light, not one which I could find at a supermarket. I showered with my phone light for weeks until I managed to make the effort to inform my landlord that the bathroom light needed to be replaced.
Everytime I went out; to the grocery store, to an event, to the library, to a lecture – I felt this fog around me and was unable to pay attention to anyone or anything people were telling me. I felt that people hated me and that everyone knew about the incidents and turned themselves against me. This is the world of depression, a place which I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to experience.
The incident with Clare Mac Cumhaill took place in October 2018. I only lasted for two more months in Durham and left in early December 2018 due to the fact that I couldn’t continue belonging in a Department in which I felt I was hated and marginalized. I continued my studies as normal as I could do work from home. I only returned to Durham in February 2018, to complete a module I had during that term, and in August 2018, to complete my dissertation.
In September 2019 I contacted Clare, expressing to her how horrible I felt after the meeting we had and how her actions have pushed me into depression. Not only she denied any of my allegations, but she did not even have the slightest courage or decency to apologize for what had happened.
Now, this is very strange to me due to the fact that, in my culture, if someone tells you that you have done something that made them feel horribly bad, you apologize even if you don’t feel you have done anything wrong. This is the kindness and respect for fellow human beings that I’m talking about. If you tell me that I did something that hurt you, I will apologize, even if I think that I did nothing wrong or acted with good intentions (as Clare claimed). An individual who does not respond to another’s bad emotional situation which she caused is nothing else than wicked.
Nevertheless, I also learned a lot of lessons: People can be vile and evil – some people want to see you suffer and get joy from seeing you suffer. Some people like to experience schadenfreude in its most absolute form. There were people that were emailing my University to expel me. How can any human being wish that for another individual? One would have thought that with the development of modern civilization and democracy we would get rid of the animal inside us, but that will never happen.
We will always organize ourselves in tribes and form mobs to attack members of the other tribe. The only thing that has changed is that instead of these happening in the fields with real weapons, it takes place over the Internet with keyboards.
Twitter will be an excellent tool for future historians in understanding the toxicity of human nature.
Also, it was a good coincidence that while I was experiencing depression, I was attending the “Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences” class. Phenomenology is the branch of philosophy that studies subjective experiences of emotions of people. The seminar leader, Dr Benedict Smith, was excellent and the topic particularly interesting and exciting. Some of the classes were about the phenomenology of mental illnesses, one of them on the phenomenology of depression. I researched more and more into the phenomenology of depression as this helped me better understand my condition and also found comfort realizing that other individuals had the potential of understanding what I was feeling. One of the things you will find if you look at narratives of people who have experienced depression is the disappointment and loss of hope due to the feeling that no one is able to understand what depression is like. Indeed, it is not something one can fully describe – that’s why we are using these metaphors which are close to what we are feeling (emptiness, black fog, colourless, gray, numb) but can never accurately depict it.
Due to the fact that I became interested in the phenomenology of depression, I chose to complete my dissertation on that particular area and now I’m pursuing a PhD which focuses on the phenomenology of depression. I would like to take the opportunity to thank those who pushed me into depression because without them I wouldn’t be pursuing a PhD in this extremely interesting area of philosophy.
Jacobsen: Some happenings in the interim, too, included the restriction, in some manner, on freedom of expression, as reported by Dan Fisher in “Terror Tactics Triumph, Silence Freedom of Speech at Bristol University.” What happened?
Sofocleous: Correct. Because of the incidents following my retweet, the Bristol Free Speech Society had invited me to be a speaker at their panel discussion event in February 2019, in which three panelists would discuss freedom of speech, each having a different approach.
While the event was scheduled to take place, less than a week before the event, Bristol Students’ Union contacted the Bristol Free Speech Society informing them that I was disinvited as a speaker saying that I was no longer allowed to be present on the panel amidst ‘security concerns’. Bristol SU never said what those security concerns were nor how they were justified. My appearance on the panel was announced weeks before the event but no student society, organization, or individual student had protested against my participation or had called for me to be disinvited.
The Bristol SU was merely succumbing to the global paranoia that currently takes place in universities in which people get de-platformed and disinvited from giving speeches or participating in conferences just because they might offend someone.
It is funny to me how the act of speaking or voicing your opinion can be a ‘security concern’. The neo-liberal will immediately reply to this: Yes, but what about Hitler? He was voicing hateful, and obviously wrong, opinions.
The neo-liberal is correct. Hitler was, in fact, voicing deeply hateful and divisive opinions which were wrong beyond doubt. However, if we think that we would get rid of Nazism simply by banning the Nazi party or by fining or putting Hitler and his peers in prison for hate speech we would be very wrong.
We would be very wrong because we would ignore the system through which Nazism arose and developed. No hateful idea appears out of nowhere. We should treat a dangerous and hateful idea like a virus. Now, with the emergence of a global pandemic, the virus analogy is as timely as ever.
Dangerous ideas are viruses. But they cannot be treated in the same way as we treat biological viruses.
One would think that we need to restrict the idea to a certain area in society in a way that it cannot spread through society, as we would do with a biological virus. The thing with viruses is that they are not able to organise themselves in a way which is similar to how human societies organise. A virus can simply be marginalised to a certain part of the body where it affects healthy cells at a minimum level, and subsequently be exterminated. The viruses themselves are not going to organise and fight back to the healthy part of the body.
Think about how the majority of countries deal with the coronavirus. They impose a lockdown, and citizens in those countries face legal consequences if they do not isolate themselves at home. In order for a biological virus to be fought, people need to be isolated so that the virus does not spread and those who have the virus are strictly isolated so that they do not spread it onto others. Take the island of Spinalonga in Greece, for example. Spinalonga served as a leper colony. People with leprosy were sent there to be treated and to not infect the healthy population of Greece. The illness is restricted within a geographical area and is controlled.
However, we cannot do the same with a social virus. If you decide to marginalize or isolate individuals who follow a hateful ideology, those individuals still have the opportunity to fight back against ideologically healthy individuals. The fact that YouTube or Facebook bans individuals with unscientific or hateful ideas may restrict their ideas from spreading, but it does nothing to prevent those ideologies from emerging through other parts of society or in real life. White supremacists and fascists will still find ways to organize themselves and infiltrate society.
What is important to note here is that by attempting to punish individuals or making an ideology illegal, we are not reaching the root of the problem. It is as if we discover that a particular disease stems from unhealthy practices (eating certain kinds of animals, in the COVID-19 case) and yet we continue those practices. We need not simply try to eliminate coronavirus cases or find a vaccine, but to examine why and how the virus emerged in the first place, and once we identify the reason(s), we fight so that we create a society which does not have those kinds of threats.
In a similar manner, a hateful and divisive ideology is part of the system in which it exists. It comes from how children are educated, from biased history books, from false family narratives, from the agenda of political parties. If we want to kill a beast we must find it in its lair and not in the wild.
With a social virus, the antibodies can be developed beforehand through education. Education is for social viruses what a vaccine is for biological viruses. If enough individuals are taught logic, rational thinking, how to respect other people, how to argue with others, how to be kind toward each other, how to value human life and show admiration toward anything alive, including nature, then society will develop ‘herd immunity’ toward any hateful or divisive ideas.
So, with the above thoughts in mind, I decided to attend the scheduled event of Bristol Free Speech Society as an audience member. The event organizers were planning on holding the event without me as a panel member. However, as soon as some members of the audience realized that I was present, they called for me to appear on the panel.
The President of the Bristol Free Speech Society, listening to people’s demands, asked whether there is anyone from the audience who objected to me being on the panel.
No even one person from an audience of 200 people had any objection in me being present on the panel. All committee members of the Society favoured me being on the panel, as well as the other panel members. As responsible adults who can take matters into their own hands, people showed their power and decided that there was no risk associated with me being on the panel.
Bristol SU had acted in a patronizing manner, treating its own students like children who have the need to be disciplined and do not know to judge for themselves whether they want to listen to certain views or not.
The event went on as normal and everyone treated each other with respect and kindness, as human beings do when they grow up in a civil environment in which they learn to challenge and not cancel each other’s ideas. Universities and Student Unions so often succumb to the tiny minority of students who think they have the right to dictate what is discussed in a public forum and have the privilege to feel offended by little and unimportant things.
Being de-platformed from an event on free speech is the absolute example of the current state of universities in the UK. You can’t get more ironic than that.
Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, why were you considered a security risk within the confines of the event? This may relate to legitimate reasons of uncivil, violent protests from the left or the right, or from illegitimate reasons for the perception of words as violence when done in a controlled panel setting in which the topic, the speakers, and the time and place are known well ahead of time, i.e., if you don’t like it, then don’t go to it.
Sofocleous: It is everyone’s right to protest against the appearance of any individual who has been invited to speak at any institution, private or public. What individuals cannot do is restrict that individual from speaking or trying to ‘de-platorm’ them.
This is the beauty of being a citizen of a democratic country. You have the right to listen to all kinds of opinions and views, challenge them, ridicule them, follow them, unfollow them, without any one forcing you to believe one thing or another. When a dangerous idea appears, you challenge it and attack it publicly with reason and evidence and attack it to its core.
The fact that people from all over the political spectrum might respond to certain people speaking with violence is a huge problem. We have witnessed people entering lecture rooms or conference venues and disrupting an otherwise peaceful talk. If they disagree with what the speaker is saying, they can sit in a civil manner amongst the audience, take notes, form their questions, and then challenge the speaker during the Q&A and demonstrate in front of everyone why the speaker is so obviously wrong.
We must not succumb to people who use violence as their form of protest in these circumstances. Any historical period in which ideas were silenced or censored is a dark period. We should not let that happen again.
There were no legitimate reasons for uncivil or violent protests to take place due to me participating in the panel.
I am not a criminal, I have done nothing to justify such an abhorrent behaviour by the Bristol SU, and their stance only adds to confirming the already troubled state of free speech in UK universities.
And if there were legitimate reasons for uncivil or violent protests, this is not something that should concern the panel members, but this is the Bristol SU’s problem. If someone is offended because I speak my views on freedom of speech, then they might consider isolating themselves at home and not accessing social media because they are the kind of people that will get offended by anything. And not only they will get offended by anything but they will tell you to stop talking because they are offended.
If Bristol SU was worried that there would be protests at the event, then they should have given themselves enough time to assure police presence at the event. They had not cited security concerns until the last minute which puts their motives and aims into question.
There were never any legitimate reasons for there being any protests at the event and Bristol SU’s reaction was wholly unjustifiable.
Jacobsen: David Verry in “Banned speaker joins panel to speak at Bristol free speech event” stated, “Sofocleous complaining that the ‘authoritarian’ SU had ‘de-platformed’…SU had asked for a delay.” Reading this reportage by Verry, the language of “delay” seems too downplayed and “authoritarian” seems overplayed. With some time to reflect on the event, what seems like the correct orientation for the interpretation of the events’ proceedings?
Sofocleous: There was no reason for the SU to ask for the event to be delayed. The fact that they waited until the last minute to ask for the delay shows that they were ill-intentioned and not interested in providing a space in which ideas and views could be presented and challenged, but rather they wanted to present the event as a threat to everyone involved and to the University.
Bristol SU did, in fact, act in an authoritarian and patronizing manner. Students at the University of Bristol, one of the best universities in the country, are bright enough to decide for themselves whether they want to attend an event or not and whether they want to follow an idea they listen to or not.
As I told you earlier, there were no protests at the event, or any disruption caused by any student. This is what happens when responsible, civil, and kind adults decide to discuss an issue. They will respect the other’s opinion and will challenge it publicly. They won’t be scared of the idea or try to marginalize it. As I supported, marginalizing ideas or isolating individuals who hold them is not conducive to battling those ideas and making them disappear from society.
Let’s finally get this straight: You will never get everyone to agree with you. So the best thing you can do is learn to argue and debate. Violence is not the answer.
We talked before about the individuals who will read the tweet – “Women’ don’t have penises” – while others will skim the article, and fewer will read the entire set of the arguments into the view for you, including on Keingenderism. Lucy Connolly in UNILAD, in an article entitled “Student Who Said ‘Women Don’t Have Penises’ Was Barred From Free Speech Debate,” recounted the statement by the Bristol Free Speech Society:
We are saddened to inform you that due to Student Union bureaucracy we have been forced to cancel the invitation we extended to Angelos Sofocleous to be on our panel discussion on free speech. We have given the SU plenty of notice for this event. But they felt it proper to cancel his attendance in the last minute, citing “security concerns”. For context, Angelos is a full time student at Durham University who lives amongst students on campus. We leave it to the public to reach their own conclusions with regards to the SU’s intentions.
Taking a generous view, what were the positive intentions of the SU and the Bristol Free Speech Society? I state a “generous view” because I would assume individuals within the BFSS or the SU wuld argue for good intentions or working for the greater good insofar as they deem it, see it.
Sofocleous: The Bristol Free Speech Society, being a student society which is affiliated to the Bristol Students’ Union, is bound to follow certain rules and regulations of the SU. Societies in most UK universities must submit a speakers’ list to their SU for approval when they are hosting a guest speaker. This is also what the Bristol Free Speech Society had done on this occasion. Because of my retweet, Bristol SU decided that I was a security threat and called for my de-platforming and for the event to be postponed.
Bristol Free Speech Society acted in accordance with the SU’s rules and regulations. Me being amongst the audience members was not something that went against the rules and regulations, nor my eventual participation on the panel. SUs cannot decide for their students. If more than 200 students decided that they wanted to see me on the panel, then Bristol SU saying no to that would be nothing else than patronizing and disrespectful to its own students.
Bristol SU wanted to obviously avoid any protests taking place at the event and within its premises. They also wanted to protect their students from supposedly dangerous ideas.
Nevertheless, I fail to see the relation between words and violence. Certainly, people might call for violence with their words, and that’s a crime. But, as I said earlier, any comments that are misrepresentative or derogatory toward certain groups cannot be dealt with simply be censoring or de-platforming. When someone utters deeply xenophobic or racist insults this is just the result of an ill political, educational, societal, family system. If we want to change the situation, we need to attack the system, not merely the individual who is a victim of the system.
SUs and Universities should be champions of free speech, not the ones who will suppress it.
Obviously, in their terms, they were acting in good intention and protecting the greater good. However, this behaviour is no different from the behaviour of religious fundamentalists who send death threats to people or authoritarian regimes who get rid of their opponents.
Religious fundamentalists and authoritarian regimes, too, act in good intentions, in their terms, and say that they protect the greater good.
However, I fail to see how any individual or organization which de-platforms or censors anyone can act for the greater good. This is not to say that they are evil – to say that would be a false dichotomy. They are just not acting for the greater good. Period.
Jacobsen: What were the negative consequences of the aforementioned “positive intentions”? I ask because this goes back to the old aphorism on good intentions leading to bad consequences.
Sofocleous: As I said, I don’t think these individuals or organizations are evil or they want to hurt people with their censorship. But what they are doing goes against any notion of democracy and freedom. It doesn’t have to be about intentions – because they have neither good nor bad intentions.
They just want to satisfy the tiny minority of students who might get offended. But, of course, it is impossible to find a topic which won’t insult or offend someone. Israel-Palestine, global warming, veganism, colonialism, capitalism, communism, transgender issues, homosexuality – it’s impossible to pick a topic in each of these that won’t offend someone. Does this mean we have to stop arguing in order to not hurt people’s feelings? No.
Dangerous ideas exist in society and we must come to know about them. That’s the only way we are going to confront them. Because if these ideas exist and emerge from underground we will not be ready to battle them. Let’s face them, challenge them, and eradicate them while there is still time.
The bad consequences of Bristol SU’s actions is that they are appeasing a student generation which has learned that it has the right to determine which ideas others can and cannot hear. This generation also thinks that it has the right to never feel uncomfortable or even slightly distressed, or be protected from ideas they do not like. Universities should mirror society – but the way universities are currently managed and operated only present an elite and privileged form of society, which differs substantially from how the real world operates or functions.
Jacobsen: The tweet became the main point of focus for much of the reportage over the last while now, even for stuff on the free speech event, or as if a super-dangerous conspiratorial secret plot to have you – a surreptitious tweeter and panel participant. This is in spite of other interesting writing and news on Mars colonization, clarification in The Spectator on the free speech campus event, or running for Communications Officer in the University of York GSA, etc. You’re a busy person with an intellectual life insofar as I knew and know you. In other words, the idea of ‘opinions being expressed on Twitter.’ Your views tend to come in essays, interviews, and articles, not tweets. The tweet may be offensive to some, but not all. That’s the main point. If individuals wanted to review the personal opinions of yours, they can review some of the articles relevant to the subject matter deemed important by them. As far as I can tell, this was not done by either the SU or the BFSS. Any advice of reading your views before concluding on your moral worth based on one sentence from an old tweet?
Sofocleous: I said earlier how I thought Twitter will be valuable for future historians. The modern world has become incredibly fast-paced. Speed-read a book. Form your opinion about someone’s views in 240 characters or less. Double-speed your podcast. Digest your daily news in 5 minutes. Get notifications about every email, every Facebook notification, every Twitter mention, every Instagram like – it’s become incredibly exhausting and we cannot keep up with it.
The world has been divided into good and bad people, everyone you don’t agree with is a fascist and everyone calls each other names or derogatory terms all the time. We have become extremely polarised and yet we feel that we need to belong somewhere and adjust to whatever our ideology dictates. We were never as individualistic as we are now, in the history of humankind. Yet, we have lost ourselves. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost of being unable to have a civil discussion with another human being
Let’s take the time and get to know others, have a discussion with them about their views, their opinions, their background, their upbringing, their ideas, their dreams about life. We will find that we share more than what divides us.
Let’s not conclude one’s moral worth in a single tweet – we can do much better than that!
Jacobsen: What’s next?
Sofocleous: That we have to not conclude someone’s moral worth from a sentence they uttered does not mean that we should not strive for justice to be served to those who, having evil intentions, wanted to harm us.
For this reason, I am continuing my appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator against the University of Durham and specifically Dr Clare Mac Cumhaill for her harassment and bullying, and Prof Sophie Gibb and Prof Stephen Mumford for being complicit to harassment and bullying and for doing absolutely nothing to correct Clare’s behaviour.
I will also be taking legal action.
Other than that, I am continuing my PhD in Philosophy at the University of York, focusing on the phenomenology of depression. Alongside, among other things, I am involved in some publications (Nouse, Secular Nation, The Definite Article), I am active within the Cypriot reconciliation movement, and doing research on a paper and a book review which I’m writing.
Image Credit: Newcastle Chronicle/Angelos Sofocleous.