Free speech is only permitted if you agree with the core dogma

There was a rather thought-provoking article in Spiked the other day. Written by journalist Alexander Cockburn who has died at the age of 71, it is a re-issue of his Spiked piece of 2008 on “what happens to leftists who challenge climate-change alarmism.”

Cockburn begins by stating, “While the world’s climate is on a warming trend, there is zero evidence that the rise in CO2 levels has anthropogenic origins. For daring to say this I have been treated as if I have committed intellectual blasphemy.” He goes on to point out the suspiciously close links between the climate-change alarmists, Left-wing politics and corporate interests. The scientific community is also heavily implicated. Cockburn remarks, “In today’s political climate, it has become fairly dangerous for a young scientist or professor to step up and say: “This is all nonsense.” It is increasingly difficult to challenge the global-warming consensus on either a scientific or a political level.”

Indeed, he admits that “since I started writing essays challenging the glob-warming consensus, and seeking to put forward critical alternative arguments, I have felt almost witch-hunted. There has been an hysterical reaction…There was a shocking intensity to their self-righteous fury, as if I had transgressed a moral as well as an intellectual boundary and committed blasphemy.” Interestingly, he sees a link between this form of hysteria and the old Malthusian one about over-population: “Alarmism about a population explosion is being revisited through the climate issue.”

Cockburn concludes his punchy piece with the obviously sensible remark that “Climate catastrophism, the impact it is having on people’s lives and on debate, can only really be challenged through rigorous open discussion and through a battle of ideas.”

Why do I draw attention to his article? Because when I read it I instantly saw its parallels with the official default position over same-sex marriage. Just as Cockburn discovered when he attempted to make reasonable arguments against man-made climate change, it is impossible in the public forum to have a reasonable debate about the nature and meaning of marriage or why same-sex marriage might not be such a good thing as David Cameron fervently believes. At the very least you are labelled as a bigot. Free and open debate and consultation is virtually forbidden – as the cancellation in May this year by the Law Society of a colloquium on the subject “One Man, One Woman; making the case for marriage for the good of society” at its headquarters, makes abundantly clear.

In Brighton and Hove City Council – Britain’s only Green council – council member Christina Summers, who represents Hollingdean and Stanmer, will probably have to face an official enquiry simply because she, as a Christian, voted against the Council’s motion in support of government plans to bring in same-sex marriage. According to a report in the Telegraph, Miss Summers said that she supported gay rights and civil partnerships but argued that equality did not require changing the traditional definition of marriage; she told her colleagues “it was a matter of conscience and free speech for her.”

She explained to The Brighton Argus: “The problem here is the understanding of equality. I do not agree that disagreeing with same-sex marriage is disagreeing with equality at all. I feel that marriage is about a relationship between a man and a woman… and about procreation and family.”

Although members of the Green Party are meant to have a free vote on issues of conscience, other councillors believe Summers’ stance is inconsistent with the Party’s long-term support for same-sex marriage. Deputy Council Leader Phelim MacCafferty stated, “Greens believe [she] is entitled to hold her view but this does not reflect the position, spirit and track record of the Green Party in extending human and civil rights for all social groups irrespective of sexual orientation or on other grounds.”

As Alexander Cockburn discovered to his cost, free speech and entitlement to your views is only permitted if you agree with the core dogma. Christina Summers discovered this too; when in the past she has objected to abortion on similar grounds of conscience, she “brought to the surface a very violent prejudice” against her as a Christian: “The response to the way I debated and voted has been very vicious, but it doesn’t surprise me. Whenever I or any Christian touches on issues of life or identity it does elicit a very very violent response with very strong accusatory language.”

So a freethinker and a Christian have both experienced a clamp-down when they had the courage to think outside the canons of received (Green-orientated) wisdom. The surprise is that Cockburn did not realise that anthropogenic climate change has become a kind of religion – and that Summers thought she could ever be welcome in the Green Party as a practising Christian.