Brenden O’Neill, for those who don’t know, is a commentator and professional idiot. Mostly he falls into the “free expression means you can’t call my stupid opinions stupid, you cunt!” category of online idiocy, and he doesn’t fail to disappoint with this article.
In a stunning twist on the classic, “No, you’re the real racist” gambit, O’Neill tries to make the horrendous connection to free speech, basically saying that expressing yourself freely means being able to harass people consequence free.
However, the part that most gets me about this whole thing is this little bit.
That’s actually one of the best things about free speech – it stops you becoming intellectually complacent or smugly dogmatic by opening your eyes and ears to other, sometimes outlandish ways of thinking. If a bookshop, or the internet, was restructured to make it agreeable to my tastes alone, I’m sure I’d like it for a while, but in the long term my brain, or what John Stuart Mill called my ‘mental and moral powers’, would become knackered through lack of exercise. I’d basically turn into an idiot.
Is starting with “too late” too easy a joke?
Anyway, the problem with this little conflation is that he’s confusing “trolling” with “having an opinion in public.” He even defines trolling earlier in the article as being specifically provocative and unproductive to the discussion, so I fail to see how it “[opens] your eyes and ears to other, sometimes outlandish ways of thinking.”
Does O’Neill think, in the middle of a discussion with a troll, that I’ll sudden stop and say, “You know, I thought she had a point, but I hadn’t considered that she should be kicked in the cunt” or “Pascal’s Wager! Why did I never think of that?” or “I thought I was ok, but I suppose I didn’t consider that your book of ancient fairy tales says I can’t like men, so I guess I’m broken”? He tries to conflate trolls with people who have unpopular but legitimate opinions presented in good faith and there is no comparison.