UKREN blog

Wednesday 22 February 2017

The Winter of Our Discontent: Snowflake & Hate Speech


With the recent resignation of Milo Yiannopoulos, the term ‘Snowflake’ is due a stark re-evaluation. As we already know, ‘Snowflake’ alongside ‘Brexit’ was in Collins Dictionary’s top ten words of 2016. Collins defined ‘Snowflake’ as “The young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations”.  It is a term that infiltrates our political commentary, to the extent that it would be no surprise if this article was branded as ‘Snowflake’ propaganda. As we move into 2017 what is the term snowflake snowballing into in 2017?

Origins

The term is claimed to originate from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club in 1996:

You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same organic and decaying matter as everyone else.”

Advocates of the term argue the millennial generation have been raised too preciously, too sensitive to political correctness, and at worst are portrayed as modern day Puritans. Early rumblings of the war against those now defined as ‘Snowflakes’ emerged long before 2016.  Ironically those who identify as liberals were the first to attack the presence of safe spaces which have characterised notion of ‘the snowflake generation’. Most famously Germain Greer, known for what was considered ‘radical’ second wave feminism was banned from university campuses for her transphobic comments.  Critics portrayed ‘no platforming’ by student societies as a violation of free speech and democratic values.  Yet the accusations of hyper-sensitivity have perpetuated far beyond university walls, and have now entered into the heart of politics across ‘Western’ democracies.

Free speech or hate speech?

The tides turned dramatically in 2016, when both Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign adopted the term as a political attack on their opponents. Trump’s chief political strategist Steve Bannon used the term to attack those who resisted Trump’s attacks: disability campaigners, Muslims, Mexicans, women… the list continues. Meanwhile over the pond Michael Gove attacked fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson’s critics as ‘Snowflakes’ in a tweet reported as “symptomatic of the nastiness that is ruining politics”[1].

The growing binary between Brexiteers & Remainers or Trump supporters and the ‘Dump Trump’ movement, ‘snowflake’ is increasingly being applied as a blanket insult for the latter. Those considered ‘liberal’, or even those merely calling out xenophobic remarks are have been targeted:

Brexit May‏@gordonsagit

Banned off #Facebook for calling a Muslim a #snowflake.. Freedom of speech is pathetic on that site.

2:06 PM - 22 Feb 2017

Should hate crime offenders be put on a register as Durham University’s Legal Professor Thom Brooks suggested? Citing the First Amendment in US and the ethos of freedom of speech across the rest of the Western World hate speech has perpetuated at an alarming rate. The exhausted debate on the limits of freedom of speech takes on a new dimension in the digital era. Isolated ‘keyboard warriors’ are known to be feel more confident in asserting themselves online than they would in ‘real life’. But what happens when this speech incites hatred and attacks people for their religion, gender or sexuality? Do the lines of freedom of speech need to be redrawn online? Would that be an attack on our liberties? Or would it protect us from hate crime?

Fuck Your Feelings

Those who have called out hate speech have been silenced, demeaned and ridiculed as pathetic, emotional left wingers. A perfect example of this was when Milo Yiannopoulos said “Fuck your feelings” to a woman who opposed his extreme right wing views. This is alarming on two points. Firstly, yes xenophobia hurts, particularly when you are the target of it. But this is much more of an issue than hurt feelings. Racist, sexist and homophobic attacks are attacks on civil liberties, and are against the liberal values that come with free speech. Secondly, since when did our feelings become a sign of weakness. The aggressive machoism that has come with the election of Donald Trump appears to have encouraged the notion that vulnerability is a weakness. Our emotions are one of our most human characteristics, not something to be f***ed with.

Today

Yesterday we saw Milo Yiannopoulos resigning when his ‘free speech’ went too far in questioning the age of consent. While the battle against Yiannopoulos may be won, the war is not over.  The term ‘Snowflake’ much like the word ‘Queer’ must be appropriated as a proud badge. As placards read at the Women’s March last month in many ways, a blizzard is coming. But with that, together snowflakes can and will cause an avalanche.



[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/20/twitter-michael-gove-boris-johnson-politics-social-media

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