How important is the right to speak? What does it mean? What danger does it represent to the state? What danger to the citizen does its curtailment represent? Pertinent questions in a world where altered views of the very right to speak exist. And an even more important question to be asking in a world where that very right is slowly disappearing.
People accept the notion that the freedom to speak comes with a natural limit, that there must be some boundaries that should not be crossed. The often quoted example is that you can’t shout “fire” in a theatre as it may cause a panic. I argue that such an idea is false, that although panic may ensue there is nothing wrong with yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre as long as you’re willing to suffer the consequences of doing so. That is because the intention of the premise is the protection from harm the words may cause, and such a premise should be resisted. Harm from words can only come from the meaning and value placed in them by those that listen, and those that listen have a responsibility to act within reason and without gullibility.
Ultimately, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre because of the possibility of a gullible crowd believing you in the absence of reason or fact, or would be unable to pursue just punishment for any offence to their gullibility that may occur.
The above premise exists to this very day, only that it has grown far beyond the protection from gullible panic, but to include the protection of persons emotional well-being, in other words, we can no longer say as we please because it may injure the feelings of another. Such paternal protectionism of the individual at the expense of the right to speak is not only a gross injustice to liberty, but a gross insult to the individual being protected.
The above restrictions placed upon speech not only seek to control the social space in which conversation occurs, but they are an attempt to control the emotive and intellectual under-pining of the content of the speech now declared taboo.
The limiting of speech in the name of protecting the individual from emotional injury is a weapon by which social norms can be controlled at the most personal of levels. The limitations of speech that exist in the modern western world equate quite absolutely to the powers that be climbing into your head and telling you exactly what you may feel and exactly how you may express whatever emotive response they’ve deemed inappropriate.
The insidious nature of laws regarding the curtailment of speech on grounds of emotional injury or even incitement is that we often accept them as a means of doing good or a means by which we may alter society for the better. Whilst nothing can be further from the truth, no amount of hate-speech laws have stopped people hating, all those laws have done is push those on the fringe of the social and intellectual space further from the centre making their views all the more malignant, and all the more credible.
This is because any law that says it is wrong to say something that may contain hate is really saying that it is wrong to hate, which is an arbitrary criminalisation in some cases of a completely natural human emotion. And no one should have the authority to dictate what you or anyone else can or can not feel on an emotional level, to do so is the height of tyranny. This is not say we should all go around venting our inner most thoughts in bile filled rants aimed at this group or another, only that we should recognise that just because we may feel uncomfortable with what is being said we should not stop them from saying it.
The idea that we need to protect people from offence is to treat us all like children, perhaps a reflection of the infantile ideology that has driven the modern assault on the very right to speak.
Can you imagine living in a world where your very livelihood and career depended upon having a certain pre-approved set of opinions? Can you imagine living in a world where hand gestures can become criminal? Can you imagine living in a world where iconography of certain types is out-lawed? Can you imagine living in a world where history can’t be questioned? Can you imagine living in a world where certain groups are protected from criticism whilst others are not? Can you imagine living in a world where the utterance of certain words could lead to your imprisonment? Can you imagine living in a world where the display of your own national flag could see you arrested? Can you imagine living in a world where a verbal insult could see you before a judge? Can you imagine living in a world where the media must follow a narrative approved by the state?
No? Unfortunately, that is Europe today, where all of the above already is reality. Twenty years ago you would have been considered insane if you predicted that Russia would have a more open society than democratic Europe.
What changed? Russia abandoned communism, Europe became a vast progressive-socialist enterprise. A continent where even those considered to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum are by historical standard are only a rag-tag bunch consisting of centrists and populists who simply can not abide those on the left, and the far distant fringes of long forgotten nationalism. Europe has become a continent of stunted intellectualism, where academia demands conformity and is a mere tool of perpetuation of the isms that dominate society. With the rise of the enforced conformity of thought there has been the decline of European relevance and economic stagnation caused by the same infantile ideology that demands its subjects not say things it finds objectionable.
Europe does however provide us here with an example not to follow, their plight should give us all strength to fight the ideological strait-jacket that is political correctness driven assaults of the freedom to speak. We must recognise that it is not for our benefit that they wish to control what exits our mouths, nor for the benefit of the insulted, to those that wish to control our speech it is only a means by which they can control what we think in order to gain power and legitimacy in the social and political space. It is a means of silencing those whose assaults on their ideology that they have no answer to.
When they have no truth of their own, all they have is to stop us from speaking ours.