Miscellaneous Ramblings

Speech Is Either Free or It Isn't

Charles Moore - 2002.10.30 - Tip Jar

"Freedom of speech should only be permitted as long as it doesn't hurt anyone," argues the political correctness mob. However, rationalistic fudges like "responsible speech" will not do.

Either speech is free, or it isn't.

Maybe PC true-believers sincerely believe our society would be better off if those who hold ideas they consider hurtful could be silenced and punished. But even masquerading as humanitarianism and/or sensitivity, that amounts to intellectual tyranny in the spirit of inquisition. The key word here is "permitted," which begs the question of who is to do the permitting. In a PC polity, one can assume it will be left-wing political cleansing squads and tribunals. They, the correct-thinking elite, will decide who will or will not be heard.

These people fear legitimate public debate, which they want suppressed, and they demand homogenization of "acceptable" social attitudes compatible with their emotional, utopian idealism. They are quite prepared to sacrifice freedom at the altar of thought-control and their warped idea of egalitarianism. A pernicious new orthodoxy is being promoted here - a dangerous notion that criticism and negative comment are the moral equivalent of actual violence.

One of the most essential bulwarks of free society is free speech, and one surefire characteristic signalizing totalitarianism is suppression of free speech. These days too many don't seem to grasp that unless you constantly defend free speech, it will vanish.

Free speech is the right to express any opinion one chooses, no matter who it offends or upsets, without fear of the speech police swooping down and hauling you off to the human rights commission or "sensitivity training" brainwash sessions. Once you place any inhibition whatsoever on what opinions may be expressed in public, free speech ceases to exist.

It is seductively easy to fall prey to the unfounded notion that "freedoms" can be qualified to exclude things one disagrees with and/or finds offensive. That view may be emotionally and ideologically attractive, but qualified freedom is not freedom at all. When you place political correctness inhibitions on expression of opinion, speech is no longer free.

As Toronto Globe and Mail Assistant Editor Anthony Keller noted in a commentary a while back:

"The trouble with trying to shut down 'wrong' ideas is that people necessarily disagree about which ideas those are. That is precisely why liberal societies protect free speech: not because we are all in agreement, but because most of us disagree about many things most of the time."

Free-speech is under siege seemingly everywhere these days, most insidiously under the pretext of anti "hate speech" and anti-discrimination legislation.

"Without the freedom to offend," American journalist and author Jonathan Rauch maintains, "freedom of expression ceases to exist. Can it legitimately be called 'hate crime' to upset someone? People who are 'hurt by words' are morally entitled to nothing whatsoever by way of compensation. The appropriate response should be: 'too bad, but you'll live.'"

The difference between my views and the political correctness movement's explicit advocacy of a thought-police state where only selectively limited "free speech" is permitted, is that I really believe in free speech and the concept of productive conflict.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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