John Stuart Mill once wrote that the freedom of speech means the freedom to be heard – if all but one person in society were agreed on the truth, beauty, and value of one proposition, it would be most important that we listen to this one heretic, because we all would benefit from his inevitably outrageous view. This wisdom is being lost today as anti-free speech movements spread across America and Europe.
Christopher Hitchens once warned for us never to take refuge in the false security of consensus. He gives a scenario: everyone is taught of the Holocaust as the epitome of an absence of morals. Say it happens that there was a dissenter that said: ‘I’m not sure this Holocaust even happened, indeed I wonder if the Jews just brought a little bit of violence on themselves.’ On principle, this dissenting opinion must be given protection and freedom. There are good reasons for this: whosoever uttered it must have taken some effort to construct this argument, there might be a nugget of historical truth to be known, and more crucially it would let people think about why they know what they think they know.
The solution to normatively and positively defined ‘bad speech’ is the introduction ‘good speech’ into the debate, and not to shut down debate entirely. More discussion, not less, must be the way forward, as it has always been. But recently, the far-left liberal consensus on ‘safe space’ culture, religious and racial sensitivities, as well as movements like Third Wave Feminism, and Black Lives Matter have halted all discussion on the most important issues.
Swede and German authorities gloss over the high numbers of sexual offences committed by migrants, not to mention the German New Year’s Eve sexual assaults largely committed by ‘Arab or North African’ looking men. Western Europe fiercely defends Middle Eastern persons entering their countries due to the current conflict – the dissenter asking if non-Syrian Arabs might be economic migrants taking advantage of the situation is not taken as seriously. Conservative students at Emory University in America scribbled ‘Trump 2016’ with chalk on a wall, some considering it to be a form of ‘Racist Microaggression’. The National Union of Students’ Women’s Conference also recently asked participants to use ‘jazz hands’ instead of clapping as the latter reportedly ‘triggered’ some people.
The temptation (of the reader, perhaps) to immediately label these above comments as bigoted or ignorant is evidence of the far-left’s successful consensus of placing emotion over reason. How is support for a presidential nominee hurtful? How is applause traumatising? And how is not giving aid to opportunistic economic migrants racist?
It is thought, by some, that it is reasonable to relieve some topics of the burden of open discussion and debate. Sexism, racism, and rape are issues that might leave some people feeling hurt, hence the justification for ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’. But in legitimising the ‘hurt feelings’ or ‘I’m offended’ card being played as a means of shutting down an argument, one starts to see all sorts of interest groups taking advantage of it: like the anti-gay religious right, the anti-Christian gay persons, the man-hating Third Wave feminists, and the white-hating black persons.
Indeed, it is because of this that modern feminism is becoming a hostile movement, filled with phrases like ‘masculinity so fragile’, ‘I bathe in male tears’, and ‘check your privilege’. Some of these statements are intrinsically bigoted and hateful in nature (as they are anti-‘straight white male’), but try claiming that feminists are overstepping their mark and you’ll get called sexist or homophobic. Because of the current cultural consensus, it is perfectly decent for a woman to insult a man on feminist grounds. But when the men fight back, the hate speech police (and sometimes the actual police) are called in.
Because of these anti-free speech extremists accusing the average person of racism, anti-semitism, sexism, bigotry, and being over-privileged, it is no wonder that ordinary people are becoming increasingly scared of saying anything, and tired of being berated by all sides. How can we expect to conduct any meaningful discussions if we restrict ourselves to debate only when no one’s feelings get hurt?