FREE SPEECH: We Must Defend It At All Costs

Is it OK to destroy our most fundamental right in order to protect hurt feelings?

20 March 2018

I’m not extreme when it comes to most issues, but in regards to the freedom of speech and our ability to exercise it, I am absolute in my stance—we all should be.

Free speech underpins most of Western society, and any developed nation cannot claim to be cohesive without allowing its people this very need. For years, citizens of countries like China have fought hard to let their voices be heard, but an oppressive government has always been there to keep them silent.

So why is it then that a growing number of people in nations with free speech are pushing hard to oppress themselves?

Indeed, over the past few years, there has been an alarming growth in the number of people who see absolute free speech as an obstacle to their existence.

In a study by the Cato Institute, it was found that such attitudes exist on both sides of the political spectrum, as 51% of Democrats would support a law that made it illegal to misgender a person and 53% of Republicans would favour the stripping of a person’s citizenship if they burnt the flag.

No matter what your opinion is on either topic, whether you hate the idea that someone might call a transgender woman a man or that someone upset with the government may burn a symbol of it, we should all be in favour of allowing people to peacefully express themselves in any manner they want.

To not do so, would lead to serious ramifications for our society as a whole.

When one group loses their right to free speech, we all do. This is something most of us understand, as the same study revealed 59% of people were for the allowance of hate speech due to the subjectivity of ‘hate.’

What many may consider hateful, an equal number could see as reasonable. That’s why we need unfettered, unabashed, free speech. Not because we should protect those who say harmful things, but so that we can fight them fairly when the time arises.

It’s time we faced it—free speech extends to hate speech. Free speech is not hate speech, but it can become so.

A loaded gun is not murder, but it could be the cause of one. Like any tool, this ability to speak freely can be used and abused in ways that society did not intend, but that does not mean we should limit its power. What free speech affords us is the complete democratisation of ideas, good and bad.

When it comes to that, it’s up to us to decide who has the better argument. If an idea really is bad, then we as a people can choose to debate it or simply ignore it.

Not providing a platform is different from outright censoring.

I’ll let you say whatever you want to anyone who wants to listen, but I might not invite you to congress or parliament. Limitations like the ones advocated by the 40% who would make hate speech illegal, can only lead us down a path of growing silence, as voices—‘controversial’ or not—remain quiet.

A new line of attack has recently been directed at proponents of free speech such as myself, where we’ve been accused of defending free speech to cover up more nefarious goals. Such claims are ridiculous.

The article, ‘University free speech debate is really about power’, attempts to frame the argument for free speech as being a front to justify ‘cissexist discrimination’ in environments ‘dominated by white, cisgender men.’

The author also suggests that in academic environments, we take the same approach to opinions that we do to scientific hypotheses. Shockingly, they suggest, ‘arguments for unfettered free speech are far too easy because they ignore how academia functions as a complex institution and community.’

Tell me, when did it become right to apply the scientific method to one of our most basic human rights? If anything, this idea is more of a power grab than anything else.

Yes, please peer-review my words before I speak them.

Is that really what we want in our universities? And do we really need ‘to focus on whose knowledge gets marginalised,’ rather than whose knowledge is most valuable?

Free speech is under threat in a way that seems uniquely specific to the time we’re living in. Modern society has become so intent on creating equality based on race and creed that some people have forgotten that the ultimate equality comes not from what we are, but what we say.

The freer we are in that regard, the easier it’ll be to debate and champion ideas in the future.

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