THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
Why do we need freedom of speech?
From Jefferson and Chesterton to Churchill and Hitchens, most of humanity’s greatest minds recognise the importance of our right to speak freely as the cornerstone of a truly democratic society.
Regardless of where we placed ourselves on the political spectrum, we all understood that without freedom of speech we have no freedom of thought. Without the ability to offend, we stood no chance of successfully addressing divisive issues in our culture like racism, abortion or immigration.
Lately, this has changed.
Consider the many instances of people who lost their jobs for speaking their minds, not for saying anything particularly controversial but for merely having the wrong opinion, like the self-described 'deeply progressive' professor Brett Weinstein. Because someone was offended.
Think of the countless examples of validation by victimhood in our culture, particularly the ‘Mattress Girl’ scandal. If you claim to be a victim, especially within the context of a controversial matter, facts are dropped in favour of ‘your truth’. Lives are ruined for crimes that did not occur.
How can we fool ourselves into thinking we can address any of the contentious issues mentioned above when we can’t even have an open discussion about them for fear of someone “taking offense”?
We each seem to live in a reality of our own, which is why we must preserve the ability to present our thoughts publicly. If the espoused idea lacks merit, it will be judged accordingly. If it’s good, society will look into how it can be applied to our collective benefit.
When we place value on victimhood and offense-taking without assessing the underlying claims on its merits, we only do so to avoid having awkward conversations where we try to understand different points of view.
But it doesn’t stop there. An awareness of this mentality combined with a misguided desire not to offend can have pernicious consequences.
What does it say about our society that authorities in developed countries would sabotage their investigations to prevent any accusations of racism, letting thousands of children get raped in the process?
Reality can’t be censored. Problems must be named before they can be solved. When we ban people whose ideas (and sometimes facts) we find uncomfortable, we’re empowering those who get them banned, implicitly inflating their wrong belief they’re on the right side of history.
As any impartial 20th-century historian will tell you, those who believe to be righting the greatest injustices are those who end up committing the greatest atrocities.
We know where this ends. Maybe there’s still time to stop it. But when you combine the rise of safe spaces and victimhood culture with what the next generation of lawmakers thinks about the law and freedom of speech, hopes comes hard ... Until it doesn’t come at all.
Freedom of speech clashes with criminal accusations.