On freedom of speech

Some friends were having a convo about school children using words they considered offensive. This was my reply.

I think you guys are missing the point. The words are irrelevant – they’re just labels. If you outlaw the words people are allowed to use they’ll just find other words. It’s the sentiment/attitude behind the words that matter. That’s what needs to be changed. Hate needs to be converted to love and that won’t happen by controlling language.

Why do people hate? On the whole, they’re scared. Berating them for their verbal expression, which is a demonstration of their fear, is no help whatsoever. Besides, they’re showing group identity by using those words – being one of the gang as an antidote to potential exclusion – a fate worse than death in a school environment.

Attitudes of hate, fear, division and isolation are fundamental to Western society, as evidenced by our obsession with competition over cooperation, personal identity and the celebration of personal uniqueness instead of focusing on our common humanity.

At school, children are trained to reach their ‘personal best’ and are tested on it, with the results made public. What monstrous pressure. At the same time as being pressurised to be unique and ‘their best’ (aka THE best; better than anyone else) and encouraged to be ‘anything they want to be’ when they absolutely can’t! – there is pressure to conform, which means being like everyone else. How confusing. Failure to thrive in a world of vicious double standards is almost guaranteed. All of this combines to create feelings of isolation within individuals (even when they have conformed to a group identity) and fear of their fellow humans (not realising that their suffering is shared by nearly everyone they enconter), so group identities become ones of hate and division instead of love and unity because they are made up of terrified individuals all pretending otherwise. Thoreau said: ‘The mass of men live lifes of quiet desperation.’ Yes, indeed.

We must have freedom of speech. That cannot be negotiable in a free society; if we do not have freedom of speech we are not a free society. People do disagree about linguistics because we have different perceptions about meanings – well, that’s just tough. We can’t have a society where an elite group gets to decide what everyone else is allowed to say. For one thing, who will this elite group be? Obviously, the most powerful will place themselves into that posiiton, so will that be rich people? People with guns? Politicians? No thanks.

Society’s problems aren’t caused by the words we use, they’re only demonstrated by them.

I like a quote of Stephen Fry’s that was recently posted on FB re people being offended by the things other people say and believing that their offence gives them certain rights over their offender. His reply to ‘I’m offended by that’ was ‘So fucking what.’ Good one.


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