Attempts to control thought and language by asserting words or ideas taboo on the basis of offense erode the pillars on which our society is built.
The problem: free speech is no more than a token since it has been hijacked on all fronts. It has been monetized so political elections have billions donated even by undisclosed donors, and bastardized by those in positions of privilege to silence criticism and repress ideas from people with whom they disagree.
Language control today has two main roots. First, it’s driven by misconceptions about how free expression operates in the age of technology. The result forces people to abide by the feelings of others, which is fundamentally wrong.
For example, it is often said “where my freedom of speech ends someone else’s begins,” which implies that when I offend someone I am no longer allowed to express myself. If speech is legal or acceptable only until it offends someone, then it’s not free. Social media mobs forget people have rights. Ideas do not have liberties when they pressure somebody’s employer to fire them over a poor joke.
The idiot has to be separated from their silly opinion, and the opinion criticized. This is summed up by the phrase, “No idea is above scrutiny, no person is below dignity.”
Second, it seems language control in America is a form of social contentment with governmental abuses of the First Amendment—from the Espionage and Sedition Acts, to McCarthyism, to the Patriot and Freedom Acts of today that make twentieth-century fascists jealous. The world’s freest nation is more dangerous than ever for dissenting opinions.
America’s most esteemed educational institutions are rife with censorship, and even comedians have claimed to be forced to censor themselves when appearing at a university. Students are less free than ever, and across the country people are expelled and intimidated by school administrations.
Sadly enough, students are also buying into a nonsensical “right” where they think they should be protected from words and ideas they don’t like which undermines the point of education. Organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education heed the push back as co-founder Harvey A. Silverglate seeks to reform modern PC universities.
To control language is to control thought; therefore, people use it to extinguish criticism of ideas without having to defend them. Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris is a popular critic of religious doctrines like Islam, and for that he is often called a bigot by progressive Muslims who wish to silence all criticisms of their faith.
Freedom of speech means there is nothing I can say or do to prevent you from thinking what you want, nor force you to do otherwise. Offending others is a healthy consequence. It importantly renders the age-old conversation and behavior-controlling phrase “I’m offended” only meaningful to the individual that says it.
I’m offended by many things, but I do not claim the right to seek violent reprisal, social banishment or political exclusion of my offenders, and I am even more offended by those who claim such a right.
Language control is one of few steps needed for descent into authoritarianism. As Thomas Paine stated, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
We must stop the domination of offense taking over our conversations, and we cannot wait for culture warriors to save us from the thought police.