Many times, as Americans, we talk about freedom of speech. We say we have the right to freedom of speech. We are right and wrong when we say this. Our rights to political and religious free speech are supposed to be guaranteed. If those rights are trespassed against then we can pursue legal redress. In daily life, however, we may imagine that we have the right to speak our mind, but that is increasingly less and less the case.
I remember years ago hearing my mother and sister talking about how things were not “PC”. I could not understand what Personal Computers had to do with what they were discussing. I had been fortunate enough not to have been infected/affected by this rather oppressive concept of things being “politically correct.” I am politically neutral, I said to myself, so what does this have to do with me?
Many years have passed and this concept of “PC” has grown and grown. I am a bit startled from time to time at the intolerance people display. As I heard someone say today, ‘people have the right to be stupid’. I think that is no longer the case. Oh, intellectually, you may have the right to be a bigot or a racist or this or that, but that only lasts until you say out loud that you feel that way and then, buster, buckle your seat belt because it’s about to get bumpy.
There is a quotation that I looked up today, similar to one often attributed to Voltaire, but with a bit more of a bite.
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would still be evil.”
John Stuart Mill, 1859 from the Introduction to “On Liberty.”
I fear that people are no longer allowed to have differences of opinion. There is some anonymous Board Of The Proper Opinion and if you cross it May God (whoops, can’t say that, might offend the Atheists or the Pagans!) Help You. The problem is that opinions, rather like fashions, come and go. What was Right four years ago can suddenly be Wrong today. Things widely regarded as religious teachings held sacred for thousands of years are now cast as ‘opinions’, possibly ‘wrong opinions’ that can’t be tolerated. If I’m willing to ‘tolerate’ you, why can’t you ‘tolerate’ me?
It is this which concerns me. If the only true freedom of opinion rests within our skull then there is no more freedom. If there is no more freedom, then what? Look to history for what happens when freedom of dissent is no longer allowed. This country was founded by people who fled Intolerance, who Dissented with the Powers of their time. If there is no place left any longer for tolerance, for dissent, for honest disagreement, it is a sad day indeed.
To conclude, don’t think I am defending racism or bigotry or hatred. I’m not. I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.