Fear. That’s it in a nutshell. Fear of ideas. Fear of argument. Fear of confrontation. Fear of being upstaged. Fear of having to defend your position. Fear of differing views. There is no other explanation for the idea that academic freedom should mean freedom from ideas that offend, other than fear of being challenged and forced to rethink, or truly defend, your positions. Freedom from being uncomfortable in society? No “human” is an island. Where there are humans there are opinions. Where there are opinions there is bound to be conflict, argument and derision. Where there are humans there is bound to be a challenge. It is what human society is all about.
Challenge of intellect. Challenge of research, themes, perspectives and outlooks. If you cannot support your thesis in an argument then perhaps your thesis is invalid. Challenge is not something to shirk or shrink away in retreat. Challenge is the absolute reason for intellect discourse. Challenge is the presentation of ideas that do offend, mock and denigrate. Challenge is the hallmark of freedom. Challenge is debate, argument and discourse. Those who seek to shut down discourse have nothing whatsoever to add to civilization except for fear and slavery of the mind. Those who wish to shutdown discourse have no understanding of freedom.
Freedom is not about being free from offense. Freedom is not about control by the thought police. Remember the thought police can and do change. Western civilization has lived through the dark ages of thought police, political slaughter and religious heresy. Western civilization, for the most part, has chosen freedom of thought. Sadly, in the last few decades, however, freedom of thought and expression has been on the wane. Freedom to speak one’s mind has been curtailed due to fear and that fear is destroying our freedom.
Freedom is not about freedom from fear. Fear of the unknown of what will happen tomorrow comes with the knowledge that you are free to live life as your see fit. That you do not have a master and that you are responsible for your own choices. Freedom is about having the ability to overcome your fears and lead a descent and productive life. Freedom is not being told what to think, how to think and when to think. Freedom is precarious, dubious and devoid of easy answers. Freedom above all is allowing someone who you find reprehensible to have the same rights as you.
Freedom is the essence of human creativity and strength. It is what drives humankind to develop, grow and reconfigure our world. Freedom is what pushes us to thrive, strive and reach for the stars. Freedom of thought challenges the status quo and drives fear into the soul of every fascist.
But what is fascism? Is it the goosestepping, brown shirt wearing illiberal racist or the Marxist socialist statist elite hell-bent on controlling the environment in which they live? Is a fascist someone who simply doesn’t allow for a challenge, and has a fear of true freedom of thought and speech? Is a fascist someone so afraid of their own loss of control that the only alternative to their rule is the destruction of society and civilization? Is fascism anyone who demands full unwavering obedience to their thought process and their thought process alone? Is fascism all of the above?
Fascism comes in many forms. But most of what fascism is, is hate for humankind. Hate for the ability of humanity to pick itself up out of the rubble and challenge the long-held positions of right and wrong. It is hate for those that think differently and the inherent need to shut down society to protect society from itself. Fascism is hate for human life, growth, development and above all human argument. Fascism is hate of freedom. Fascism is hate of the lack of control coupled with a profound lack of respect for the choices that humanity has the right to make for itself. Fascism is a hate of human ingenuity. But most of all, fascism is fear.
A Harvard college student writes a post about the right to not be offended in the name of academic freedom. She has some interesting historical and modern-day company. Those who excommunicated Galileo thought they had a right to not be offended. Those who threw books into bonfires (and eventually human beings) thought they had the right to not be offended. Those who murdered millions in the name of a cultural revolution, thought they had a right to not be offended. Those who sent political opponents to the Gulag thought they had the right to not be offended. Those that kill in the name of their religion think they have the right to not be offended. Those that usurp the inalienable nature of human rights think they have the right to not be offended….just ask the thin-skinned occupant of the White House and his administration’s convoluted plan for control of news programming through the FCC’s implied threats.
Freedom is not about not being offended. Freedom is the right to be offended, to not have anyone else decide how you should think and feel. Ultimately then freedom, academic or national, is the right to be able to act upon your beliefs with determination, to stand up for what you believe in and to fight for those beliefs. But freedom does not promise you the absence of a challenge and freedom most assuredly does not promise you the absence of fear.
Hate Speech, Hate Crime, Just Grow a Pair
Repost June 2013
It never fails to amaze me how people love to claim freedom of speech when discussing their ideals but when their ideals are challenged suddenly they claim that they are victims of hate crimes. We have previously discussed the concept of freedom of speech. The truth of the matter is that freedom of speech is a tough right to uphold. When someone says things that make your blood boil, it is up to you to allow that incendiary speech to continue. It is up to you to defend that person’s right to say whatever they like. However, it does not preclude you from responding and having a true repartee about any issue of the day. The problem becomes when those that oppose your point of view not only try to shut you down, but when they say your speech is a crime.
Personally I think the western nations need to remember what freedom of speech is all about. I think they need to remember that freedom of speech is about being brave and strong and declaring your intentions to the world. Will you like everything that someone else says? Absolutely not. But it’s the price you pay for living in a free society.I am really not sure what this new movement is all about. It is way beyond political correctness. Simply put, political correctness is about giving just names to ideas and persons. Personally I think it can be a beneficial idea to see a person for whom they really are instead of saddling them with a stereotypical name. However, when did political correctness devolve to the point that you cannot say anything because you might offend someone, well at least as long as society decides that you don’t have a right to offend that particular group of persons? Protected groups change and political philosophies change and political loyalties change with varying degrees throughout history. If you forbid one group from speaking one day, who is to say that it will not be your turn tomorrow to be silenced?
The truth is that we do have hate crime legislation in the United States. Hate crimes in the US are nothing new. But, many commentators say it has a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Yet, I take a different tact. Our hate crime legislation is an indication of someone’s intent and if that intent is to do harm because someone was a minority then the felony involved is seen as having a greater effect upon society. For example: if an individual is attacking someone based upon their skin color or religion rather than in a general brawl, then society has deemed that that attack warrants a higher punishment. Is speech being attacked or curtailed here? No. Speech is used to prove an element of the crime. It is not the crime itself. Speech is being used to show the intent of the criminal and why they are breaking the law. It is no different from any hearsay exception where speech is used to prove an element of the crime. I would say it is akin to the felony-murder rule as well. While many felonies in and of themselves do not stipulate an extensive amount of incarceration, however if death occurs during the commission of the felony, then a higher penalty is paid. The same type of penalty exacerbation occurs under hate crime legislation in the United States.Now hate crime in other nations, particularly Europe and Canada, occurs when speech is directly curtailed because you might hurt someone’s feelings. This is very different from in the United States and is seen here in the US as a violation of freedom of speech.
The interesting point here is that hate crimes are selective in these countries and it is all about appeasement of particular ethnic groups rather than standing up for values and ideas.In fact, Sweden is notorious for condemning any anti-Muslim writings in their newspapers, but hiding behind freedom of speech in not attacking any anti-Semitic writings in the same newspaper.It is truly unfortunate and says alot about Europe and particularly Sweden. Now we do have some laws that can curtail speech here in the United States too. We do have laws that say if imminent violence can occur then speech can be stopped. But generally under those circumstances a court tells the city or municipality to put on more police. Also it becomes an issue of prior restraint which courts are very loathe to ever allow.
Unfortunately we do see colleges and universities claiming probable violence as a reason to shut down speakers. Ironically that speaker is usually a conservative political proponent, someone the majority at the university or college rejects to begin with.The question becomes, what are the colleges and universities so afraid of? The administrations seem to be afraid of violence from those that the speaker offends? Well, why are these violent students allowed on campus and allowed to attend the school? You have no right to attend any university or college. In fact, if you are violent you do not have a right to be in any mainstream environment in any school at any grade level. If you interrupt someone’s right to learn and be educated then you have no right to be in a place of education. That is simple education law. In fact some of the tactics used by many protesters are in and of themselves a form of assault, a societal crime, not just an educational one. I find it terribly disappointing that bastions of free thought and liberal thinking such as universities and colleges globally curtail speech in anyway shape or form. Interestingly enough since conservatives do not physically attack people who disagree with them their opponents are given free rein over colleges and universities to spew their hatred of western freedoms and values. How’s that for irony, using western freedoms to destroy western freedoms.
The truth is that free speech is tough. It’s probably one of the toughest of the first amendment rights to stand up for. But it is the basis of a democratic society. The reality is that people will make you angry. Democracy is not for the thin-skinned or the weak of heart. If you want a free society you need to fight for it and allow those whom you despise to speak their mind. In plain and simple terms, if you want to live in a free society, grow a pair.