It’s been a strange 18 months.
Life is odd, sure; but the past year and a half has been extraordinarily so.
You may be thinking of the flag referendum. Or Brexit. Or President Trump. But this isn’t what I’m referring to. Not in the slightest. All of these ‘unlikely’ events involved a democratic decision process of some sort.
No, the most bizarre event of the past 18 months has been the rise of hatred under the façade of free speech.
There’s nothing new about this sort of dialogue. Many an ‘extremist’ has spouted such words in their lifetime and people are intrinsically horrible to those who differ from them. But this time it feels different. To me, at least; and so I decided to investigate.
So, what exactly is free speech?
Google defines freedom of speech as “the right to articulate one’s opinion and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship, or social sanction.” This is somewhat self-explanatory. People should be able to say what they like:
- Without the government retaliating (in any shape or form)
- Without the government censoring these words (in any shape or form)
- Without society trying to enforce conformity to socially approved standards
Or rather, individuals should be able to share their thoughts without fearing repercussion.
This left me torn. On the one hand, I think it’s important for people to freely express themselves. On the other, however, such a definition would validate all those pesky ‘free speech’ claims.
Free speech: “the right to articulate one’s opinion and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship, or social sanction.”
Thankfully, it’s not that simple.
Freedom of speech and/or expression rights aren’t absolute and common limitations are in place. For example, restrictions relate to:
- Libel – when someone defames another by writing a false claim
- Slander – when someone defames another by speaking a false claim
- Fighting words
- Classified information
- Copyright violation
- Trade secrets
- The right to privacy
- The right to be forgotten – where someone has the right to determine the development of their life without being stigmatized by an action performed in the past
- Public security
Free speech, then, can’t be used as an excuse for being horrible. So why do people try to do so?
I believe the answer is simple – privilege.
Samer Alhato explains this point brilliantly:
“When black folks have several children, they’re called irresponsible. When white people do, it’s called ’19 Kids & Counting’.
When Muslims are accosted for having the ability to marry more than one wife, they’re called misogynistic. When white people it, it’s called ‘Sister Wives’.
When various cultures of brown folks around the world have arranged marriages, they are shamed for it. When white people do it, it’s called ‘Marriage at First Sight’.
Want to know what privilege is? Watch (reality television).”
I used to hang my head in disbelief and ask how people could say such hateful things. Question why someone would make the effort to be so horrible when it’s easier to be impartial and/or nice. Wonder how ‘free speech’ became an accepted excuse for terrible thoughts.
And then the answer dawned on me – fear. People are afraid they may just be like everyone else.
For too long, society’s conditioned us to think we’re all special. That our views and norms are better than any others. That our thoughts are more important.
It’s 2017, people, and it’s time to accept were all just human beings – you, I and the next person are no different.
Have an opinion and share it; but don’t be disrespectful. Separate fact from emotion and be willing to have an open discussion on contentious topics. The world will be a better place for it.
Be kind. Always.