Sunday, April 02, 2006

Freedom of Speech v. Freedom from Being Offended

Today, Dr. Jeff Goldstein, the eminent blogmaster of protein wisdom, wrote about free speech ("On Being Offended").

He wrote:
Except, of course, when they tried to turn freedom of speech into freedom from being offended, a tendency that, as I’ve many times argued here, grows from a culture of political correctness and petty bureaucratic tyrannies
We completely reject the notion of freedom from being offended. Only weak, insecure, and thin-skinned people need to resort to such a tactic.

Somewhat related to this, We find it somewhat bothering that although offending a minority is condemned vociferously, no comment is made when the minority, or a member or members thereof, issue offending comments about another minority or about the majority. If there is a freedom from being offended, minorities must also be muzzled. Otherwise, this notion is nothing but idiotic efforts to stifle dissent and criticism, which in turn seriously damages the minority's ability to evolve, grow, adapt, and change as may be needed.

Regarding the purpose of free speech, Dr. Goldstein says:
Free speech is founded on the idea that debate is essential to solving (or at least acknowledging) social problems through the marketplace of ideas.
We have seen what happens when people stifle free expression. When free expression is forbidden, important issues that a community needs to address are left unexpressed; important points and issues are not brought to the attention of the community or of its relevant authorities. What results is a continuation of destructive (and even self-destructive) behaviors, policies, attitudes, and paradigms. And when the unexpressed crucial issues do come to impact the community, the community is left confused, upset, and feeling victimized. This is one reason, among many, why the previously militarily powerful Islamic Empire eventually fell. Criticizing it became criticizing Islam, which was anathema. As the world evolved, Islam remain stagnant.

This also explains why Islam remains primitive: no one could criticize Islam (even productively), and without criticism its adherants could not know how Islam needs to change in order to evolve with the changing conditions of the world. What helped Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and even Hinduism to ascend beyond Islam's level is the impact of criticism. Indeed, Hinduism offers a good and not very well-known example: when Buddhism emerged, it was seen as a critique of normative Hinduism of that period, which focused on ritual rather than ethics and morality. Hinduism was seen as oppressive, dry, immoral (amoral, rather), and against the lower classes (it was basically a religion for the higher castes). Hinduism turned against these tendencies, which can be noticed in the Bhagavadgita: like certain parts of the Hebrew Bible (especially in Nevi'im or the section of the prophets), it condemns ritualism and emphasizes the moral nature of religiosity. The common people felt validated: salvation could be theirs, even if they could not afford costly rituals, and the corrupt and immoral leaders and their system were chastized by God. Had Hinduism been unable to respond thusly to criticism, India today would be Buddhist rather than Hindu.

Dr. Goldstein also discusses tolerance:
But being tolerant means being able to hear opposing viewpoints and not react violently; what it doesn‘t mean is that anything controversial or offensive to anyone must be banished from official discourse, or relegated to a specified “free speech zone.”
This is paramount. Somehow, tolerance has come to mean acceptance, which it is not. This severely restricts possible debates and honest inquiry in a number of issues regarding a number of groups. Tolerance means to keep an open ear and an open mind, although having an open ear is more important. Indeed, based on what Dr. Goldstein has said, it may be said that many groups can be quite intolerant, responding with verbal or physical violence when confronted with criticism or an opposing point. This is a sign of serious weakness.

Minorities and easily-offended groups should not be allowed to hijack the rules for debate and discussion, particularly when doing so infringes on the basic rights mandated by The Constitution. Nor should those who are seemingly sympathetic to minorities pander to their insecurities by patronizing them by prohibiting remarks that can be considered offensive. Often, how offensive a remark may be is decided based on the offended party's terms rather than examining in detail and with honesty the intent of the speaker thereof. It is utterly ridiculous to ascribe offense to a remark made with no intent of offense.

Despite strident support for The First Amendment, there is a lot of discussion that needs to be done so that this crucial principle can be re-enshrined throughout The United States. Frankly, We find those who seek to unnecessarily limit or stifle the freedom of speech to be traitors to the ideals upon which The United States have been founded. This should not be tolerated, let alone accepted or promoted.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.


At 1:07 PM, Blogger urbansocrates said...

I reread this today and mused about my wife's family, with whom I spent the Easter holiday. On hand were: an Egyptian Muslim, a Russian Jewess, a German Jewess, a secular Ghanaian, some Irish Catholics, an atheist and many Lithuanians (for whom the occasion was a major event and most of whom had been to church services earlier). There was even a Republican on hand.

A good time was had by all, and we even talked politics for a little while with the Republican!

Why can this happen in America so often, and elsewhere so rarely, I wonder? I guess it's just a side-effect of secularism.


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