Last night, I was having a detailed and (slightly) out of hand discussion with someone about whether or not free speech should have its limits. In a part of the world where we are free to speak what comes to mind, do we-realistically-need censorship? And if so, where do we draw the line?
The distance between political/moral correctness and freedom to express oneself is somewhat of a No-Man’s Land. Is it okay to express that the feeling that all Muslims are terrorists? All same sex relationships are the work of the devil? What about, for example, standing outside an abortion clinic, attempting to change the mind of a possible patient? The social dilemma causes discomfort, conflict from either sides.
Here’s the thing.
There is no doubt that we are extremely fortunate not to live in a dictatorship with a totalitarian government. Whilst British democratics leave a lot to be desired for, the voting system, the right to peaceful protests, is something that I will always be exceptionally grateful for. Even if the People’s choice is often unconsidered and disappointing.
My opinion is that there has to be a middle ground. Yes, free speech is a blessing. But there has to be some form of compromise.
We’ve all been at a party, at a family gathering, at a social event, and heard great aunt Greta call great aunt Julie a “fat old cow”, to which she says is an “unnecessary personal attack”. At this point, Greta stands tall and says “I’m entitled to my opinion, it’s a free country”.
And that, of course, may well be the case. But is it right to offend simply because we can? Surely that’s absurd.
Stephen Fry recently said:
“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”
Personally, I think that to take that stance is immature; somewhat inconsiderate-unnecessary. If somebody has been offended by something that’s been said, we should take care to treat them more sensitively. After all, the aim is to portray a certain opinion, not bulldoze their emotions. So, on this occasion-as on many others-I have to disagree with Mr Fry.
My counter-argument, ultimately, as a short and sweet answer, would be that this is what it boils down to: you have the right to be abusive with your words. But a responsibility, as a human being, not to be.