Thursday, September 24, 2015
Liberty and its Limits
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The first amendment is solid on this. We have the freedom to speak our minds. This goes for everything, no matter how vile. Of course, people can righteously be hated for what they say, but their speech should not be prohibited. According to Merriam-Webster, the American dictionary, speech is "a spoken expression of ideas, opinions, etc., that is made by someone who is speaking in front of a group of people; the ability to speak: spoken language." Even though other Western nations may not have it written as firmly as in our first amendment, their citizens must have this right as well.
Unless you are in a private organisation that has a definite speech code, even living under our our oppressive politically correct culture that divides us even more daily and destroys our ability to debate, in actuality this merely means we are living under an unofficial code. If we fail to obey that code, however, we have a much greater chance of being hated because we didn't follow the new code for being "polite." A rude comment can get you torched on Twitter. It's one of the many reasons I am happy I'm not on Twitter.
We have to be allowed to be mean, rude, and boors sometimes if we are to deal with uncomfortable truths or to argue that these"truths" are wrong. I do not endorse being a mean, rude boor--I prefer civilised debates and civilised behaviour--but sometimes it's got to be a fight to get your own point across or for them to get their point across.Because new rules are being made every day on sites such as Twitter, however, it's kind of impossible not to be a boor at some point or other. Even these fights we have to engage in can be civilised in many cases if we follow the "polite" rules written for ladies and gentleman oh so long ago. So many people have forgotten those old rules or have been taught not to follow them because people now claim they are sexist, but those rules still barely exist. And, as far as I care, you can choose to be a lady or gentleman in different situations and thus eliminate the sexism that I admit is there.
Long ago, even when duelling was acceptable, there were specific rules everyone followed to keep mutual respect, even though whatever caused these duels was usually because one of those duellers had been a boor and insulted the other person too much in the first place. They had been shamed to what they considered a humiliation and so wanted a full apology. If the other person refused to give one, it could come to a duel. But there were rules every step of the way. And I use "person" deliberately. Gentlemen AND ladies duelled in Hyde Park.
In any case, whether you are being boorish in having a fight or not, speaking metaphorically, it is unwise to bring a Styrofoam baton because you fear being hated to the gunfights we should be having in speaking about our country and, I would argue, the intolerant people we are becoming. We cannot debate in anything other than"politically correct" words and cannot debate "correct" views. We are simply supposed to accept and not question that usually extremely new viewpoint.
Even so, there are limits to liberty. It is one thing to speak your mind and get into a vicious fight about it when someone disagrees with you at the bar. The ability to fight another with incorrect words is a right we all have and should be able to follow. However, trying to force someone to accept your viewpoint as the truth even if they you disagree with them wholeheartedly is another matter. If I punch the man I'm trying to get my point across to, that's not speech--that's violence. Speaking non-metaphorically, if I actually brought a gun to the threatened fight and won it, that would be unacceptable because I harmed the other person. If I stood up in a theatre and shouted that there was a fire and thus jeopardised people, that would be unacceptable because I might have potentially caused real harm. Doing this might also violate our freedom to peaceably assemble because I might cause a riot. If I committed treason by whispering secrets to an enemy, I would cause real harm and put the United States in danger. It is one thing to speak your mind, even if you are hated for it, and another to jeopardise others' liberty because you are speaking your mind.
But, destroy this new code we're modifying every day. It's extremely incorrect even if people call it politically correct. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? I've already said here that it's dividing us more every day. Our democracies will also fail if we cannot speak freely and debate with strangers. Otherwise, we will just "preach to the choir" and convince ourselves that OUR viewpoint is the only correct one. People will become more and more partisan and hard line. More moderate people will be shut out even if they want to ask perfectly reasonable but "incorrect" questions about our politics and culture. Because of this, our democracies will end. There will be only one "correct," although unofficial, doctrine that wins. No blurred lines. Liberty has official limits which I believe are reasonable. What is happening unofficially, however, is deeply wrong. It trumps the danger terrorism in leagues and miles. If we continue in this manner, the glory of what we have achieved in the West (we have even succeeded in managing to support most of our people in poverty, offering welfare when it is usual to be poor!), will die.