You’re Offended? My Freedom of Speech says “So What”


By Martin Mulvenna, Contributor


It is quite common nowadays to hear “I’m offended”, or in its more ridiculous form, “I’m Triggered” – like such statements give them the right to censor other people right of freedom of speech. The only sensible response to those who utter such whines should be “so what?”. There’s a creeping tendency emerging which concedes to their demands.

The occurrence of this ever-increasing sinister trend of infantile regression is seen not only in certain campuses banning comedians due to their routine containing a joke that might offend or be at the expense of someone or something (what is comedy good for then), but even banning certain academics as their theory or their critique of a theory might offend a “vulnerable” member of audience. One cannot even go on to social media without witnessing the widespread outrage that someone, somewhere had the audacity to write their own opinion which may be unwelcome to others; that maybe gender is a biological concept, or that a certain movie about busting ghosts wasn’t all that great or that a certain religion isn’t all that peaceful.

Shock, horror – I’m offended by what was just implied! So what?

The Freedom of speech must include the license to offend, to limit the freedom of speech of others you automatically limit your own and deny yourself any possibility to hear the opinion of others. This limits your own freedom of thought and makes you a slave to your own opinions.

The irony of today is that those who wish to ban words accused of being offensive or not being entirely political correct (such as some feminists and LGBT activists) is that if it weren’t for the brave efforts of their predecessors, these exact same groups would not be in any position to call for restriction on speech as they do now.

Offensive ideas and words aren’t some virus, capable of  ravaging public health. Such ideas and words are the bedrock on which a progressive, liberal minded society must be based. No doubt Galileo offended the religious elite with his discoveries – no doubt Thomas Paine offended the monarchs of Europe with his proclamation of the Rights of Man. Don’t take comfort in the feeling of being in consensus, a tyranny of majority, how can you be sure of the things you know to be self-evident? Human progress depends upon the interplay of dynamic and dangerous ideas.

As Mick Hume rightly points out it seems that we are living in an era of reverse Voltaire’s, whereas before the classical line for free speech was “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death the right to say it”, now it seems some of us are willingly to deny that this person has any right to speech at all as it might dangerously undermine the emotional safety of a vulnerable reader. Anybody who’s cares about the ideals of the enlightenment should condemn such an infantile reaction, was it not Rousseau who said that “Better freedom with danger, then peace with slavery”.

To limit free speech in such a way is to make mere thought a crime, and what can be more suggestive of tyranny than that? Or, should all those who dare to rebel against the crowded consensus with shouts of “fire” be force to sip the hemlock?

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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