Uber libertarian Mick Hume screams his battlecry from the rooftops. “Question everything, ban nothing!” He yells at the terrified onlookers below whilst he pelts them with tiles.
Free speech radicals are running rampant to combat their common foe: political correctness. But in a world with so homogeneous, is there still a place for willful offensiveness?
Free speech advocates like Hume tell people they have no right to be offended, they just need a healthy dose of maturity. In his book Trigger Warning: Is The Fear Of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?, Hume details his all-or-nothing stance.
“To say that you believe in free speech ‘but’ is not simply to qualify your support, but to dissolve it altogether. Free speech is not something you can sort-of believe in on a scale of 1 to 10.”
He is quite correct. The right to freedom of speech stops being a right as soon as restrictions are imposed. After that, it’s a privilege that must be granted. This is dangerous, he says, because it stifles the flow of important discussions that might be deemed by some as -phobic of one minority or another.
Feelings are just feelings, sticks and stones. Mick Hume couldn’t care less if he offends you. But is the flagrant disregard for emotional impact healthy to the open debate he so craves?
Milo: Sensationalism Personified
It’s hard to talk about freedom of speech without mentioning its modern-day poster boy. His name is Milo Yiannopoulos, or more ominously known as ‘Milo’. He’s a British born American journalist writing for the bastion of right-wing free speech Breitbart News, a populist online rag dedicated to all things Republican, and is the go-to site of the alt-right.
A flamboyant Trump-loving free speech militant, he wants you to know he does not care about your feelings. Milo is regularly banned from university campuses for his unpopular opinions, which he uses as ammunition in his campaign against political correctness. He only aims to provoke and offend and almost always hits his target.
You might have heard of Milo from his permanent suspension from Twitter last year after a vicious online slinging match with actress Leslie Jones, whose Ghostbusters remake he thought was nothing more than vapid feminist pandering. Although his presence there is sorely missed by his fanboys, it seems to have elevated his profile to that of a martyr-for-the-cause. Pre-orders of his book certainly haven’t swayed because of it.
He values freedom of speech above all else, he makes you question how far he can go. Even though subtlety isn’t his forte and you might not like what he has to say, he always generates discussion.
Unless you’re a lefty. Then he’s just a fascist.
He is belligerent towards all minorities in sight. He thinks lesbians aren’t real. Black people ask to get shot by committing more crime. There’s no such thing as a pay gap between men and women. There are only two genders. And so on and so forth.
Are there grains of truth to any of this? I don’t know. But if there are, I don’t want to investigate. Milo and his followers are not diplomatic social scientists looking to find the cause of all our problems in the world. They exist to rile other people up.
They are trolls and bigots and racists. Some, I assume, are good people. But most will use Milo as a vehicle to air their prejudices. If he was more diplomatic, he’d have a lot smaller fanbase, but he’d have a much better standard of follower.
But, at this moment, do you want to be the one fighting Milo’s corner?
‘Political correctness’ is the high-pitch dog whistle every keen Tory, Libertarian and Republican responds to. It has a right-wing stigma attached to it, so much so I feel dirty just muttering the phrase in the pejorative.
It’s easy to see why people have such a problem with political correctness, it erodes their free speech. But it can’t be forgotten why people at large don’t say their frankest opinions out loud. Political correctness is described by Google as such:
“The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”
The key words here are “socially disadvantaged” and “discriminated against”. Abiding by the rules of political correctness ensures that people don’t punch down. Derogatory slurs against gays and lesbians obviously impact a lot more than if you were to criticise someone for how rich and handsome they are.
This seems like a good rule of thumb to live by. If you start offending every person at a disadvantage to you I doubt you’ll have many friends left that aren’t knuckle draggers. Nor will you have open and honest debate.
Even if it may sound a tad condescending, respect for each other is the only path to an open and honest discussion about the hard situations wider society faces. If your attack plan is kick down the door and flip a table, expect people to treat you in the same manner.
Milo Yiannopoulos thinks he is a free speech crusader. So does Mick Hume. But their polemical tactics, although frank, only help entrench reluctant readers in their views and embolden the die-hards.
A tender balance exists between honest speech and offensive speech. But free speech radicals tip the scales just to make a fleeting point by example. For honest discussion to exist, the golden rule must be obeyed.
No Right Answer
After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Joe Sacco drew his interpretation of what it all meant. Do deliberately offensive drawings really open dialogue in society? Does it makes us learn more from one another? Probably not. But does tip-toeing around sensitive areas solve our problems in the long run? Is temporary peacefulness worth the long term cracks? Nope, not really.
Just as much as people shouldn’t attack each other unjustly, ideologies and methods that are morally wrong must be spoken out against. Whether it’s neo-Nazi’s kicking off in France or Islamists in Syria throwing gay people off of buildings.
But they must be spoken against without generalisation or prejudice.
Everyone has the right to offend, but if we’re going to overcome our differences we need to use offence with caution. Political correctness isn’t taking away your freedom of speech, it just helps us have a respectful conversation, but with a honest discussion one must accept their weaknesses as well as their strengths.
Everyone’s born with the freedom to say what they want, and I intend to retain mine til the day I die. Which, knowing my luck, is probably the day I use it on the wrong person.
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