Free speech is pretty much a thing of the past in these days of super-sensitivity and automatic offence-taking.
Politicians, pressure groups and political correctness have arbitrarily designated certain sections of society as protected groups who must never be offended. Say a word against the special groups and a battery of automatic outrage and offence will come hurtling your way.
The odd thing is that the list is pretty arbitrary. Old people for example, many of whom have done an awful lot for society, are not on it. You can pretty much ridicule old men and old women and no-one will raise a peep. Same with Buddhists. No-one seems to care much about Buddhists’ feelings. Or Sikhs. Or Inuits.
White men? Well, that goes without saying! Everyone knows white men are fair game. Say what you like about them, is the consensus; they probably deserve it.
The trouble is, the more groups that are designated as protected – the more groups whose toes must never be trod on – the more society ties itself in knots and loses the right to free speech. Political correctness dictates that some people have a right not to be offended. Yet free speech absolutely depends on the right to offend others and the necessity for us all to accept that others’ views may indeed offend us. It is far healthier for example for an atheist and a christian to debate each other’s views even if both are offended, than for free expression and debate to be suppressed.
What the politically correct lobby has done is move from acknowledging that some views offend some people to ensuring that those views are suppressed. Here’s one example.
A British TV presenter was recently castigated from here halfway to eternity for making a joke about a car. He said something along the lines that the F430 Speciale was so simple it had special needs.
The British politically-correct brigade was immediately up in arms. There were howls of outrage. There were denunciations of the BBC for permitting the words to be said. There were official complaints lodged with the UK’s broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. The regulator predictably passed judgement condemning BBC presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, for the wicked crime of being offensive. Ofcom denounced Clarkson in its usual po-faced way, saying that “discriminatory language of this nature has the potential to be very offensive to some viewers as it could be seen to single out certain sections of society in a derogatory way because of their disability….The comments made by Jeremy Clarkson in this instance were capable of causing offence.”
The BBC had been pressured to apologise (to whom exactly?) and the joke was censored out of the repeat programme.
But why should people who are offended have the right to suppress what is said? Certainly they should have the right to reply to it and to express the fact that they’re offended. That way everyone has their say and everyone has the right to free speech. But they go much further when they suppress the other person’s expression simply because they don’t happen to like what he says. None of us should have that power. It’s too dangerous.
Free speech and freedom of expression should be unfettered unless they’re used to make violent threats.
Unfortunately, dangerous laws are in force now which criminalise many views, especially around the issues of race and faith. For example, if an atheist says (in Britain) today that he or she finds islam or christianity an irrational ideology, he or she risks being prosecuted for “religious hatred.” A religious believer, on the other hand, is perfectly free – quite rightly – to say whatever they like about atheism.
Personally, I’d defend the right for people to think and say anything they like and the right of others, equally, to reply with whatever words they choose. The fact that people opposed what Jeremy Clarkson said isn’t at all dangerous. That they took steps to silence him is.
Here’s a list – only half-ironic – of the fashionably protected and the unprotected groups in the west today. These are the groups that, currently, we can and can’t offend.
You can offend whites. Unless they’re gay, transexual, disabled or women. Except – you can offend white women if they’re politicians, lawyers or “celebrities”.
You can’t offend blacks. Or hispanic people. (People seem to have half-forgotten about offending native Americans?)
You can offend Australians obviously. They’re too sensible to bother taking offence. And you can offend Avars (inhabitants of the Russian republic of Dagestan since you ask), Enets and Evens, German Slovakians and Burmese Chinese, along with hundreds of other ethnic groups people aren’t very aware of. No-one will care.
You can offend lawyers and politicians. Unless they’re gay, transexual or disabled.
You can offend men. Unless they’re black. Or gay or transexual. Or disabled.
You can’t offend gays. Curiously, no-one bothers much about bisexuals or asexuals. Perhaps the problem for the PC brigade is that while applauding the homosexual tendencies of bisexuals, they take a dim view of their heterosexual inclinations? And the trouble with asexuals is they’re, well, asexual.
You can’t offend transexuals. (Especially not, for some reason, if they’re men who ‘become’ women. The men demand more attention.)
You can offend buddhists, sikhs or christians. But not jews. And absolutely not muslims.
Pagans and druids are getting a bit of action now and are half-on the protected list. (They’ll get there.)
For the moment, no-one cares if you ‘insult’ Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Baha’i or Shinto because most people don’t know what they are.
You can offend prisoners. Unless they’re gay, disabled, black, muslim, jewish, pagan or druid.
In the UK you didn’t used to be able to offend nurses. Nurses as a group were spoken about in hushed tones with reverence and awe. Nurses were commonly referred to in the media as “angels.” In recent years, however, the nursing halo has slipped. We had a few British nurses quietly snuffing out the lives of elderly patients and rather a lot of reports of slovenly, cruel or incompetent nursing. Result? Nurses are currently half-off the protected list.
You can offend people who’re bald or blonde. No-one will care very much. (“That old guy’s as bald as a coot!”) No-one ever offends brunettes for some inexplicable reason. Redheads – the ginger-haired – are kind of getting on the list (in the UK anyway.) But….no, they haven’t gained protected status yet.
Overweight people have a complicated relationship to the list. One day the politically correct are militantly demanding that obese people should have the right to spill into 3 plane seats if they want to, the next they’re acknowledging that a huge diet industry suggests many fat people would like to be slim. I have an idea overweight people are referred to as ‘people of size’ in the US but that’s so silly it must be apocryphal? We all, by definition, have a size.
You can offend petrol-heads, hillbillies and rednecks.
You can offend bankers, businessmen and millionaires. And rich businesswomen. And anyone who works in real estate.
You can offend men who repeatedly cheat on their wives. The therapy industry did its best to convince us all that’s they’re suffering sex addicts, but we didn’t really buy it. Tiger Woods was the last straw.
You can offend teenagers, because nobody likes them. Not even other teenagers. Unless of course they’re gay or transexual.
You can’t easily offend children – unless they’re the type that know their rights. Kids can be terribly upset and hurt by things others say, of course, but most kids haven’t yet been schooled in the fine adult art of taking offence.
You can’t offend disabled children and you wouldn’t want to. If anyone does though, even inadvertently, their parents – even if they’re white or male – will take offence on their behalf.
You can offend comedians because they don’t care.
And you’ll always be welcome to offend people who stick up for free speech.
Did I forget anyone?