You Don’t Say
by Andy Joppa
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
I’ll start this essay on free speech with a personal anecdote. Incidentally, the phrase “free speech,” which is a cultural allowance, must be distinguished from “Freedom of Speech, a constitutional protection. They are quite different and that difference is important.
I taught in college and university classrooms for 25 years. In each class, once time had passed and trust had been established, I would tell them, “If what I teach you is true and necessary for the subject under discussion, and it causes you to have a nervous breakdown, I would, at a personal level feel sympathy for your unfortunate response (In all honesty, between you and I, I wouldn’t have). However, at a professional level, I would continue to teach that same truth, no matter how many others have that same reaction. Your response to the ‘necessary truth’ has no role to play in whether it should be part of this environment.”
In a like manner, I have little concern for the offensive implication of “necessary truths” in current America. It is the allowance for the propagation of these necessary truths that determines the health of a great nation. Snowflakes be warned.
Thomas Jefferson, in response to an offensive remark that might be offered by an undefined neighbor said, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Jefferson was clearly stating that the offensiveness of the remark was of little matter as it didn’t pilfer his property or cause him physical injury. That seems to ooze with common-sense. It is that loss of common-sense in modern America that is the cause of many of our nation’s problems.
Emotions now matter more than reality. (I am deeply offended when someone asks me, with a snide, look of just how special he thinks he is, “Whose reality?” I’d like to have him arrested, have his citizenship taken away and be banned from Facebook.)
Unless there is an objectively measured loss or injury, the mere fact that a comment was offensive is not within the province of the government to take action. This indisputable logic was enshrined, in-part, with the Second Amendment to our Constitution when it offered, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”
It should be immediately noted that the concept of Freedom of Speech only pertains to the inability of our congress to prohibit speech…with speech now being extended to include any method of communicating an idea. In the vast majority of situations where it is screamed, “that’s a violation of my Freedom of Speech;” …they are wrong…it was a violation of their free speech. What has occurred hasn’t been a violation of The Second Amendment. More on this later.
It should also be noted that the freedom of the press is nothing more than freedom of speech extended to the printed word and is not, in fact, an entirely different right. The concept of freedom of speech being sufficient to protect all forms of speech in all situations…from government restrictions or suppression.
To the greatest extent the congress has remained true to this limitation on their authority; only prohibiting a direct advocacy of violence, or, “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” While I fail to see the authority for governmental action in either situation, I won’t present my rebuttal here…it would be an essay in itself. I’ll simply state that the Second Amendment’s protection of speech does not include the allowance for governmental action if the speech can be construed as doing harm.
Before I get into the body of this essay, comments should also be offered in regard to hate crimes. If a crime is defined as having its origins in the hatred of a group or a characteristic of a protected group, the penalty can be deepened for the underlying offense. If that hatred is determined and documented by the words spoken by a perpetrator, it seems to be a clear case where speech itself is being punished.
The act must define the crime…not the motive. In fact, an equal number of crimes are “love crimes” as compared to “hate crimes;” love of your kind, love of your ideology, love of your family, love of yourself. The heinous action may be committed as motivated by love with no hate emotion even being involved. Here, I come out proudly with my condemnation of love. We can’t allow love in our great country…we’re better than that.
What we are normally discussing in modern America is not, however, The Second Amendment. We will primarily find our issues definable within one of several areas:
1) The first is the illegal (or legal) interception of speech (written or spoken) by the government that is then used in a punitive manner toward the speaker. While not prohibiting speech, it is tantamount to suppressing speech or making it retroactively illegal by its content. This is a debate that is needed. Are the intercepts of speech a violation, not only of privacy, but of the Second Amendment? I believe they are but, I suggest, this should be an area of public and legal debate.
2) The next is the concept of censorship. Should organizations, chartered or funded by the government, be allowed to censor words of its members or contributors? For example; should a college receiving financial resources from the federal government, be allowed to create “safe zones” where many types of speech are prohibited? Should students be punished for comments that are merely offensive to some ill-defined student or group of students? Should corporate employees be punished for remarks made outside of the work environment and not related to their employer?
3) Should states or local governments be allowed to create laws or policies suppressing speech that would be protected under the federal Bill of Rights? Justice Black wrote in Duncan v Louisiana: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” This essentially means that the Bill of Rights applies to states and their laws just as much as it applies to the Federal government. In New York City, however, a person who refuses to use an individual’s preferred pronoun could be subject to fines that could reach as high as $250,000 for multiple violations. From my perspective this a clear violation of their Freedom of Speech protected by the Bill of Rights. I will call Bill DeBlasio whatever pronoun I want. I don’t care how it upsets her. When the use of the wrong pronoun is the basis for a life destroying fine you know that America is tracking in the wrong direction.
4) This fourth point, and the one creating the major theme of this essay, is derived from the very concept of what it means to be a free citizen in a free nation. What is the unwritten social contract that must be shared and accepted by the members of that nation if, in fact, it is to be considered “free?” While freedom is primarily defined as freedom from your own government, there is an equally important component of freedom from your own neighbors. It is here where the essential nature of America is most under threat. Our neighbors have become, all too often, agents of totalitarianism. This recognition weaves itself through the three prior points and is the most serious problem facing the future of our nation. Can we live together as a free people? There are moments when a cliché works…this is one of them…” We have met the enemy and he/she/it is us?”
We have lost track of our need to tolerate the actions of our neighbors unless they “picked our pocket or broke our leg.” In today’s America, the wrong word spoken, at the wrong time, to the wrong person, can result in a life being totally destroyed. All they have been, all they’ve achieved, all they aspire to, can be pushed aside if they use the wrong pronoun. Our social contract, the very fabric of the nation, is being ruptured to the point of, perhaps, being irreparable.
For the past quarter century, we have been immersed in a cultural pressure to punish anyone who says anything that is offensive to anyone. The words, “I have been offended’ or “Those words are offensive,” beyond being merely descriptive of something that has occurred, have taken on the connotation of a demand for punitive action. Something must be done to the “perpetrators.”
We are asked to accept that words that have been spoken are so offensive, as to be considered, in a like manner, to a physical assault. We are also asked to believe that if someone is offended, their psychological makeup is so fragile they will have their entire life shattered, their mental health permanently impaired, their joy stolen from them and their future potentials, seriously restricted…not to mention impotency. All of that occurring, if they are offended. I would suggest that if all this is true, and we are asked to believe it is, that their problems long preceded being offended. “Snowflakes” are made not born.
Many Americans realize that efforts to muzzle speech are spreading from college campuses into the wider world. In 2017, a national poll of 2,300 U.S. adults, conducted for the Cato Institute, found that 71 percent of Americans think political correctness has silenced important discussions our country needs to have. And an astonishing 58 percent of Americans say that the political climate prevents them from sharing their own political beliefs. Dennis Prager offered, “Colleges don’t protect students from 90 percent of the professors who teach them the following: Your past was terrible, and your future is terrible. You are victims.”
Many American’s, being the irrational dullards they often tend to be (did I just offend someone?), have eight out of ten of them saying it’s “morally unacceptable” to say hateful things about racial or religious groups. What? If I simply say that essential Islamic dogma prompts terrorist action…a provably true statement, it would have eight out of every ten Americans condemning me… for the necessary truth…turning me into a moral reprobate. The fact a Muslim (even one) finds it hateful does not make it so. If I offer that Pope Francis is a destructive Marxist, many Catholics would find it hateful…but it wasn’t by any rational measurement. I am to believe that eight out of ten Americans would morally condemn me for offering a necessary truth? Wait…there’s a whole group, with torches and pitchforks, coming up the path.
A greater number, however, than before want to go even further. Cato found that 40 percent of adults believe that government should prevent hate speech in public. The problem, of course, is that what the organized Left means by “hate speech” is a constantly moving target.
NRO’s Katherine Timpf has documented the ever-expanding examples of language that must be curbed: Saying “God bless you” is declared an aggression against Islam, a sign honoring Union Civil War general Joseph Hooker is deemed offensive to women, and a school district removes the word “chief” from job titles because it might offend indigenous peoples. All true…and all absurd…except for that “Hooker” thing which is deeply offensive to all fair-minded shims.
OK…that’s about it. Freedom of Speech is fairly well protected by the Second Amendment. However, free speech is under serious assault. The Left has weaponized the use of words in a manner that makes almost all of us vulnerable to life altering attacks. We no longer can talk to each other, even if we wanted to, because every word spoken becomes a new battleground, and a chance to accidently use a phrase that might expose you as the bigot they already think you are.
As a parting word to the wise, if anyone calls me “shorty,” I’ll do all I can to have your use of smart phones red flagged.
“Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read.”