In any democracy, freedom of speech is an essential core component of life. We all have our views, and no one person’s opinion is more important than the other. Very recently, this blog has approached the issue of opening yourself up to other people’s experience. That too is an essential part of any tolerant society. If we never allow our views to be challenged or tested in any way, then how can we learn?
And yet, freedom of speech is often used as a hammer to forestall criticism. People trot out views that they know to be provocative – and they should always be able to do so. But when they are counter-argued, some people will use free speech as a shield. “You may not like what I’m saying”, they will shout, “but you have to respect my point of view!”
Well, no. You don’t. You have to respect their right to a point of view, and that is where your duty ends as far as that goes. We would be in an unfortunate position if freedom of speech were to go away. But we would also be poorly placed if anyone could say anything unchallenged. And increasingly, some views are being expressed that need to be challenged.
#1: “Women’s Rights Have Gone Far Enough. What About Men?”
See also “When is White History Month” and “Do we get to have Straight Pride parades too now?”. Now, there is a debate to be had about the utility of affirmative action. But the idea that Straight White Men are suddenly an oppressed constituency is a fantasy. The reason that there has been a battle for rights for other groups is that they were denied so long. This is not a hard concept to absorb.
#2: “Global Warming Is A Myth/Just A Theory”
No. Look, the planet is heating up. And the fact that sometimes snow falls in April does not mean that the Arctic Ice Shelf isn’t decreasing in size. A majority of scientists are in consensus that Climate Change is real, is caused by humankind, and is a problem. Not the 97% that is often quoted, but enough to make it just about impossible to credibly argue otherwise. How we deal with it is another matter, but it’s real.
#3: “Vaping Is Making People Take Up Smoking.”
Look, you can have your opinions on vaping, whether it’s healthy and whether doing it makes you look like a hipster. Those are points worth considering. But there is no evidence at all to suggest it makes people want to smoke. If you’ve never smoked, you’re not likely to even want to start vaping. But a package from Shoreditch Vape or similar is not about to turn you into a smoker. Tobacco tastes foul, smells worse and causes cancer. And it costs more, too.
Don’t get me wrong. These views are as worthy of expression as any other. You simply shouldn’t voice them and expect the First Amendment to protect you from people laughing at you. As the saying goes: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you. Then they fight you, then you win“. If your view has credibility, you may go through all four stages. If instead of being edgy, it’s just stupid, don’t expect to go past point two.