Allowing people to speak their mind is not only vital for democracy to move forward, but for us to figure out the world
I will use two examples to explain why free speech is so vital for everyone in society, even those who are against it. The first is anecdotal, and the second is an analogy.
Example 1 – A person with a hidden agenda on primetime TV
The head of a charitable organisation which supported radical islamist terrorists was invited to talk on a prominent BBC 1 television show. I had heard rumblings in the ether about what it was they stood for, and I had a pre-conceived idea about them being an immoral organisation. But as I had never seen them on a primetime slot like this, I wasn’t sure what to believe.
There would have been many people offended they were given that slot. Often they would have been people who had sadly lost relatives due to the actions of the terrorists the organisation represented.
During the 15 minute interview, it became obvious that the organisation’s motives were less than respectable. The actions of the organisation were driven by a belief that the terrorists’ actions were justified due to the nature of their religion.
Within a week of the show being aired, their funding was decimated as their true colours had been exposed. This would not have happened if they had not been allowed to talk, and those understandably sad and offended by their actions had succesfully campaigned for them to be ‘no-platformed’ on the grounds they were deeply offensive to the victims.
This is the crucial point young people don’t seem to understand. It seems more prevalent on the left, or within ‘liberal’ circles, to think that just because an idea is given airtime, it will immediately brainwash millions of people who watch it. This reveals a total disregard for normal people and their ability to spot right from wrong. If an idea is unpopular, it will not grow. If an idea is popular, it will. You have to trust democracy.
The reason this organisation is not around today causing damage to society is because they were allowed to say their piece in front of millions. They dug their own grave and in a moderate, decent country, the democratic right to free speech moved us in the direction of progress. I would argue that no-platforming people because of their views can actually give them more support and let them go underground, unnoticed for what they truly are.
Example 2 – Rulers who love cats and dogs
Imagine a ruling body which dislikes cats but loves dogs. Rules may be put in place which outlaws any ridiculing of dogs. 101 dalmations may be taken down off netflix because it contains offensive sterotypes of the species. This is “to protect people and not to spread offensive ideas”. Many dog lovers will make light of cats in cartoons and literature.
Then after some years a new ruling body takes over and they love cats but dislike dogs. New legislation is made to protect cats from ridicule and blasphemy and dogs are lowered to a level on a par with lesser creatures. There were many people who ridiculed cats and supported the outlawing of anti-dog rhetoric and the clamping down on “hate speech” and blasphemous attacks on the animal. These people are now outlaws, having spent their life campaigning for restrictions on free speech, their liberties have now been taken away. They are understandably upset, but it was their own campaigning that caused it.
I used this simple example to show how ‘offence’ depends on who is deciding. ‘Hate’ speech is very different depending on who you talk to and the idea of offence is extremely subjective. For example, I am offended that so many people are offended so easily, so should that mean that I have license to no-platform people who are easily offended? No of course not. I hope now you see the problem. It is a minefield because who chooses what is offensive or not? We need to realise that part of life is being offended.
In a democratic and fair society, things may not always be a straight path to success, but they do improve. The right to have one’s own opinions is a crucial part of this. We have to trust both these things if we are to remember what got us here in the first place.
What do you think?