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The Free Speech Conundrum

The Oxford Dictionary defines free speech as ‘the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.’ It is seen as a fundamental right in modern society, and for a long time it served without question. Yet in 2017, it seems that that right is now under attack.

In the West, all one needs to do is to look at the comments on articles online about a variety of different issues, to find commenters labelling someone who does not share their view as either a ‘cuck’ or a racist, bigot or a homophobe.

These comments have become ever more apparent since Britain’s vote to leave the E.U. in June of 2016 and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent election in November, 2016. Consequently, this displays a worrying trend.

In the past, it was the unwritten agreement between society that people could have differing views about subjects such as immigration, politics and the economy and that respectful discussions could be had on such matters, and if the people having the discussion did not agree they could respectfully agree to disagree. Now however, that seems to have disappeared.

Since the rise of populist right and left wing movements in Europe and the United States, a clear divide seems to have emerged, where you either support one view or the other, and if you do not, you are either a liberal fool who is going to be responsible for the ending of Western civilisation, or you are a racist bigoted person who should get out more. These accusations do little to actually stimulate debate. Instead, they do more to strengthen the ‘us and them’ feeling that is already prevalent within society.

The more accusations are flung, and the more people shout others who hold differing views down, the more likely it becomes that people on both sides of the left and right divide will go looking for those who share their views. This consequently builds up the echo chamber effect, where after receiving constant streams of encouragement from their fellow ideological peers, individuals will find that others who oppose the views they believe to be right, are wrong, and should be taught that they are wrong by any means necessary.

Such thinking could be one of the reasons why Donald Trump has encouraged so many riots. Voters who did not vote for Trump have given many reasons for why they did not vote for him, and why they were marching in protest against him. However, these protests seem to have done little to actually encourage debate and discussion in the United States. Instead, things such as the Women’s March and the protests outside talks given by noted Trump supporters such as Milo Yiannopoulos, have instead drawn ridicule from Trump supporters and others on the right. Ridicule and the belittling of those who march as nothing more than ‘cucks’-short hand for cuckhold-  draws anger and resentment amongst those who march. Perhaps that is the reason why some protests break out into riots. Riots are visible displays of anger, and anger only comes about when people are either throwing a tantrum or have reached their limit and are letting the steam out of their system. This is not good, as it only furthers the views of Trump supporters that people who oppose them are not mature enough to hold a proper conversation, and therefore not worth debating.

On the flip side of this, interviews with those who are Trump supporters, or were supporters and campaigners for Britain’s exit from the EU are labelled as xenophobes, fools and voting against their own interests. When they give what, they believe are valid arguments for why they voted to leave, they are talked down to and looked upon as naïve fools who are going to get their just deserts. This does nothing to encourage them to actually keep the discussion going. This breeds resentment inside of them, as it makes them feel that they are being laughed at by a group of people who do not know them and do not want to know them. It prevents them from speaking out in a manner that could be healthy for the discussion of serious issues in their country.

Western society prides itself on being the home of democracy, on being the bedrock of good values such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and many other freedoms. Yet when people within society feel that they cannot freely express their opinion whatever it might be, without fear of ridicule, then that does nothing for debate or discussion. Instead, it breeds nothing other than resentment against one another, in a time when there are so many other threats facing society that need to be faced.

This writer suggests that people who hold opposing views try to sit down with one another, hold a discussion with one another, get both sides of the argument, and if at the end of the day they still do not agree with one another, they shake hands, and agree to disagree. Like adults. Name calling does nothing, and will change nothing. But perhaps reasonable discussion will, as people are always more likely to listen when they are being treated as equals not fools.

 

 

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