Congress shall pass no law that abridges the freedom of speech. By and large our legislators adhere to that mandate as stated in the first amendment. At present the biggest threat to that freedom is not posed by Congress. It is a group of self imposed restrictions initiated by the populace. It is almost as if a new amendment to the constitution is being drafted. That amendment states that each citizen has the right not to be offended. Don’t step on anybody’s toes. Remove all offensive words, potential insults or politically incorrect comments or be ostracized. The list of unacceptable words grows yearly. As a result, our language possibly becomes more bland and less interesting.
More egregious than word censorship is the practice of making certain subjects taboo. At present the California assembly is considering a bill condemning biased, hateful speech intended to stoke fear and intimidation. What a wonderful idea! However, the legislation is directed toward groups critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Such criticism is deemed as anti-semitic harassment of Jewish students at State universities and should not be allowed. If such legislation is passed It has the potential of stifling all serious discussion regarding racism and sexism on university campuses. Making people feel good will take precedence over open discussion in search of truth.
To judge speech as being biased or hateful is highly subjective. Some might regard Rush Limbaugh’s use of the word, “femenazi” as objectionable. Others might see it as a clever neologism that accurately describes some hyper-militant feminists. In a country as diverse as ours, different groups regard a whole host of differing ideas as repugnant. I can visualize fundamentalist Christians being highly offended by lectures on evolution. This is particularly true if a professor denigrated the six day creation theology held by many evangelicals. Disbelievers in the human contributions to global warming would not be given a voice. One could not ridicule political or irreligious ideas. And so on ad infinitum. I would also suggest that progress rarely arises from agreement or from making everyone feel good. Dissent might truly upset people. However, it plays an important role in the creation of progress.
I hope that I am able to function as a gadfly and that the above comments are sufficiently controversial to stimulate further thought. In the meantime I would urge my readers to revel in politically incorrect phrases before the thought police catch up with you. I would also encourage them to be willing to accept the negative (and sometimes hateful) responses aroused in others by the use of offensive ideas or language. With freedom comes responsibility. And keep in mind the caveat of my mother, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”Taboo