… as the right not to be offended.
Apropos of some concerns raised by other writers before, about a marked incivility in public discourse (consider, for example, the amount of vitriol expended in the Justice Isagani Cruz controversy, or the frequent dust-ups in bloggers’ comment threads), I thought this story on "First Amendment fundamentalist" Wendy Kaminer may prove illuminating.
She laments the transformation of universities and colleges from bastions of academic freedom, where free speech and the arts of argument are considered essential to education, to fortresses of political correctness, where the distinction between words and actions is fudged, and censorship trumps freedom of speech. One result: a new phenomenon called "young authoritarians."
How have students become these self-righteous ‘young authoritarians’? For Kaminer, ‘it is partly because they have been brought up in today’s victimised, intolerant culture’. She argues that restrictions on free speech are made not only by the right seeking to quell dissent among their left-leaning or liberal critics, but also by liberals themselves, who have bought into ideas of ‘hate speech’ and ‘harmful speech’.
‘One of the saddest trends among people who consider themselves liberal or progressive over the past 10 or 15 years has been this increased intolerance of free speech, and this notion that there is some right, some civil right, not to be offended, which trumps somebody else’s right to speak in a way that you find offensive. It is like a disease, an infection, that has taken hold on the left. It is an incredibly regressive notion.’
As the title of her latest book suggests, Kaminer believes that, even though some uses of language can be offensive, we shouldn’t place any limits at all on free speech, that it should in fact be [a] "free for all."