Are we giving up freedom of speech for political correctness?

Freedom of speech has been a liberty in many societies since ancient Greece, and a fundamental part of democracy throughout the ages, allowing open debate and criticism to pick apart opinions and get to the heart of certain matters.

Free speech has led all the greatest movements in history, not because people liked what was being said, but because it was something that needed to be said. In fact, the majority usually rejected these movements at the time. But, aren't you glad they happened? Don't you believe they needed to happen?

The Women's Liberation movement and the Emancipation Proclamation (Freeing of the slaves), to name a couple, would not have been possible without free speech. Imagine if the people who led these movements were not allowed to express their opinions? Cicero (a well-known Greek philosopher) said that ‘to be prevented from speaking against anyone as you wished was the equivalent of servitude’.

If we shut down people's opinions and deem them illegitimate based on things like race, gender or sexual orientation, we are effectively destroying open debate. I see this happen every day, people saying, you're a sexist’ or, you're a racist’ and even more commonly, ‘you don't understand, you're a man/woman.’  No one’s opinion is invalid, of course, some seem ridiculous, but the truth will most of the time, come out in an open debate.

Lately, we are seeing more and more people campaigning for their beliefs, which in itself isn't a bad thing, but when they use things like threats, harassment, and violence to intimidate and silence an opposing party, we end up only hearing one side of the story. This is a problem, the fact that one side gets silenced gives the other a monopoly to make whatever they want a reality.

It's now also become common to use the term, ‘that's offensive’ as a way of arguing a point, being offended has no bearing on whether or not something is relevant.

A good example of this in western society is the constant disruptions and threats Milo Yiannopoulos' ‘Feminism is cancer’ tour has attracted, more specifically when it arrived at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Before the event even started, groups of protesters gathered outside the building where Milo was to speak and blocked the main entrance. The speaker and attendees were then led to the back door of the building but alas, were met with more protestors, assaulting people and spitting at the speaker. After finally getting in and beginning the talk, a bomb threat was called in and the event was cancelled. They were successful in shutting him up, well, at least for the moment. I don't agree with everything Milo says, but I defend his right to say it.

The fact you can receive social censure and have your opinion blocked because its controversial poses a dire problem to western society. We should encourage freedom of speech and open debate, not violence, and anarchism.

Another example that's closer to home are the protests that happened late this June in Melbourne's CBD. A group of far-right activists known as the ‘United Patriot Front’ (or UPF) had organised a march through the city. The views of this group are questionable, to say the least, but they have every right to express them. Simultaneously, an ‘Anti-fascism’ group formed solely to disrupt the UPF demonstration. The group marching made it to Spring Street before the Anti-fascism alliance was able to circumvent the police barrier and reach the UPF demonstrators. Fights ensued and needless to say things got crazy. These thugs masquerading as pioneers of tolerance are actually the complete opposite.

If we are aiming to be a tolerant society, instead of resenting each other’s beliefs and silencing one another, we need to keep the intellectual floodgates open and encourage people of opposing opinions to get together and discuss important issues.

This is the only way to the truth.



Sarah Long