The recent events in Charlottesville and those that followed it in Boston, New York, and elsewhere throughout the United States brought back up a question that’s bothered me for a while now – just what exactly is free speech?
Welp, the first thing I did was Google the definition.
1. The right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc.
That is the definition off of dictionary.com
Freedom of speech
- the right to express information, ideas, and opinions free of government restrictions based on content and subject only to reasonable limitations (as the power of the government to avoid a clear and present danger) especially as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
And that is the definition off of the Merriam Webster Dictionary of Law.
Soooo, was I any closer to answering my question? Nope. Unfortunately, this isn’t a cut-and-dry situation where a definite answer is just chilling in the definition – it’s more of a moral dilemma. A moral dilemma that’s polarized the people of this country to an extent unseen since the times of the civil war but, nonetheless, a moral dilemma.
For the sake of discussion I’m going to boil “Freedom of Speech” down to this: Every individual, regardless of creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or other outstanding beliefs, has the right to express their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs and can only be subject to reasonable limitations as by the power granted to the government to avoid clear and present danger. That is a broad definition but, looking at that dictionary definition, we’re weighing the opinions of people and regardless of what someone believes they’re still a person.
With those clarifications made, let's discuss.
Freedom of speech applies to all sides of an argument, even the ones you don’t like.
This is a point that needs to be made clear. Everyone –regardless of how much you may personally find their views to be detestable, ignorant, unfit or otherwise unappealing– has a right to put their thoughts out to the world. Freedom of Speech cannot simply be held to the views that we ourselves find agreeable or likable because at the end of the day disagreements, differences, and most important of all, the discussion is the route towards progress and a better tomorrow. I do not for a second condone thoughts of racism and bigotry but I believe without question the worst thing that could possibly happen to someone with these views is having their voices shut down and silenced. If you believe that the views of another are truly false, then let them speak their minds for the world to see and let the world crush it with reality - if someone wants to say something stupid let it be on record just how stupid they are so that when you fight back it is obvious without question where the answer truly lies.
An argument is not won when the other has been muted, the argument is won when a conclusion is reached; worse, however, is the innate power and attention that the words of a silenced argument carry the weight they carry is artificially intensified.
Take for instance the case of Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos is a prominent figure in the “Alt-Right” social media scene and is known for publicly targeting “enemies” using his social presence. Following a major fall out on racial comments and “trolling” of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, he was permanently banned from twitter and immediately made front page news across all forms of major media outlets both on and off the internet with his publicity shooting through the roof. He was later scheduled to speak publicly at the University of California at Berkeley but in what I still consider to be the stupidest thing done by an internationally recognized university as they violently rioted - causing more than $100,000 of property damage to their own campus - and overall made themselves look like childish baffoons in a bid to stop Yiannopoulos from speaking.
It worked. It also got him the necessary publicity for a $250,000 book deal. Wooo. Go Riots.
The book did later fall through once tapes of Yiannopoulos condoning highly questionable activities were released to the public as well as other aspects of his arguments were further argued and shut down through pure discussion - his downfall being quick and his message fading as facts and argument disproved his stance as his own words and actions came back to bite him.
The message to take away from this dandy situation: let those you disagree with have the freedom to speak - give them the opportunity to make their point as well as the opportunity to damn themselves with their own bigotry. Of course it won’t be like that in every scenario or situation as not every situation is just black and white in whether it's “good or bad," it's much more in varying shades of gray because at the end of the day “Good” and “Bad” are opinions in themselves and in many cases one person or the other won’t look like a fool because both sides are valid to some extent.
Once discussion becomes an argument, you’ve already lost.
A debate is a battle of opinions and a discussion of thoughts where a conclusion is reached once a medium of both sides has been found.
An argument is when two sides yell their thoughts and opinions without acknowledging those of the other and conclude with no minds changed and no progress made.
A protest is a demonstration of frustration and a means for garnering attention for a topic, idea, or matter without inciting unrest or damage.
A riot is destruction and violence without acknowledgment or care for the repercussions of the actions or the negative attention that will be brought to the matter behind the gathering in the first place.
In any scenario where violence becomes a considered option freedom of speech no longer applies to that expression nor do the thoughts, opinions, or beliefs of those enforcing such a narrative even be given the time of day to even be considered.
For people to believe that fear, anger, and destruction are fitting means for the delivery of a message is not something to be tolerated nor should it be given praise.
What occurred in Charlottesville was not a protest.
What occurred in Charlottesville was not a demonstration of morals, thoughts, and ideals.
What occurred in Charlottesville was a disgrace.
Those people that amassed at the Nameless Field on the night of Friday, August 11 were there with the intention to cause harm and thus what they did was not free speech. It was blind hate, bigotry, and racism that deserves to be condemned in every way possible.
And don’t think I’m saying Charlottesville is the only example of this behavior because there are plentiful examples on both sides of the political spectrum - I’ve already mentioned UC Berkeley and the raw idiocy that they displayed by rioting over someone coming to speak on campus but it's not the first time something like that has happened on their campus in the last year alone as many conservative speakers are cancelling presentation at the school out of fear.
Take into account the riots that happened just two years ago in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray. At its core, the Black Lives Matter movement truly has a message worth spreading - that the lives of these people matter more than they’ve been credited to - but the unbelievable idiocy of the people that tied the name of the movement to the barbaric rioting that nearly tore the city apart served only to drag it through the mud.
Also, I know there’s someone out there thinking “black lives matter? Nah fam, all lives matter” and to that person, I say suck it up, you baby. Just because someone says that black lives matter it doesn’t mean that they matter any more than blue lives or pink lives or whatever – LIVES MATTER.
I’ve wanted to say that for a while now so it feels good to get that little bit outta my system.
Regardless, it boils down to this. In the diverse world that we live in, violence serves no purpose in progress. Arguments serve no purpose to progress. Fighting serves no purpose to progress.
The first step towards a greater understanding is acknowledging the differences we have amongst ourselves and generating discussion.
Talk about what makes you upset. Talk about what you want to change. Talk about what you need feel needs to happen. But don’t be the idiot that tries to fight their victory. You won’t win.
If you found some interest in my thoughts, leave a comment and let me know how you’re feeling about the topic because I LOVE DISCUSSION.