Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Well that’s it, the free world is dead. You just can’t say it how it is anymore. Social-justice-snowflake-millennial-progressive-leftie-bastards are taking away our freedom of speech bit by bit. Each protest brings a new wave of communist authoritarianism with it and stops the traditional British man from doing traditionally British things.
Or at least that’s how the Right want you to see it. Yet alas realistically freedom of speech never went away. There’s no oppressively tolerant omnipresent being taking the words from your throat before you can shout, ‘go back to your own country’ to the new brown family that just moved in down the road or ‘coronavirus’, at every South-East Asian person they see regardless of whether they are Chinese or not. Or shouting racial slurs and throwing up Nazi salutes at ‘pro-statue protests’ in front of the statue commemorating the man who literally saved us from Nazism in the first place.
Now unfortunately there is no omnipresent being who is capable of stopping ignorance. Although if there was I am sure it would come with a whole myriad of other societal and moral issues that are not worth tormenting oneself with, but I digress. All the examples I have given above are all instances where freedom of speech is being used. No communist dictate was commissioned to stop you from harassing brown families, associating an indiscriminate virus with perhaps one of the largest ethnic groups on the planet or celebrating a Winston Churchill statue with synchronised Seig Heils. You see people have always been free to say whatever they want, all be it with consequences that is. I am free to stand up at a rodeo in Texas during the national anthem and shout, ‘I’m a socialist who thinks Trump is an absolute prat and I wipe my arse with your flag every day’. But, the consequences of me saying that would no doubt be very severe. I could shout criticism about the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. I could cross dress and run around the streets of Moscow yelling my support for Pride. I could run around Lewisham exclaiming in each area that the local post code ‘is shit’ with all the natural liberty afforded to me. Yet there would be consequences for me saying all these things. At best I would receive a light beating. At worst I would be lying face down dead in a cell, prison camp, ditch, street, gutter or field. Take your pick.
A hundred years ago I could stand at Speakers Corner and eloquently present an argument for why women don’t deserve the vote. Today I still have the right to do that, although I wouldn’t want to because I believe that everyone deserves the right to vote and also because I don’t hate women. There is only one difference between these two scenarios. A hundred years ago I could make this speech, get down from my podium, go home and sleep soundly. Today if I made such a speech I would be heckled, my identity found out, bosses notified and lose my job. And rightly so, because that would be the consequence of my actions. Saying something intolerant and hateful leads to criticism. Because society now is much more tolerant and open-minded than it was a hundred years ago and the general understanding that any individual with an ounce of common sense would have, is that women deserve the vote and that taking it away from them is a form of oppression. The consequence of saying women don’t deserve the vote in inter-war Britain would be relatively small as back then people were more intolerant and close-minded. That’s not their fault, it’s just that back then society was more in the grip of a white upper-class patriarchy and so the status quo reflected their views and incentives.
When demagogues, nationalists and populists shout about how our freedom of speech is being taken away by the establishment what they are actually saying is that the establishment is now prepared to punish their intolerant and hateful views. Which is a good thing, and there is no rational argument that can dispute that. The fact that there are now consequences for using your freedom of speech to spread messages of hate creates an illusion to people who spread said hate that said freedom is under threat. But standing in front of a crowd of people and whinging about how you are now facing the consequences for saying something intolerant, as every grown man and woman should, doesn’t have the same kind of ring as whinging about how your freedom is being taken away.
Freedom of speech has never meant freedom from consequence. But when you have people in society who rarely face the consequences of their actions, combined with people in society who face excessively severe consequences for their actions, one’s ability to persecute and hate begins to be seen as a right and a liberty. Like every power in life the power of being able to articulate oneself freely must be used responsibly. It’s not responsible to use inflammatory, racist or derogatory language to verbally abuse people; or to insinuate and encourage negativity about and towards marginalized groups in society from a position of power in order to maintain and gain power. It is responsible to use your free speech to spread positivity and protect the more vulnerable in society, and to understand that what is and is not acceptable to say will change as the years go by.