No matter how hostile, how vitriolic it may be at times, freedom of speech is not something we should take lightly. It is the pinnacle of free society and democracy. But many people today are ignoring that truth and substituting it for their own—casting out any opinion or ideal that dissents from the norm. This is a dangerous road to go down, especially in a democratic society, because not only does it fork away from freedom, it leads to a crossroads of fanaticism and oppression fueled by fear of the unknown.
Fairly often in my political debates I come across the all too common “if you don’t like it here, then leave” sentiment of the politically conservative and philosophically ignorant—a sentiment I find wholeheartedly insulting and damaging, not only to immigrants, but to the very ideals of a democratic society itself.
This retort is most common among Second Amendment enthusiasts. Almost every time I talk to one of these super patriots—the kind of obnoxious gun-toting militia members you see walking down the street with AR-15 automatic rifles and an NRA membership card in their pockets—I receive this sort of response at some point in the conversation. It’s almost expected. But, what these men and women do not realize is that they are unapologetically perpetuating ignorance, anti-democratic rhetoric and extreme nationalism.
However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the “if you don’t like it here, then leave” piece of anti-intellectual advice goes hand in hand with phony uber-liberal “social justice warriors” who, unlike the generations before them, aren’t actually fighting for much of anything. They consistently jabber on, whining about anything that happens to cross through their radar that offends them, yelping about how their rights and civil liberties are being trampled on by people who supposedly infringe upon their “safe space.”
These ultra-liberals sound the trumpets of oppression and prejudice when they feel threatened by anyone who does not absolutely agree with their ideology. Especially if the dissenting opinion goes contrary to the ruling dogmas of such things as feminism, equality and religion.
Now, I’m not defending what some people may say against these things, but I very strongly support their right to speak freely. Just as I support your right to do the same. But, many mistakenly believe that they also have a “right to not be offended,” which is profoundly absurd when you consider not only the concept of freedom of speech itself, but the fact that the First Amendment particularly safeguards unpopular speech.
English comedian, actor, writer and activist, Stephen Fry once said, “It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what."
To claim that you have a right to not be offended is an exercise in ludicrous hypocrisy and a straight-shoot to tyranny. If you’d like a society which silences dissenting or offensive opinions, try visiting North Korea or Saudi Arabia.
If, however, you’d rather live in a society which cherishes free speech and diversity of ideas, I suggest you do one of two things when you come across someone who says something offensive: either laugh it off or have an informative and polite discussion with that person.
You do not have the right to not be offended, but you do have the right to voice your opposition to what other people are saying.
Salman Rushdie, a British Indian novelist and essayist, once said—in defense of one of his books—that “Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.
“I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn't occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don't like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don't like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.
“To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended.”