The Aurelian Column "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."

The Absolute, Non-Negotiable Right of Free Speech

When I began this blog and podcast, it was with the intention to inject a bit of rational thought into what has become an increasingly vitriolic environment in this country. Given my background and experience, in which I’ve spent lots of time seeing the goings-on in the world outside the United States and communicating what I learned to my fellow countrymen, I thought an informed perspective would contribute in some small way to furthering the greater good.

But what I’ve seen as of late has been more than a little heartbreaking. Never in my life could I have imagined a time in this country when civil discourse is not just being left by the wayside, it's being ruthlessly tossed out of the window of a moving car. In light of this, I thought it best to take a bit of a step back and look and listen to what is being said, and not said.

The incident last month in Charlottesville, Virginia drove to the surface of American society many a demon and monster. It’s not been a pretty sight. And amidst the fallout has been a large-scale direct attack on the cornerstone of something that makes the United States special: Freedom of Speech.

Those of us who understand the implications of the assault on freedom of expression by a cross-section of society are not sleeping very well these days. From the students at our universities to the most influential executives of our largest corporations, a seemingly increasing number of us think it’s a good idea to somehow “limit” what we can say and how we can say it.

It's one thing to observe an ongoing situation, but it’s quite another to sit idly by when a crime is being committed. And the attack on free speech is classified in the latter category.

Freedom of expression is an absolute. It’s not negotiable. It’s not dependent on any conditions. The ability to speak one’s mind and offer one’s opinion without fear of legal prosecution or physical harm is an integral part of American Civilization. It’s not something debatable. If this right is ever taken away from us we will cease to be who we are as a people, and forfeit the potential of what we can become as a nation.

This absolute does not mean there are no personal consequences to free speech, nor does it apply to obviously inappropriate situations like shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. It just means that if you express an opinion or perspective you are protected from the power of the State being used against you or physical attack being made on your person. Freedom of speech is often offensive to some and usually uncomfortable to many. But that’s the nature of the beast.

The sharing of ideas and opinions with others is feared by all the monsters in human history more than anything else. It’s the greatest threat to their power; even more so than guns and bombs. If people have the chance to openly discuss and debate an idea and come to realize it’s a bad one, they usually don’t go along with it. And the individual who has been pushing that idea usually fades away into obscurity.

That is why those who will enslave you and rule over you in the most brutal manner will do anything and everything to shut you up. When you can frighten people into silence you can frighten them into doing just about anything — often with horrifying consequences on a massive scale.

The most troubling development is the way the word “hate” is being used to justify the censoring of people’s opinions. “Hate Speech” is something that can apply to just about anything controversial. It’s another time-proven way to silence the masses. Once you’ve made it illegal to voice one viewpoint publicly it becomes easy to do the same with other points of view.

None of the major social movements or developments in recent decades would have occurred or even been possible if there were laws against speech a significant portion of the population found offensive. When this reporter came into the world, homosexuality was a criminal offense in much of the United States, as was marrying and starting a family with someone not of your racial category. Relevantly few people today believe such laws should exist or ever be re-instated. These changes in our society from what was unthinkable to what is now just part of everyday life would not have been possible had free speech not been a right to everyone of every option, without exception.

Sadly, we are living in times where civil debate and discussion are not in vogue. Nobody seems to be willing to listen to each other’s viewpoints, or even listen to reason. If a discussion is no longer viable, physical force and violence is the only option left. I can’t imagine those who consider themselves sane and educated would want our country to devolve into something resembling a state of civil war. But many do. Too many. And if any of these people are as rational and educated as they claim, they would be taking a good look at what has happened elsewhere in the world when people stopped talking and started fighting.

The real motivations of the people who would stifle free speech while using violence to achieve their goals need to examined, confronted, and defeated. Our entire nation and our national soul are at stake.

© 2017 Thomas Michael Caldwell. All Rights Reserved. This written work is not to be copied or reproduced without the permission of the author. Links to this page from other websites is permitted and encouraged.