June 20, 2019 | 75° F

CASTELLI: Censoring speech can harm, impede productive dialogue


In his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell speaks about the use of many political words that “completely lack ... in meaning.” These words, such as "democracy" and "fascism," have several different meanings that are at odds with one another. The word "fascism," according to Orwell, no longer refers to an extreme and regulatory authoritarian government but rather “something not desirable.” Indeed, the Left’s overuse of buzzwords such as "fascism," "racism," "sexism" and any other -ism response to moderate or conservative politics has ironically lost the weight it once had. Absurd and downright ridiculous pieces, such as “If you let boys be boys, they will murder their fathers and sleep with their mothers” and Michelle Wolf’s “Salute to Abortions,” attempt to raise awareness for issues such as sexual assault and reproductive rights, yet fail in execution by exaggerating to the point where it is almost laughable. 

In the ongoing cultural and political war between the Left and the Right, the Left seemingly has a monopoly on controlling speech in the form of political correctness. This is often equated with politeness. Admittedly, the intentions of political correctness are benign: in order to maintain social order and harmony, people should watch what they say in order to respect the sensibilities of others. Yet, making it political — that is, allowing the government to enforce this moral code — is a slippery slope that can only have disastrous consequences. Hate speech laws have been passed throughout Europe and have been eating away at the fabric of its society. The impending reformation of Article 13 of the European Copyright Directive, which “seeks to shift liability for platform users’ copyright infringements onto the platforms themselves” by “creating upload filters to monitor all content before it’s posted” is the culmination of the ills of political correctness. 

By censoring speech, whether it be a direct ban on certain words or phrases or euphemizing tragic events, one eventually learns to censor their thoughts. In "Defending Free Speech," Christian Beenfedlt attributes the right of free speech “from the right to think: the right to observe, to follow the evidence to reach the conclusions you judge the facts warrant—and then to convey your thoughts to others.” If the method we communicate and formulate ideas with is restricted, certain existing feelings will have no way of expressing themselves and will be left in an unsatisfied, confusing and silent bottle. The solution to combating dangerous ideas is not censorship at the barrel end of a gun, but through argument. Censoring someone you disagree with rather than engaging in debate to prove them wrong is not only suspicious, but demonstrates the lack of confidence the far Left has in its ideas. If one has such confidence that their ideas should be enforced and implemented, why not debate opposing ideas? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star among democratic socialists, refused a debate with conservative pundit Ben Shapiro (who offered a $10,000 campaign donation), comparing his requests to “catcalling” that she had no obligation to respond to. If Ocasio-Cortez fully believed in her platform, why would she not spar with Shapiro and put him in his place?

Generally, those on the Left believe that individual rights must be sacrificed for the public good. In other words, the right to freedom of speech must be sacrificed for others' sensitivities. It assumes that people are inherently weak and fickle, who will react catastrophically to any injury, big or small. Instead of promoting confidence and responsibility, they instead coddle life’s victims, leaving them weak and subject to the harsh realities of the world. Make no mistake: the world is a harsh, cruel and unforgiving place filled with people with malicious intent. That will never change. But the solution is not to shelter others from this reality and infantilize them — it is to teach them to carry their cross and learn to harness the world’s chaos. There is nothing more sad than a grown-up child. Censorship under the guise of protecting the feelings of others instead treats those people as wild animals, provoked at the slightest slur that sends them either into a spiraling rage or depressive episode. Thomas Jefferson said, “The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws ... it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Any form of speech runs the risk of being offensive. Does this mean that all speech is morally right? No, of course not. But should these forms of speech be censored because of this? No, because you run the risk of having it done to yourself. 

Giana Castelli is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. Her column, "Conservative Across the Aisle," runs on alternate Fridays.


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Giana Castelli

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