I wish to discuss an important issue, perhaps the most fundamental issue, as noted by sociologist Frank Furedi: freedom of speech.
In an entertaining stand-up routine, Steve Hughes recognises the simple but profound truth: when you are offended, nothing happens. You may get your feelings hurt; you may be ‘insulted’, but as Hughes mentions, you won’t suddenly wake up the next morning with leprosy.
Mark Steyn has said that “a joke is the smallest indicator and most reliable indicator of liberty, so laugh it up while you can, because there will be no jokes in the future, none”. Jokes also sometimes house the most revealing truths, as in Steve’s commentary on political correctness. He rightfully describes it as “oppression of our intellectual movements so no-one says anything anymore in case somebody else gets offended”. That’s what is increasingly happen in western countries – Australia, The US, Canada – all the time.
An interesting point Hughes mentions is that you now have adults crying out for help for their injured feelings. It used to be considered childish to go and tell on someone upon insult. But no, following offense, insult and hurt feelings, adults cry out to the Human Rights Commission, who then refer (in the case of Andrew Bolt) their grievances to the judiciary. They have “rights”, goes the complaint. Again, like Hughes mentions, “Nothing happens. You’re an adult. Grow up, deal with it”. This sounds a little harsh, but as George Brandis has rightly mentioned, it should be the role of a free society to have its citizens freely express their disapprove of offensive opinions – which there can be no question that it does: simply read any reply to any opinion online, or watch any kind of news or affairs program. Do we want this, Brandis asks, or do we want a society in which “every time somebody says something unpopular or offensive to a majority of opinion the Parliament passes a law to say, well, you are prohibited”. As he correctly identifies, that is censorship. There is simply no way to argue around that one; for example claiming that it’s balancing rights against each other: the right to freedom of speech vs. the right to not be offended. Terrible arguments are made combining half-truths in erroneous ways (for example, view the Qanda episode link above containing Brandis’ comments, for a wide range of invalid reasoning by many of the panelists).
Janet Albrechtsen has on many occasions pointed to this alarming trend towards oppression, and what she describes as ‘the cult of taking offence’. Quite rightly, she condemns the exact same thing that Hughes was making fun of when he said adults should ‘grow up’ and get over it. Offence happens, that is part of being alive and coexisting with multitudes of inhabitants all possessing vastly differing opinions. In Albrechtsen’s words, laws like 18C are “the legislative extension of trigger warnings that stifle debate and infantilise students”. Of course, the very real implication is that not just students (who are supposedly some the smartest of the generational cohort and the future leaders of the world), but something seething deep within our culture, is infantilising the population. We are being taught to take the easy way out of everything; to complain, and whine, rather than assume some responsibility for our own reactions to the words of others. Will it be any wonder if civilisation becomes a weeping mess of mediocre adult infants?
Remember, if you are offended, words can’t jump out and attack you. Other than your own reactionary thoughts, nothing happens.