Rowan Atkinson offers a fantastic summary of the current state of free speech in the West at the recent Reform Section 5 Parliamentary reception (video embedded below). Freedom of speech has been blamed for everything from hurting feelings to inciting riots (see the recent demonstrations in Islamic countries), which has led to even some of our own elected leaders calling into question whether and to what extent it is even a basic human right. Mr. Atkinson’s solution to the confusion? More free speech.
As he says:
“I am not intolerant,” say many people, say many softly spoken, highly educated, liberal-minded people. “I am only intolerant of intolerance.” And people tend to nod sagely and say, “Oh yes, wise words, wise words.”
And yet if you think about this supposedly inarguable statement for longer than 5 seconds, you realize that all it is advocating is the replacement of one kind of intolerance with another. Which to me doesn’t represent any kind of progress at all. Underlying prejudices, injustices, or resentments are not addressed by arresting people. They are addressed by the issues being aired, argued, and dealt with – preferably outside the legal process.
For me, the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech is to allow a lot more of it.
See the full 10-minute speech here:
HT: Chris Rosebrough