Our liberty is under threat. You may not see it, but it is just as real as once was the Soviet Union. It is not the state that is responsible but rather a large group of well-meaning individuals, who genuinely believe that what they are doing is for the good of all.
Chapter 2, Article 34 of the Constitution of Afghanistan reads as follows:
Freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution.
These are beautiful words, but they mean nothing to the Afghan woman, Farkhunda, beaten to death when accused of burning a copy of the Quran. Nor do they mean much to the journalist who faces calls for his execution, when he criticises the Islamic world’s response to ISIS in the Afghan Press.
There is no comparison between the actions of the religious zealots who murdered Farkhunda, and Twitter’s decision to ban Milo Yiannopoulos for his right-wing views. However, they have two things in common; in neither case was the state responsible for silencing the individual, and they are both symptomatic of a culture in which voicing opinions that the masses do not agree with, is something only the brave should attempt.
Consider the 1950s and 1960s, then the idea that abortion may become legal in the UK, horrified and offended many Christians. However, in 2012 only 6% of Brits believed abortion should be illegal. Had we ended that debate because Christians were offended and not restarted it for that very reason, the UK would today be in a situation that 94% of its population does not wish for their country. The religious feelings of those Christians were no less worthy than those of a Muslim offended by criticism of his prophet, of the political sensibilities of a left-wing activist demanding that a journalist be sacked because they voiced an opinion that “most people in the UK” disagree with, or the emotional fragility of a ‘triggered’ social justice warrior. So, why do we pander to the latter, when we didn’t pander to the former?
Freedom of expression and the right to voice a contrary opinion without fear grew from the European Enlightenment, which led to its incorporation into law, not the other way around. If we become, as we are, so sensitive to a controversial opinion that we call for it to be censored, we chip away at that very culture that the Enlightenment spawned.
In the final equation, this process results in the disappearance of these protections from our laws. Indeed, this has already begun. Proposed hate speech laws in Canada (Bill C-16) governing the use of gender neutral pronouns will threaten harsh penalties if someone refers to you in a way you don’t like. In New York City you now face fines of up to $250,000 for ‘misgendering’. You may misgender because of an underlying political sentiment or simply by mistake, either way, the result is the same.
I don’t know exactly when pronouns became a legal issue and not a personal matter, but apparently quite recently in the Big Apple. I and many others would happily refer to you however you wish, but cannot agree with the involvement of the law.
With laws like this and those that will follow, western civilisation moves towards a post-Enlightenment era where only approved speech is permitted. And anyone who dares voice an opinion that our predominantly millennial moral arbiters deem outside the boundaries de jour of acceptable speech will be shouted down, demonised, discredited and cursed with the mark of Cain.
Ironically, I am firmly on the left. I’ve only ever voted for left-wing parties, support gay marriage and trans rights, and I am of the opinion that Reaganomics was the result of long-term exposure to powerful hallucinogens. I’m also a Millennial. I’ve used Tinder; I’m lazy, I’ve travelled, studied social sciences, have spent too much time on my parent’s couch and just yesterday wasted 45 minutes in successive staring contests with my housemate’s cat.
My greatest fear for my generation is that we will be remembered as the generation that triggered the slow decline of liberty as we know it. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just”. I fear for my generation when I note that history is also.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Social Jungle.