Craig Kyzar — The collective human intellect can be every bit as dangerous as any other weapon when mismanaged. Indeed, it is perhaps the most formidable weapon this planet will ever see. And yet, it is a select handful of flawed men and women who, often under the guise of law, will invariably assert its power.
This is not to imply a malicious misuse by the minority but rather an obligation incumbent on the rest of us to ensure that the paths chosen by the few will inure to the benefit of mankind, and not merely patch the wound of the day.
One of our great defenses against oppression or marginalization has always been the right, to varying degrees, to freely express our views and beliefs. While the sanctity of such rights protect against the silencing of minority views, what happens when those liberties are restricted in a noble, if misguided, effort to actively shield the most sensitive among us from things they would rather not hear? What happens when lawmakers are so eager to defuse a hot button topic that they undermine the rights of all to pacify the few?
To be clear, speech and expression have never been entirely unregulated markets. Such freedoms have always come with boundaries wrapped in pragmatism. And yet, these days, it seems as though the pragmatic are at an inherent disadvantage.
Consider the Holocaust denial laws in place across Europe. Mind you, the civil law systems of European nations have never revered freedom of expression to the vast extent that Britain and North America do but even European proscriptions on speech are generally born of sensibility. At a glance, very few would take legitimate issue with a law granting deference to the solemn dignity of victims and survivors. But to mandate such deference on a personal level seems an overzealous and arcane attempt to atone for the lingering guilt. Yet, the slippery slope created by this cleansing of conscience exposes entire populations to a culture of intellectual policing.
Of course the Holocaust happened, and will likely forever stand as the blackest mark on world history. Its existence is such an unyielding reality that its vocal denial immediately tells a rational audience all they need to know about the mental state of the denier. However, repressing the speech does not repress the belief. Instead, it forces ignorance into the dark recesses, where it can take an even deeper and more vitriolic stronghold beneath the surface.
Such sharply delineated restrictions on expression represent a desperate attempt to mask the symptoms of an underlying problem. As such, they are empty commitments by the government: commitments to pass all responsibility to the citizens – to hide the real problem in plain sight and pat each other on the back for a job well done rather than endure an ongoing campaign of education and reconciliation. Criminalization of ignorant speech is nothing more than an illusory flexing of muscle by shortsighted leaders… for fear of the daunting task of tackling the problem at its root.
Or perhaps, on a more general scale, we have overblown the problem itself, shaping our own catalysts for reform out of whole cloth. In an age of non-stop sensory blasting from every angle, we have become an impossibly sensitive species. In our quest for equal opportunity for all, we have somehow ventured off course and into an absurd new realm where all other rights take a backseat to the new universal right: the perceived right to never be offended by anybody else, ever.
“Thou Shalt Not Offend” is not the purview of government, and let us hope it never becomes so. By muzzling evil, we often empower and enrage it, but seldom do we eradicate it. In an increasingly fractured world, where flag burning leads to street fights and nations riot over a comic strip published in a foreign land, it seems it is no longer the minority but the most easily aggrieved to whom the whims of free speech are bent.
As a people, we have become far too dependent on quick-fix placation, to the exclusion of longstanding resolution. Defending the rights of those we detest will never be easy. However, we cannot render free speech a mere tool of pacifism and convenience.
Government cannot regulate our humanity by force of law, nor do we want it to. Forbidding people from speaking their minds will never cure misguided beliefs. However, it will cost us a precious opportunity to seek out middle ground. Are we really willing to make that sacrifice in the name of appeasement? And what might seem a plausible justification for further oppression tomorrow?