Freedom of speech has always been important to our society. It helps the people know what politicians are doing, it helps scientific people introduce new theories without risking their freedom and, on a basic level, it helps one person know what another is thinking without being persecuted. For the purposes of this article, freedom of speech is everybody being able to say anything they like (within certain boundaries: for example, you may not shout fire in a crowded building when there is not one.) However, we also live in a society where political correctness is key, as a person’s beliefs and opinions are fundamental to who they are and who they socialise with.
This article defines political correctness (PC) as the belief that controversial or potentially offensive opinions (for example those relating to gender and race) should be avoided. These two ideas are arch nemeses as, in order to speak your mind, you must offend or disagree with other people. You must choose whether freedom of speech or political correctness is more important to you, or where you put yourself on this scale. In order to help you with this conundrum, this essay will explain a few case studies to do with political correctness and freedom of speech.
Firstly, the case of the Scottish man, Mark Meechan AKA the youtuber “Count Dankula”. He released a video in April 2016 saying that his girlfriend was always talking about how cute her dog was, and so to prove her wrong, he made the dog “the least cute thing that he could think of”: a Nazi. He said “gas the Jews” multiple times to the dog to get its attention, which worked better than saying ‘get up’, and he made the dog lift its arm in the air like a Nazi salute whenever he said “Sieg heil”. As unfunny and insensitive this may be, it was intended as a joke. 2 years after posting, he was fined £800, for posting ‘grossly offensive’ content online. On the freedom of speech-PC scale, the intent is surely one of the most influential factors, as if your speech is not meant to be intimidating or threatening, should it be punished? Or should it be treated like the rest of your speech? He didn’t mean to be racist: he even says “I’m not racist” in the video, so should it be prosecutable, as there was no hateful intent, or were the words simply hateful enough by themselves? One could argue that they are not, as David Baddiel, a Jewish comedian, was “supportive” and said that the video “is funny”.
Leading on from this, on 20th May 2018, there was an issue at one of Kendrick Lamar’s concerts when one of the audience members was pulled onto stage to rap along to one of his songs ‘M.A.A.D city’. This feels completely fine on the face of it, until you know that the N-word is used heavily in the song, and the audience member was a white woman. She rapped along, and when the word came, she said it, as Kendrick Lamar would have if he were doing the song by himself, but she was booed off stage and forced to stop. In case you do not know the past of the word, it was what slave owners used to call slaves to insult them. However, is this her fault? She did not write the song and was pulled onto stage by Kendrick Lamar for this specific song. He knew what was in the song, especially as he wrote it, however he forced her to stop, saying “You gotta bleep one single word.” In rapping this song, surely she’s “becoming” him. A parallel can be drawn with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It is important to the context of the story/song for that word to be kept in. Alternatively, you could argue that she made the conscious decision to say that word and should have known that you should never say it, as a white person, because of its past. So, this leads to the question: do minorities get more rights to say what they want because they have been discriminated against in the past by the majority’s ancestors? Also, should majorities know their history in society, and make sure they tread carefully when talking about sensitive subjects, in this case, slavery?
Another example of a person battling with the freedom of speech to PC scale is Jordan Peterson. If you have done any research on freedom of speech, it is likely that you will have heard his name, as he spoke up against the controversial C-16 bill in Canada, which added gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code. In a Canadian court, it has been said that “hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity”, thus, hatred could be described as insensitivity to an identifiable group. It then follows that saying something against what an identifiable group is thinking, in this case gender identity, is prosecutable. This could mean something as simple as not calling a trans person by their preferred pronoun. Peterson spoke up about this, saying that it is one thing to say a word not to offend someone, but it is another to make that law. He specifically said, “I don’t believe that other people have the right to determine what language I use, especially when it’s backed by punitive legislation”. This reveals that, in his opinion, the law is oppressing free speech. This raises the question on whether we should call people what they want to be called, regardless of our own opinions, or should we offend them, but use language we want to use? It also raises the point: should we act with the law, or against it when it comes to freedom of speech? You, as a human, have a right to freedom of expression, so, if you believe your government is taking that away, are you happy to see that right disappear, but in favour of a kinder society?
In effect, this is what the essay is about. Should we allow our right to freedom of speech to be lessened in order for fewer people to be offended? This is quite contradictory, as human rights activists will be offended when laws are introduced to offend fewer people. Both sides (PC and freedom of speech) have good intentions: they either want a society where people feel better because they are not oppressed by other people’s opinions, or they want a society where people feel better because they are not oppressed by the government. This essay has made me consider personally where I am on the political spectrum, because free speech is typically a right-wing stance and political correctness is left-wing, at least in mainstream media. However, these issues should be non-partisan, as in the past, free speech has been a liberal stance. I hope this essay has helped you to make up your mind on whether free speech or political correctness is more valuable to you.
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