Without free speech, all other rights and privileges afforded American citizens are in peril. The founding of this nation knew that most basic of facts, and how important it was. It is why we call it the First Amendment. It is the right above all others. The right to think and say what we want. The right to motivate is just as important as the right to outrage and offend, for what offends some might very well motivate and inspire others.
That right is under increasingly aggressive assault in this country, and no more so than the very institutions that should be defending it most – our university campuses.
The above sign is chilling not because it is so stupid, but rather, because so many are now willing to call it appropriate.
Hurt feelings are now given more weight than intellectual discourse, exchange of ideas, and the challenging of societal norms.
Free thought is seen as an offense worthy of rioting and death threats.
Without continual free and open discussion within a society, that society inevitably weakens, loses purpose, forgets itself, and becomes a spineless mush easily influenced and eventually controlled by authoritative power. It is why some cultures in this world have lagged so far behind in the fields of science and the arts than others. Those cultures suppressed freedom of thought and were soon lost in a medieval-era mindset from which they have yet to recover from. Women are denied rights. Homosexuals are persecuted or even murdered for the crime of loving someone else. Children and too often brutalized and discarded. The authority in those cultures cannot allow free speech because such speech might cause more and more people to begin questioning why the boot continues to press so hard against their neck. Such questioning leads to the yearning for freedom from oppression. The belief that change can happen. That lives can be improved. That yearning then leads to justified uprising.
America was born from that very scenario.
Today, we are turning our backs on that beginning in favor of the boot. University students are akin to an abused spouse who feels they can do no better and who sadly are so willing to defend the abuser. Their minds are shut. They no longer want to accept the possibility of change. They have entered the intellectual and emotional cage, closed the door, and thrown away the key.
It wasn’t always this way. The change has been most notable the last decade or so. Where once our universities were the envy of the world due in great part to the vast array of ideas and experiences being discussed openly, they are now factories of closed minds and the over-reaching determination to protect hurt feelings. And for this, university tuition costs are skyrocketing and millions of students who graduate are given near-worthless degrees and pushed out into a far less accommodating real world with too few jobs awaiting them.
It breaks my heart.
It doesn’t have to be this way but until we reacquaint ourselves with the importance of allowing and defending if need be, those we might disagree with the right to share their own opinions, that change will not happen. Things will not get better. They will potentially become much-much worse.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
That quote still resides within college campuses throughout the nation. It was once a highly valued sentiment.
Today, it is too often seen as a dangerous one. Where students were once educated to protect free speech, they are now being encouraged to stifle it – even to the point of committing violence. That is the very model used by nearly every horrific totalitarian regime throughout human history.
Being offended is not the end of the world.
Persecution for sharing ideas that are offensive to some, very well could be.
D.W. Ulsterman is a bestselling, award-winning author and socio-political commentator.
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