Disclaimer: This piece of writing was used as one my scripts for my video series Leon’s Thoughts
Free Speech is a commodity that should be cherished in any fully functioning society. The very definition of a free society means having the free will to express yourself and voice your opinion without being reprimanded or even arrested for what you have said. Sadly, this right doesn’t stretch itself to each corner of the globe. Many countries like North Korea and Cuba diminish any sort of free speech and have specific rules on what can be said. I’m very fortunate to not live in one of these countries as I live in the UK. Western society encourages freedom of speech but recently there’s been a shift in the paradigm. More and more people are starting to police what is deemed offensive these days. Comedians have always suffered from people picking apart their routine, but now it’s starting to transcend into our society throughout.
The results of the BREXIT Referendum as well as the American Election proves that something has changed. If you voted leave then you’re automatically a racist according to twitter and if you voted Trump the same goes for you. This fickle minded outlook on these two political results presents a worry trend that’s started in western culture. People as a collective want to be offended at something because it makes them feel validated inside. Jokes are also target of these people. If you even dare say an edgy joke that involves race then you’re a full blown racist and no better than a KKK clan member. They disregard any of your morals and only look at that joke you have said and base their opinion off that. This is a very bad road to go down. History has told us many things. Taking this mentality doesn’t work.
I want to give you some examples from history of when free speech came under attack to point out why we shouldn’t be pressing for censorship on that valuable freedom. These examples are different to each other but all have one theme running through them, they’re all detrimental to the freedom to speak, create and express ourselves in whatever way we want. The first example I want to share to you is about a guy called Lenny Grace. Lenny was a comedian from America originally born in New York but resided in California after he was discharged as a soldier. In 1961 Lenny was arrested for using the word “Cocksucker” in one of his shows. He was eventually let off that charge but caught the eye of the authorities which in turn started to monitor Lenny’s shows more.
This to me was such a strange case because this man was an American citizen. This man had a right to say that word. It states in the Bill of Rights for the US that the first amendment covers free speech. This amendment applies to all American citizens. Some say intimidation could have played a part in his arrest but still this story leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s ironic that the same country that Benjamin Franklin help found is the same one that’s persecuting people like Lenny Bruce. I found a great quote by Benjamin that closely relates to what we are talking about. He said, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” That tells you all you need to know for the case of Lenny Grace. It was an unjust thing that happened to him and gladly comedian’s knower days don’t suffer the same fate that Lenny Grace did.
So my second example dates to the year of 399BC. One of the earliest recorded cases of censorship. The setting Ancient Greece and the culprit is the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. His crime? Not worshiping the state sanctioned gods. He was held on trial in front of 501 citizens and was asked to explain his actions and apologise. He reluctantly apologised and justified his actions by saying “an unexamined life is not a life worth living.” He also said that his quest to explore philosophy and seek wisdom upset a lot of powerful figures within his society. To put this into perspective this man was held on trial for practising atheism. Let that sink in for a minute. Compared to today’s morals, holding someone to account like Socrates was for having differing religious beliefs would be ridiculous.
Now I’ve shown you two events that happened many years ago, I want to explore a recent tragedy that happened that also correlates to free speech and free press. It is of the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo Offices in France back in 2015. Two terrorists went into the offices of this French magazine and murdered the editors in cold blood. Twelve people died in the attack on Charlie Hebdo that fateful day. So why did these so-called Jihadists do this? Well what the magazine published prior to this incident might give some insight into the reason. The magazine was known for pushing the envelope and has gone after the Prophet Mohammed who is worshipped by Muslims countless times. The final straw for many came when Charlie Hebdo published an issue where on the front cover, a book depicting France under Islamic rule in 2022 was published. The terrorists didn’t take to kindly to this and decide to silence these artists for good. It’s was an awful tragedy what happened that day.
The aftermath of this event was documented to the nth degree in the UK newspapers but one thing was missing. The UK press chose not to publish the cartoon that spark the attack. This seemed like prime opportunity to exercise the freedom of the press and to demoralise an evil that presented itself towards us. We could have shown these terrorists that we as British people don’t cower to them. Unfortunately, the papers in the UK didn’t see it that way and refused to print the image. Some papers reasoning was out of respect for the Muslim faith. Others didn’t want to attract attention to the cartoon and instead wanted to focus on reconciliation with a deeply divided country like France. The very premise of this case was based on censoring another voice. The offended couldn’t use words to silence critics so they used weapons. A true cowardly act that has no place in society today.
Those were my examples that I found from history. None of them directly affecting me but still sickening to think that these are real and happened. I have to stress that these types of occurrences happen very rarely and in no way reflect how everyday life is. But an instance that happened to me regarding this subject in fact does happen to many people around the world daily. I won’t be naming and shaming any one from this story so I’ll refer to the subjects as person A and person B. So me and person A where talking about movies, we got onto the topic of Star Wars. It was a chilled conversation and nothing untoward was being said. Star Wars Episode 7 was brought up and I couldn’t remember one of the main actor’s names in the film.
Person A asked me what this actor looked like, I said he had short hair and was black. He instantly told me who it was and we moved on with the discussion. But person B overheard that comment and got their PC cap on. Person B approached us mid conversation, abruptly stopped person A who was talking and said to me to repeat what we just said. I comply and said, “black actor” to them. Person B scoffed at that comment and told us that we cannot say that word as it is deemed inappropriate. Person B went away after this and left me with person A confused.
Was I in the wrong for saying that? Person A said no. Looking back on it I also thought no but this type of PC bullshit is seeping into our social groups and around public places. It’s instances like this that hinder growth within our society because we’re took focused on what people are saying; and not real issues like pressing for more freedoms for people who want to share their voice in the countries I mentioned about earlier. The meanings behind words and speech are subjective, what words were offensive in past time might be a drop in the bucket compared to today.
My point is people don’t need to be offended for the sake of it. I have a gay relative and if they were directly abused and called homophobic slurs then I would be straight up calling for perpetrator to be punished. However, if that person is talking with my relative and they express their opinion that they don’t like gays. Instead of censoring that person and calling them homophobic why not try to enlighten them by pointing out their ignorance and discussing it though the art of conversation. Is that such a hard thing to do?
To conclude, I want to leave you with a quote that I read online by Thomas Jefferson. It is from his only book he wrote called Notes from the State of Virginia. He said “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say they are 20 Gods or no Gods. It neither picks my pockets nor breaks my legs”