A few days ago author J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, along with 150 other writers and academics, signed an open letter bemoaning the recent trend in western civilization known as “Cancel Culture.” For some time now I have taken note of a growing pattern within our society for individuals to attempt to restrict the free exchange of ideas. It is routine to see friends of mine on social media desperately trying to censor what others say.
Whether they call it censorship or not, I witness censorship from my conservative friends. I see people writing off entire groups of people and, indeed, countries because they disagree with their religion, politics or another set of beliefs. I witness censorship from my liberal friends. I see people unable to tolerate dissenting ideas being expressed. When confronted with these verboten ideas, they label the person expressing them as a racist, a sexist, or as some other monstrosity. Furthermore, once someone has acquired such a label, it seems that a person can never outgrow it. They will forever carry the stain of the label until their dying breath.
I am complaining about this because I see people in our nation taking censorship of individual expression much too far. If anyone disagrees with the One True Way, then they are an enemy. It feels like no one is allowed to express a dissenting opinion anymore. Disagreement is a crime, and dissension is a sin.
That is the mindset of a cult.
Open expression of ideas should be encouraged. Voltaire got it right when he espoused, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Everyone in our society is so quick to take offense now, and I find this very troubling. Simple terms like lady, mailman and Christmas have been declared offensive. Anyone who fails to stand for the national anthem has profanity hurled at them by the president. Individuals who don’t believe there are more than two genders are decreed to be soulless monsters. College campuses, once known to be bastions of free thought, are now turning away speakers for fear of encroachment upon their students’ safe spaces.
Restriction of language and expression is a form of mind control for the masses. This has been understood for ages. It is used by every dictatorship and totalitarian government on earth. Orwell wrote of this in his famous novel “1984” when he discussed “newspeak.” Anytime expression and vocabulary are restricted, then free thought and even personal identity can be limited too.
Everyone should be able to freely express their opinions, especially when they are contrary to what most people think. Racists should be allowed to say racist things. Misogynists should be able to complain about women. Klu Klux Klan members should be able to dress up and march to their heart’s content. Ms. Rowling and her compatriots asserted in their letter that, “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.” They are correct.
When everyone is free to say what they believe, then all our rights are protected. Once you decide some people or words or ideas should be restricted, then everyone’s liberty is restricted as well.
“Freedom rings when opinions clash.” — Thomas Jefferson
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.