Political Correctness, Safe Spaces, Free Speech, and the Right to Not Be Offended

3 minutes to read · opinions · posted at 8:38 PM on 02/03/2017

I think it’s important that society be inclusive and accommodating toward everybody, instead of expecting people who aren’t part of the majority to hide who they are to fit in.

However, I think some people get overzealous. Getting shouted at for not signing a petition is unreasonable. Whoever took down your ornament should have asked you to take it down first if they thought it was inappropriate, or at least either returned it to you or offered to reimburse you for the cost.

Safe Spaces For Whom?

I’m also ambivalent about “safe spaces”. On one hand, straight white Christian men have had the whole demon-ridden country as their “safe space” for most of the last 300 years or so. The Puritans sailed to Massachusetts Bay because they wanted a “safe space” to worship their way instead of conforming to the Church of England’s doctrines or coexisting with Brits who didn’t share their beliefs. Until 1861, every slave state was a “safe space” for white men who thought it was OK to own other human beings because they weren’t white.

Given all that history, I think it’s just a bit hypocritical – to say nothing of ignorant – for certain people to complain about how other people want a “safe space” of their own. I think that people who fit in and have always been able to fit in simply don’t understand why people who are different from them would want or need a “safe space”, and I have no sympathy for their complaints.

Political Correctness Isn’t Just for Leftists

Finally, I think centrist and right-wing criticism of leftist “PC culture” is bullshit. Conservatives have their own version of PC, which you would find out the hard way if you ever talked to one and suggested that Christianity or capitalism were bullshit. Hell, try telling a conservative that war is a racket, even though no less a hero than Major General Smedley Butler of the United States Marine Corps made the same argument after his retirement from the Corps in 1931.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative, you have beliefs and opinions that you believe are universal, and you will get upset if somebody dares challenge your assumptions. We all have sacred cows, and none of us want to see them butchered by heathens who only see them as good meat and want to have themselves some barbecue.

You can’t please everybody. The only way to avoid offending anybody is to never say or do anything at all, and that’s no way for anybody to live. Fortunately, I don’t think that most leftists who choose identity politics over class politics actually want everybody to self-censor themselves into total silence and inaction. They just want people to consider the effects their words and actions can have on other people.

Free Speech vs. Tender Sensibilities

However, asking that people refrain from using “fighting words”, “shouting fire in a crowded theater”, or Holocaust denial isn’t enough for some people. They want you to avoid saying anything offensive or blasphemous.

Unfortunately for them, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a right to not be offended that trumps freedom of speech, and as an atheist I think the very concept of blasphemy is contemptible.

I claim for myself the right to whatever the fuck I want whenever the fuck I want on my own property or in public, as well as the right to ignore other people in public or on my own property. However, I think everybody else has the exact same rights.

But if you try to counter speech with violence of any kind or the threat thereof, whether it’s violence at your own hands or violence at the hands of the government, then you’ve crossed the line. Likewise if you try to force people to listen to you.

Concerning Bigoted Speech

One commenter on the Reddit thread that inspired this post said the following at the end of their comment. I won’t link to it or name names because the thread itself has been locked and removed.

It should be possible to say to someone “I think what you said was a little bit racist” and not have it be a big deal.

Another commenter replied:

Why? What good do you envision coming out of that?

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being ignorant or letting stereotypes guide my thoughts or actions.

Unfortunately, I am racist. I am sexist. I do have biases and prejudices. I am susceptible to bigotry. We all do, and we all are, because we learn this bullshit as kids from the adults in our lives and the culture around us.

However, I’m not interested in being yet another white bigot with an Archie Bunker mentality. I’d rather overcome outdated memes that hurt other people and myself instead of passing them along. Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

Therefore, if somebody tells me, “you’re a fucking bigot,” they aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know. If they instead say, “Hey, man, what you just said was bigoted. Would you mind not saying stuff like that around me?” then they’re helping me be less of an asshole.

However, I don’t expect people to educate me. That’s my job. I just appreciate it if they decide to help.