rwell was right as always—“if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do
not want to hear”. Freedom in any society is ultimately the freedom for those who think and express themselves differently. Sadly no one wants to
hear or even support this notion. Historically, however, wherever freedom of speech was denied, inevitably, so too was culture, so too was rights,
and so too was life.
The prevailing argument against this freedom—if you could call it an argument—is that it creates a loophole that panders to the bigoted people to
say what they want, no matter who it offends, insults or belittles. Small and insignificant price to pay for something so priceless, in my opinion,
which I base purely on the notion that freedom of speech and taking offense to speech, has not injured, maimed or killed anyone in the history the
The last time I was really offended by any expression was at my first reading of De Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom
. Due to an overly vivid and
uncontrolled imagination, a book about the most sordid of sadisms was bound to arouse the most sordid of imagery in my mind, and indeed it did. I was
disgusted by the offensive material, and of course, as seemed natural at the time, I blamed the work for this oppression. But it wasn’t until I
looked around the room and realized the reality beyond my feelings that I began to change my tune. Here I was completely alone and in the comfort of
an easy chair, yet I had laid the blame of my disgust on an inanimate book written by a long-deceased 18th-century Frenchman, or in other words, on
anything but myself. Defiantly I threw the book in the trash. In retrospect, the biology and physics behind my taking offense did not match up to my
emotionally-inspired interpretation of it. Since then, and through my own insensitivity training, I have grown a little harder and colder in my
dictatorship over my own faculties, and I have reread 120 Days of Sodom since that time. Now the little book sits proud on my bookshelf, not as
something I might ever pick up when I have a hankering for sadism, but as notch on the belt, reminding me of my own power over expression.
Every individual has been offended by someone else’s expression at some point in their lives. Name calling, curse words towards our mothers, racial
epithets, and many threats have been uttered by even complete strangers, and often or not, fighting words turn into fighting people. But luckily for
us, the very state of being offended has never caused harm to any human being since the beginning of time and space, and any human can go about her
day as if nothing has happened, because essentially, very little has.
Unless someone is willing to evoke some sort of action at a distance, those who are offended by free speech are the perpetrators of their own pain.
Even the most derogatory of insults cannot fly through the air impaling its victims. That old adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” is absurd
when practiced literally. Anyone who has brought a pen to a sword fight will be left the only one bleeding.
However, there are more superstitious types who dwell upon, brood over and overthink the offensive speech and their relationship to it, and in their
self-inflicted anxiety generate a series of fantasies wherein the expression morphs into a weapon of sorts, necessarily causing irreparable harm to
the abstract people the offended party imagines are its victims.
Of course, if we were to examine the physical and emotional damage caused by offensive speech, offensive words and offensive expression in general, we
would fail to find any causal connection between the offensive material and the offended party. In fact, the notion that offensive expression has any
ill-effect on a living being is wholly unwarranted and without merit. One needs only to hear offensive speech in a language he doesn’t understand to
realize it isn’t the expression itself that does him harm—for if the words truly were capable of causing damage they’d cause damage no matter
the language and no matter who comes across it—but it is his own understanding of the words and language in general (or lack thereof in most cases)
that is the true culprit of his own offense. He has rather learned to be offended, and being unable to see through his own indoctrination to concrete
world, takes his offense to be reason to act. To expect this kind of subjectivity to apply to all beings and all expression is a position only the
irrational can support. The words are only offensive insofar as the offended party is offended by them, and speech can never be fundamentally,
intrinsically, or objectively offensive. As of yet, language still proves herself to be the greatest and longest superstition.