superb Op-Ed on the gradual death of free speech in the west, and he places the blame squarely where it belongs: on the veneration of "sensitivities" over the free flow of ideas, and relatedly, the adolescent need on the part of many adults to plead with authority figures to shield them from views they find offensive. His essay is well worth reading in full, but here is the crux:
"Free speech is dying in the western world. While most people still enjoy considerable freedom of expression, this right, once a near-absolute, has become less defined and less dependable for those espousing controversial social, political or religious views. The decline of free speech has come not from any single blow but rather from thousands of paper cuts of well-intentioned exceptions designed to maintain social harmony. . . .
"Of course, free speech is often precisely about pissing off other people – challenging social taboos or political values. . . .
"Such efforts focus not on the right to speak but on the possible reaction to speech – a fundamental change in the treatment of free speech in the West. The much-misconstrued statement of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that free speech does not give you the right to shout fire in a crowded theater is now being used to curtail speech that might provoke a violence-prone minority. Our entire society is being treated as a crowded theater, and talking about whole subjects is now akin to shouting 'fire!' . . . .
"The very right that laid the foundation for western civilization is increasingly viewed as a nuisance, if not a threat. Whether speech is deemed inflammatory or hateful or discriminatory or simply false, society is denying speech rights in the name of tolerance, enforcing mutual respect through categorical censorship.
"As in a troubled marriage, the west seems to be falling out of love with free speech. Unable to divorce ourselves from this defining right, we take refuge instead in an awkward and forced silence."
I'm accused with some frequency of focusing my critiques on the US - the reason I do so is set forth here in reasoning I adopt in full - but vibrant free speech protection is a core liberty which the US, though very far from perfect, still safeguards better than most countries.
Throughout history, it has often been the case that today's "hate speech" becomes tomorrow's enlightenment. Today's "incitement" becomes tomorrow's righteous subversion of unjust authority and flawed orthodoxies. Add to all that the ignoble tendency to object to - or even recognize the existence of - repression only when it affects one directly (a dynamic I described here when writing about the inability of many passive, obedient western citizens to acknowledge the repression of their own governments because such citizens are never the ones targeted for repression), and it's clear that the opposition to free expression is grounded in the worst of human attributes.
I reprinted this article because we find the same disease festering in this community (Humboldt County) among local bloggers and newspapers. Those that are out front always beating their chests about promoting and defending free speech are the first to censure over unknown reasons.