December 28, 2004

The Right To Offend

Lionel Shriver in today's Opinion Journal:

{...}Freedom of speech that does not embrace the right to offend is a farce. The stipulation that you may say whatever you like so long as you don't hurt anyone's feelings canonizes the milquetoast homily, "If you can't say anything nice. . . ." Since rare is the sentiment that does not incense someone, rest assured that in that instance you don't say anything at all. The concept of religious "tolerance" seems to be warping apace these days, and we appear to forget that commonly one tolerates through gritted teeth. It is rapidly becoming accepted social cant that to "tolerate" other people's religions is to accord them respect. In fact, respect for one's beliefs is gradually achieving the status of a hallowed "human right."

I am under no obligation to respect your beliefs. Respect is earned; it is not an entitlement. I may regard creationists as plain wrong, which would make holding their beliefs in high regard nonsensical. In kind, if I proclaim on a street corner that a certain Japanese beetle in my back garden is the new Messiah, you are also within your rights to ridicule me as a fruitcake.

The fact that we have to be free to outrage one another is potentially in conflict with a law that soon will be put to the Commons that would add "incitement to religious hatred"--punishable by seven years in prison--to the equally dubious legislation already on the British books banning "incitement to racial hatred." Laws that prohibit incitement to illegal action seem defensible enough. But with this and similar "hate crime" legislation, are we not on the way to classifying hatred itself as a crime? And while we are at it, should we not then criminalize envy and narcissism for also being antisocial states of mind? Moreover, what is the difference between "incitement to hatred" and "incitement to fierce dislike"? Or "incitement to mockery"?

{...}Apparently contemporary "tolerance" does not merely allow others to practice whatever goofy or incomprehensible religion they like--and sometimes with a rolled eye--but surrounds any faith with a hands-off halo of sanctity, so that whatever is sacred to you must also be sacred to me. Disquietingly, this halo in Britain may be enshrined into law. Worse, today's exaggeratedly deferent brand of tolerance is driven by a darker force than mere let's-all-get-along multiculturalism, and that is fear. In the post-9/11 world, we are arriving at an unspoken understanding that zealots in our midst must not be offended, lest in their indignation they do something horrible.{...}

(my emphasis)

Can I get an "Amen"?

While I'm generally a believer in keeping one's mouth shut when one has nothing nice to say, Shriver's got a point that this inclination should not be legislated, but rather personally regulated. I find it incredibly interesting that, of all the places to experience the vast depths of turmoil due to religion, the English appear to have forgotten their history. One can only hope that this bill that's being presented to Commons will go down in a blaze of secularist glory.

After all, what would Henry VIII think of such rubbish legislation?

Posted by Kathy at December 28, 2004 02:23 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?