ArticlesThe Erosion of Freedom of Speech in the West

In recent times, there have been clear instances of the infringement of freedom of speech in corporations and businesses where first amendment rights aren’t applicable as they are within private settings. For example, in 2017, James Damore wrote a memo that detailed his reservations to the diversity programs that are held within the Google workplace, asserting that while discrimination does exist, it doesn’t exist solely due to the oppression of the powerful (usually white men)...

In recent times, there have been clear instances of the infringement of freedom of speech in corporations and businesses where first amendment rights aren’t applicable as they are within private settings. For example, in 2017, James Damore wrote a memo that detailed his reservations to the diversity programs that are held within the Google workplace, asserting that while discrimination does exist, it doesn’t exist solely due to the oppression of the powerful (usually white men) on the less powerful. Specifically, he states that the gender disparity in certain fields of the workforce may be due to biological differences that result in different preferences towards certain things. For example, the number of women in nursing and teaching is much higher than the number of men and the reverse in the science and engineering fields. These things are all very well known, but to suggest that it may be a result of anything other than societal pressures and oppression is deemed by Google to be heretical, and worthy of complete ostracization and the eventual termination of his employment.

The response by the VP of the diversity department is as follows: “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws”. Emphasis has to be placed on “open and inclusive” and “alternate views” because the consequences that Google chose to enact do not represent those intentions at all. If it were truly an environment that welcomes alternative views, James Damore would not have been fired, but instead, he would have been engaged in an open discussion with his colleagues and superiors. That is the definition of an inclusive environment, where views can be openly talked about regardless of their offensive or controversial nature. But Google tends to think otherwise, and so do many other liberal hotspots of America, especially in universities.

Society must not follow in the examples of the universities and these corporations. Although they may produce or employ an educated class of people with seemingly benign intentions and results, the consequences that may result are not so harmless. One obvious cause of the restriction in free speech in America today is the increasing polarization between the political parties, between Democrat and Republican. Blue sees red as poor ignorant, bigoted, and uneducated while red sees blue as condescending, out of touch with reality, hypersensitive and impractical. Gone are the days where people willingly engage in open dialogue with ideas and views that are not aligned with their own. Like two languages or species splitting off from one another, cultures, too, risk complete division when two groups cannot understand one another’s views.

This polarization is both the cause and the consequence, establishing itself as a self-perpetuating cycle. When groups with differing views from each other splinter from each other they become increasingly intolerant of each other’s views. This is because ideas that challenge preexisting views aren’t always welcome. To be constantly fed the same rhetoric is more comfortable than to be challenged. These refuges that each group build for themselves only accentuate differences, reinforcing the process of polarization.

The culpability of the left’s policing of speech on America’s polarization cannot be ignored. Though media bias is impossible to avoid on both ends and few on either side are conscious enough to recognize confirmation bias, I single out liberals. After all, most of the media is very liberal (especially apparent during the 2016 presidential election), and even the famed New York Times, once the standard for unbiased journalism, leans left. The only major news sources that are not liberal are Fox News and Infowars (which is not considered mainstream media) both of which are touted as fake news (by the left). As a result, many onlookers will only look to media outlets that are left- leaning and not seek sources from the other point of view because of their labels as “biased” or “fake news”. Sowhen the media is touting the virtues of politically correct speech and demonizing anyone who doesn’t conform to their standards, people should be very careful to follow because the argument for PC speech is not infallible.

There is no doubt that there is some virtue in watching what one says. In fact, I would say that it is wise to do so, but also to assert that some things, regardless of the verity of the statement should not be said at the risk of offending or injuring someone is both unconstitutional and unproductive. Furthermore, it tends to privilege certain groups the right to speech more than others. The equality that was guaranteed under the 1st amendment was once to let everyone’s voices be heard is now being overridden to justify only letting those who are considered oppressed speak. The vilifying and divisive speech of BLM protestors are only accepted due to their perceived lack of privilege due to race, but that same benefit of the doubt granted to those of BLM was not granted to those who gather collectively as white Americans such as those gathered at Charleston. I personally disavow the views that Charleston protesters held, but to completely deny their right to express their views does not solve the fact that they will still hold such views regardless of whether or not they can express them.

In fact, suppression of dissent is unproductive since it does not target the source of the problem, but only the consequence. The source of the problem is that the individual or group holds a disagreeable idea and to completely deprive them of their right to speak will only prevent the outward expression of those ideas. To target the source, those ideas have to be questioned and eventually deemed unworthy through debate. No single idea or set of political ideas should ever be held unquestionable, thus if an idea is considered “wrong” it should be engaged and corrected. Not only is it unproductive, but it may even exacerbate the problem because it may let those ideologies fester in the dark, which is exactly what happens when ideas are left unchallenged.

What the left pursues is not truth, but the suppression of alternative views that they deem offensive, relying on the discouragement (sometimes to the point of violence in ANTIFA’s case) to the complete exclusion of “wrongthink”. But this does nothing to actually change the minds of those that hold different views. If anything, it would enrage and further entrench both sides in their own bubbles of ideology due to the failure to engage each other in verbal discussion that requires critical reasoning.

To directly target ideas at the root, dialogue and discussion should be encouraged so that people from both political sides can participate in the exchange of thoughts and ideas. In this exchange, pre-existing assumptions are challenged as they should be challenged if the opposing view has reasonable arguments to support it. But the condition required for this interaction is that both sides have to admit that the other side may have something of value to say. Though minds are not necessarily changed through debate, by assuming the thoughts and views of someone on the opposite side of a spectrum, perhaps some middle ground can be found, some common truth. If I cannot even begin to imagine how having views other than those that I already hold, how can I say that my view is objectively better? In theory, such an approach would ease tensions on both sides, as there is a platform for both sides to express views, and as a result of this platform both sides have exposure to foreign ideas. Common ground and compromises should be found so that division, intolerance and hatred of one another may not assume primacy over all else. Liberalism, after all, at its heart preaches tolerance and an emphasis for securing the freedom of the individual.

Lastly, thought and speech are things that ought not to be regulated from an institutional level, especially given the history of America as well as other nations like the Soviet Union and China during the 20th century. Government should not dictate which groups are granted the privilege to speak and which are barred. When only specific speech is allowed to be spoken by a privileged group supported by the government and even media, there is a monopoly on truth, something that is akin to an Orwellian dystopia. A dystopia is exactly direction that America will head to ifthe Left unchecked as arrests for “wrongthink” are happening in similar countries like Britain already.

Thus, on an institutional level I urge everyone not to appeal to authority to restrict speech. This will only give more power to a corruptible entity. On a personal level, I urge everyone to talk to people that you might otherwise find disagreeable. This facilitates the democratic process in finding solutions that are agreeable to everybody.

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.” — John Stuart Mill

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Original Source: This article is from the website “Medium”. You can check out this article and more like it on the link below.
Link to Original Article: https://medium.com/@felixyang_9988/the-erosion-of-freedom-of-speech-in-the-west-95dc6e7684c8

Felix Yang

Felix is a Chinese-American who grew up in Brooklyn, NY, attending public school there until college. Although he's currently studying Environmental Engineering in Cornell University, Felix has a penchant for reading and writing, especially on contentious topics in Western society. If you're interested in reading more, check out his personal website @flexthought.co and some sparse topics on medium @https://medium.com/@felixyang_9988

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