During a book-signing event, English author and self-styled atheist Philip Pullman was asked to comment on the “shocking” title of his then-new book: “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.”
“Yes,” Pullman answered, “it’s a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended,” he concluded.
The sentiment shared by Pullman is correct because government-sponsored protection from offensive speech should be seen as nothing but an immoral act. But in this case, the offended party could choose not to buy his book, thus avoiding the triggering event. What the offended party cannot do, however, is to keep Pullman or the publisher from writing and publishing offensive material. They are, after all, private entities, and individuals have a right to live life as they see fit, using private property as their means.
Living in isolation, away from others who do not share the same convictions or other particular traits, is a choice. Ideally, individuals should be free to develop their own living arrangements with others. Allowing settings to be put in place that would meet the demands of these individuals. Living in a bubble, you may say, is therefore, an option. But no, being legally protected from offensive speech isn’t – and should never be – seen as a guaranteed right.
For libertarians, the go-to solution to the offensive speech problem is usually the same. As long as you are not violating the property and life of others, you have the liberty to speak freely. Libertarians also argue that, in an environment where speech is unrestricted, individuals who are exposed to different contents of speech are given an opportunity to pick which individual or groups of individuals they will exchange with. Allowing the market to weed out the “unwanted,” or the overly offensive.
Without an authoritative force imposing rules on speech in an urban setting, for instance, a private business owner such as a Jewish grocer may make it a rule that no anti-Semites are allowed in his shop. Just as an atheist business owner may choose to avoid doing business with members of religious sects. But when a third party is establishing what kind of speech or behavior is acceptable and what isn’t, these private men and women are suddenly forced to abide by third party rules, ignoring their convictions and, at times, even having to expose themselves to unnecessary conflicts.
When people are allowed to speak freely, disagreements are less likely to spark confrontation. Because when people are free to peacefully boycott those who offend them, they are more likely to be open about their true inclinations.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know which neighbor of yours is racist? When certain types of speech are criminalized, those who take part in it are driven underground, away from the public. When offensive speech isn’t a crime, we know who we’re dealing with.
Across the country, the somewhat new tradition of having designated “safe spaces” on college campuses for kids who are “triggered” by different ideas has drawn a great deal of criticism.
If students voluntarily decide to create private settings where like-minded individuals mutually consent to providing one another with a “safe space,” shunning different ideas and life styles without taking up resources or forcing college dealership to comply, they are free to do so. But pushing the idea further and having entire dormitories being turned into “safe spaces” is a completely different matter.
Colleges, especially in America, are often packed with young students from different backgrounds. They have different ideas on politics and religion, making them a group that is difficult to categorize. When students claiming to stand for minorities try to impose their views on the entire body of students, they are acting like tyrants. When their request for restriction on behalf of hurt feelings is denied, many resort to aggressive protests, and, at times, are even able to get entire events cancelled.
Unfortunately, these cries for special attention often snowball and teachers are suddenly pressured to act differently. As they cave to the demands of the minority, the majority is impacted by the use of trigger warnings and the implementation of safe dormitories. The result is the embrace of top-down restrictions that keep young people from being exposed to different realities, turning differences in opinions into cultural dividers. As young adults begin to learn about living in society under these settings, they will eventually suffer tremendously in the real world, unless colleges cease to cater to their every need.
“Only in authoritarian or totalitarian societies are words, conceptions and ideas banned, restricted or prohibited,” Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel Richard M. Ebeling once explained. “It is done precisely to prevent people from expressing and conveying their thoughts on, especially, political, economic, social and philosophical ideas that those in power view as dangers to their own ideological and governmental control over society.”
Students demanding authority figures to act against those who offend them go on to be adults who refer to the government for all their needs, simply because they were never exposed to different ideas.
To both groups, those willing to live in a bubble and those willing to be open to different perspectives, there is a solution: Private property rights. The very foundation of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Demanding protection or fighting for the criminalization of speech is non-sense. But respecting private property rights means that both speech and isolation are protected from tyrannical forces. There’s no need to go to your school dean or the federal government for that.
While publicly-funded colleges are maintained by taxpayer-backed resources, private institutions aren’t. They should be free to specialize and open campuses for snowflakes if there’s a demand, but publicly-funded schools are forced to go along with the rules imposed by the government.
Protected speech or criminalized speech might be two sides of the same coin, but private property rights will always serve as the most effective protection of voluntary exchange. If anything, the wave of “safe spaces” is a symptom of a system that has stifled choice. With the government imposing so many barriers the cost of education has been artificially inflated. As a result, private educational institutions are having a hard time keeping their doors open. And yet government figures continue to push for increased participation among the youth, claiming everyone has a right to education.
Liberating the field could help to create better, more diverse educational institutions that cater to specific demands being snubbed under the current settings. After all, government has no right to tell the individual what to think. Why is it allowed to regulate education?