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The Carletonian

A myopia rooted in the fear of being silenced

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-085ad54f-0cf8-ef85-e0b5-d4de1ca7fa62">Artist Andres Parra’s commentary on his political cartoon in last week’s Viewpoint section: “I’m aware that the cartoon in last week’s edition of the Viewpoint was a bit graphic. However, I’ve deliberately chosen to use this imagery because I feel as though it best establishes the point that I’m trying to make about how important freedom of speech is. To me, freedom of speech is most useful when we are able to create conversations that are productive and challenge us to grow and deal with ideas in whichever setting we are in. To this end, I think that a lot of people confuse and misuse the word freedom of speech. For example, a lot of people will say that freedom of speech gives them the right to say anything they want, but that’s wrong. In the same way that you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater because it will cause a panic, you also can’t use hate speech or blatantly offensive language that functions in a way that aims to bring down individuals. Using speech in this way silences other people, typically minorities, women, and other underprivileged groups and perpetuates systemic oppression and inequality. But, at the other extreme, lies the people who utilize political correctness to silence others by claiming to be offended whenever a sensitive subject is addressed, even if hate speech is not being used by those who are taking part in the conversation. Freedom of speech is more nuanced than either of these positions would have us believe, and is certainly more complex than most people would make it out to be.”

Behind two of the most prominent arguments regarding the censorship, or lack thereof, of freedom of speech in America today, lie common threads. The two extremes, portrayed by the artist as the torturers of freedom of speech, although greatly caricatured, effectively capture two perspectives which are detrimental to facilitating the type of dialogue across differences that is essential for a society that is, on the institutional and individual level, democratic.

The purpose of freedom of speech is to ensure that each individual has an opportunity to add his or her voice to the conversation. Similarly, the purpose of this cartoon is to provide us with a warning for what happens when we think of ideas solely in terms of narratives and binaries. To this end, the stereotypical frat boy depicted in the cartoon, a symbol for the lack of empathy regularly associated with a narrative of suppression, yields the more immediately damaging weapon. In his right hand he holds the knife symbolizing the type of hate speech which has historically been used to marginalize and exclude entire groups of people with non-normative identities from the conversations that lead to the very decisions that end up shaping their lives.

However, the very same narratives of oppression which have led to a history of systematic injustice can be (and have been on occasion have been) co-opted and used to repress freedom of speech by those who use the modern social movement of political correctness as a means of shutting down dialogue by labelling certain subjects as undiscussable and certain people as unacceptable. The woman to the right of freedom of speech, the stereotypical social justice warrior,  represents this other potentially just as dangerous way of thinking. She holds a bat with the letters P.C. written on it, indicating, that in the wrong hands, even good intentions can be used to prevent others from engaging in the types of tough conversations that positive social change sometimes necessitates.

At the root of both of these forms of ignorance lies a common insecurity: people fear being silenced. Whether or not they realize it, this fear is what motivates some to silence others. Ultimately, everyone wants to have their voice be heard, but for that to be a possibility we must be willing to speak candidly and listen to what others have to say. In order for that to happen, we must be careful not to let ourselves become party to a way of thinking that is myopic insofar as it fails to take what others have to say into consideration.

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