What started as political correctness has grown like Topsy—into unplanned and perhaps unintended enormity. The pendulum is still swinging in that direction. For example, we’ve invented “trigger warnings,” introductory words to a document, a blog, an article in the press, etc. that warn people that they might be offended or traumatized if they read the article, blog, or book. Another phenomenon is the “spoiler alert,” used by a reviewer who cannot write a review of a book or movie without giving away a key plot point.
Examples (which I made up):
For Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”: (Spoiler Alert) This book portrays adultery and sexual conduct by unmarried persons including a man of the cloth. If these subjects might offend you, please select another book. Perhaps something from the “McGuffey Readers” series. And, no, “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Red Badge of Courage” are two entirely different books.
For Alexandre Dumas, père’s “The Man in the Iron Mask”: This book may offend or cause severe psychological damage to any person who has a phobia of having his or her head covered with an iron mask and then being imprisoned.
For Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”: This book includes dialectic speech that demeans Persons of Color as well as speech by melanin-deficient persons who use the “n-word.” If you might find this offensive, read no more.
For my blogs: WARNING: If you are a dumba__, you may be offended by the attempts to use correct grammar and vocabulary in the following essay. Of course, if you’re a dumba__, you probably don’t know that, so go ahead and read.
For the Jewish Bible (the “Old Testament”): This book treats incest, adultery, and polygamy as acceptable family values. It describes more than two million murders including those of children, the sale of women into sexual slavery, and the first recorded incident of date rape.
My inventions are all true, including the date rape in the Bible. [It involved Lot and his daughters after they escaped from the destruction of Sodom. The story is told in Genesis 19, especially verse 31 and following.]
Trigger warnings are censorship. If an author places a trigger warning on his or her work, that is self-censorship. When a newspaper editor, web site administrator, or social media site puts trigger warnings on others’ submissions, that’s censorship. In either case, trigger warnings block access to ideas, to thoughts, and to information.
Battle lines have been drawn between supporters of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and academic freedom, and those who want to ban all speech they find in any way offensive. But, the First Amendment was designed to protect offensive speech. To block speech one finds offensive is censorship, blocking access to ideas, thoughts, and information.
The First Amendment in simple terms was created to protect political speech, to allow people to speak out against elected officials without fear of reprisal or gagging.
One of the first things elected politicians did was pass the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). The “Alien” part made it easy to deport immigrants and made it harder for them to vote. [Sound familiar?] The “Sedition” part prohibited public opposition to the government, and allowed fines and imprisonment for writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government.
I agree that knowingly publishing false information is inappropriate. Scandalous? I’m thinking Bill Clinton and a p____y-grabbing president elect. [You knew I was going to get Trump in here somehow, right?]
One reason the Federalist congress got away with this in 1798 was that the Supreme Court wasn’t considering the constitutionality of laws at that time. Besides, the justices were all members of the same political party that passed the laws.
James Madison and Thomas Jefferson opposed the laws, and convinced the state legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky to pass laws saying that the A&S Acts were illegal in those states. (Sound familiar? This exercise of “states rights” was later used to justify the secession of the South in the Civil War.)
Oliver W. Holms, Jr., a Supreme Court Justice, in a unanimous decision of the court, wrote that speech in opposition to the draft during World War I was not protected free speech under the First Amendment. Part of his opinion was that the First Amendment does not protect “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a panic.” Most people don’t include the word “falsely” when they think they are quoting Holmes.
Holmes’ opinion was based in part on both the World War I draft law and yet another sedition law passed in 1918. Holmes wrote that the defendant’s opposition to the draft was “a clear and present danger” to the US war effort.
This ruling was not overturned until 1969 (!) when the Supreme Court ruled that speech could only be banned if it was designed and likely to incite an imminent illegal action such as a riot.
The United States is becoming Balkanized in part because people are determined not to hear words and ideas that they think might be offensive. We need to get off the politically-correct bandwagon, we need to ignore trigger warnings, we need to use reason and facts rather than propaganda and myths. We need to parse the statements of politicians and shills on national media to find the truth, and we need to challenge their lies.
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.