Is our obsession with bullying limiting freedom of speech?

If every offensive remark is called bullying, we begin to surrender the right to express even legitimate opinions.
Izzy Kalman | Jul 16 2012 | comment  



A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated Independence Day by watching the awe-inspiring Macy’s fireworks display in New York City. My celebration was bittersweet. While enjoying the eye-popping spectacle, I was mourning the loss of the liberty our nation was supposedly celebrating. The United States has prided itself on being the freest nation in the history of the world, but we have been backsliding.

History has shown that people are willing to give up their freedom and money for a promise of increased safety. With each passing year, thanks to anti-bullying laws and our hysterical pursuit of the impossible goal of creating a totally safe environment, we are slowly but surely transforming our country into the totalitarian police state portrayed in George Orwell’s iconic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. I will be presenting several recent news items documenting this process.

Freedom of speech is the solution to bullying

The most basic of all freedoms is freedom of speech, the freedom most necessary for a healthy society. But even advocates of freedom of speech have been caving in to anti-bullyism because they can’t think of a good argument against it. What can possibly be wrong with anti-bullying laws? If we are against these laws, doesn’t that make us pro-bully? So we blindly support these laws, even those of us who should know better.

The great irony is that freedom of speech is actually the solution to most bullying. America’s Founding Fathers were very wise people who studied philosophy and deliberated greatly over everything they put in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They had excellent reasons for granting us freedom of speech.

Enumerating the benefits of freedom of speech is beyond the scope of this article. However, regarding bullying, freedom of speech is the Constitutional version of the ‘sticks and stones’ slogan. It means, ‘It’s only words. We don’t get punished for words.’ If you attack me with sticks and stones and I get hurt, you are the one who hurt me. If you insult me and I get upset, I upset myself. Should you get punished because I upset myself?

Freedom of speech means that just like others have the right to express themselves in ways we find offensive -- as long as they don’t cause objective harm to our bodies, property or liberty -- we have the right to express ourselves in ways they find offensive. Others do have the right to say things we find offensive, and we have the right not to get upset by it.

Most bullying is verbal, and even most physical aggression begins with anger over words. When we try to deny people the right to say offensive things to us, it makes them want to say those things even more vehemently. Hostilities escalate, we look like fools and the relationship goes quickly downhill. On the other hand, when we grant people freedom of speech, they quickly stop trying to offend us, we respect each other more and harmony ensues.

Anti-bullyism outlaws humor

Ever since the Columbine shooting, I have been warning that anti-bullying laws will outlaw humor, because humor, by its very nature, is offensive. Saying nice things about people is not going to make anyone laugh. Unless, that is, the nice things are said sarcastically -- they are meant as an insult.

As George Orwell said, “The aim of a joke is not to degrade the human being but to remind him that he is already degraded.”

The day prior to Independence Day, a story was disseminated in the news media about a high school that denied two students their diplomas because their graduation speech contained a couple of jokes. Thus, they could have violated New Jersey’s tough anti-bullying law.

If you don’t have a sense of humor, don’t worry -- these laws won’t affect you.

Pro-freedom organizations are caving in to anti-bullyism

It is understandable that school administrators, who are terrified of facing anti-bullying lawsuits, would try to deny freedom of speech to their students. Furthermore, since freedom of speech hasn't been taught in our schools and universities for decades, school administrators have no more understanding of its importance than the average citizen.

The tragedy is that even people committed to upholding freedom of speech are quickly retreating in the face of anti-bullyism. It's because they aren’t clinicians and don't have the benefit of treating victims of bullying, so they don’t realize that freedom of speech is the solution to bullying. They, too, have succumbed to the popular belief that bullying exists because of freedom of speech, so the solution, they capitulate, is to curtail freedom of speech. To save face, they present their defeat as a victory, in classic Orwellian style. And they get away with it because no one challenges them. Everyone loves anti-bullyism and is happy with their loss of liberty.

Thus, the New York Civil Liberties Union is eagerly supporting New York’s draconian anti-bullying law, cleverly labeled as “The Dignity for All Act.

What a great idea! Why has it never occurred to us before that the government can magically grant everyone dignity? We could have saved ourselves so much misery. It wouldn't matter how despicable we were, everyone would still have to treat us with dignity or face the full force of the government!

And how about bullies? Does the Dignity for All Act extend to them, too? Are we still allowed to use the demeaning term, 'bully'? Or are bullies the only ones denied the protection of the law?

In actuality, The Dignity for All Act is Newspeak (a là Orwell) for ‘Repeal of Freedom of Speech Act.’ New Yorkers are now forbidden from saying anything than can possibly offend anyone for any possible reason. We are only allowed to say things that people like to hear.

The Freedom Forum is an organization that describes itself as “A nonpartisan, international foundation advocating free press and speech rights for all people.” Under its auspices, Charles Haynes proudly informs us of a glorious achievement. In conjunction with representatives from a number of other groups, he has worked out limitations of freedom of speech in a manner he hopes will not violate anti-bullying laws.  

Yes, anti-bullying laws still permit criticism, but we had better be awfully careful how we do it. To play it safe, we should just stick to compliments.

Increasing electronic surveillance

Nineteen Eighty-Four portrayed a world in which everyone is under constant video surveillance of the great governmental protector, Big Brother. Big Brother, of course, is not God. He is not even an angel or a saint. He is comprised of mortal human beings just like us, with all of our faults, prejudices and tendency to abuse power.

That Orwellian world is no longer science fiction. All busy public places are now under constant video surveillance. Anti-terrorism has permitted government to monitor our phones and computers as well and to scan our bodies and possessions at airports and government buildings.

Many of us have quietly accepted this loss of freedom as a worthwhile trade-off for the safety of protecting our physical beings from terrorists (though the increased safety is debatable). Anti-bullyism is taking us one giant step forward: it is going to protect our feelings. In a development reported worldwide, a team of computer experts is currently developing a program that will monitor everything we say on the internet so that we won’t offend each other.

Yippee! Maybe I’ll finally stop getting cyberbullied by anti-bullying advocates!

Anti-bullying organizations have been perplexed by the apparent increase in bullying-related suicides despite years of intensive efforts to require school staff and students to monitor and report all acts of bullying. Why isn’t the constant surveillance preventing suicides?

A seminar participant once recommended to me a fascinating, powerful award-winning German film, The Lives of Others, based on life in Communist East Germany–Nineteen Eight-Four personified. See if you can find a parallel between the suicides in the film and the bullying-related suicides we are experiencing today. If you think you would be happy living in the safety of Soviet-style Communism, you should be thrilled with anti-bullyism.

Down with liberty! Long live Independence Day!

Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.



Copyright © Izzy Kalman . Published by MercatorNet.com. You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. Contact us if you wish to discuss republication.

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