the difference between ‘thought control’ and ‘being considerate’

That is the cultural struggle we are having in the US right now. There are some who wish to exchange freedom for political correctness, who believe in patrolling and regulating not only speech, but thought and ideas too. (Insanitybytes22)

If you are an extremist in any aspect of your beliefs, and you are not in the majority within your society, you are probably a vigorous advocate of free speech. Extremism is a form of tribalism that paints anyone who doesn’t hold the same views as you as Evil. When other people are Evil, we have to remove them at all costs.

  • extremist Christians see the Evil in family planning clinics, places that seek to destroy their god’s plan to further over-populate this planet
  • extremist atheists see the Evil in all religious organisations, places that seek to indoctrinate children with dangerous and harmful beliefs rooted in ignorant superstitions
  • extremist feminists see the Evil in all society, ignorant people programmed to behave a certain way to the total detriment of one gender.

I don’t fully disagree with all of these stances, but I do think there are other ways to express these opinions without heaping disdain, hatred and anger on everyone and anyone who doesn’t agree. And this is where ‘extremists’ rush headlong into a tangle with challenges to their ‘freedom of expression’.

The reason that extremists all become uncomfortable, defensive and furious in the face of calls to modify their language is that their beliefs are seeped in hatred, disgust and sheer exaggeration. And they want society to hear the full force of their views, without consideration for any other point of view or experience within the area they designate as Evil.

This is what their version of ‘freedom of speech’ is: showing no interest or consideration for the experiences of any individuals who don’t fit in their simplified view of right and wrong. ‘Freedom of speech’ is freedom to ignore and insult any overlapping area concern in pursuit of the extremist utopia.

The problem with extremists and their concern for freedom of speech, is that when they are no longer a minority voice, but the ruling group, I suspect that their concern for freedom of speech, becomes concern for ensuring that the Wrong Opinions don’t take hold again. Let’s look at few examples where freedom of speech has been, and still is, viciously trampled on, in the name of enforcing Correct Belief.

  • Communist USSR: “The anti-religious campaign of the Khrushchev era began in 1959,… carried out by mass closures of churches, monasteries, and convents, as well as of the still-existing seminaries … The campaign also included a restriction of parental rights for teaching religion to their children, a ban on the presence of children at church services …The state carried out forced retirement, arrests and prison sentences to clergymen who criticized atheism or the anti-religious campaign, who conducted Christian charity or who in made religion popular by personal example.” (wikipedia)
  • In the USA, atheists aren’t legally free to hold public office or to speak in some courts of law: “Eight state constitutions include restrictions on people who don’t believe in a supreme being. In Arkansas, denying the existence of God means you can’t hold civil office or testify in court” (Washington Post)
  • 13 Muslim countries currently issue death sentences to atheists (Reuters)

When I ask extremist Christians to stop calling family planning clinics places of murder or genocide, or when I ask extremist atheists to stop suggesting that Christians shouldn’t be allowed near children, or when I ask extremist feminists to stop demanding that trans women shouldn’t be allowed to access female toilets, I’m asking them to consider life in a less exaggerated manner and to take the experiences of the group of people they are vilifying into consideration.

Let’s walk a mile in the shoes of other people before we attempt to marginalise them or discriminate against others in pursuit of our own priority ideology. How we present our ideas and how we use language, can and does influence the pressure on minority groups, on individuals who face hate, discrimination and violence in their everyday lives. This is not about attempted thought control, it’s about showing respect for other human beings with different life experiences. Simply put, it’s about being considerate.