Modern day sensitivities

The rise of the thin-skinned

21 JULY 2016,
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech

The West boasts freedom of speech and the opportunity to speak on and say everything you want, be it not racist or some form of incitement to violence and terrorism. This is one of the reasons why the West is so great. Comparing this to other countries and regions of the world, this freedom is a luxury. Not everywhere are people as free and lucky to speak their mind like we are, or have the freedom to believe in what they want. If you follow the news on a steady basis, it seems like freedom of speech is in decline all over the world. So much so that the Economist had a special on the same matter.

A lack of free speech in other countries does not affect us that much in the West. Our freedoms are entrenched in the constitution. But not being cognizant and aware of developments and realities outside your own little comfort zone will make you forget about the luxury that is bestowed upon you. The luxury that free speech is.

A lot of young people in the West are forgetting how lucky they are that they are able to speak their mind and do it freely, on whichever they choose. They feel that free speech should be curbed, and the other with a different political opinion should be silenced. They are very ungrateful. Much has been said and written about the narcissism of this millennial generation. These little princes and princesses all feel like they are unique and special, and they would very much like the right not to be offended. Because being offended shatters their sense of being special. When someone is way up there with his egotism, and another one pulls him down, it can be quite painful. What compounds this nowadays are the stark contradictions and differences of opinions in Western society between people with different political views, between religious people and atheists, between ethnicities and between men and women. People hold on to the belief system they choose to identify with, and will not be influenced or affected by the views of the other. At the same time they demand not to be offended, and are willing to go far if it means to shut the other up.

Why don’t young people value free speech any more ? They might take it for granted, and do not know the long battles that had to be fought by more honorable generations to give them these freedoms. Or it is a form of selected amnesia. Nowadays, it is easier to cave in to one group’s demand of imposing its will over the other, but harder to guard over free speech and protect it. So does this mean that this generation is weak, for it has weak knees? It might be. But if so, all of us are still lucky that we are protected by our constitution. Foreign influences that ripple through our country via tv, satellite tv, the internet and the immigrants that settle in the West bring foreign morals and views on free speech with them. Immigrants that are not fully integrated, and have their eyes set on- and their hearts with their home countries can find it hard to adjust to, appreciate and respect the West’s laws on free speech. If you are a Westerner with weak knees, you can be susceptible to morals of people from other countries, where they do not respect one person’s right to speak their mind. So you see, there is actually a reason why we are called the free West.

What can Western governments, their people and their emissaries do to turn this around? How can the reader contribute? It is important to hold firm and protect and defend that which is in our constitution, and not be so easily influenced by different groups and their demands. To demand respect for your own cause by silencing the other is something we left behind many decades ago, and not without good reason. I am sure youngsters nowadays do not want to be thrown in jail for speaking their minds, like they do in Turkey or Russia. It is easy to turn into a dictatorship, but turning into a democracy is hard work. Why go that way? So many countries struggle in their quest to turn into fully fledged democracies, and many are failing. There seem to always be special interests, a deep state or someone trying to steal from you or trying to grab or hold on to power. Even democracies in name only have many problems. Just look at Venezuela.

Who should be the ones teaching young people our freedoms and explain it to them? Who will explain that societies are different abroad and one should not take his freedoms for granted? The media for one, because when they give attention to special interest- and/or foreign groups that want to curb free speech in our democratic societies, they give them a podium. While the definition of free speech is to have your message heard, media should hold on to some of what is left of their morals. Politicians should stress our freedoms abroad and in our country, and stand firm on it. They are the last ones that are aloud to have weak knees. Teachers at university should have more respect for Western societies and teach students their own laws and how lucky they are. They should instill some gratitude in students. When you have an interconnected world, a global village, differences between regions and countries might blur. One has to be aware that borders still exist, that different laws hold firm in different countries and that other governments and people outside of your country have no say in what you can or cannot say. I hope this all blows over with time.