Is There a “Right” to Feel Comfortable?

The road to dictatorship is paved with comments like this:

“Well, maybe we should have censorship if it involves hate speech.”

This is what I’m starting to hear people actually say. “Hate speech” is now defined as anything with which you disagree, and anything that “makes” you uncomfortable.

First of all, other people’s statements cannot “make” you uncomfortable. It’s your own ideas and assumptions that cause your emotional comfort or discomfort about anything.

If somebody uses the “N” word, I become uncomfortable. I become uncomfortable not because someone “made” me that way by saying the “N” word. I’m uncomfortable because it conjures up the idea of racism, a primitive form of tribalism and collectivism. Because I subscribe to the idea of individualism, I don’t like any form of collectivism, including racism. And no, I don’t like hateful statements when those statements are based on something irrelevant to a person’s character or choices. It’s irrational and downright silly to hate someone because of, let’s say, their race. Now if you express a hateful feeling about someone because they do something unjust, irrational or harmful — then I’m with you, and I’m not uncomfortable at all.

Our emotions are determined by our convictions, ideas and beliefs. We have no business accusing another of “making” us feel a certain way. If you don’t like what someone says, it’s because you don’t like the ideas implicit in their statements. These ideas conflict with your own ideas. Hold your ground and stick to your convictions; but don’t blame another for the fact that you have them.

This fact of psychology has enormous implications for whether we will ultimately go on living in a free society, or not.

The cultural attitude of today’s society — in academia, most of all, but I see it spreading into the mainstream of the media, the Internet and even daily conversation among otherwise reasonable people — is the idea that “hateful people should simply shut up.”

On the surface it seems like something you could never dispute. But you have to think about what you’re really saying. My own attitude is the exact opposite. My own belief is, “I may hate what you’re saying, but I would fight to the death for your right to say it.” It’s not that I’d sacrifice my life for someone else I don’t value, especially someone whose views I detest or despise. But I value the right to live in a free society, which includes freedom of thought, speech and association, more than anything else. The right to think freely is a precondition for the exercise of rational thought. Freedom is no guarantee of being right or rational, but it’s an essential precondition. Without the right to think and speak freely, no other rights have any meaning or value.

None of us have a “right” to feel comfortable. Every time we turn around somebody is offended, and looks to some authority figure — generally, the government — to protect that to which they feel entitled: comfort. Gays feel entitled to live in a world where nobody criticizes them; religious fundamentalists feel entitled to live in a world where they don’t have to encounter gays or women who have abortions. Atheists are offended by the fact that somebody somewhere is saying a prayer, while believers are offended by the fact that somebody does not pray. Islamic terrorists are the ultimate example of people who will tolerate no dissension, and they’ll blow up your entire civilization if you dare to offend them by living in a way they consider immoral (which means doing just about anything at all).

As much as it saddens me to see the government ruin important areas of our economy, the last straw, for me, would be to go after freedom of speech. If there’s anything worthy of your hatred, it’s the idea that because you or I hate what another says, we’re morally and legally entitled to shut them up.

We all must get it through our heads: There is no moral or political right to never feel uncomfortable. Everybody is free to think whatever they wish, and state whatever they want on their own time and property. Government, which even in America regulates almost every minute detail of our daily lives, must never be allowed to regulate one iota of free speech. The minute we go down that road, dictatorship is upon us.



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