September 18, 2014

Keep Speaking Out

Salman Rushdie presenting his book "Shali...
Salman Rushdie presenting his book "Shalimar the clown" at Mountain View, USA, October 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anything one says that is truly meaningful will end up offending someone. Of course, the fact that a meaningful statement will inevitably offend someone does not mean that an offensive statement is necessarily meaningful. And this in no way means that you or I should go out of our way to say offensive things. It simply means that we should not let others' protests about feeling offended prevent us from saying something meaningful.

Most of us will be subject to various social pressures, but we must not allow others to prevent us from making what would be meaningful statements. This is true whether the offended are religious extremists complaining of blasphemy or secular social justice warriors advocating a repressive form of political correctness propelled by outrage culture.

We need to hear from people who are different from us and/or who have different views than we do. This includes viewpoints we may not like. We need the experience of having our views questioned and even challenged by others. Without these experiences, we fall prey to groupthink, confirmation bias, and a host of other errors in thinking that will lead us astray. Without these experiences, we deprive ourselves of many excellent learning opportunities. We need to accept - even embrace - the inevitability of being wrong. This helps keep us humble enough that we may be open to learning from others.

Some of what others say will occasionally offend us. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling offended provides an opportunity for growth. We need to learn how to disagree with others, including those who may say things we find offensive at times, "without trying to destroy each other."

So stand up and speak out. Express yourself. If you have something meaningful to say, do not allow yourself to be cowed by allegations of blasphemy or misguided threats of shunning or other social sanctions. If you have something meaningful to say, we need to hear your voice, even though we may not like some of what you have to say.

The free expression of ideas, including those which some of us may find distasteful or offensive, should flourish among freethinkers. This should be the one place where one can count on finding uncomfortable ideas. We claim to have neither creed nor orthodoxy. We claim to celebrate free inquiry, free speech, and dissent. If the free expression of ideas cannot thrive here, we are not the champions of freethought we pretend to be.

For more, see The Atheists Who Would Silence You.

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