Do We Have a Right To Offend?

As a scientist, I know that science can punch holes in theories easily; just look how devastated previous societies were when they discovered that the Earth revolved around the sun! However, because science is fact, it is often considered the ‘most right’ in situations. Philosophy, a humanity, a ‘thinking skill’ has not that benefit of the doubt, and because philosophers often challenge the empirical (Plato, Kant, Boll to name a couple), philosophy is often seen as simply an offensive art.

Nietzsche himself, an eloquent and intelligent philosopher and psychologist, may have created his controversial points (including the idea that doing good is some times against the benefit of our free will) just to offend others or to draw attention to himself. In his book of essays, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, Nietzsche begins by analysing, no: criticising, philosophers who had gone before him.

Moreover, he had the right to do so. There was no official rule to say that he couldn’t create an idea that happened to contradict what society has said. As pointed out before, science is often contradictory. Yet, there is a difference between the searchings of clinical science and those of philosophers: philosophers, both modern and ancient, will receive more criticism for their opinion. What for? For the sheer difference of their musings.

Recently, the question has been raised whether it is fair to use deliberately offensive material in order to entertain. Now this, I feel is a flawed question, as it does not consider that each material is different to everybody; this topic is purely subjective. One might look at it in the eyes of a teacher: is it fair to use offensive material to teach? Whatever that may be in its final purpose.

I can see why this would cause discomfort for those being offended. Some topics, for instance mental or physical disability and religion, are very delicate to be discussed in a blasé way. Yes, there are people who misuse this confidence and trust to belittle or verbally abuse. Let us hope that they are far and few. Most people will use their material only to bring good, and are often upset when they find they have caused an ‘outcry’ in certain communities.

On the other hand, there are people who offend their own beliefs, just to prove that it is not an ‘outside view’ that comes into the bias. Anyone has that potential to offend.

Nevertheless, I don’t see the use of curtailing the offensive potential. Online, short of bullying, the person likely to be hurt the most, in the end, is the offended, for the quietest whispers are “shouted from the rooftops”. It is impossible, online, to hold a neutral position when every user will interpret what has been said in their own way. There are many similarities offline, too: one change of expression or of medium can alter someone’s perceptions of the material. This does not mean that the harmless should be denied their potentiality.

To conclude, some things are offensive to some, not to others, and this cannot be helped. But in a land of the freedom of speech and actions, there is no governmental right to take away someone’s freedom of speech unprovoked. Those people who have made racist remarks or offensive language do get cautioned, but after they have committed the act (for there is no use pre-empting prosecution as rights seem to be doing) – but this is due to their own choice. We should all be given the right to say whatever we wish, as long as it is used by the individual to temperate measures, and not abused. After all, it’s down to the individual alone whether they will do something that might put them into trouble.

The End

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