I write for a living. I lecture large audiences for a living. I piss people off for a living. Je suis Charlie.
My comrades were murdered for expressing opinions that others don’t like. Ordinarily, we’d call those murderers psychopaths. But because their instructions to kill supposedly came from their god rather than from random psychic noise, they’re considered “religious extremists.”
That’s too polite. It subtly helps limit their responsibility for their behavior. Of course, that’s a primary goal of religion—to codify the ways in which people are not in charge of this world, and to provide a vocabulary for not thinking about difficult things. That vocabulary is called “faith.” Faith is the exact opposite of thinking. It’s therefore in opposition to others thinking.
Here in the US you aren’t likely to be murdered for expressing unpopular ideas, but our society is becoming increasingly unsupportive of self-expression. College campuses now have “free speech zones.” If a student wants to hand out leaflets criticizing the government (or the college), she has to apply for a permit. If she gets one—generally several weeks hence—she can only hand out leaflets in a tiny area on the outskirts of campus. Ironically, most campuses can expel anyone who starts a spontaneous rally about my dead colleagues tomorrow.
And in the classroom? Students are warned not to express ideas that will hurt others’ feelings. Professors are asked to warn students before giving lectures or assigning readings that might make students uncomfortable.
Around campus? Most universities now have speech codes, which demand that students not express ideas that will make others feel unwelcome, or embarrassed, or challenged. The student with the weakest sensibilities now has veto power over what others can say. And no one has to develop critical faculties for rebutting arguments; they can simply faint, or complain that they feel insecure.
Public libraries? Increasingly, Americans are demanding the removal of books with ideas they don’t like. Parents are demanding the removal of books from school reading lists that might upset their children, or portray actual adolescent feelings of shame, lust, guilt, confusion, or anger.
Pornography? It’s everywhere, but no one wants to teach kids how to handle it (beyond “stay away from it”), psychologists don’t want to teach clients how to handle it (beyond “porn causes addiction and impotence”), and “morality groups” are working to eliminate it from the internet.
Je suis Charlie. But there are more ways to reduce free expression than murder. America’s becoming more and more comfortable with too many of them.