Despite conflict of ideas, free speech is important

Sheng Qu

Recently news about exploitations of the freedom of speech by offending others’ religiosity, racial backgrounds, cultural heritages etc. have caused regrettable effects both around the globe and around us — those in the Middle East, particularly the case that happened in Libya, where a U.S. Ambassador and his three colleagues were maliciously killed; and the one in Brown Hall, where racial discrimination was horrendously and unexpectedly resurrected, that people started realizing that maybe “that stuff’’ still exists, although it certainly has weakened over the years.

In the meantime, in many parts of the West, there occurred various numbers of cases where people, in the name of “free speech,” openly spread content of hatred and intimidation to another group of individuals in their presumably legit “free expression,” whereas courts in these respective places ruled that this form of expression that causes offenses to a certain other person or group is non-justifiable.

The press generally has found the necessity of discussing the decline of the free speech in the world and whether there is a need for the speech to be “appropriate.” Now I am really interested in this whole discussion of whether or not the state has the power to define if there should be imposed an idea that not all types of speeches are free and acceptable even in a Western democracy, and whether the State is able to initiate a widely-accepted evaluation in terms of what is considered “inappropriate” and “appropriate.” But there’s something I want to discuss more about this time, not about the above, but by tracing back to the intention of necessitating ‘’free speech’’ itself.

Free speech, from what I understand, is an unalienable instrument anyone in a democracy can employ whenever they feel the need to express their thoughts and to get themselves noticed, non-restricted or -interrupted by any others, should they be government authorities or ordinary folks; and that it conspicuously unravels an idea that people make statements and confrontational questions, not because they agree with each other and always appreciate how others view and what others do, but because they don’t. When the disagreement grows to such an extent, violence occurs.

There is a reason behind this.

We live in a world where conflicts dominate most controversial events we are associated with. Conflicts originate from differences, which by no chance can be eradicated since by nature they’re fundamentally inherent. The majority is an assemblage of those among whom there can be found a comparatively lower amount of differences and thus a smaller portion of conflicts. We tend to live toward a common goal when we identify ourselves as belonging to a certain group, when we share more similarities in terms of physical appearances, intelligence, philosophical and/or religious affiliations, our expectation for the future, etc. Whereas the minority is those who are in various manners different from the general populace, and where similarities don’t necessarily exceed differences. Thus they possess some sort of uniqueness that can be either accepted and adored or rejected and repulsed by the greater number. Nonetheless, minorities themselves, though representing the smaller number, establish groups that would essentially help maintain a state of well-being, and become socially accepted, first within the community they compose and more broadly — as time goes by — without, to a point where social cohesion starts being plausible. There are the very many majorities and minorities, globally speaking, as many as there are countries and regions. Some assert a notion that even so, there is still (as they believe) a greater majority of those who hold a common ground that’s universally rooted in most of us.

Apart from being either of a majority or minority, it is, I presume, extremely hard to be isolated from both sides. Because we live interdependently rather than independently. Anyone needs someone else, no matter how able they are to manage both basic and more complex issues surrounding them, to lead a sustainable life.

The most problematic is the integration towards unity between the majority and the minority, the majority and the majority and even the minority and the minority, which often takes incremental steps and touches the most heated and fundamental issues. Many have proposed to solve these conflicts, and many have failed. Some suggest letting conflicts themselves end conflicts, for it has been seen that initiating a certain plan would only relate to further confrontations between disputing ideologies, rooted in differences. History has also shown, nevertheless, that the latter approach is erroneous. Most of us don’t live in our basements, and order daily necessities online and eliminate direct interactions we have with others. And to live a livable life we have to seek resolutions to discontinue a seemingly endless cycle of struggle, tracing back to conflicts, and farther to natural differences. Whoever we are, I suppose, we are human beings. If there has to be an everlasting similarity, or more accurately, a sameness among each and everyone of us, it always has been the traits we all share as humans, that would be the pursuit of happiness, which nothing can possibly discriminate against, as it is deeply wired in our nature. Although differences are expected to prevail in the long run, it’s not improbable that it’s decreasing, as integration proceeds.

In the end, I don’t really have any practical answers as to how to end conflicts. But I hope those who read my article, would put a heavier notion on the fact that we are different, but for being human, bound to being human itself.


Sheng Qu is a freshman majoring in Mathematics. He can be emailed at [email protected]