The Danger of Conflating Speech With Violence

August 3, 2021 Updated: August 4, 2021

Commentary

It’s not uncommon to hear claims that language is tantamount to violence, that words can cause physical harm. This concept originated in academia, taking root in the 1980s and 1990s, primarily among student activists and radical professors. Today’s campuses are littered with the consequences of this ideology.

Trigger warnings, safe spaces, language police, speaker shutdowns, and even cry closets abound in academia, implying that students require protection from ideas. These policies call into question the strength of students’ characters, teaching young people that they’re so delicate that even words can wound.

But protection ultimately inflicts intellectual harm upon students. When controversial ideas are stifled, difficult conversations never happen in the first place. Students lose out on exposure to new ways of thinking. Preconceptions go unchallenged. They’re robbed of the opportunity to develop better fluency and nuance in their own arguments.

The conflation of speech with violence is no longer relegated to campuses; it has metastasized into society at large. It was on full display just last month when the American Booksellers Association (ABA) apologized for its inclusion of Abigail Shrier’s “Irreversible Damage” in its July book box.

Before setting their Twitter account to private mode, they lamented, “This is a serious, violent incident that goes against ABA’s ends policies, values, everything we believe and support. This is inexcusable.”

When hurt feelings are conflated with physical harm, the perceived stakes become that much higher and more urgent. Political correctness vigilantes are emboldened in their mission to protect not only mental safety, but physical safety, too.

Dystopian consequences loom on the horizon, and, as this ideology gains traction in American society, it threatens to upend the First Amendment. Proponents of censorship ignore that direct incitement to violence is already illegal, and instead insist that protection extend to their right not to be offended.

But offense is an entirely subjective measure. Efforts to ban hate speech fail to define what exactly constitutes hate speech, at best providing blurry definitions that could easily be misconstrued.

While I by no means advocate bad-faith interaction, I vehemently believe that the freedom to offend is critical to the progress of our intellectual system. If history tells us anything, it’s that no brilliant new idea has arisen without controversy. The truth isn’t always popular, after all.

As columnist Selwyn Duke put it, “The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”

Therefore, to flirt with equating speech with violence is to flirt with the dismantling of our Constitution of knowledge and the foundation of our free society. It’s revealed as a genuinely nonsensical claim under even the slightest critical examination.

Therefore, as censorship spreads into mainstream society, champions of free expression must fight back against a logical fallacy that forks over power to ideological authoritarians. We must fight back in defense of the First Amendment right that allows our free society to flourish.

Rikki Schlott is a writer and student based in New York City. As a young free-speech activist, her writing chronicles the rise of illiberalism from a Generation Z perspective. Schlott also works for The Megyn Kelly Show and has been published by The Daily Wire and The Conservative Review.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Rikki Schlott
Rikki Schlott
Rikki Schlott is a writer and student based in New York City. As a young free speech activist, her writing chronicles the rise of illiberalism from a Generation Z perspective. Schlott also works for "The Megyn Kelly Show" and has been published by The Daily Wire and The Conservative Review.