“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind”(Mill). This quote, by John Stuart Mill, is a quote that I originally disagreed with. Before reading the essay, I thought on all of the different examples in which the silencing of a certain opinion can be beneficial to the masses. A particular example that still sticks out to me is the silencing of the Westboro Baptist Church, a prolific hate group known for speaking out against marine funerals and picketing tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Massacre. How could such a volatile group of hate mongers possibly have any right to such opinions? But after reading a few different essays on the subject, and applying the opinions and logic of the authors into my daily life and other real world situations, I came to the conclusion that all ideas and opinions should be openly debated, respected, and tolerated regardless of how society views the subject matter, so as to enlighten and instill progress in mankind.
In modern times, I have frequently noticed how quick people are to jump down the throats of those who do not share their similar opinion. A good example of this is the group of people I hang out with, who are all extremely liberal. As soon as I would make any commentary against certain controversial subjects, such as Affirmative Action and abortion, my friends would immediately disagree with everything I say. Instead of using proper etiquette in their arguments, they digress to sarcasm, name calling, and bias. To them, silencing my opinion is more important than enlightening me, and even if their intentions were to do so, the overly aggressive way in which they argue is extremely counterproductive. It was almost as if they viewed me as immoral person simply because I did not agree with them on certain things.
Not only is this mentality prevalent in small social groups, but across the world people are being jailed for having beliefs that contradict with the beliefs of the general public, and this is happening not only in countries that deny their citizens freedom of speech. In Sweden, four men were arrested for handing out leaflets that called homosexuality “deviant” and “morally destructive” (William). In England, a man was arrested for displaying in his window a 9/11 poster proclaiming “Islam out of Britain,” (William) and in France a man was arrested for writing an article debunking the plausibility of poison gas technology in Nazi concentration camps (William). It seems that, ironically, the more politically correct the world becomes, the more intolerant it is towards unfavorable opinions.
The first point I have learned and applied to my life is temperance in arguments. In many cases, opinions are withheld because of the fear of verbal abuse, sarcasm, personal attacks, and extreme bias. Temperance is very important when arguing with another person, as well as a certain level of etiquette. The worst and most demeaning thing a person can do is stigmatize there opponent as an immoral person just because they don’t agree with them. Attacking someone you don’t agree with in this way may not be the same as taking legal action to silence them, but it is still a silencing technique none the less and is just as immoral.
When you stifle one opinion in favor of another, no matter how ridiculous of an opinion it is, and no matter how certain you are that you are correct in your views, the supported opinion loses nearly all inherent meaning; it is passed to future generations who accept it simply because there is nothing else to accept. Not only are no arguments made against the doctrine, but no arguments are made in favor of it either. Overtime, people forget the beliefs meaning, its semantics are lost, and it becomes nothing more than a collection of fixed forms. An opinion is like a hypothesis; it is based on some fact, but must be tested repeatedly to see if it can be proven true. An idea that is not argued frequently and passionately loses its meaning, and people become apathetic to its cause.
Another reason all opinions should be openly debated is that, although popular opinion on intangible subjects often contain most of the truth, rarely, if ever, do they contain the absolute truth. Sometimes a coalition of two opposing ideas can lead to a compromise that contains a more absolute truth. To accept that an opinion is false simply because everyone tells you so is complete ignorance, the same can be said about silencing an opinion. To silence an opinion is to assume that said opinion is infallibly false. Any person, group, or organization that claims to know such an infallible truth is ignorant indeed, because to proclaim an absolute truth, you must prove that the truth can be applied to every single situation regardless of context. To my knowledge, anything that is claimed to be an absolute truth, that cannot be physically tested, cannot be proven. For example, one may argue that “racial discrimination is wrong” is an infallible truth.
Well I could argue that, in some religions, such as Rastafarianism, only allow people of a certain color, in this case African American, to join their religion. Would this make all Rastafarians who agree with this morally wrong? These is an example in which an unpopular opinion, “racial discrimination is not morally wrong” can be bogged down by social stigmas perpetrated by the media, but still contain a portion of the truth. Even though, in general, such a statement can be perceived as negative and immoral, its flaws do not outweigh the portion of truth contained within it enough to justify condemnation. A common complaint against my points would be the viewpoint on morality. In my essay I have defended every opinion that would usually be regarded as immoral.
It would be wrong to say, though, that I am defending the actual meanings of these opinions, I am certainly not a racist bigot, but I am defending the right of people to have these opinions. So, why should hate groups, such as the Westboro Baptist Church, have the right to preach against so many principles that I hold dear? Through the readings of various essays in my HMXP book, I have learned that it is because of temperance. Without temperance, I am just as bad as the Westboro Baptist Church, when I chastise the arguments of my peers without having an open mind, I am just as bad as the media in today’s society, and when I try to silence others who are trying to voice their opinions, in a way I am just as bad as the governments in Europe who are preventing people from speaking their minds.
If I can make an effort to change my ways, and make an effort to become less ignorant and open minded, even towards things that seem ludicrous or inane, not only will I be able to strengthen my beliefs, but I may also exchange old beliefs for new, more credible ones. All in all, if everyone in the world respected one another’s opinions, tolerated each other’s beliefs, and openly debated issues with a certain level of temperance, then the world would advance both morally and intellectually.
Courtney from Study Moose
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