George Washington famously said, “if the freedom of speech is taken away then the dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to slaughter.” In our post-Enlightenment society, free speech is an inalienable right. We must be able to have the freedom to express our opinions, whatever they may be, and expect them to be challenged and scrutinised by those with opinions that differ to ours.
Through social intimidation and ostracism, political correctness puts pressure on citizens to conform. Controversial and contentious ideas are silenced and deemed non-politically correct, or the reverse, political correctness gone mad. Intellectuals and media pundits become the gatekeepers of what is acceptable speech and what is not. They create a society shackled by social norms and force a homogeneous use of language that never injures or offends any race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. This creates a society reminiscent of communist purges. Citizens are forced to tread on eggshells, fearful that they could be accused of being a racist or sexist and end up a social pariah. Rather than foster harmony, this fosters enmity, fear, and resentment. Both sides use the politically correct umbrella to silence those that hold beliefs they disagree with. Right-wing figures use it dismiss genuine objections to their racism.
There must be a clear differentiation between protecting freedom of speech— as the ability to express any idea— and prohibiting acts which are damaging and offensive. Consider the use of two words; ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’. Both words can be used to describe a person’s opinions and ideas towards homosexuals. But the former does not inherently contain an act. It is solely an expression. Within our definitions of freedom of speech, any opinion can be expressed using the term ‘gay’ and it is protected by the principles of freedom of speech. The latter term, ‘faggot’ is not merely an expression of opinion. It carries with it inherent actions. It is designed to demonise, stigmatise, and abnormalize. Therefore, socially excluding the use of this word is not an erosion of free speech, as the term is not just an expression of speech but outlawing dangerous and damaging actions and behaviour. In the same way, few would argue that phoning a school and making a bomb threat should be protected under free speech. Although the bomb threat uses words to express an idea, it is inherently an action that should be outlawed. The same applies to political correctness. A politically correct society does not limit free speech, but sets restrictions, as all societies do, on what are acceptable and unacceptable actions.
[P1] Freedom of speech is valuable to society. [P2] Political correctness inhibits free speech. [P3] Therefore, political correctness is detrimental to society.
Rejecting the premises
[Rejecting P2] Political correctness does not inhibit free speech.