On Free Speech and the Inalienable Right of the Individual

Elaine Carsley - August 12, 2017

Thank you all for your generous reflections on my last column; I’m flattered by the amount of traction and discussion it has stimulated since its publication Thursday afternoon. I’d like, however, to issue a correction on the history of the term ‘social justice warrior,’ the authorship of which has wrongly been attributed to me, though in fact it was coined by someone far more clever.

The great thing about free speech is that it’s free. And free speech does not elevate certain opinions over others. The opportunity for fluid discourse, however, becomes increasingly impaired when arguments are undermined by emotion; after all, politics and feelings do not good bedfellows make. As a mother myself, I would caution my children against Facebook temper tantrums and crocodile tears, and urge them to confront differences of opinion in a polite, thoughtful, if deferential way- it makes for a much more effective closing argument.

On the topic of urgency: while the world was falling spectacularly to pieces with social injustices aplenty, I was enjoying a decadent day in the Deep South. I swam in the ocean, picked shells by the shore, sipped sweet tea at sunrise and Maker’s Mark at sunset. What’s great about the South is its emphasis on respect- for individualism and tradition- so you can imagine my surprise when I emerged from seersucker paradise to overnight learn that I’ve been wrong about everything I’ve always believed to be true about basic human manners. Attacking another’s value system seems unfair, but we are mortals and I suppose that’s what we do. The inability, however, to separate legitimate fact-based criticism from hate speech is another matter entirely.

I cannot, in good conscience, issue apologies for what I believe to be fair and true. I value debate, so long as the discussion remains respectful. I’m fairly certain that referring to my remarks as inflammatory, ‘discriminatory,’ and ‘hateful’ falls outside of that prescribed realm. Becoming bogged down in a back-and-forth over partisan social issues is useless, mostly because it maligns the bigger picture point, which is this: America was founded by and for the individual. In America, everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which means that opinions, political and religious affiliations, and the absolute unfettered right to self-determination are values which cannot be compromised.

Imagining a more compelling narrative than the prerogative of the individual to map his or her own journey seems impossible- so let’s not try.



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