We Americans are dearly attached to our freedom of speech, but rarely do we address its abuse. Naiveté about the potency of words is commonplace nowadays. We write and speak with an air of self-importance while ignoring the consequences of thoughtlessly expressing opinions. A few angry lines vented for the sake of emotional satisfaction, however, ultimately only feed the maelstrom of mindless frustration.
Abuse of language is on the rise, and it tends to consist in violently abusive language. Slander and libel are ever more difficult to prosecute, yet arbitrarily identified hate-speech and "trigger" words are demonized en masse. Why is this? Because we tend not to read or write for the sake of the truth, but rather to advance a particular political bloc’s narrative.
A large number of millennials, a recent survey claims, prefer to find their news through Facebook or Twitter, and I cannot help but wonder if this is because they prefer to read the news that they "Like." Aristotle wrote that an educated man is able to entertain arguments and claims without giving himself over to them. But many readers and writers seem incapable of either entertaining what is foreign or critically examining what is immediately appealing. A bad reader looks for even the most specious confirmation of what he already "knew" to be true. Like a bad detective, he reads evidence into the narrative he’s already composed, rather than construct his account of "the deed" based upon discernible facts. The problem lies in both readers and writers—readers who indiscriminately seek to feed their discriminations, and writers who care more for "creatively" voicing opinions than for conveying truths with which they disagree.
We are losing the will to acknowledge anything beyond personal preference because we are no longer willing to reflect upon positions different from our own. Communication no longer means exchanging information with another. Few readers and writers are sincerely interested in encountering what they dislike. Consequently, political discourse is largely non-existent in the public sphere, as is the patience needed to reflect upon our own words or those of others. Whim tyrannizes over the truth now, and words have become only hot air, pent up and waiting to be vented when the self-appointed time comes to "take action."
Communication requires responsibility: It’s easy to speak to a void, but hard to converse with another person. To encounter another person is a challenging task; to communicate clearly with him is nearly impossible—our words never quite align with our intentions—and it entails a willingness to tackle what we do not "Like." But until we can learn to respectfully listen to others, social discourse will continue to degrade. It will devolve into a democracy of the jungle, and our beloved right to free speech will soon become a meaningless term to anyone but the strongest or loudest in the prevailing mob.
Michael Gonzalez graduated from the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and is currently a PhD student in political science at Baylor University. He enjoys reading and discussing a wide variety of works—especially Homer's epics and Willa Cather's novels—and hopes in the future to pursue a career teaching political philosophy.