By Penny Arcade

In 1600 Giordano Bruno, branded a heretic, was burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo Di Fiori, a nail pounded into his mouth to symbolically shut him up; and so began the fight for freedom of expression. The liberal movement was borne of a four century march towards free expression and in its wake, civil liberties for many groups were enacted.

Silence Equals Death was the banner slogan of Act Up, the fiery AIDS activism of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Through hard fought debate and dialogue, Act-Up forged a broad coalition that understood that speaking up and acting up , was the only way to change an indifferent system.

Historically, silencing has long been a weapon we associate with the right wing and Fascism, not with Liberals and the Left. Yet today the very tenants of Free Speech are suspect, and it is the so-called left—largely made up of the very people that the long fight for free speech helped confer rights upon – who are its most ardent opponents. Language is now so closely policed as to make every conversation a minefield. The witch hunt connected to free speech where no topic can be discussed or analyzed has become a powerful weapon for the American Right Wing where they turn the silence imposed by the left against itself, into a growing number of proposed legislations against hard-won, hard-fought rights for women, trans and LBGT people.

While it was long believed that thought formed language, modern linguistic studies prove that it is speaking that fosters thought. Most of us in fact speak to find out and clarify what we are thinking. Now, more and more of us can only stumble towards actualizing our thoughts through language among our three closest friends. There is a climate of silence around ideas—not only the culture of no platforming public speakers, pundits and intellectuals but all of us experience this climate of silence on a daily basis.

Over the past decades, the politically correct movement in the USA has grown to epic proportions and words and language are feared, policed and controlled. Many people including the very young proudly view themselves as victims of language and what started out as a theory-based investigation at elite universities, has now spread through the media and bureaucracies.

Angelo Codevilla, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University wrote:

“The notion of political correctness came into use among Communists in the 1930s as a semi-humorous reminder that the Party’s interest is to be treated as a reality that ranks above reality itself,”

The reminder went something like this:

“Comrade, your statement is factually incorrect.”

“Yes, it is. But it is politically correct.”

Somehow this victimhood mentality surrounding language has not created a kinder, more compassionate society even among its own proponents of safe space and uber self-conscious identity politics because along with this supposed fragility is a martinet demand for adherence to their strict protocol of process and rules, its focus on victimhood and victim rights immediately vilifies anyone who questions any aspect of the thinking surrounding it. Silence and true activism cannot co-exist.

Photo credit: by Penny Arcade

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