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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Krea chapter.

I hate when I’m told what I can and cannot do. I’m sure you all understand. I don’t know if we have true free will, but these overt directives kill the little bit of them that I hold to myself. When I was talking to my friend about this (for the sake of anonymity let’s call her MalcomX, X for short), I mourned the severe attack we nowadays observe aimed at levity. “Sure it may be offensive”, I lamented, “as it often is and should be, too!”. But X said that levity sometimes is employed as a euphemistic tool for slander, or for carrying out insensitive, vengeful agendas. The only way to then be able to distinguish between a sincere and a malignant attempt at bringing levity would be to identify the intent, right? “Because I strongly believe humans have always had the ability to decipher intent; we are emotional beings with acute intuition, with intent recognition coded into the fabric of our being” (Of course I didn’t say it like that. I don’t talk like a book). “That may be so,” X said (again, she only said “true”), “in a world that is increasingly orienting itself towards being driven by data and figures and facts, intuition as a legitimate identifying factor is losing ground”. That got me thinking – in a “progressive world” where journalists are imprisoned by governments and stand-up comedians canceled and their livelihoods stolen – an individual that decides to mock the status quo stands the frightening risk of being utterly run down by the power wielding institutions and mechanisms that ironically claim to be the defenders of liberty and freedom. What then is  the status of free speech? Do we, in reality, have the right to offend?

In the wake of comedians getting arrested for making jokes on the government, political cartoonists facing attacks for committing to their art, and teachers getting beheaded for being critical of religion, the political climate is tense to say the least. Stephen J.A Ward, writing for the Center for Journalism Ethics discussing the right to offend, pins it on the press – the perpetrators of offense. It isn’t without cause, however, that he does so. He claims the media is instrumentalized to cause disharmony and divide in society by hurting sentiments, be it religious or otherwise. This statement holds considerable validity, as the total denial of the existence of malintent is to operate with naivety. But what makes, let’s say religious beliefs, unassailable as compared to other, regular beliefs? (For the purpose of this argument the assumptions made are under a democratic framework and do not extend to the irregularities that occur when factoring different forms of governance). How are we evaluating the sanctity of beliefs and the weightage of importance each branch gets in relation to others in society? If it’s social sanction, formal or informal, then isn’t it a form of imposition of majoritarian values, thus having to be allowed to sustain and withstand, without outright suppression, the criticism of it? Moreover, any ideology or belief system that routinely spurs or instigates violence is instantly clamped down on. For instance, we can confidently and unanimously agree that Nazism, Satanism, Fascism etc form the manuscripts of some largely prevalent evils, and that its systematic ousting is imperative. Then is it so unreasonable to suggest that religious beliefs, under whose name large scale malpractices and crimes are still recurringly committed, must tolerate and – I would even go so far as to say that they are, in such situations, obligated to – entertain criticisms rained upon it? This is not to denigrate or speak reductively as to the importance and significance of such beliefs in our society. The values, morals, ethics and principles they espouse have much for everyone to learn from and adhere to. But to shield it from questions of reason in a world aiming at egalitarianism is to stand still under the banner of progress. 

So then what? Stephen Ward asserts “looking at possible harms to interest in a social context is superior to a citizen complaining that they’ve been offended or a journalist claiming the right to offend”. This is a threadbare, somewhat vague pronouncement. How can the harm be quantified, when there is no set measurable metric to quantify the magnitude of offensive material and the magnitude of the proportion of its impact on the “harms to interest” it causes? Instances of innocuous comments have been witnessed to cause calamitous outrage, while at the same time outlandish remarks bore no weight on peace and harmony. Who is then the arbiter? How does one gain license, sanction or legitimacy to even become one? Vague statements mandating ‘nuanced analysis’ and ‘case by case’ examination are all well and good, and must be implemented to their maximum capacity, keeping in mind that this does not, and cannot, set a standard. Criticism, scrutiny and backlash is necessary and must be welcomed with open arms, for there is never a moment where discourse is not beneficial. Whatever progress we have as a global society is wholly attributed to the persistent, undeterred questioning of the status quo, even at the expense of an oftentimes brutal outrage of the mechanisms that strive to keep them in place. Issues of sexuality, coloniality, race, dogma, despotism and thousands of other norms, whose perpetrators took offence to questions raised against it, were only overcome because of the obstinance with which those questions were asked. 

With all this said, know that I’m not here to suggest any structural changes; I do not dare claim possession of the tenured knowledge required to do so, nor do I credit myself with enough authority on the subject to produce a normative judgment. I’m just trying to paint the journey that saying what we want, at the expense of possibly hurting some people, has gotten all of us, with or without knowing, a long way. Whether you agree or disagree, add to or subtract from my arguments, I’m writing this to pay homage to my right to offend. So if you like it, good. If you hate it, great. And if you’re offended, then I’d say to myself it’s a job well done.

……………………………………………………………………..Me writing like :)