The Spectre of Self-censorship

Intro comments in a recent episode of the Wordslinger Podcast struck a cord with me. I know there are a variety of subjects about which we must tread carefully, especially when it comes to the very public mediums available to us over the internet. Politics, religion, and barbecue spring to mind as potential land mines in any exchange . The question raised by what I heard is this:

Have we crossed the line when it comes to the need to practice self-censorship?

Back to that Wordslinger Podcast episode I opened with. If you’ve ever had a chance to hear the host, Kevin Tumlinson, on this and other podcasts he co-hosts, I’m sure you would agree with me that he presents himself in an open and reasoned manner that should earn him the benefit of the doubt when he touches on a potential land mine subject. You’d take what you know about him, factor on the immediate context, and realise he’s not singling out any specific individuals unless that is exactly what he’s done.

To be fair, I am not privy to the actual material in question, but only Kevin’s apology as presented on the podcast episode. It’s episode 107 near the beginning if you care to have a listen yourself. Of course, now that you’ve listened that far I encourage you to take in the entire show while you’re at it.

The gist of what set me off centres around a Facebook post he has since removed. As he describes it, he made a statement about some members of a certain political leaning. Apparently a few of his followers who adhere to that leaning read this as meaning they were among the accused. This is who Kevin has now apologised to.

Now, I will admit it’s hard not to take a general statement about some members of a group I associate with personally. But does that mean we should never make a statement that some people might have a problem with, or jump straight to an immediate recant when it does? Are we now bound to practice self-censorship to a level where there is no chance someone might personalise, misinterpret, or otherwise have a problem with what you say regardless of the context in which it was said?

This gets into what I like to call Broomstick Theology. Why go to the trouble of using all those fiddly little paint brushes and associated techniques when one swipe of a broom will cover the entire canvas. Why go to the effort to take a reasoned position when you know someone in your audience will latch onto a specific word or phrase and interpret everything else accordingly? How can we dialogue about anything the least bit off the straight and narrow when we know it will produce some level of a firestorm somewhere?

Has the call to Self-censorship reached the point where it is no longer possible to have real conversations between people who have divergent views on a subject?

I will end with one final thought that may be the flip side of this post: Freedom of Speech is not a guarantee of a receptive audience. We must all expect push back from things we say. No level of Self-censorship is going to stop that.

In closing, I won’t be the least bit surprised if this very post draws heat because it suggests we should be allowed to make statements that may upset some people.

photo credit: hey skinny X and scott, camping via photopin (license)

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