Violence Used to Silence?

When Free Speech Gets Strangled

Artist Credit to @MaryneeLahaye

I don't often like to comment on social media or even hold many strong opinions about what I see or what those close to me believe.

The most important thing I have always respected and tried to propagate online and in person is freedom of speech. The only exception to this otherwise absolute, God-given right, is when one's speech is geared towards obvious intentions of violence or the forceful suppression of someone else's freedom.

That is why the above piece really stood out for me when I saw it posted on Facebook by a friend and colleague. The basic message I got from this is that the creator feels it is OK for the woman to physically strangle and suppress the man's speech because of his identity and shared guilt in the crimes of his peers.

I want to critique this piece because it showed me many different perspectives that are possible around this issue. The central point I want to focus on is the implication that violence is sometimes justified to quash speech, depending on the ideas and beliefs of those involved.

The beauty of free speech is that it is a self-correcting system. If I don't agree with someone, I can simply express my own perspective or walk away and stop paying attention.

In the cartoon, the woman depicted cuts the man off after two words and physically suppresses his ability to continue speaking. Would it not be more effective to simply allow him to make his point and then offer a response?

We have to be very weary of any attempt to curtail or censor our freedom of speech and creative expression. Indeed, we would be wise to use our  speech and creativity to expose any attempts to subvert it in the first place.

Human freedom is a beautiful thing when it is allowed to flourish in a healthy way. It is the fear of our dark sides, our shadows, that cause us to create complicated behavioral rules.

There can be an unconscious belief that if society creates enough checks and balances we will prevent negative things from happening. It is basically the belief that suppressing certain tendencies will prevent negative outcomes from occurring.

Obvious examples of this have to do with a government declaring a "War on drugs, poverty, terrorism, etc." Society comes up with a bunch of strategies to stop certain behaviors, and yet we find that our attempts to stop certain things from happening end up creating more problems.

The reason this cartoon is so powerful is that it illustrates an example where violence appears to be justified because the speech is deemed to be so offensive and hateful that it cannot even be allowed to happen.

If we take a step back, can we ever find a situation where we actually believe violence to be justified as a means of counteracting speech?

The only example I can think of is if a person says that they intend to harm or kill someone; at this point, society has a right and obligation to forcibly apprehend them to ensure everyone's safety. If I go into the town square and start shouting about an intention to blow up my town hall, I would be upset if I were NOT arrested.

Unfortunately, what seems to be happening in some circles is the line seems to have gotten more vague and blurry. A person's belief structure can become so entrenched and militant that they end up perceiving opposite and differing ideas as violence unto themselves.

I want to use this cartoon as a concrete example of something that deserves our attention as it relates to different facets of our daily lives. What types of things are considered taboo? What are we "not allowed" to talk about? What topics seem to be so incendiary that we may fear for our safety if we speak our mind in public?

This is simply some food for thought and an exercise of free speech in itself, as well as an encouragement to be aware of the content we engage with on a daily basis.

Michael Thielmann
Michael Thielmann

I am a counselor, spiritual mentor, and writer living on Vancouver Island. My passion is to help people get in touch with their own love, creativity, and empower them to live in alignment with their highest wisdom.

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