To silence free speech is not simply removing an expression that upsets you: it is shutting down the only means we have to convey to another person what we think. If we cannot tell others what we think, then we are being told what to think. If we are dictated to, then we have lost an important – if not the most important – aspect of freedom: the ability to engage fully with an idea.
If the idea is wrong, then that can be shown, through argument and engagement – in other words, it can be destroyed through the very same mechanism that brings it into existence: free speech and engagement. If all that you can do to oppose an idea or view is to restrict others knowing it, then it is a sign of your own viewpoint’s weakness, not that of your target. If your argument is better than the one proposed, I for one would want to know what it is: you are doing the world a disservice if all you do is cut an idea off by the root, rather than indicate why it is, in fact, a weed. You are denying knowledge that is, perhaps, needed. You do yourself and everyone a favour by indicating the stupidity or ineptitude of a view. But you help no one by merely censoring the view.
I agree totally, but the older I get, the more I despair of most people ever setting aside their righteous outrage and world-saving urges. Everyone has internalized the understanding that “censorship” is a terrible thing, but they justify the boycott/quarantine approach to eradicating bothersome opinions by saying that only heavy-handed government interference can truly be considered censorship. I got sick of the whole charade around the time that the progressive political blogosphere launched a pathetic, ineffective boycott of Whole Foods because the CEO offended their tribal sense of faux-hippie identity by publishing an op-ed in the WSJ in opposition to Obama’s health care plan.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: being offended is not such a terrible thing, and can even be a useful stimulus if you just take a deep breath and relax your sense of self-importance.