top of page

The Tragic Death of Freedom of Speech and the Growth of Intolerance

by Izzy Kalman July 2, 2009 Psychology Today Blog, A Psychological Solution to BullyingOnly July 4, the United States will be celebrating Independence Day, the birth of our nation. Unfortunately, the greatest freedom provided us by this new democracy has been dying and few people seem to be aware of it or care about it. And many others are even cheering it on.

The democratic world has made “tolerance” its number one social goal. Nevertheless, this goal has been elusive, as victimized groups continue to lobby for laws that remove the stigmas against them, and educators, social scientists and parents continue to proclaim the horrors of bullying. Despite decades of diversity education, members of the various races congregate largely with their own kind in our schools and neighborhoods.

The truly ironic thing is that the most essential element of a tolerant society has been with us for the past two centuries, as it is also the central element of democracy, but we are slowly but surely killing it. That element is in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is called Freedom of Speech. We need to be allowed to say what we want, as long as our words don’t cause tangible harm to people’s bodies or property, or society will stagnate and we will be prisoners in our own skulls, only permitted to say things that the authorities approve of. Without Freedom of Speech, we would never solve problems that require abandonment of current ways of thinking. Without Freedom of Speech, the government could be as despotic as it wishes, killing off any protestors without impunity. Where the concept of Freedom of Speech is absent, people believe they are entitled to kill others who say things they find offensive. Without Freedom of Speech, we would literally be living in the Dark Ages.

We Americans love to call our Constitution the greatest political blueprint ever created. It was formulated by wise, educated, brave men who studied philosophy and spent a great deal of time hashing out the principles for a system of government that maximizes human freedom and well-being. But the ultimate freedom, Freedom of Speech, is now dead.

Do you think I am exaggerating? Perhaps. But only a drop. Who teaches Freedom of Speech anymore? It is ignored from grade school through university. And if it is taught, is it ever given more than brief lip service? Is more than one paragraph ever allocated to it?  Are its meaning, purpose and practice discussed? Even many journalists today, who owe their professions to Freedom of Speech, do not believe in it because they don’t study and understand it.

As I repeatedly demonstrate at my seminars, in my videos and in my writings, Freedom of Speech is the key to peace among people. It is a wonderful principle not only for running a country. It is also a wonderful principle for interpersonal harmony. And though it is a wonderful psychological and moral principle, it is never taught in courses in psychology or morality.

Not only is no one teaching Freedom of Speech anymore, that precious freedom is being slowly but surely killed. It is being murdered by the growing social movement that has successfully brainwashed virtually everyone into believing that the solution to human emotional misery is to create, by force of law, a society in which no one says anything anyone else finds offensive, in which there is no stigma, and in which there are no imbalances of power. There is not one social movement in the history of the world that has enjoyed such unanimous support as the anti-bully movement. Not one religious or political group has criticized it, despite its being contrary to the basic philosophies of most religions and political groups. Not one psychological organization has criticized it, despite the fact that it violates the principles of almost all major schools of psychology. Neither the American Civil Liberties Union nor any other rights-advocacy group has criticized it, despite the fact that anti-bully laws violate the most basic democratic right, Freedom of Speech. Even organizations that are dedicated to promoting Freedom of Speech have failed to criticize this anti-free-speech movement.

The number one tool of science is logical thinking. 2,400 years ago, Aristotle said, “One thing no government can do, no matter how good it is, is to make its citizens morally virtous.” Simple logic will lead anyone with a basic understanding of human nature to realize that a society in which everyone is always nice to each other is impossible. It has never existed-and will never exist-because it can’t exist. Only in Heaven, if such a place exists, is such a society possible. And logic will lead thinking people to conclude, as Aristotle and our Founding Fathers did, that the attempt to create such a society by force of law can only cause more harm than good. But the social sciences, in their zeal to protect the feelings of people, have thrown logic out the window and are unwittingly creating a less tolerant society. We are in effect teaching: It is very important to be completely tolerant of everyone. And if anyone shows you any kind of intolerance, we will have no tolerance for them!

Ironically, some of the most intolerant, offensive people you can find are ones who most forcefully insist that we need to create a society in which no one is intolerant or offensive. As I am wont to say at my seminars, few people get insulted as much as I do. I have given seminars to tens of thousands of people, and I get evaluations at the end of the day. It never ceases to amaze me how nasty mental health professionals and educators can be! Thanks to my website and blog, I receive letters from people all over the world. Because I am the world’s most visible critic of the anti-bully movement, I am also the world’s leading recipient of the vitriol of anti-bully zealots. Many angry emailers naively accuse me of having no idea of what it’s like to be bullied. They should read my email! They should read the threatening letters sent to Cross Country Education for daring to sponsor my seminars! They should have been there to witness the vicious attacks against me at a few of the presentations I have given in schools! They should read some of the nasty comments to articles about my work on the Internet! Very few people get bullied and cyberbullied as much as I do! (And i haven’t tried to get any of my bullies punished!)

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” ~Voltaire

Freedom of Speech requires me to respect your right to say what I don’t like to hear–even to publicly insult and humiliate me–just as it requires you to respect my right to say what you don’t like to hear. And just because we have ideas that are unacceptable to each other, it doesn’t make us enemies. You may be giving me the best advice in the world but I don’t realize it and find it offensive. Should you be prevented from, or punished for, saying it? We are supposed to love each other despite our opposing ideas. When I recognize your right to say things I don’t like, I don’t get angry at you for saying them. You, in return, respect me for acting respectable. Furthermore, since I don’t get angry at you, you cannot have the pleasure of getting me angry, so you don’t seek to torment me with words. All wise people throughout the world understand this. It is the most basic ingredient of peace.

Unfortunately, because Freedom of Speech is no longer taught, and our citizens have been indoctrinated with the very opposite, many people today cannot tolerate criticism, insults, or views opposite to their own. And that’s why bullying has becoming a more serious problem during the very period that we have been trying hardest to get rid of it. Especially during the ten years since the Columbine massacre, the anti-bully movement has been teaching us that no one has a right to say anything to us that can cause us emotional or psychological distress. So when people say things that are offensive to us, we feel totally justified in getting angry, thinking self-righteously, “You have no right to say that!” and the situation escalates as they become even meaner back to us. And when we try to get them in trouble with the authorities, that’s when they really want to kill us!

So that this won’t be just theoretical, I would like to present you with a couple of recent examples of intelligent, educated people who would like to deny me Freedom of Speech.

I received the following email from someone identifying him/herself as Real Person, who had apparently read my article, The Psychological Solution to the Stigma of Obesity, and didn’t like it. The article is written respectfully and is based on ideas that any decent Cognitive Behavior therapist or Rational Emotive therapist would whole-heartedly advocate. (I just reread it, and I happen to think it is quite good. I believe it will help any obese person who is willing to face reality.) The subject line of the email was, Sometimes the freest speech is silence. What this writer obviously wants, as you will see, is my silence, not his/her own, God forbid.

And the greatest freedom is to not have to listen to you! You know nothing. Some cute slogan and a soapbox and you’re off… There needs to be an anti-bullying movement in every heart, everywhere! It’s called common decency and respect for others. With your help, and the idiocy of bureaucrats, people have divorced their own actions from any sense of responsibility. Who are you to say that the stigma of obesity isn’t worse than the obesity itself? Cruel words lead to cruel actions. It’s just too bad that the gentlest souls far too often direct those actions toward themselves. Then idiots like you turn around and blame them. Do the world a favor and just shut up. Listen for a change. You might be surprised at what you haven’t heard.

This person insists there must be decency and respect for everyone. Except, of course, to me, because she doesn’t agree with me. She doesn’t question her right to be as nasty and insulting to me as she wishes.

I received the following comment to my blog entry, The “Perfect” Anti-Bully Law, from someone identifying herself as Jeannette.

You have either no understanding or no experience – probably both – of any kind of bullying behaviour that reaches deeper than mild irritation. There are few people for whom the usual daily small and sometimes painful lessons of childhood – do not give them sufficient life skills to deal with the kind of bullying your ‘booklet’ describes. I checked out your infallible rules. Complete nonsense….I have listened with too much patience already to voices like yours, who recommend these simplistic solutions – ideas from people who – on finding themselves in any similar situation – would have not the slightest idea of any way to cope, and would be brought down very low by it….If you have never experienced that – you may not hope to understand how your article sounds, like nonsense, to anyone who has.

You have absolutely no right whatsoever to be making this attempt to harrass those who try to protect the lives of children and adults from one of the most pernicious ills of our time.

This intelligent writer believes that since I am criticizing the failing anti-bully movement, trying to wake the public up to the folly of anti-bully laws, and providing free advice that has helped countless people throughout the world successully deal with bullying, I am somehow “harassing” her. Have I ever done a thing to stop her–or anyone else–from trying to protect children from each other? It is not I who is fighting for laws that force us to think or behave in a certain way.

She says I “have absolutely no right whatsoever to be making this attempt…” Absolutely no right whatsoever?! How about the First Amendment?! But Freedom of Speech is dead, and even the most educated people today have forgotten it. These anti-bully activists who are so dead set against nastiness have no hesitation to be nasty to anyone they don’t agree with. Only one point of view is permitted today. The only Freedom of Speech we have today is to say things that the anti-bully crusaders approve of. Three cheers for the demise of democracy!

If you haven’t already viewed these videos, I invite you to see the power of Freedom of Speech in action. Two of the three sample videos from my Victim-Proof Your School program that can be viewed on my website demonstrate the power of Freedom of Speech to stop bullying. In each video scene, I first try to deny the other person Freedom of Speech; the second time I grant them Freedom of Speech.

The following is a scene in which a student is cursing a teacher: How Should Teacher Handle Being Bullied

The following is a medley of scenes of people calling me idiot (it would work with any other insult): The Idiot Game

I hope you are getting an increased appreciation for Freedom of Speech. If society were to spend a fraction of the time and effort teaching the meaning and practice of Freedom of Speech that it does fighting for anti-bully laws, we would achieve a greater reduction in bullying and a greater increase in tolerance and harmony than we can ever hope to achieve through the most intensive anti-bully laws!

Have a Happy Fourth of July!


Here are some more great quotations on Freedom of Speech:

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.  – George Washington

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.  –  John Milton

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. – Noam Chomsky

The first principle of a free society is an untrammeled flow of words in an open forum. – Adlai E. Stevenson

A people which is able to say everything becomes able to do everything.  –  Napoleon Bonaparte

The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with. – Eleanor Holmes Norton

The very aim and end of our institutions is just this: that we may think what we like and say what we think.  –  Oliver Wendell Holmes

(I thank for access to these quotations.)

Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.  –  Salman Rushdi

27 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Why Schools Deny that Bullying Causes Suicide

Kids say they commit suicide because of bullying. Why do their schools deny it? [This is an article originally published in Psychology Today on March 3, 2014] Author’s Transparency Declaration: I decl


bottom of page