Arguments That Give Me Pause: On Opinions and Their Consequences (Part 1)

arugments that give me pause, opinions and their consequences, Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry (left) can be seen posing for a picture with one of his Twitter followers in 2010. Five years prior, Fry made a statement that has been misused by the “anti-PC” crowd. Image via Flickr by Meathamper. Some rights reserved.

I consider myself to be a champion of free speech, but I acknowledge that opinions can have consequences. While I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, those opinions should be challenged. However, there are inherent dangers on both sides of this discussion.

Before I can break this down this subject, I thought I’d share a quote from Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so f*cking what.

This quote was used by someone who was railing against political correctness a couple of years ago. I know I sharply disagreed with it, but without knowing the full context. Then I looked it up.

The quote in question comes from a 2005 article in which Stephen Fry (a noted comedian, actor, writer, public speaker, and a man with a number of brilliant quotes) was talking about the Religious Hatred Bill that was being proposed at the time. After knowing the context of the quote, I knew that I had no issue Fry. However, I still have a problem with how his quote was being misused.

My Main Point About Opinions and Their Consequences

My main point is not against the quote but the general message of one who would misuse it or complain when there is backlash to certain opinions. It’s not just about the idea of political correctness or its misapplication, but that perception of it the other extreme.

For example:

When we live in a society that has free speech or use a forum, we have the ability to say or post whatever we want, albeit with limits. Slander and libel can lead to lawsuits, and treasonous speech can lead to arrests and prison sentences in real life. One can be rightfully banned from a forum for breaking certain rules and generally being an jerk. Other than that, we are free to speak our minds, use blog posts, and respond to each other. It’s the last part which some people want to ignore and protest.

Say if I were to say something dumb and disrespectful. I should be called out on it, right? When I’m out of line, someone should tell me.

If I make an honest mistake, someone should correct me without being rude.

If someone simply disagrees with me, they are free to say so and explain why, right? Personally, I respect a response with a full explanation. No one should just scream at me like a fool nor should they expect me to connect the dots to their way of thinking. I’m not a mind reader and I would like to have a calm, thoughtful discussion. Perhaps we both need to refine our arguments.

Adults should be able to hash out their differences.

Political Correctness in the Other Direction

In short, the people who scream their points often protest when someone else would have the nerve to counter them or their ideas. Often, you will see quotes like these:

  1. “Political correctness is the new fascism.”
  2. “Oh my God, why are you people so sensitive?”
  3. “Stop whining.”
  4. “Why do those people love to play the victim?”
  5. “You’re using the race card,” or “RAAACE BAAAITERSSSS!”
  6. “If we should tolerate them, they should tolerate our opinions.”

Quotes 2-5b each have an interesting irony to them when you follow other statements made by the people who say things like it. In conversations like these, the other side “whines,” but the first guy act like he isn’t doing the same, especially when he heavily relies on strawmen.

For example:

Often, when someone tries to call out someone they see as a race baiter, the first person is often found hanging around discussions involving race. The same individual, while bristling at people he claims try to act like a victim, is in turn acting like a victim for even being countered on his opinions.

The guy who brings up feminism when the discussion has nothing to do with it isn’t being a whiny little baby? That’s so ironic.

About Tolerating People’s Opinions

Argument #6, which is about tolerating offensive speech, is really facepalm-worthy. It is basically someone making an admission of guilt while simultaneously trying to hide behind the notion of free speech.

First, it is not enough just to “tolerate” someone. To be frank, I have always hated the word “tolerance,” because the general idea was to “put up with” someone or something. An actual human being needs to be accepted, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has to be buddy-buddy with that person. We should just extend the same general rights to everyone and let them live their lives.

Second, supporting free speech doesn’t necessarily mean all ideas are equal or should be given equal consideration. When someone says they don’t care for gays, they are effectively writing off a section of society. That’s bigotry. When someone says they hate blacks because they think blacks hate them, that’s stupid and a projection. Discrimination, prejudice and statements like the above should be called out for being complete garbage.

Third, if we don’t like bad opinions, we have a right to say so or to speak with our wallets. Thus, we can boycott a business if the owner of that business airs his/her deep-seeded prejudices.

The Right to Boycott

Here are two famous examples of people stating their intention to boycott over controversial opinions:

  • The dustup with Elton John and Dulce & Gabbana
  • The revelation about donations from Chick-fil-A

Both situations brought also up the question of tolerating all speech. In the second example, the right of someone to boycott was questioned, too.

In 2014, Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce gave an interview in which they made comments about children being raised by straight parents. They basically said only heterosexual couple should race children (and get married) and they called the children conceived for gay couples via in vitro fertilization “synthetic.”

After the article was published, Elton John responded with an angry Instagram post and threatened to boycott Dolce & Gabbana.

Other celebrities threatened to boycott. This angered the designers and some of their supporters, with the former acting like petulant children. Ultimately, it looked like Elton John broke his word, but his anger at the comments at the time was justified.

Regardless of how one feels about gay rights, Dolce and Gabbana’s statement was pretty thoughtless, especially the part about children who were conceived via IVF. Straight couples use IVF (and were to the first to use it, I might add), so should we call their children synthetic, too? Of course, not.

For example, there was dustup over Chick-fil-A after it was discovered that the CEO was donating to anti-gay organizations. “It’s just chicken,” some people said. However, they ignored the fact that anyone has the right to give the chain their patronage not to give their patronage for whatever reason.

We boycott businesses because we always have the right to pick and choose where we give our patronage. We can protest unsanitary work conditions, unfair pay, and yes, donations to harmful and discriminatory organizations if we are offended by those decisions.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes, people make arguments while not expecting to be called out on them. Then they cry foul and say that political correctness has gone too far when rightfully challenged. Again, anyone is free to say what they want — but that doesn’t mean that anyone is free from consequences.

The fact is everyone has a right be offended, especially when they are the target of hate speech. Who wants to be called a slur and be pigeonholed by its derogatory implications? How is it not fair to ask for common decency?

So no, I cannot support how the quote by Stephen Fry it is used by some people, because people who likely have their own poorly hidden prejudices. Whereas Fry was more specifically alluding to how a side could endanger the rights of their opponents if given too much power ─ and the religious hatred bill would have that effect ─ the people I’m alluding to just want to be unchallenged in their opinions, regardless of the effects of their implementation or acquiescence.


Works Cited

Chappell, Bill “Elton John Leads Boycott Against Dolce & Gabbana Over ‘Synthetic Children’ Remarks.” NPR. 17 Mar 2015. Web. <>.

Smith, David. “I saw hate in a graveyard – Stephen Fry.” The Guardian. 5 June 2005. Web. <>.

Ward, Victoria. “Sir Elton John boycotts Dolce & Gabbana after row over same-sex families.” The Telegraph. 15 Mar 2015. Web. <>.


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