Self Expression Magazine

Of Course You Can’t Say…

By Fausterella

I tend to find that the internet is not a friend of rhetoric. Like satire, it seems to get taken literally, which leads to rows and angry blog posts and general miscommunication. So I make an effort to try to recognize when something is intended rhetorically and not to overreact to it.

Having said that, can we please make certain phrases punishable by death?* And can I recommend that the first up against the wall be all the variations on this phrase?

“Of course you’re not allowed to say, this, but…”

Also sometimes seen as “I know it’s not politically correct to say so…” and “I expect I’ll get a visit from the Thought Police for this, but…”

Now, sometimes people do say things that are actually illegal, and this might result in a visit from the actual police (rather than the wholly imaginary Thought Police). But assuming that what you’re saying is legal, then I need to tell you something: you are allowed to say it.  It’s possible that there will be consequences for saying it, certainly. People might be angry with you, for example, if you’ve insulted them or a group they belong to. That doesn’t mean you’ve been censored. It means you got to say what you wanted and then so did they. If you choose not to insult someone because you don’t want to deal with the potential consequences of doing so, that’s not censorship either. That’s you making a choice. And probably a very sensible one.

Why do people use that phrase? Because it makes whatever they say next sound pleasantly controversial. It gives them an air of being heroically victimised, as though they’re single-handedly defying a fascistic police state by saying what nobody else has the courage to say. The trouble is, they’re not. Tip: if you’re saying something the Daily Mail would approve of, your opinion is probably not a minority one.

So: if you’re about to say something that is genuinely controversial to the point where the police might actually turn up at your door, I suggest you preface your words with ‘I realize what I’m about to say may get me arrested, but-” That makes it clear that you’re clear-sightedly making a decision to deny the Holocaust or to threaten to assault a female blogger, and we all know where we stand. Preferably some way away from you.

But if you want to say that same-sex marriage is against nature or that disabled people on benefits are scroungers, please don’t claim that you’re somehow banned from expressing that opinion. You won’t get a visit from the Thought Police, or any other form of police. Say it, if you must, but don’t puff yourself up by thinking you’re being daring. You aren’t.

*Rhetoric. Just in case.


Some examples of the kind of thing I mean (not all morally equivalent):

whites paid a bigger price than blacks for the institution of slavery

Speaking the truth makes you a racist

You’re not allowed to say things like this in America nowadays

women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized

Merry Christmas,,oh I’m not allowed to say that anymore

(There are perfectly sensible uses of the phrase, of course: for example here.)

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