We all have the right to be offensive

In this column David Mitchell (see video below) defends the right to free speech, no matter how offensive the speaker. Read his full column on the Guardian website.

Apparently, my history teacher was wrong and Voltaire never actually said: “I despise what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” As quotations go, it’s only GCSE clever – an interesting juxtaposition for young teens, a notch above “‘Assume’ makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” If you’re still quoting it at A-level, that’s OK but you won’t win any prizes. In an undergraduate essay, it should get no more credit than “Too many cooks spoil the broth” or “At the start of the war, few of the combatants knew how it was going to end.”

While it’s an important sentiment, it should also, in a mature, free country, be an obvious one. It’s not complicated – it’s a truism, not a paradox. Having accepted it as a premise of our society, we should be talking about more contentious things – whether the pause that electronic equipment now makes between our pressing a button and its obeying is the first step towards Matrix-style insurrection, or how many episodes of Top Gear you can enjoy before your soul is forfeit

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