Comment-in-Brief: Compelled Speech? Try Compelled Humanity!

Consider the controversial bill C-16; formally known as An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. This bill sought to provide greater protections for at-risk individuals against systemic or societal discrimination on the grounds of their gender expression or gender identity. However, the bill was publicly divisive and cause for much societal distress. Critics of the bill often characterized the legislation as compelled speech and – no thanks to the media – the bill was popularly perceived as a human rights versus free speech issue.

I’ve written previously on issues involving human rights (see: humanity must triumph self-interest), but here I briefly consider how Epicurean Philosophy advises us to approach such a matter. In obscurity? Well clearly, by writing this, I don’t think so!

Looking to Epicurean Ethics, which rejects absolute justice and instead promotes a natural concept of justice, we see the Epicurean vision for societal justice in relative terms and based on the principle of pleasure; both thought to be sort of unique innovations to the golden rule.

Natural justice is the result of agreements to not harm and to now allow the harm of others – a sort of social contract. Which brings me to the bigger picture. There’s probably little agreement between current Pope Francis and myself. However, I share and support his, surprisingly humanistic, TED talk message – that the only future worth building is one that includes everyone. Therefore, it’s important to build a more inclusive society that encourages participation and contributions of all its members.

What stands in the way of such a future, is what I personally find to be the most frightening thing within society. It isn’t climate change or terrorism or an unbalanced budget, it’s alienation – hauntingly captured by Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Kicking people down, pointing fingers, US vs. THEM mentality, etc., only serves to push people apart – perilously close to the edge of society. Alienation is something I’d expect fellow Epicureans to understand – for Epicureans past and present have experienced it ad nauseam, ad infinitum! 

While Epicureanism discourages politics, after tragedies I do look for some guidance and wisdom from leadership. After finding out about the abhorrent and tragic massacre in Colorado, I listened to Obama’s speech addressing the tragedy. He delivered words that should benefit us all: …”anything to take away from this tragedy, it’s a reminder that life is very fragile, our time here is limited, and it is precious. What matters at the end of the day is not all the small things; it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives, ultimately it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”

I think Epicurean Ethics compel humanity and likewise, so does bill C-16.

I’ll sign off with an appropriate song: Stripped by Depeche Mode

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