‘That’s your opinion and you have a right to it.’ or some other such statement (usually preceding the speaker’s disagreement with said opinion) is one which provides me with an acute combination of offense and irritation.
It’s irritating because the speaker, in uttering this piddling interlude between my speech and their arguments assumes themselves to hold a level of importance which permits them to instruct me in my rights. It’s offensive because in doing so they disregard the strife and generosity which is necessary for people to attain the freedom of opinion. Essentially people who tell me that I have the right to an opinion consider that they are generous, when they do not actually have the means to be generous in this regard; while, where strife is necessary for this ability to exist, the insistence that I have a right is the exertion of force in the wrong direction — the explanation of my own rights by someone else is a little like being presented with a jar of wind.
Broadly, the attainment of freedom of speech and opinion is through the permission of this freedom voluntarily by benign, enlightened members of the elite and by the seizure of these privileges by the proles. I don’t owe the fact that I am able to hold and express an opinion to the person who says immodestly that I have the right to an opinion, I owe it to the work of conscientious elite figures and to brave members of the subjugated orders.
I owe this privilege to elite figures like John Stuart Mill, whose On Liberty is a paragon of argument and phrase. He, nevertheless, advocated that the individual should be free to express their opinion, not because of some intangible right but because he thought that allowing this privilege would be a fine way to develop society. That is, that these people, including him, stood to gain from the consort and discord which would arise — it is his rare, honest and heroic self-interest which I admire. It is not because of an someone else’s bare assertion that I can speak my mind, it is because self-interested elitists like Mill saw the possibility of cultural gain.
At the same time and after these self-interested masters carved a legal space in which to express their opinion, disenfranchised and subjugated people fought, both metaphorically and physically for this opportunity. Right now people in Egypt and other states are probably fighting physically to attain or preserve the ability to express their opinions so as to corrode the alabaster dictatorships which oppress them, their self-interest is of a less luxurious style. The bland and lazy pronouncement about my rights mocks their efforts.
The motion of freedom of speech is from the top down and from the bottom up. I reject the presumption of altruism on the part of someone who says ‘that’s your opinion and you have a right to it’ as vanity and the preserve of someone who would prefer to take away this ability were it not for the right. I’m not able to hold and express an opinion in this way because of people who say I can, I can do this because of the influential and able altruists who were kind enough to give it to me, and because of the brave workers who have had to engage in conflict so as to gain these rights (an ongoing process).
I am only entitled to this privilege in as much as I insist upon the my entitlement and I would utilise it without regard for your assertions either way. There are no rights, we are entitled only to that for which we fight; I hope that if forces emerge to threaten this privilege I will be brave enough to fight myself. So too I hope, dear reader, would you.