Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Some propositions on free speech

The right to free speech means the right to express one's ideas without danger of coercion, of physical suppression or of interference by the state. 

Censorship is interference by the state in the expression of ideas. Laws against murder, rape, assault and child sex are sufficient to cover any violation of rights in the censor's current domain.

A private network refusing to publish your views or a bookshop deciding not to sell your pamphleted screed is not censorship - it is their choice.

A private network choosing to offend is their business. Choosing not to watch or to withdraw advertising is yours.

Bad ideas are still ideas. You should be just as free to air them as I should be to ignore them, or to pillory them, ore to refuse to give them a home.

Just as the right to pursue happiness doesn't require that you be made happy, the principle of free speech doesn't demand that anyone provide you with a platform and a microphone.

Just as the right to do what I like with my health and my life does not mean that I have to smoke cannabis, neither does the right to free speech mean I must offend. Just as I must take responsibility for what I do with my health and my life, so too must I take responsibility for what I say.

I may choose to offend, and I have the right to, but free speech doesn't mean I have to. However, anyone able to epater le bourgeosie has always been able to count on free publicity from those being epater-ed. Drawing attention to something you dislike may give that which you dislike even more attention. Think about it.

By itself, "I'm offended," is not an argument. It's just a whine.

Saying you don't like 'South Park' is not a call for censorship. Saying you want it banned would be. Saying "I don't like that," is not censorship.

Organising a voluntary boycott is not censorship. Organising a government ban however would be.

I may be offended, but I may not commit violence against those who offend me. I may boycott, but I may not behead.

Blocking traffic, threats, and forced entry are no part of the right to protest. They are respectively a traffic hazard, an initiation of force and an act of trespass.

"Hate speech" is an illegimate package deal. Laws against "hate speech" are illegitimate. Laws against conspiracy to commit murder are not.

The right to free speech gives the smallest minority the absolute protection of the state to air their views. The smallest minority is the individual.

My freedom ends where your nose begins. My free speech ends where your rights begin. The right to free speech does not mean that I may incorrectly besmirch your reputation by telling lies about you. This would be called fraud. Nor does it mean you may shout "fire" in a crowded theatre in which there is none, and in which the exit doors have been locked. This would be called fraud with menaces.

Speech is speech, not violent destruction.

Ridicule is better than bans.

Moral persuasion is better than force.

When tyranny occurs, it can be challenged from a thousand presses - but only if free speech and a free press has been valued in the interim; tyranny can never be easily challenged in the absence of the freedom to speak out.

Free speech has been more valued in the abstract than in reality.

"Freedom but..." is not freedom.

Forcing ideas underground does not eradicate them, it incubates them. Bad ideas are anaerobic -- the oxygen of free inquiry kills them. Bad ideas can only be fought with better ones.

If you don't like it, then just turn it off.  Don't get an arm of the state to do it for you.


  1. I've also got a proposition for my co-religionists:

    The next time you go to mass consider how bizarre, offensive or outright blasphemous everything you say and do is to a working majority of the world's population.

    Remember that you are exercising your freedom of speech - no matter how offensive it is to the non-Catholic majority of New Zealanders - every time you worship.

    Now, what did Jesus have to say about hypocrites again?

  2. Amen, Peter! :) :)

    Beautifully put.

  3. Richard McGrath23 Feb 2006, 09:55:00

    I watched the well-publicised South Park episode last night. Apart from the menstruating Virgin Mary, which was really a bit infantile, I thought it was actually quite well done. The episode revolved around a man's struggle to control his drinking behaviour - at one point choosing to view his alcohol intake as an illness rather than a matter of choice. In the end his son pointed out that the AA twelve-step programme was a cop-out from taking personal responsibility for, and control of, his actions. Libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz would have approved!

  4. On the whole, I agree.

    However, do laws against murder, rape, assault and child sex cover the filming/screening of these events also? What happens if the filming was done overseas and then imported into NZ?


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