Friday, 9 January 2015

REPRISE: Some propositions on free speech

Every year or so, I feel the need to restate some basic propositions that grow more important by the day…


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. 
The right to free speech means the right to offend. (It’s easy to argue for the expression of ideas you do agree with; the test is to argue against suppressing those you don’t.)
The state’s job is to protect free expression, not to censor it.
Censorship is interference by the state in the expression of ideas. 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. (Remember choice?)
Being offensive is not compulsory, but it must be legal.

A private network choosing to offend is their business. Choosing not to watch or to withdraw advertising is yours.
When open debate is respected, better ideas are free to flourish. (This is how the West was actually won.) When open debate is prohibited, bad ideas are incubated. (This might be how the West is finally lost.)
Bad ideas are still ideas. You should be just as free to air them as I should be to ignore them, to criticise them, to pillory them, or to satirise them.
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 épater le bourgeosie has always been able to count on free publicity from those being épater-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 "I don't like that," is not censorship. Saying you don't like South Park or Shostakovich is not a call for censorship. Saying you want them banned would be.
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. Fight ideas with better ideas, not with compulsion.
Feel free to give offence, and to take it. "Hate speech" is an illegitimate 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 –or an armalite—to do it for you.

Finally, let me close with some advice:


Here’s a disclaimer.

1 comment:

  1. I believe the land of the free, aka USA still has federal laws against "fighting words" {the term used in book I read}.
    A white person would be fined, maybe imprisoned for racially inappropriate wording, such as nigger.
    I suppose racism would sharply reduce if dark coloured people weren't so over-represented in violence and irresponsibility (e.g. random breeding at others' expense); rather than trying to eradicate racism thru anti hate speech laws


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