Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

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Freedom From Speech is freedom from freedom

Freedom of speech is the one liberty from which all the others flow. It is the head of the beast. Cut off all the other freedoms but leave that one and liberty could, given time, regenerate itself. End freedom of speech and the only option left is revolution.

Which is why I am revolted by some of the restrictions on that most basic freedom going on now in Europe and other supposedly free and democratic areas. There is nothing more unnerving than the thought that the United States, currently plagued with the corruption of growing religious fervor and run by an administration of corrupt and brutal traitors, may soon live up to its self-proclaimed billing as the shining beacon of liberty in the democratic world. If we, in our dilapidated state, are the beacon of liberty then god save the people in the darkness.

There are only very few restrictions of speech that are proper or acceptable, and those come into play only when speech crosses the line into action. For example I don't think that anyone disagrees that saying "I will give you one million dollars to kill my wife" should be a protected liberty. When we punish someone for that we are not punishing them for the words he says, though, we are punishing him for the action he is trying to induce through bribery. Likewise when someone yells "Fire" in a crowded theater it is not "Fire" we are punishing, but the fact that he is causing a panic. He could do the same thing by firing a pistol into the air or actually starting a fire.

One of the key elements of this kind of unprotected speech is that there are no ideas being expressed. Yelling "Fire" isn't intended as a form of communication at all, it's an attack. When you ask someone to commit murder you are inspiring action rather than expressing what you think or feel. "I think my wife deserves to die" and "I would be very grateful to anyone who killed my wife" are, and should be, protected forms of speech provided they are not spoken in specific circumstances (such as at a meeting with a prospective hit man.)

Beyond these forms of violent action speech there is no form of speech that does not deserve protection. That includes the most vile and disgusting form of words imaginable. In even the most repressive and unfree society it is acceptable to say "It's quite a beautiful day, is it not?" The test for freedom is the right to say things others don't want to hear. That includes racist invective, anti-religious statements, calls for revolution, and child pornography*. Freedom of inoffensive speech is not freedom at all.

And so we come back to Europe. In France it is now illegal to insult the religion of Islam. You can be fined or even imprisoned for arguing that the religion promotes violence or subjugation of women. Does it? Irrelevant. Once you declare it illegal to make that argument you can never find out, because you can't even reasonably ask the question. That's what it's all about, government control of knowledge and ideas. Once the government declares something to be the unchallengeable truth a society becomes locked in to a certain pattern of thinking from which it can not legally break free, even though whatever the government declares to be "true" almost certainly is not inarguably so. If a point were inarguable there'd be no point in legislating speech about it. No society has ever made it illegal to claim that water is dry, to do so would be absurd.

So if the only speech that a government can restrict is controversial speech then it stands to reason that the people who are most affected by these bans are those with controversial ideas. And so we start to see the sinister nature of these restrictions emerging. In Australia two pastors have been arrested and are being tried for making claims about Islam similar to those you cannot make in France. The Australian case goes one step further, though, because during the trial one of the pastors started reading from a translation of the Quran in open court in an attempt to prove that he had spoken the truth. The prosecuting attorney cut him off, arguing that to read such passages would denigrate Muslims.

When freedom of speech is restricted the truth ceases to be a defense.

This is why we must allow people to say things that we disagree with vehemently and believe to be utterly harmful lies. It is why as a Jew I favor permitting nazis to wear whatever regalia they choose and to march in the streets condemning me as a member of an inferior race who deserves to die. It is why as a gender egalitarian** I support people's rights to declare men or women inferior and outmoded. It is why as a realist I have no problem with creationists arguing their silly claptrap in the streets. If you ban the speech that you find offensive you unleash a monster that will eventually consume much of value. One man's important statement of opinion or fact is another's unsubstantiated insult or racial invective.

If the price of freedom is discomfort it is a price we should all pay gladly. If the price of freedom to say the offensive things we want to say is to have to listen to someone else say things that churn our stomach, we should slap down the money on the counter and consider it a bargain. Because once you tell a racist he can't say that black people are descended from mud and shit how long is it before you tell someone he can't argue that Islam is a violent religion, or another that he can't say lawyers are scum or etc...etc...

There is no bright line test for offensive speech, there are 6.8 billion unique definitions in this world. The marketplace of ideas must be kept free of restrictions if it is to do its job and weed out the truth from a flower bed of pleasant lies.

That is not to say, by the way, that there should never be a price for speech. Say the wrong thing to your boss and you can lose your job. That is just. Print hurtful lies about a person or business and cause them material harm and they are entitled to compensation. That is right. Freedom of speech does not mean speech is always free, but we should err on the side of caution when extracting such a price. This is why I like U.S. libel laws as opposed to the draconian ones we see overseas. Better to have a lie oft-repeated than a truth squelched because it cannot be proved.

*The production of child pornography should be illegal, because that's action not speech, and the consumption of such illegally produced material should arguably be illegal because it's accessory to a vile crime. However child pornography produced via computer or hand-drawn animation? There is no compelling reason to disallow that, however abhorrent you or I or just about anyone except rpeate might find it.

**Fuck feminism right in the ass, where you know it secretly wants to be fucked.
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