Free Speech


A Thought, Big Three / Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Free speech seems to be on heavy rotation at the moment. It is spoken about, analysed and agonised over. It is treated with reverence by liberal democracies, it is an ideal that is unquestioned. We should have free speech.

Should we though?

Many of the people who advocate for completely free speech seem only to want it for the purposes of hurt. In fact they act like assholes to prove how important free speech is. It leaves the majority of us thinking how useful can it be if they are the advocates.

On the other end we have people who most would call hyper PC but really they’re wingers. To those outside of the land down under, a whinger is someone who complains a lot. These people are the ones who complain all the time that something is offensive. They attach their interpretation to someone else’s words and assume the insulted pose.

Now I don’t agree with either camp but waiver somewhere between the two like I imagine most of the population do. It is clear that free speech is important. It is one of the things missing in many countries that live under dictator rule. Clearly free speech is necessary but how necessary?


Here are my top 3 thoughts:

1. What is it? Is it absolute?

What is free speech? This should not be a difficult question. To my mind it is being able to say whatever you like without fear of persecution or punishment. That is all it should be, but it’s not.

Those who believe in absolute freedom of speech seem upset when they are challenged. It is as if they believe that their free speech overshadows a rebuttal. While reactions are often overblown, free speech is there for all parties. To speak and be spoken too.

That is the power of it, we are able to talk freely and debate ideas. If you say something horrible or wrong than I have a right to challenge you. This is a challenge to the absolutists, they seem upset when they are challenged. It is as if they are unaware of how free speech works.

As mentioned these people also tend to invoke offence as free speech. It is not a violation of your free speech to be respectful in approach. Not doing so just makes you a prick.

The other side of the coin are the soft triggered people. I believe that you should not be subjected to torment unnecessarily but these people’s tolerances are low. The world is not a kind place, even without humanity it’s rough. Protecting you from something you find offensive is the same as a Christian protecting their children from evolution.

The hair triggered people seem always to be left of the political spectrum. Gay people should have the same rights as the rest of society they would argue. Saying I don’t think they should get married is not a hate crime. (Before you explode I think they should). Not only does overreaction make you seem childish it also makes trivial your views. To the rest of the world it just looks like you’re throwing another tantrum. How does the world know when it is serious this time.

Free Speech be heard

Allowing things you consider wrong to be spoken about allows all views to see the light of day. It shows the ridiculous from the serious and you might learn something.

Should free speech be absolute? My thought on this is no, it is not absolute. Free speech absolutists (generally conservative) hate it when you criticise their imaginary friend Jesus. Those on the left don’t want you to say anything that could offend.

On both sides they don’t believe in true free speech, and one would want to censor the other. No matter how you cut it, you will impinge on one groups free speech. Perhaps free speech needs to be absolute even if not ideal.

I don’t believe you should be able to incite violence but you should be able to question someone’s belief. If not I would have very little to write about and probable would have harm come to me.

Should gay people marry is a valid question. It changes a long-held custom in our culture. Shutting out either side is dangerous, but having a conversation illuminates. Saying don’t talk about it pushes it under ground and takes it to dark places. I believe this is what is happening in Australia with this subject.

There is a limit, it should not be absolute but you should be able to say offensive things. Don’t say kill all christians but question their faith. Without it many of the causes we support today would be dead. If we didn’t have free speech wheree would woman’s rights be? You can’t shut down free speech when it offends you and you can’t offend and call it free speech.

2. Words Have Power.

Words have power.jpg

My life has revolved around words and the ideas they generate. The person I am today is so fundamentally shaped by the words of others. Many of those word were banned at some point, those thoughts shut out. This is the reason I believe in free speech. Words have power.

But…

They only have the power that we give them. This is important because of the amount of power we give those who insult us. To say: what you said doesn’t offend me is the quickest way to shut down an insult. It takes the power away from the offender and gives it to you.

It may surprise you looking at me now but in my early years I was picked on. It got to the point where I wanted to change schools, it was so horribly painful. Then I did something one day and it changed everything for me. I laughed. When a bully was saying incredibly hurtful, I laughed. It gave me such power and he walked away confused. I still got made fun of but it died back because there wasn’t a pay off. I took control of the situation and it changed me.

I am not saying that every case can be handled this way but there are a large majority that could. How would someone react if they called you a name and you laughed.

Words have power, incredible power but it’s not just given to the one who says them. You can take it, repurpose it and make it yours. I will talk in the next paragraph about the exceptions but doing this built-in me a resilience. It meant that I could handle more, the world can be horrible but it means I fall much less.

There are instances when it becomes too much. These times are dark and it is important to acknowledge this. Words are powerful and you should employ them whether you feel powerful or weak. If it gets too much talk to someone, be it a friend, councillor or family member. Talk sooner and more often, those words were my saving grace and I know they’ll help you.

We cannot always change others, they will be offensive and horrible. What we can do is change us. Strengthen us so we can fight the important fights. Build ourselves and harness those words.

3. How long before we are offensive?

The main opponents say we should censor because we are being offensive. It is true that free speech leads to offence but it is important to protect that freedom. What happens when you are the one being silenced because of offence?

History is not a straight line, it is not always progressing forward. Often it will get much darker, the tides turning on you. If you outlaw offense what happens when your views are no longer accepted?

middle finger to offense.jpg

It was only at the turn of the last century that women got the right to vote in Australia. That is not that long of a time since women didn’t have a voice. That it would be considered an offensive thought to allow it. It was through offense and freedoms of speech that we moved forward.

If we censor what is allowed to be said, we are in danger of loosing it when we need it most.

How long before you find yourself fighting to bring light? In spite of all the people you may offend. How do we determine what is good offense and what is bad? We can’t and shouldn’t. I have the right to offend you and will do so if we believe different things. I will do it in as respectful, and perhaps humorous a way, but I will do it.

We can’t be short-sighted in anything we do. Particularly one as powerful as this. Protect offence and you keep a tool of protection.


Free speech is important because of the power it has. The power the user and receiver can take from it. It changes the world for good and bad but without it only silence will flourish. I am not a historian but I can’t think of a time that silence has given rise to prosperity.

We must always aim to be respectful, this should go without saying. To offend should not be the point, but it can be. To be offended is your choice, to either have or give your power.

Free speech is about the right to speak and my right to react.  No matter how offensive you have that right.

The power in free speech goes to the logic and fair. The fact ladened not the myth burdened. A big reason that we live in a post-truth world is that we are too concerned with the feeling a comment generates. When the focus is there the facts disappear into the background. Argue the point not the feeling, with that a liar will be seen.

Be offended it helps you grow. Be outraged you might learn something new.

Byron

3 thoughts on “ Free Speech

  1. To be honest, I first began to skim this post, as I do most of the blogs I read because of the constraints of time and the fact that it is after 3:00 a.m. here in the U.S. But a few things caught my eye, and I went back to the beginning and took the time to read each sentence carefully … think about each. I tend, as I am sure you already know, to lean to the left of center on most issues, and am an ardent fighter for the right to free speech. Your post evokes so many thoughts … some of which cause me to look at myself and ask if I am always fair It is sometimes good to ask ourselves that question. I try to be, but I also realize that I am intolerant of … intolerance. Some see free speech as free so long as it agrees with their own opinions, values, etc. I find this particularly true among the uber-religious.

    Free speech is, at best, a slippery slope. If free speech is absolute, then we must allow the KKK to speak against African-Americans, must allow certain religions to speak against the LGBT community. And yet, I see that as hate speech and have no patience for it. Thus, I say, it is a slippery slope argument … where do we draw the line? I am afraid to draw a line, because … what if the line is moved … just a bit … and another bit … and pretty soon, I am in jail for speaking out against a certain person on my blog. Pretty soon we are living in the new Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy.

    But I digress. What I am trying to say is you have brought up some points that go to the very heart of the issue … valid points … points worthy of some introspection. Excellent post, Byron! Would you mind if I re-blog?

    1. Hi thank you and yes please reblog it would be very kind of you. I’d like to see what others think as well.
      In regards to slippery slope I agree, it should not be hate speech but how you define it is difficult. If I had one of my anti religious rants decades ago it might be considered hate if not an attack.
      Ideally all speech would be open, we as a society would police it. In an ideal world that would work but there are so many examples to say it wouldn’t.
      I’d love to hear what your blog readers think because I’m honest in saying I don’t know the answer. Be nice seems to simple but it’s true.

  2. “Be who you want to be, do what you want to do, as long as you don’t [intentionally] hurt anyone.” Spoken by some anonymous hippie in about 1965, when we were just discovering our strength, and wanted to use that strength wisely. It worked for awhile, but then life butted in once more and a large number of American National Guardsmen shot and killed four American students at Kent State in 1969, and life was never the same again.
    I bring this up because while there are people who are uncaringly going to speak bad of some individual or group, the wisest thing to do is to ignore them. This might sound like morality, but it is not meant to be. “Turn the other cheek.” in other words, if you feel you must respond to what was said, turn it around and say how much you loved what was just said and slap the speaker on the shoulder as you would a friend, or as suggested above, laugh at it. Not just a titter, but a full guffaw!
    However, the wiser thing to do is to just shut up and keep going your own way. As usual, this is just my opinion, one that I usually adhere to, but there are times when some asshole says something really bigoted, even racist, and you just cannot control yourself. But even at that time, when you cannot control yourself, control your words. Make them biting, but then turn around and offer a solution to the person’s remark. For example, “If a spaceship was to land here, right now, and an alien came out and called you something despicable to your face, what would you say back to it, knowing it has weapons on it that can make you suffer, perhaps to the point of death.” Suddenly he or she is not the bully, but the one being bullied, and probably the first bully will be like most other bullies, cowards when confronted. It’s not always going to work, but those times it does you will probably feel good inside.
    These are fine lines to cross, or not cross, and you have to make an instant decision of how you will act. Think ahead. Be prepared. Know how you will want to act in any given situation. It may take some time, but when the time comes to make that decision, you will be ahead of the other person. They won’t be prepared for you, however you choose to decide.
    But you will…

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