Some Propositions on Free Speech

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Tue, 2006-02-21 21:54

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 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.

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.

"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 turn it off.

All pretty straightforward propositions it seems to me. "But free speech can be confusing," you say. Sure can. Free speech is an awfully confusing bird for some, especially if their thinking apparatus is left un-used for too long. There's been some awfully instructive cases in recent times. (Chronologies have been amended to make the point clearer):

* Danes post anti-Muslim cartoons. "Yay, free speech," say Danish editors and commentators. "Onya!" says a world full of bloggers.

* Muslims protest cartoons and threaten beheadings. "Whoops," say cartoonists, who head into hiding. "Cartoons are so offensive that muslim threats justified," revise the commentators. "Free speech, but..." say Western Governments.

* London-based Muslim cleric implicated in terrorism, but jailed for "hate speech." People cheer. London-based libertarians say "Free this prisoner of conscience!" Other libertarians say, "No! Jail him for his real crimes." London-based libertarians accused of being "less than idiots." Other libertarians accused of supporting hate-speech laws.

* Austrians jail grandstanding holocaust-denier, David Irving. Burning Irving's books was not mentioned, but the Simon Wiesenthal Centre happy at the jailing. "Allowing free speech would be fascist," a spokesman for the Wiesenthal Centre almost said.

* Wiesenthal Centre happy that Irving is jailed, but unhappy that former Nazi war criminals are still at liberty in Austria. Austrian Government happy that Irving is jailed for Nazi sympathies, and doesn't give a shit about former Nazis still at liberty in Austria. Totalitarian implications of jailing Irving ignored.

* NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark unhappy that Irving is jailed on a free speech issue in Austria. "Going too far," she says. Proclaims unfettered right to free speech.

* Helen Clark bans Irving from entering New Zealand a few years before. Following desecration of Jewish graves, Madam Helen proclaims unarguable need to limit unfettered right to free speech by preparing to implement hate speech laws. Law for fetters on speech drawn up by Clark Government.

* Helen Clark, unhappy that CanWest to air Southpark's 'Bloody Mary' episode, helps out ratings by declaring it "revolting," and calls for respect for other religions. Catholics agree, and plan boycott. No fatwahs. No calls for beheading. No embassies burnt to the ground.

* Helen Clark then attacks Exclusive Brethren again -- they're a "a weird cult" she says. Comment from members of the cult is respectfully declined.

Free speech is a poor misunderstood bird. It sure does make for some strange bedfellows sometimes, and it's sure as hell clear that understanding of what it means is far, far, far less widespread than it might be, and really should be.

See how many you got right. If you scored eight correct statements in the lower list, then I agree with you. Please post your working below. Marks will be awarded for sound argument.

From PC's blog,

250,000 watched C4 instead

Ross Elliot's picture

250,000 watched C4 instead of the usual 30-50,000. The Catholic Church: best advertising firm CanWest could ever hope to get.

Clark can't help herself. A

Ross Elliot's picture

Clark can't help herself. A conservative Marxist who actually believes in free speech. A remnant of the belief that you can destroy property rights without harming freedom of expression or association. An idiot. The perfect candidate for UN Secretary General Smiling

Another Important Aspect...

Bikemessenger's picture

I would add that in addition to the need of the individual for freedom of expression, based on the unique human capacity to assimilate and organize information and more importantly, effectively communicate it to his fellows, that it's absence in the abstract social structure would subvert the facility to determine precisely what the objective facts truly are.

The David Irving case is a perfect example; by the government's untoward application of it's coercive power to suppress an idea, it serves to conflate the intrinsic falseness of the notion with the inhibition to it's expression that accrues; id est, do we not hear it because it's false, or do we not hear it because the hypothetical speaker prefers to avoid punishment?

Throughout the natural realm, we observe organisms interacting socially in a manner comensurate with the given species nature.

Time for H. Sapiens to get his shit together:

---The Bikemessenger
(AKA Impeachasarus Rex)

Hahah, that's great! No

Andrew Bissell's picture

Hahah, that's great! No American network would have the balls to do something like that. (In fact, I seem to remember reading that Comedy Central has promised not to air the episode again, but I may be mistaken.) Nice job on the interview too ... you always know you got your point across when some slimy ex-politician hangs up in disgust.

Andrew ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The South Park episode played tonight, with hundreds of loony Catholics praying & chanting outside the TV network's (TV3) HQ. In a stroke of breathtaking audacity, the network had brought the screening FORWARD after the church kicked up its stink! It wasn't scheduled to play for several weeks. Now *that's* KASS!

One of TV3's affiliated radio networks interviewed me this morning about freedom of speech. The host is John banks, a former politician. When I pointed out that the erosion of free speech in NZ had begun under the government of which he was part, he hung up on me! Fortunately we'd covered the ground by then! Smiling

Right you are...

AdamReed's picture

Right you are, Peter. What took you so long?

'Free Speech' -RIGHTS : def

Rowlf's picture

~~ I might be just hair-splitting here, but, though good opening paragraph, I'd've put it as "...the right to speak, write or draw anything not offering incentives to law-breaking (in a democracy), without threat of suppression by anyone, and, with such threats protected by the government's laws."

~~ However, great points about 'offensive', when a 'protest' is use of force, and the news-examples (but, I'd go easy on the cartoonists: right now they're the real soldiers on the ramparts while all others hem-and-haw over avoiding 'offensiveness'.

The twisted contortions and

Andrew Bissell's picture

The twisted contortions and "yes, but ..."s emanating from Western leaders throughout this debacle have been truly dismaying. I'm also sorry to hear that South Park's "Bloody Mary" episode is going through some of the same crap in NZ that it went through here -- the episode is a great sendup of both Catholic iconography and the Alcoholics Anonymous "I am not in control, I surrender myself to a higher power" mentality.


Charles Henrikson's picture

"My free speech ends where your rights begin"(Peter Cresswell 2006-02-21 14:54)

That sums it all up.


Excellent, PC!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

A model of clarity! Bravo!

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