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Saturday, March 24, 2012

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" -- Evelyn Beatrice Hall


The title quote (often mis-attributed to Voltaire) defines the concept of Freedom of Speech.  The First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Say it loud, say it proud: FREEDOM OF SPEECH SHALL NOT BE ABRIDGED! The Bill of Rights sez so. So what is with the tinhorn dictators on Facebook and other social sites,  who hear a celebrity or person-of-note say something about a person or Favored Group and start whinging about "hate speech!!"?

"But Mr. Aardvark, sir, aren't they just exercising their right to free speech ? Yes, yes they are, and that is not the point, Johnny Strawman. By invoking an inflammatory term like "hate speech" they place the offending verbage into the set of Things Requiring Sanction. If I disagree with which gender you choose to snuggle up to, which person should inhabit the White House (and why), or whether Han shot first, then my declaration could be consigned to the "hate speech" bin, for clearly, hate is in the ear of the beholder.  If WE do not like what THEY are saying, clearly THEY are using "hate speech". The next step is what concerns me. If it is "hate speech", then it is speech which should not be borne by society, and should thus become banned speech. Shunning the speech is not enough. The anti-censorship crowd would gladly censor those with whom they disagree, in the name of  ridding the world of "hate".

The trouble is, the Constitution forbids such censorship. If I wish to stand in the park and read Mein Kampf aloud, it should be allowed.  Likewise, the book of Leviticus, or the collected works of Edward Gorey. Whether you like what I am saying or not (beyond libel or slander), I have the right to be able to say it. Likewise, even if every syllable that falls from your lips causes me to pulverise my molars, I must defend your right to say on.

The other trouble is, few understand the concept of "authority". The Constitution and Bill of Rights form the authority for our republic, the keel of our ship of state. It is the Law. Our current crop in Washington from the president on...pretty much the whole crew...do not understand authority. They think that authority derives from within, that on the basis that they are a congressman, senator, president or judge, they therefore have the authority to do as they please. Not so. our Constitution is the Bible, if you will, of the republic. As
surely as the Bible is the church's rule of faith and practise. I will not discuss from whence the Constitutional authority derives at this time. Some guy's Real Good Idea must pass Constitutional muster, or not be implemented.

Freedom of speech is a two-sided sword. If you do not like someone's opinion or rhetoric, and wish it to be censored or banned by the regime, hate or not,  recognise that when the Other Side comes to power, they could censor YOU. 


Michael W said...

Recently I was considering the notion that, given a choice between thinking free, and fitting in with the crowd, a great many people in this country would choose the latter option.

Being given Freedom of Speech doesn't, unfortunately, bring with it the presence of mind to appreciate it for what it is. Perhaps it's natural to react against thoughts or concepts which are alien to our beliefs.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s I was the moderator of an APA devoted to discussion of political and social issues. Back then I entertained a foolish notion that people would want to rationally and calmly discuss subjects even at the risk of facing opinions which they didn't like. I soon had my nose rubbed in my reality that what people actually want is for others to agree with them, as well as assurance that what they believe is the Absolute Truth!

As Devo reminds us: "Freedom of Choice/Is what you got/Freedom from Choice/Is what you want"

People do not want Freedom of Speech. Or, rather, they would prefer just to have everyone agree with what they say and think. These days every comment and opinion is suspect if it happens to come from a source other than what is acceptable. If one political party subscribes to the notion that the Sun rises in the East, then the partisans on the other side will immediately rail against it. The middle ground no longer exists (or, perhaps more accurately, it has been shouted down).

Rather than Freedom of Speech being universal, an unfortunate number of people would live easier if it were franchised. What's even worse, I feel there are people who believe they wouldn't miss the freedom if it were gone.

For one thing, Freedom of Speech hurts. I know. In fact, it's rather medicinal in nature. It's needed to maintain excellent health but, at the same time, it's hard to swallow. Putting it another way: if you firmly devote yourself to believing in Freedom of Speech, it will mean allowing unpopular or unwanted opinions the same opportunities as yours (and trusting that Nature will eventually sort out the Truth from the paid political announcement).

The Aardvark said...

You remind me of the Proverb*: "The wounds of a friend are faithful, but the kisses of an enemy are profuse.".

*but in a good way.

Michael W said...

Or, as my folks used to put it: "He sure runs off at the mouth, don't he?"

The Aardvark said...

Well, you know, Freedom of Speech!

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