Possibly one of the most frightening developments of our time is the emergence of the idea of qualified free speech. Those using it are often not intelligent enough to realise it’s an oxymoron while others should simply know better. It always starts the same. “I believe in freedom of speech and everything but…”
Yeah, you lost me at ‘but’. In terms of moronic phrases, it’s right up there with ‘I’m not racist or anything but…’ That sentence being a signal about as subtle as a constipated rhinoceros that a racist comment is about to follow.
Looking at these phrases together, though, I would have to say I probably have more contempt for the former. Apart from the idiocy of thinking something absolute like freedom of speech can be made divisible, the person is essentially arguing that there are certain things so beyond the realms of morality and social dogma that they are simply not up for discussion.
The good thing about racists, for example, is they’re easy to destroy in an argument. Their reasoning is so flimsy, so married to prejudice, that it takes only a small dose of reason to demolish.Usually they’re made to look incredibly stupid in the process. Those who limit freedom of speech, however, are not only advocating this simple pleasure of racist-bating be disposed of but that the poor soul who dared to utter such idiocy in the first place be locked up.
No society can flourish when certain points of view are forbidden by the state – and no society can absolutely control what will and will not be permitted. The case of Paris Brown has demonstrated that anything deemed ‘offensive’ may now be investigated by the police (even though offence can only be taken, not given).
Yet one only has to go across the pond to the United States of America – one of the few countries in the world where absolute freedom of speech is constitutionally protected – to see how different attitudes are. Public Shaming is a brilliant blog in which stupid things people say online are broadcast for everyone to laugh at.
One I particularly enjoyed was the reaction on Twitter to Yu Darvish – a Japanese baseball player for the Texas Rangers who erred when the team was one away from a perfect game. What follows is a stream of barely educated American sports fans publicly exposing their stupidity and bigotry to the world. It makes for an incredibly amusing read – particularly as many of the morons start declaring it ‘payback for Pearl Harbor’. So much facepalm…
More gems to add to the racism and general stupidity files are the definitive list of people who thought Chechnya was the Czech Republic and people raging against ‘sand monkeys and gooks’ in the wake of the Boston bombings – with reactions varying from deporting all Koreans to uniformly bombing the entire Middle East.
It’s fun as well as just to expose such idiocy, yet if those had been tweets made by British citizens, each of them would now be subject to a criminal investigation. Rather than merely being ‘outed’ in an organic social fashion, given a great deal of stick and made to feel pretty stupid, they would instead be wasting the time of police officers whose time would be better spent, oh I don’t know, catching burglars, rapists, thugs, murderers perhaps?
Freedom of speech is sacred. It facilitates the development of ideas, art forms, sciences and political systems. You cannot cut off one form of expression without unintended consequences to this process and you sure as hell can’t ensure against the most innocent forms of expression being banned anymore once you open those floodgates.
One cannot abuse freedom of speech but that doesn’t mean taking advantage of it shouldn’t have any consequences. Like everything else in life, it should and will. People may exercise their right to free speech to mock you, tell you off, humiliate you or ostracise you. But those consequences should never, in any way, involve the state. Live and let live and allow people to dig their own graves if they want to. But don’t bang them up for speaking their minds – because next time it could be you.