Friday, July 6, 2018

Free Speech Entails Defending Speech You Despise

Free speech is essential to the existence of a free society because it underpins all other freedoms.

Without free speech and expression you cannot begin to have a truly free society, including free markets and the open exchange of ideas that is essential for the advancement of philosophy, technology, creative arts, and so much more.

Many people talk about supporting free speech until it comes to a time where they have to defend someone that they have profound disagreements with.  Yet this is central to what genuine free speech is all about.

The measure of whether or not there is free speech in a society does not involve the speech that is popular in the mainstream or agreeable to members of media and government.  It centers precisely on speech that is unpopular and even sometimes offensive.

Today, the broad brush of labels such as "hate speech" is being used to try to suppress legitimate dissent, intellectual criticism, and non-threatening expression.

"Hate" is a very ambiguous term when it comes to the matter of free speech.

What is "hate speech"?

Does it involve the mere dislike of someone? Is it simply a matter of disagreement with another's view?  Or is it being critical of the teachings of a religion, or the elements of a political philosophy like Marxism or Socialism?

All across the Western world, you see the "hate" label applied to very legitimate speech without the label itself ever being justified in any rational or objective manner.

A person merely giving a presentation on a controversial topic (and one that may have tremendous implications for a society) often meets hordes of one point of view frothing at the mouth, braying of "hate" and "incitement".   They do so when there is a complete absence of any real incitement on the part of the speaker/presenter. In the overwhelming majority of these situations, the only people acting in intimidating, aggressive, or even violent ways are those hurling the "hate" label about and trying to suppress the person they disagree with from expressing their views.

It is a real mob-like mentality and it is a dangerous one.

In the USA, the ratcheting up of the "hate speech" label and others (like "far right", etc.) has reached a point where those who are painted with those brushes actually ARE suffering violent attacks at an increasing rate.  Yet the irony of this is profoundly lost upon those who are committing the violent acts.

It reflects a tremendous degree of hypocrisy and a great intellectual inconsistency when those very same groups of people say they support free speech.

This is precisely why individuals such as Morrissey (music artist, formerly of The Smiths) gain my respect and support fast when they stand for genuine free speech in defending someone that they might have sharp disagreements with on a number of topics.  Morrissey's integrity on the matter of free speech and expression gained him a lot of backlash when he spoke up in defense of the imprisoned Tommy Robinson in the UK. 

Yet that example is exactly what free speech is all about.

I'll round these thoughts about free speech out with a great Noam Chomsky quote. 

Chomsky is definitely not regarded as "right wing" by anyone, so he certainly does not carry the label of "hate speech" or "far right", yet he is razor sharp on what genuine free speech entails.

“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're really in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise.”