Monday, December 1, 2008

Freedom of Speech Means Freedom for ALL Speech

Or, "I may disagree with what you say, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it."

That sort of thing.

Except, as usual, Neil Gaiman says it much better.

The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don't.

Popular speech doesn't need defending. The speech (fiction, art, whatever) that makes you cringe and snarl and want to hit something is what needs defending, and we all need to defend it or next time it'll be our speech or fiction or art which makes someone else cringe or snarl or want to hit something, and we'll be left blustering about how our writing is different.

No. It's not. To that other person out there, my writing and your writing is just as objectionable as that other stuff you or I consider disgusting or obscene. It's all the same to someone, and that someone might well be trying to get re-elected. So we need to defend it all, simple as that.



N.G.K. said...

It's easy to say, but so hard for many to put into practice. We see this with hate speech laws (not hate crime laws, which is a different kettle of fish) and campus speech codes. I've always felt the remedy for unpleasant speech was more speech. So I like to see it said so bluntly, "Freedom of Speech Means Freedom for All Speech." Still, there are people I'd like to silence. Thank the Constitution that I don't have that right.

Angie said...

NGK -- yes, it can definitely be hard at times. [nod] I think, though, that when it's hardest is when it's most necessary. :/


Charles Gramlich said...


Natasha Fondren said...

Exactly why I'll defend freedom of porn on the internet. If you limit one bit, you limit a lot. Freedom of speech is so gosh darned important. And this national wi-fi thing worries me for just that reason: they want to limit porn... and who knows what else?

Freedom of speech is vital and sacred.

Natasha Fondren said...

Or, I should say, who knows what next?

Angie said...

Charles -- [nod]

SS -- yes, once they set the precedent of banning one kind of speech, it's that much easier to ban some other type.

And who defines what "porn" is, anyway? That's a whole 'nother kettle of weasels. :/


Holly Jahangiri said...

I have a real simple definition of "obscenity" (never mind "porn"): If it is sexual, violent, or scatalogical in nature and it involves a real living person or creature who did not or cannot give consent (and that includes the viewer - since no one should be exposed to that without warning and an opportunity to back away), it's obscene.

If it intentionally incites others to commit illegal acts, then Freedom of Speech takes a back seat to public safety considerations. If it unintentionally, but clearly in fact does incite others to commit illegal acts, then the same rule applies but the creator should not be punished for it.

Beyond that, if you don't like it, look away. It's very easy to shut down the browser window or move on.

Holly Jahangiri said...

I have no problem, though, with limiting commercial speech so that advertisers are penalized for making false claims, and I'd like to see stiffer penalties for spam. I don't mind spam that is occasional, accurate, and reputable - I don't get bent out of shape over that. But fraudulent claims, outright lies, offers to sell me prescription drugs without a prescription, and offers to enlarge body parts I don't have really need to stop. There is nothing there that's worthy of Constitutional protection.

Unfortunately, "hate speech" is worthy of protection, because there ARE things that are legitimately hated - not that most of THOSE are the target of "hate speech." But imagine a world where cannibalism is a long-standing religious and cultural practice of a well-established ethnic group, many of whom have immigrated to our country for political asylum. Who would not speak out against it, simply because to do so might come across as "politically incorrect"?

As N.G.K. says, "Thank the Constitution that I don't have [the right to silence people I'd like to silence]" (because someone else, in turn, might silence me) - "more speech," persuasive argument, peaceful protest, and legal prohibition of certain ACTS (not speech) are a better way to go.

Angie said...

Holly -- If it is sexual, violent, or scatalogical in nature and it involves a real living person or creature who did not or cannot give consent

I can get behind that, but it sounds like you're talking about actions rather than speech, even if we include various art forms as "speech."

Although even there, I can think of exceptions. If someone breaks into my house and threatens me, I'm going to do my best to damage him or her, and the "violence without consent" prohibition can suck rocks. In fact, if someone's broken into my house and isn't threatening me but is stealing my stuff, I'm still going to damage them if I can; so far as I'm concerned, they consented to whatever I care to do to them the minute they broke my window, smashed in my door or picked my lock.

Inciting to illegal actions can be iffy too. Any treatise on civil disobedience is an incitement to illegal action, but I don't think such should be banned.

With commercial speech, I think the trick is to limit the venue rather than the speech itself. If a vendor advertises in a newspaper or magazine, or pays to have commercials on TV or an ad displayed on a billboard, that's fine. When it becomes problematic is when they start pushing their commercial speech into arenas I consider to be completely my own that I get annoyed. That includes my mailbox, my phone, and my e-mail queue. People have been annoyed by paper junk mail and telemarketers for decades, but it's only recently that they've gotten annoying enough for anything to be done about them. I think the key here is the inherent limitation of the cost to the advertiser -- you have to pay to print your junk mail and to have the Post Office deliver it, and you have to pay employees to make phone calls one at a time.

E-mail spam is a whole 'nother ballgame, though. It's as close to free as any non-viral advertising is ever going to be, and spammers send out e-mails by the millions simply by typing up their message, setting up their software and hitting [Enter]. The new technology has given advertisers the opportunity to become annoying enough to get people really angry, where they never had that opportunity before.

I don't think limiting advertising venues is a free speech issue, either. The right to free speech doesn't give anyone the right to shout in my ear, or even come into my living room and speak normally. They can go speak their message out in a public venue, and I have the choice to listen to them or not.

And I agree that hate speech is dangerous to curb. I think we're better off dealing with it via social sanctions. That guy's a racist jerkwad? Fine -- I'll shun him socially and will never do business with him. If enough people did that, he might not change his mind, but he'd probably learn to shut up.


N.G.K. said...

I don't think limiting advertising venues is a free speech issue, either. The right to free speech doesn't give anyone the right to shout in my ear, or even come into my living room and speak normally. They can go speak their message out in a public venue, and I have the choice to listen to them or not.

An excellent point by Angie, when we speak of freedom of speech in a Constitutional sense, we mean government cannot restrict our speech.

But just because I'm not a believer, freedom of speech does not mean I can enter a church, take over the pulpit and explain why everyone here is an idiot, because they believe differently than me.

I write erotica, but this doesn't mean I have the right to post in anywhere I want. This is a common mistake I think, that freedom of speech applies to individuals, not just government.

Mind you, I think it's a good thing that everyone will give me a chance to spout off my opinions. But if they choose not to give me a forum, unless they're the government, it's not a free speech issue in the Constitutional sense.

We see this a lot in forums like this. At my blog, I moderate all my comments. And if you're selling something, it won't get approved. Not a free speech issue. My blog is an adult blog. If Google decides not to carry adult material and wipes out my blog, not a free speech issue.

Of course, if the only forum in town was Google, then it raises another question.

Sorry, I'm a long time rambler and have been following this post for awhile now.

It's a good one.

Angie said...

NGK -- there's definitely a lot of misunderstanding about the issue. [nod] An individual has the right to restrict speech in their private spaces (home or blog for example) and a private company has the right to restrict speech in spaces they control (shops and businesses, offices, and a network or blogging/journal service).

I don't know how many times I've seen people citing freedom of speech when complaining about a blog or system owner online. They just don't get that unless the discussion space is owned by the government, the first amendment simply doesn't apply.

Whether indiscriminate or clearly biased restrictions on speech are good business practices, much less good customer service, is a whole other question. I personally don't think they are. But a more useful response in that sort of case is argument, protest, and finally taking one's business elsewhere.