17 June 2015

Free for all

A couple of weeks ago, a person who (I assume) had just discovered this blog e-mailed me to ask about my use of the term "American patriot" in my profile -- given the rest of my self-description, he apparently found it hard to believe I would consider myself such.  I replied:

I'm not sure why it would be incongruous. Patriotism isn't the exclusive preserve of the right wing or the religious. I'm not the "rah-rah" type, but it's natural that I have an attachment to my own country -- most people do. And there are some specific positives, such as the First Amendment, which means I don't have to walk on eggshells worrying about political correctness -- in Canada or some European countries, some of what I write about Islam might result in legal hassles.

He responded, in part:

All countries and nations have to find the middle ground between "Free Speech" and "Social Responsibility", it can never be a free for all. Again, it is always about striking the right balance. I would think that places like Canada and Europe all have a pretty good balance right now, but of course the specific laws related to this issue are always up for negotiations and fine tuning.

I'm sure any reader who understands the importance of free expression can imagine the effect of those words.  We always need to remember that this mentality is out there, willing and even determined to curtail our freedom of expression on the grounds of "social responsibility" or some other nebulous excuse for shutting up the dissemination of viewpoints that they or some group they sympathize with find offensive.  The dangers of this are very real and immediate.  In Europe and Canada, people have actually been prosecuted and fined for expressing opinions.  Not for making threats, not for outing private personal information, but for expressing opinions that some pearl-clutcher in a position of power decided were not "socially responsible".

People like this (and not all of them are conservatives) invariably assume that it's they and people like them who would get to decide which opinions, and which ways of expressing them, would be classified as "not socially responsible" (or "hate speech" or whatever).  But once the principle of censorship on these grounds is accepted, then who gets to exercise that power, and "strike the right balance" on where the "middle ground" is, becomes a mere detail.  If you accept it, then you really can't complain if you discover that it's someone like Mike Huckabee, or David Lane, or a bunch of giant corporations, who gets to define when your expression is no longer "socially responsible".  You've already thrown away the only basis for a principled objection.

Freedom of expression is based on the idea that the proper response to bad speech is more speech.  If every viewpoint can be expressed and people can hear all sides, the truth will eventually work its way to the top.  No one -- not some judge in Europe, not the Pope, not you, not me, no one -- has the wisdom or the right to decide in advance that certain viewpoints simply shouldn't be expressed at all.  It seems to be working.  Opponents of gay marriage, for example, have been completely free to present their case in whatever way they choose, and have thus managed to demonstrate that they don't have one.  It would have done no good to ban them from speaking -- quite the contrary.  If I hear that someone has been prohibited from speaking out, my instinctive reaction is not "wow, that person's viewpoint must be really evil, good thing nobody's allowed to hear it," but "hmm, I wonder what he was going to say that made somebody so nervous that they decided no one should be allowed to hear it and make up their own minds."  I suspect most people react the same.

Let the bad guys say what they will say, and then say your own piece explaining why they're wrong.  If all viewpoints contend, the truth will emerge.  It's the only way.

Remember, expression that offends no one doesn't need any special protection in the first place because no one will try to ban it.  The First Amendment exists purely for cases where someone believes a point of view shouldn't be allowed.  Those are the only cases where it is needed at all.

I don't claim the American system is perfect.  Threats, "doxxing" and similar have emerged as weapons with which malignant individuals (as opposed to the government) intimidate and censor views they don't like.  From time to time I've noted cases of bloggers being silenced by such tactics.  The First Amendment offers no protection there -- we are still working on developing other defenses.  But by ruling out government censorship of expression, the First Amendment is a huge bulwark of freedom that people in most other countries, even most democracies, do not have.

And these protections have to apply to all views, to everyone.  Andres Serrano, Pamela Geller, Charlie Hebdo, Michael Savage, Erick Erickson, Tony Perkins, Anjem Choudary, David Duke, the person who sent the e-mail above -- in defending the right of all of them to express their views as they see fit, I'm defending my own, and yours.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I just got done reading your "Culture Wars" post linked in last comments ... I think it will loosen up as well ... it's just taking a Hell of alot of time. I dont even understand how a person that is a religious type, fundi or whatever ... can be so gun- ho against what someone else does sexually or whatever, when it hasnt a bloody thing to do with them, and even in their own sacred texts (bible) ... it sayz its up to their God, not them, so it's simple a "cult mentality".

There is also a pop culture mindset that folks look at "patriotism" as a set of values held only by someone that is into these pop culture institutionalized religions, so that is limited too. I have pointed out to some conservatives locally in Texas, just how anti- American, anti- familia values, and else that this neo republican movement is, how corporatized it is, etc, etc ... some were left speechless, and even shocked by some of the actions of right politics ... it was obvious to me talking to some folks (mostly in areas ... not in Dallas metro, who are a lil more uninformed lets say, and dont read shit online besides sports or music), that they had no idea what was going on in politics, and basically just following some pre- packaged way of thought ... so much they had no idea of even legislation proposed, etc, even some didnt know Senators, Congressional members of their state/ communities, etc ... they just believed this or that without thinking or something ... and some of these folks actually "vote". But too alot of folks dont like to follow up on politics or are too busy and just vote for the simple talk ... I myself was the same way when I was younger, voted without taking a closer look at how I was voting or who I was supporting.

As far as "free speech" ... I damn near gave up trying to figure out what it even means these dayz(?)

Later Infidel ....

17 June, 2015 05:11  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

The Quindlen quote is very much applicable in the Scott Lively case, IMO. His vitriol and hateful words were heard here and in Uganda. He's facing charges of crimes against humanity, but his defense is free speech. He contends he never meant for the Ugandans to go after gays to kill them.

It's a thorny case. You can read about it HERE.

17 June, 2015 09:48  
Anonymous AWJ said...

Couldn't agree more. If the government can make it illegal to advocate against gay rights, it can just as easily make it illegal to advocate for gay rights (which is exactly what some countries are doing)

17 June, 2015 12:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, and thank you.

17 June, 2015 12:29  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: Someone who moves jobs from his own country overseas, or who uses political power to defend companies that do that, is no patriot -- that's for sure. Unfortunately too many voters let themselves be seduced by reassuring buzzwords into voting against their own interests.

Shaw: Thanks for the link -- I haven't followed the Lively case closely, but it worries me. It's still not clear to me whether he did anything beyond advocate for a (disgusting) political viewpoint and support passing (disgusting) laws. That's exactly the kind of free expression the First Amendment was designed to protect. If he made clearly false statements about gays (similar to the "Jewish cabal will prey on their children" talk in Rauch's Jewish analogy), he should be liable for defamation. But I'm not at all impressed by the idea that advocating a bad law is a kind of incitement to violence -- to be prosecutable in a free society, incitement needs to be very immediate and direct, like a Mafia don ordering a subordinate to shoot somebody. Otherwise it's just a back door to criminalizing any expression with which one disagrees.

(I know this is a lawsuit, not prosecution, but given that a verdict against Lively would be a punishment, the principle is the same -- punishment for expressing views can't be acceptable to any free-expression supporter.)

AWJ: You obviously see my point. Just imagine what the right wing would do if we established the principle that advocating laws another group opposes can be legally penalized.

Anon: Thanks for reading and for the kind words.

17 June, 2015 18:52  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PS: I interpreted Quindlen's point to be that letting fools talk is a good idea because they expose themselves as fools -- see Todd Akin, most gay-marriage opponents, most racists, etc. Such people's own words do far more damage to their own causes than a ban or lawsuit against their statements could possibly do.

17 June, 2015 18:59  
Blogger mendip said...

A great posting, Infidel - thanks!

18 June, 2015 09:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mendip -- thanks!

18 June, 2015 18:15  

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