02 June 2021

Video of the day -- defending free speech

Rowan Atkinson is keenly aware of the importance of fighting for free expression -- he's known for mockery and ridicule of religion to a degree that Americans would find jaw-dropping, in a country which has no First Amendment to protect words which someone chooses to find offensive.  This speech, delivered in 2012 at the launch of the "Reform Section 5" campaign against an especially nasty and restrictive law (which led to absurdities like a threat of prosecution for calling Scientology a cult), clearly sets forth principles which still need to be defended.

In the UK, Section 5 was reformed in 2014 to make mere "insults" no longer legally actionable.  But other threats against free expression continue -- and not only in the UK.  There are still several Western countries where telling the truth about Islam, as I routinely do on this blog, could get me in serious trouble.  Even in the US, where the First Amendment remains a robust bulwark against government censorship, there are plenty of people who want to see certain opinions silenced and certain types of artistic expression banned -- and they are all too energetic at finding ways to do so.  The struggle against such enemies is never-ending, but the noblest battle of all.


Anonymous Johnnyprofane1 said...


02 June, 2021 05:35  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Loved the video.
I always cackle when the right wingers and the wingnuts whine that 'woke culture' and 'cancel culture' is violating the Second Amendment. What they don't understand is that the Second Amendment prohibits the government from silencing people (something that Hair Furor tried to do many, many times) and that the Second Amendment does not give them freedom to be a racist, sexist, homophobe asshole without consequences.


02 June, 2021 06:35  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Good video!

02 June, 2021 06:39  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Johnny/Debra: Thanks!

02 June, 2021 06:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: I assume you mean the First Amendment? Also, you might want to read the last two sentences of my second paragraph again.

For months now I've been including links in the link round-ups showing that cancel culture is a very real threat, including to people on the left, and it's increasingly apparent that all this "woke" horseshit is just going to help us lose winnable elections.

02 June, 2021 07:02  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Things sure would be different int he US if insults were legally actionable. People already try to 'cancel' you if you say something that doesn't conform with what they believe so I'm glad that's not a big problem here.

02 June, 2021 09:59  
Blogger Tundra Bunny said...

Rowan Atkinson is terrific and one of my favourite British actors. He's super effective as a public speaker because most people expect him to talk like Mr. Bean and are so surprised that they actually LISTEN to his articulate message!

02 June, 2021 11:41  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

The FIRST amendment. I was thinking about a post in another blog about weapons. I’m senile.
And I did read your note about the dangers of ‘wokenism’. But It’s not cancel culture when homophobes and racist people get called for their use of dog whistles and homophobic actions, though. Everybody is free to say what they want. But they’re not free of consequences. Take that three-name woman in Congress. She says stupid, racist, ignorant shit all the time and people call her on it. She’s not been cancelled, though. And I see that more on the right han on the left, btw. Very few people on the left are racist, sexist, or homophobic.


02 June, 2021 12:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary K: Thank goodness insults aren't legally actionable here. Unfortunately, as my last paragraph indicated, there are people who want to shut up people they disagree with by means other than legal ones. It's a real problem.

Tundra: I've never actually seen Mr Bean, but from what I hear, it's by far his least impressive comedic work. If people knew him from Blackadder or The Thin Blue Line, they wouldn't be surprised that he's really smart.

02 June, 2021 14:11  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: If you're talking strictly about more speech in response to speech you disagree with, the way Atkinson is, that's different. But when I see something like:

Everybody is free to say what they want. But they’re not free of consequences

.....this sounds to me like the language of thugs lying in wait in a darkened parking lot with baseball bats at the ready. There are people who would call me "Islamophobic" for telling the truth about their stupid religion, and say that I should suffer "consequences" -- and in Europe people have been prosecuted and violently attacked for expressing opinions on that subject.

Free expression has to be content-neutral. The opinions we loathe have to have the same protection, both against government censorship and harassment of whatever kind, as the opinions we agree with. You know what I think of religion, but I don't go around saying things like "You can express your religious opinions, but it won't be free of consequences" -- because that sounds threatening.

The big mistake of the libertarian ideology is that it behaves as if the only threat to freedom is the government, whereas in fact private-sector actors can pose a major threat to individual self-determination in many areas, when they get powerful enough. This is just an extension of the same principle. Yes, talk back to people you disagree with and criticize what they said, but any kind of intimidation or attempts to silence people in response to pure expression of opinion -- even the very worst kind of opinion -- are the exact problem I'm pointing at here.

02 June, 2021 14:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Oh, and as for people on the left being targeted, feminists who speak out against transgender ideology have been deluged with rape threats, death threats, efforts to get them fired from jobs, etc. I've repeatedly included links to cases like that in the link round-ups. I myself, when I started linking to articles about such things, suffered several attempts to infect my computer with malware. The problem with people who like to threaten "consequences" for bad opinions is that they tend to be purists -- any deviation from Mandatory Correct Thought is enough to make you a target, and they are the sole arbiters of where the (ever-shifting) limits of acceptable opinion stand.

That's what this post is about.

02 June, 2021 14:53  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

"You know what I think of religion, but I don't go around saying things like "You can express your religious opinions, but it won't be free of consequences" -- because that sounds threatening."

Well, I blast the wingnuts every seven seconds and the repercussion I get is that the religulous tell me I'm a dick. See if I care. I think Islam is as much bullshit as Christianism or drawing energy from crystals. Actually, crystals are cool. I could be in trouble if I tell a radical Muslim that I think their religion is bullshit. Zealots are unpredictable, crazy people.

When I mention 'consequences' is that if someone says something about, let's say, Black people that is completely racist and they have a platform or some kind of power, they must be called racist. Because they ARE racist. What they say is racist. There's no way around that. Same with homophobes. Or sexist assholes. If somebody is racist, I'll call their ass racist. That is the consequence of being racist and expressing those thoughts. I would not try to silence them. I actually want all the racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic assholes to actually say what they think so I know who is it that I'm dealing with. Better the devil that you know...


02 June, 2021 15:10  
Blogger Mike said...

I think if it were actionable here in the US, I would be constantly trading money back and forth with people. The only winners would be the lawyers.

02 June, 2021 19:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: I would not try to silence them

Then I don't have a problem with you. But you need to be aware of the things I pointed out in my replies. People, including people on the left are being threatened for expressing opinions, and people are trying to silence them, including trying to silence me at times, and saying "cancel culture" doesn't exist is 100% full of shit, no matter what "side" is saying it.

Mike: It's not just a matter of lawsuits. In the UK before they fixed this, the police could actually come after you for saying something some asshole took as an insult, and even now it still sometimes happens.

03 June, 2021 01:26  
Blogger NickM said...

I have only seen Bean on 'planes. It is paradoxically RW's least impressive but internationally most successful outing (hence the 'planes thing) because it is almost entirely physical comedy. Things like Blackadder are very verbal and therefore don't translate too well.

03 June, 2021 04:11  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: True, although the translation issue wouldn't be such an obstacle in the US. But Americans generally just seem to prefer physical comedy to verbal.

03 June, 2021 05:02  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

I like Rowan Atkinson, who I met once, and was very nice to my children, but I will never forgive him for playing Maigret, which was like hiring Woody Allen to star in the Kareeem Abdul Jabbar story.

03 June, 2021 17:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Green: I'm not familiar with Maigret, but given Atkinson's talents, I'm inclined to cut him a lot of slack.

04 June, 2021 07:46  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Note to deleted troll: If you don't want to be seen as a "menace to women", try not deluging them with threats of violence when they object to your delusions.

04 June, 2021 07:52  
Anonymous Annie said...

This is such a good video: wise, crisp, clear. I do struggle, however, with hate speech advocating violence delivered via the vast megaphone of FaceBook, et al. Can you tell me how you regard FaceBook's suspension of Trump (and now saying he'll probably be eligible to resume his antics in two years) specifically and--more generally--whether you think the social media giants have an obligation to deal with this issue?

04 June, 2021 15:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Annie: Atkinson has long been a strong speaker on this issue.

Pure hate speech is expression of opinion and deserves the same freedom-of-speech protection as all other expression of opinion, full stop, with no "but, however, on the other hand". That's the kind of case freedom of speech exists for -- speech which doesn't upset or bother anybody doesn't need such protection, since nobody would try to ban it in the first place.

In Europe and Canada, bans on "hate speech" do exist, and in practice they're mostly used to harass and prosecute people who tell the truth about Islam -- as I often do on this blog. If we had hate speech laws in the US, they'd be used to attack me, not Trump.

What Trump was doing on January 6, I would argue, was not pure hate speech -- it crossed the line from expression of opinion into actual ordering of violence, and is thus not deserving of protection for the same reason that a mafia boss ordering one of his underlings to murder somebody would not be. On those grounds, very reluctantly, I agree with banning him. Note that this is not the same thing as "incitement", a term which people nowadays use so broadly that it can be called upon to justify silencing almost any negative opinion about anything. In grey areas or doubtful cases, we must always, always, always err on the side of more freedom of expression, not less.

04 June, 2021 20:15  

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