10″The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.” – H. L. Mencken
Let’s start with a couple of quick, short, non-scholarly definitions. What is free speech? I would say the right to express whatever you goddamn feel like. Wait a damn minute! “Obscene speech is not free speech!” (it like totally is), “hate speech is not free speech!” (I beg to differ) or “you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater!” (I tried it once, it seems I could).
Is hate speech really free speech? Mea culpa, as the ancient Dacians used to say. There is, in fact, no such thing as hate speech, as there is no possible objective definition of it. There is no such thing as obscene speech, intolerant speech, and offensive speech. All these things are in the ear of the behearer (yes, I know it’s not a word, it be jokes). There is, in fact, such a thing as fire.
To support speech which is free is specifically about the one you personally find offensive and disagreeable. It’s no great feat, no feat at all, to graciously allow speech you agree with. The whole goddamn point is to defend the “bad speech”. And I do not mean “a bit rude, but makes a good point”. I mean gratuitously stupid and offensive speech, the one that is nowhere near a good point, which is offensive just to be offensive, just to push boundaries, contradictory and half-baked, vile and inflammatory. This is the litmus test of free speech. Respecting speech when you just can’t even.
Here is a good place to state that I am one of the good guys, an ally (Or is it axis? I get confused) and I do not agree with any speech anyone might find offensive, although I think they have the right to say it, and please buy me cocktails – nothing too sweet and girly, mind, an old fashioned works, or maybe a Sazerac. I had a decent cocktail once with rye whiskey, bitters and something called Sirop de Picon, but this is all besides the point.
The main issue of free speech is not of theaters, but of government. Whether private individuals can set rules in their private sphere – I can kick you out of my home if I don’t like what you say – government should not attempt to ban speech in the public sphere. This is understood by some, not by others.
But! There is often a but, and this one is sort of thicc. The fact you can avoid speech you don’t like, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do so. It is good to strive towards a society where the government respects freedom and expression by law and private parties respect it by custom. Yes, twitter/youtube/facebook can and often do police speech on their platforms, as is their right. But maybe, just maybe, it is a bad idea to do so. And while it is not directly a right infringement, they can be criticized for this.
I Had the Right to Remain Silent…But I Didn’t Have the Ability” – Ron White
Private actors, people and companies, can deny a “platform” to speech they don’t like, but I believe people should have the default view of: let’s hear the asshole out. If you are confident in your opinion, you can listen to another one, no matter how shitty. One grows by being exposed to as many ideas as possible, as opposed to avoiding anything different, while screaming to lung capacity about how stupid or ignorant or hateful others are. I always found it quite amazing how certain some are of the superiority of their views, when they refuse to even attempt to understand others. It is like the view you developed in high school, probably the very first one you came across, was perfect and there is no need for further inquiry.
All that being said, it is every snowflake’s right to insulate xerself in whatever echo chamber xir chooses. I think it is stupid, but you do you and like whatever. Fine, but–ehm–how about speech that is violence and promotes actual harm? I feel threatened! That tweet is literally violence! Check mate, free speechers!
I do not have much shit to give in general, but sometimes I worry about our society and the people in it. How, well… soft everyone is becoming, how delicate, how fragile, how lacking in introspection and self-awareness some people are. Like or loath Nassim Taleb, there is something to be said of antifragility. Or resilience.
In the new intersectional reality, it has become a mark of social status to claim victimhood. Everyone wants as many oppression brownie points as possible. I do not understand this and do not think it is healthy. Time was, it was a matter of pride to overcome adversity. You had it real tough and you made, conquered every obstacle. Now it seems to be the opposite. This is not the way forward. Victim status was something to be avoided and conquered, not celebrated, because the individual gains most from overcoming adversity, not whining about it.
The most annoying thing is that for a good number of these people there is no adversity. They try so hard to claim oppression – the very thing one should overcome – when none exists. But what are the optics of that? How does it help women, for example, when some feminist screams hysterically about everything? Makes ’em look real rational, doesn’t it? Claiming you can’t handle even mildly offensive speech. I get they are professional activists and this is their bread and butter – screaming hysterically and grievance mongering – and most likely they don’t give a shit beyond themselves, but do they think it is a good look?
How weak are you, how pathetic, if I may be a little harsh, to claim online speech is literally violence and caused you real harm? And this is not about credible threats. It rarely is. How incapable of self-control are we if hearing an opinion – no matter how bad it may be – makes us feel threatened, fearing for our safety? Or causes a breakdown? Or mental illness, PTSD, whatever. Rotting in a trench and hearing bad things are basically the same.
Look a bit at human history. I’ll wait. People have gone through some bad shit. War, famine, disease, genocides, gulags, torture and suffering we cannot fathom. And we get all up in arms about tweets? Seriously? Of course, each society has its problems and things to improve. I am not saying that because we have it better than 100 years ago, we should never complain or not try to improve things. Constant improvement is a goal. But just a wee bit of perspective here and there does not hurt. And you hurt no one as much as yourself by being a snowflake.
Safety used to mean you are not in imminent danger of bodily harm. Now it somehow means not hearing what you don’t want to hear. How did society get to that point? How the hell can opinions trigger PTSD in people with no imaginable reason to have PTSD? And if they do have it, we need to see how in the modern world people are so mollycoddled as to get PTSD for no apparent reason.
Now, I perfectly realize all this shit is massively over-represented over the interwebs and it is not a representation of general society. Yet. But it is growing and should be nipped in the bud. And sadly, it is growing more than usual in schools.
Offense is purely subjective, and it is taken meaninglessly in most contexts. Being offended – and this goes for most people – is bullshit 99% of the damn time, and it leads to a lot of unnecessary drama. Just shake it off, as the philosophers say. And this comes from someone who is very far from the stereotypical tough guy. Seriously. Some asshole said this and that? Fuck him, who cares?