Friday, December 6, 2013

freedom of speech: a duty

In many countries, freedom of speech is a right. I want to argue that it doesn't come free of charge. Freedom of speech comes with duties ; Burdens so heavy that we know not everybody will be able to carry them. Burdens so meaningful that not everybody will be willing to even try and shoulder them.

We all know the quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire and actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

It is easier said than done. France has freedom of speech. But a limited freedom. People who deny the holocaust or try and minimize it are evil or ignorant. They are people I hate and I will fight their ideas. But in France, they're actually not allowed to speak their mind.

I hate these people but I love freedom of speech. The world is not an ideal world and you have to make difficult choices. In France, a member of the far-right has been sued for his writings about the holocaust. Should I blame his words? Of course I should. I do. But should I support him being sentenced for speaking his mind, however hateful his speech is? No. If I chose to support his condemnation, I would be sacrificing freedom of speech.

Impeaching freedom of speech is easy. You pass a law, and if you're the majority, you can enjoy the pleasure of a life where all you want is within your reach. While you enjoy your nice life, people will be prevented by law from speaking up against what you think. You'll have peace of mind and they will have shackles. But realistically, have you never made mistakes? Will you never make mistakes? Can there never be a time when you are wrong and someone else holds the right answer? If we allow total freedom of speech, many will come disturb your peace. You will feel that more often than not, they're just idiots wasting your time and not open to an honest exchange or arguments. And it will weigh on you heavily. It will anger you, depress you, bore you, drain you. This is the weight of free speech.

But wait a minute! Not everybody is sitting at the top of society. You could be the one at the bottom. Is there nobody who has power over you? Are you not subject to laws passed by lawmakers? Are you not limited by the rights of other people? Freedom of speech is not just the right to speak. It is also the right to be heard. It is the right to anger, depress, bore and drain other people with whatever truth you think they have not taken into consideration.

There will always be fools incapable of accepting the truth even when it hits them in the face. And there will always be fascists who will stand against freedom of speech, even when freedom of speech itself is what lets them have their opinions heard. However heavy the burden is to let them speak, we have this duty for the sake of freedom of speech itself. And on top of that, we will have the additional burden of fighting the ideas of the fools and the fascists. But if we don't spend these redoubled efforts, it only makes us like them. We would be like them, sacrificing an essential freedom on the altar of an easy win. When we claim that we love our country, what is it for? Do we love the name and the color of the flag? If so, then our country is just an empty shell ; a name tag and a beautiful image. Do we care for that? Or instead, do we love a set of freedoms and ideas that our nation globally recognizes as worth standing for?


This article is a reaction to a handful of things.

  • One of them is the outrageous question that Alan Rusbridger, editor of the newspaper The Guardian, was asked about the Snowden leaks by the Home Affairs Committee. He was asked if he loved his country. This question suggested that revealing the crimes of the government is in itself a form of attack against the country, which is a rhetoric often employed by criminal governments like the UK and the USA
  • Another one of them is the viewing of Jeremy Scahill's documentary "Dirty Wars", which I'll review soon on this blog, where there is evidence of a war on journalism by Obama's government.
  • Another cause is an unresolved discussion, and I'm sure it will remain unresolved, with a friend who would suppress freedom of speech to fascists. An opinion somewhat ironic, I find.

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