Can we Stop Whining About Freedom of Speech?

Artwork: Freedom of Speech | Norman Rockwell

White people shouldn’t say the N word. They can. I have said it before and I’m white. But it just kind of sets a bad tone. It’s rude. But there is no law saying that we can’t use the word.

If there was such a law it would be an infringement of our freedom of speech. And a law restricting the behavior of one particular race of people would also be racist. But there never has been such a law.

To say that it is rude to say something is not denying anyone their rights. It’s kind of like if a random stranger began criticizing my father. That would be rude. But if my mother did so in front of me I wouldn’t be offended.

She does.

She knows the guy.

He can be difficult.

But if some passer by came up to my father and began verbally attacking him without provocation I wouldn’t stand for it. That doesn’t mean that anyone’s freedom of speech is in danger. It just means that I or my father might say something nasty in response.

Because it is not their place to say so.

Does that make sense?

Having a Right Doesn’t Protect you From Consequences

Far too often today people frame things as issues of our right to speech. Which is a very important right. Some people in the world don’t have it. And by that I mean that for sharing their opinion or making a simple observation they might be executed.

It’s almost disrespectful to all of the people who have and do live without that right to compare our simple squabbles over propriety to the lack of this fundemental freedom.

The first amendment does not protect you from the results of your speech. Just like the second amendment does not mean that you can’t get arrested for waving your gun around or shooting into a crowd.

If someone yells at you for something you said you have not been prevented from excercising your right to speech. In fact, if we actually attempted to stop such a backlash that would be an infringment on other people’s right to speech.

Someone telling someone that they cannot yell at them for saying something that is rude is making the exact same argument they are rallying against. They are saying “you should not be able to say anything about what I say, because I can say whatever the hell I please.”

It’s borderline contradictory.

Then Again…

There are some cases in which I do actually think speech is being limited. To be clear it is not the government who is doing this. So it is not exactly a constitutional issue.

There are cases, most notably in universities and colleges, where protesters are rallying to prevent the speech of other groups on campus. In principle this is the limiting of speech and I can see why some find it alarming.

Most colleges have clearly defined rules that say student groups are allowed to hold events and invite speakers to come and visit the campus and say whatever they want. If the group meets the necessary conditions to host a speaker then they should be allowed to talk.

Protestors can rally outside. They can come in and ask pointed questions which highlight the absurdity they feel the speaker represents. But in a fair and democratic society they should not be there exactly to prevent speech they find objectionable.

But even then I think it’s important to note that freedom of speech is still in play. People are being unfair. They are using their speech to silence others. And if they do more than just speak they should be held accountable. But no goernment authority is cracking down on descent.

It’s important to aknowledge the difference between the problems we face today and the very real freedoms that other societies lack. We’ve gotten very used to hyperbole recently.

There is no pushback when people scream about rights they already have, describe peaceful people as violent or cry discrimination when it does not apply.

It is useful to exaggerate claims of this sort because it demands more attention. But it also elevates the conversation to the same level that it would be at if people were really being oppressed.

And that’s a problem.

That means that we will have no higher setting on the volume knob if someone were to really come along and oppress us. Modern dictatorships don’t always prevent all speech. More often they flood the media with accusations of equal hysteria.

In the muddied waters of constant sensationalism actual oppression doesn’t stand out as much. Ironically, it feels like this is what we are doing to ourselves. All under the banner of freedom. Democracy doesn’t work when we’re all shouting nonsense.

So go ahead and say whatever you like about people you disagree with. Call them names and roll your eyes when they speak. But don’t pretend they’re the gestapo come to disappear you in the night.

That’s just stupidity.

…stupidity at the expense of our freedoms.

And if I hear you doing it I will call you a unpatriotic inbred attention whore. I can do that you know. I can say whatever the hell I want.

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