Freedom of speech is much more than a personal right. Free speech is the life-blood of a liberal democracy. It permits new ideas to be shared, discussed and developed. Without it, society stagnates; a state without free speech has set a tight limit on its future growth and development. How can society grow in a way it is barred from discussing?
There is a growing, and worrying, trend in todays society towards the idea of “You can do what you want, so long as it does not harm anyone else”. I think this is bad for two reasons. The first is that it spits in the face of our care for others... what right would I have to stop someone from killing themselves? Fuck that. But I want to talk about the second today; the way that this idea also places an unacceptable limit on the freedom of speech.
For another way of framing this idea is this: “You can say what you want, so long as it causes no-one offense”. This takes a genuinely good intention -- which is simple politeness and respect -- and twists it to evil.
I was once told by a transexual that, by not recognising that surgery had changed him into what he was trying to become -- a woman -- I was causing him offense. Now, he's perfectly entitled to that feeling, and that opinion, of course. But his feelings are not sufficient reason to bar me from expressing my belief that, to quote Zoomtard: “a penectomy and a vaginoplasty do not a woman make”.
Essentially, my disagreement was causing him offense.
Pretty much every opinion out there is liable to cause someone offense. The idea that the Chilean government had a right to stamp out the ritual infanticide practiced by certain indigenous tribes was found offensive by some. I'm not talking about abortion here -- I'm talking about the undeniable killing of babies. I really wish I was just making this stuff up, but I'm not. Look at “Against Relativism: Cultural Diversity and the Search for Ethical Universals in Medicine”, by Ruth Macklin, page 8. Look it up.... it's shocking stuff.
If we cannot talk about those things that could cause offense, then we can say nothing. We are barred from disagreement. Discussion is dead.
You can see this in how this idea is being used. I have seen this idea actively used to stiffle discussion.
Recently, Pope Benedict XVI made his first public statement on same-sex unions, referring to them as “pseudo-matrimony”. The new Pope believes that marriage can only be a union between a man and a woman.
What is important is whether this belief is correct or incorrect. What should not be at stake is the man's right to say it. In the ideal liberal democracy he could express any opinion he pleased.
What is the response? Far too often, crap such as: “People are more than welcome to express their opinions, but not at other people's expense!”. The “expense” seems to always amount to disagreement. The idea is being used as a tool to stiffle dissent.
These people are not liberals. They are pseudo-liberals. They sure can talk, but the walk is making them stumble.
They appeal to our sense of justice by asking that we avoid causing harm, but this “harm” is so loosely defined it means “disagrees with us”. They appeal to the seperation of Church and State, but they use this phrase not as a guiding principle, but to dismiss Christian perspectives. There is no discussion. All we have left is consensus and conformity. They seek, conciously or not, to mould society to their will not by argument and debate but by stiffling dissent.
When these people claim to love free speech, I get angry. I see words dead and hollow. Trumping this “love” is their own agenda, and they are more than willing to stamp on free speech when it has become inconvenient to them. And they do not realise they are doing it.
Today, I finished reading “Al Qaeda and what it means to be Modern” by John Gray. Although he makes strange comments about Christianity, and in his recounting of the greatest genocides of the twentiety century completely ignores Pol “psycho” Pot - my favourite genocider - I found it on the whole illuminating and clarifying.
There is a certain belief that, when I find that I am arguing with one who holds it, annoys the crap out of me. I was never able to solidly define it, but Gray has it nailed.
There is a belief among many that, as scientific knowledge progresses, so to do our morals and our politics. It is believed that (to quote Gray)
scientific advance engenders social progress. Yet surely this can be seen as nonsense? As Gray points out, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did not have to discard scientific knowledge to commit their atrocities. In fact, the Nazi killing machine relied upon it.
I've found that many such believers also believe, as a corollary, that those in the past were fools compared to those that live today.
My main man Cian Synnott once told me of a play from the ancient world (Greek or Roman, I do not know which), the characters of which seemed just like people you'd meet every day of the week. How can we say we have advanced when we are just like people from thousands of years ago?
Ultimately, increased scientific knowledge doesn't make us better people; the play in particular proves that though we have greatly increased our scientific knowledge we haven't really changed. All it means is that we know more about science. This is certainly an achievement, but there is a great difference between such knowledge and true wisdom.
The book is thought-provoking, and I would recommend it.
George W Bush will have a second term in office. This is bad; at least, it is worse than if John Kerry got the job. I don't think Mr Kerry was the saviour of all mankind, but in my view he was far better qualified than Mr Bush.
Tomorrow, I'll explain why the Bush victory is a bad thing, and why I think John Kerry was better suited to win what has been referred to as “the war on terror”. But now, I must sleep.
Update: Tomorrow my ass... it turns out a document on international politics takes a while to write. It'll be done when it's done.
I was watching some clips of the Daily Show from their website, and I was blown away by Desmond Tutu. In an interview with Jon Stewart, he spoke about how the world sees America:
They like Americans, as people; but they don't like what you are doing... ...people love you.
They are sad, and I am sad, that you could in fact be doing the kind of things you are doing. Guantanamo bay. Going into a war that most people said was immoral, illegal.
Most people believe that you're really lovely people; and they can't understand how you could let things of this kind go on.
You are wonderful people; you are wonderful, generous, caring people. I really mean that. And one hopes, I mean, that you would export not bombs; [that] you would export your compassion and your generosity.
I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to be an American when I grew up. America was the land of Hollywood, of astronauts and test-pilots, and of great cities of steel and glass that grasped at the sky. When I became older, I discovered their great traditions of liberty, justice and freedom; I fell in love with the country all over again.
America, what has become of you?
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