Sunday, August 13, 2017

Free speech needs limits if other freedoms are to be respected.

I do not believe freedom of speech is, or ought to be, absolute. I believe words matter, that words have consequences, and that words can be used and are being used to harm others and to tear down our society.

I have a couple simple rules that guide what I consider speech not worthy of protection by our society.

If you tell a deliberate lie which can be objectively proven to be a lie, with any reasonable expectation that it will be taken as the truth by a normal listener, that speech should not be protected.
If you advocate for the physical harm, dispossession, separation, or expulsion, either directly or as a proposal for public policy, of a group of people as a group, without regard to justice for any individual within that group, with any reasonable expectation that other people might be persuaded to act upon your advocacy, that speech should not be protected.

I'm sure, with enough careful parsing, I could come up with one or two more, but these two are the big ones. Deception should never be free speech; and bigotry should never be free speech.

This is why, for example, I regard Colin Kapernick's protest as free speech, but I do NOT regard InfoWars and Breitbart's lies as free speech. The former told no lies and did not advocate for anyone else's harm. Alex Jones and Steve Bannon do both on a daily basis.

Likewise, I don't regard the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville as free speech. I regard it as a terrorist rally advocating the destruction of democracy and equality in the United States- in short, as an act of war against the rest of us.

I take seriously how important freedom of speech is, both as a creator of fiction and as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about political matters. For example, if you tell a lie not knowing it was a lie, that is defensible up to the point you are informed otherwise. As much as I would like to say, for example, that spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy claims, not objectively disprovable but designed to make people more likely to accept violence towards Jews, shouldn't be protected... I don't see any way of doing it without also taking away the right of voters to hold elected officials under suspicion without obvious evidence of wrongdoing.

But although there may not be a clear line to show where a speaker's good faith ends, lying and demonizing others by race, religion, gender, or sexuality are so far beyond that line that there ought not be any doubt.

And I believe it's high time that we, as a society, quit holding the viper to our breasts. Totalitarians will always use a society's freedoms as a tool to bring that society down... but it is possible to maintain most of those freedoms without letting the totalitarians win.

No deception. No advocating pogroms. Not even as jokes (or, as Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh continually claim in court, "non-factual entertainment programming").

Because your right to free speech ends where your fellow man's right to not be attacked in the streets begins- even if you're not the one doing the attacking.

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