A chap I follow posts weekly “provocative” questions, in the sense that they prompt the reader to put some thought into their response. I think this was the first thing which made me read his blog. This week, his question is about freedom of speech.
I’ve always thought that’s a difficult one. Take this blog as an example – there’s nothing to stop me posting on whatever subject I like, using whatever words I like, but I don’t. I self-censor. I’m minded that the blog is specifically written from the perspective of being a stroke survivor, and one of the goals is to show that survivors have the same thoughts, feelings, desires as other people. Probably the same distaste for gratuitous bad language, too! I’m conscious that it’s probably not relevant to introduce my politics into it, but again I want to show as much that I I I can think about the same complex issues as well as, if not better than, anybody else. I write about my life as much to show that I do have a life, despite what happened to me.
So, I am certainly conscious of what I post, and I don’t consider myself free to post whatever I like..
In the same vein, readers’ comments. When someone posts something irrelevant or offensive (to others, not particularly to me), I might remove. Comments inviting people to buy viagra – yes, it happens, even on what I consider to be a serious site – well, they don’t last long. I’m fortunate in that I don’t think I’ve ever had offensive comments on here, although I see it all the time over on Facebook. But they’d go the same way. If someone can’t make their point without insulting someone, they need to go back to class.
With that in mind, how can I say a blanket “I support free speech”? I mean, I’d like to think so, but there are limits. Just as in the wider world, comments like “Kill Jews/Muslims/Blacks/Some other minority section of society which a rich man has told you is the cause of all your ills” are unacceptable, my acceptance of free speech assumes that other people will share my standards. But they don’t. What I consider to be unreasonable might, for someone else, be perfectly reasonable.
On this site, at least, I call the shots.
But it’s not just me. There shouldn’t even be laws that protect people against discrimination – equality should be automatic – but they are required. So clearly politicians not only have a view, but feel sufficiently strongly that their view should prevail in wider society, that they bring in legislation. Regardless of your own standards, these are the standards to which the state requires us to adhere. And mostly, perfectly reasonably. The vast majority of us live our lives without there even being a hint of conflict with these rules.
And, what about freedom of speech, where what somebody says or writes might be untrue? Libel and slander? Of course, we can argue about how practical it is for a poor man to sue a rich man, but a court is probably the right place to make the decision, where they can properly assess the damage caused.
So I think that, for me, freedom of speech has limits. It’s scary to take the “establishment” viewpoint, but I think it is entirely appropriate that our representatives decide just where those limits are. Just don’t get me started on how we elect those representatives!