The Horror of Free Speech

With the way people react to it these days, a costume depicting free speech would be perfect for Hallowe’en. If you are one of those people who cannot experience an opinion without a fit of the vapours, you might wish to stop reading now.

There are two freedoms without which there can be no freedom at all and those are freedom of expression (free speech and its siblings in other media) and freedom of conscience, and these two freedoms are under attack today, just as they have been in the past, and, just as in the past, a supine public, indeed a public that too often seems to embrace the attack, is letting it happen.

The point of free speech and freedom of conscience is that we don’t have to agree with what people think and say, but they still have the right to think and say it. Yes, there have to be some limits (there’s a difference, for example, between holding an opinion and abusing someone with it or arguing for a change in the law and inciting its breaking), but such limitations need to be for serious reasons not a fear that someone might be offended or upset.

The stereotype for such assaults on freedom, of course, is that of political correctness and it is true that many of the attacks do stem from that direction, for example the current craze for announcing ‘triggers’ regarding university texts or lectures (taken to its ridiculous extreme by a law student objecting to discussion of rape – presumably they would never take on a prosecution of rape lest they be upset) and bans on speakers at universities. But, it equally comes from those holding views at odds with political correctness – for example, a female labour MP was subjected to death and rape threats for her opposition to a Commons debate to mark International Men’s Day; her attitude was rather patronising, but a reasoned counter-argument or simple statement of disagreement would have the correct response, rather than a torrent of vile abuse and threats.

And that, really, sums up the problem. People today are incapable to reasoned debate and polite disagreement. I recently saw an image titled “No, I don’t have to respect your beliefs” which caught it in a nutshell – people do not grasp the difference between respecting someone’s right to hold and express a belief and respecting the belief itself. This can up in a conversation with someone who was quite intelligent, yet couldn’t understand how I could say I wouldn’t have a problem living next door to someone who hated me as long as they didn’t cause me trouble (while, equally, not wanting to live next door to someone who liked me but was a nuisance). They found it impossible to separate belief from action: just knowing someone believes something that they disagree with was enough to offend them. To them, there was no difference between living next to a racist who had nothing to do with them and a racist who was constantly hurling abuse or trying to burn their house down.

But, that, perhaps, should be no great surprise. Nearly every time I encounter a hate-filled rant it is inevitably aimed at somebody (individual or group) accused of being hate-filled, which hasn’t actually done anyone any harm, all in the name of tolerance and compassion! Hypocrisy and hate bound up together in a vile festering sore. I really cannot understand such hatred. There are people and groups I could hate – or which, in the viewpoint sense, I am antipathetic to – but filling my life with hate, especially when they aren’t actually doing me any harm, ruins only my life. Much better to combat odious viewpoints with reasoned argument and a good example and generally try to do something to make the world a better place in some small way. Do that and, even if you don’t manage to make things better for others, at least you’re not twisting your own life into bitterness.

So, please, if you disagree with something – perhaps even what I’ve just written – don’t leap automatically to shout it down or call for it to be censored or spew bile and threats, but offer up a reasoned counter-argument. Remember, nobody is suggesting you give a free pass to a viewpoint you disagree with – you are not being asked to respect an idea – only that you respect the right to hold have that viewpoint and hold that idea and respond to it in an appropriate, honest and open manner. Who knows, with a proper debate, you might even change a few minds, rather than forcing ideas underground to fester.

Don’t be afraid of freedom!

One Response to “The Horror of Free Speech”
  1. Jarl says:

    Dear DJ,

    I was looking for a way to contact you and found this post, which is very apposite.

    I am writing in regard to the Onyx Neon Shorts Horror Collection 2015, of which I was until recently a co-contributor and acknowledged co-editor.

    Due to a political disagreement, Editor Jeffrey Martin has decided to remove my story “Analogue” from the collection, and (as best I can gather) my credit as co-editor from the cover. I also gather that I will not be receiving my rightful share of sales royalties. He has also withdrawn my story “The Birth of Venus” from the Onyx Neon Shorts series for good measure. It is the removal of my editing credit for the Horror Collection, however, that particularly offends me. I put a lot of my precious spare time into making the volume the best it could be, and without my input many excellent pieces would not have found acceptance.

    The nature of the political disagreement is of course irrelevant to the injustice of denying a labourer his rightful wages and recognition. But I would like to state that what Jeffrey objected to was the following post at my personal blog: I hope it will be needless to add that I have no regret about having published this opinion, which I am willing to discuss with anyone who is interested.

    Onyx Neon Shorts is not a professional venture. You are unlikely to benefit to any significant degree in terms of exposure or money from publication in this anthology, or from future association with Jeffrey Martin and his desktop publishing venture. (For example, I have made a total of 51c on the novella of mine he published about two months ago). Although I am exercised by the moral principle that has been violated, I am far less so about having my works withdrawn, there being no real advantage lost except for that of appearing in the company of so many fine authors.
    With this in mind, I am hopeful that you will decide to withdraw your work from the collection in protest at the chief editor’s lack of decency towards a fellow writer.

    I also hope that you will read my blog post and think about it as calmly and objectively as you are able. Whether or not you agree with my point of view should be immaterial to your stance regarding the betrayal of a fellow writer who has worked hard to bring your work into print.
    I would be interested in working again with any of you who are willing to support me in this matter, and perhaps releasing a co-authored collection, if you are interested. The story of mine that was to appear in the collection is in the Mobi and PDF documents you were sent on October 23.

    Your Sincerely,

    Jarl Nicholl.

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