It’s difficult not to be conflicted about the issue of freedom of speech when you read stories like this (see below). See, I think everyone should be able to say what they want. Well, I don’t. I do think some things should be a crime. Incitement of any kind of crime, any incitement for people to commit violent acts on others, hate crimes. All the stuff that makes people’s lives worse….first obstacle.
First obstacle: different people get offended by different things. Some people get really upset by you talking about their God. Some people don’t blink if you talk about throwing dead babies at someone dying of cancer. How do you draw a line in the sand about something like this? I don’t have a doubt that any kind of racist insult/verbal attack should lead to prosecution.
But then do I think the Nick Griffins of this world should be allowed to say that only white people should be allowed comfy shoes, or whatever he says (I read one interview with him in The Guardian, where I thought my eyes would be relatively safe, and then saw him on Question Time one time. I have probably heard him talk a few more times around the times he is on the news)? Well I find him and his party lamentable but I find the idea of censure deplorable too. It’s not a new idea that accepting there are going to be fucking horrible people saying bad things is the price of freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is an essential human right if you ask me – call me Amnesty.
Of course the freedom of speech angle is what the horrible people say when people want to shush them. An argument they ignore when it comes to people opposing their views. BUT THAT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE FUCKING MORONS. If they think freedom of speech is fine for their views but not for other people’s then it stands to reason that you should think that they are wrong and that you should, in fact, let even the twats have a voice. Apart from anything else the easiest way to get people to hate a racist/homophobe/bully is to listen to them.
Ok, so we accept that I have solved nothing thus far? Knowing what counts as the limit to what people can say is impossible. As well as people having different limits there is the obstacle of numbers.
The second obstacle, aka The Obstacle of Numbers: when a single person is saying something it is often easy to ignore – a random person in the street says they don’t like your coat, you’d not be happy about it. Especially as it is not someone whose opinion you care about too much (this works better if you don’t care too much about the the opinions of random strangers). If ten people you don’t really know start commenting on your coat you’d probably start to get a bit paranoid about it – you’d certainly start to think your coat might be shit, the coat you definitely liked before these people said anything.
Some people wouldn’t care about the ten anti-coat commenters. Most people would have a limit though. Now there are social networks people find it very easy to (a) express hatred, (b) not care about who they hurt, and (c) join together in fevered groups of trend-hate¹. And when anyone reaches the limit of abuse-shouters/twitter trolls then the weight of people just not liking your coat could probably push someone to shooting themselves in the head with a shotgun.
Say the second person who says you have a shit coat (are you already getting a bit paranoid about your (fucking shit) coat?) means it with quite a bit of malice. But it is just the second time you have heard something bad about it. But what about the 900th? The 900th person who shouts it does it as a joke because they recognise you as ‘Shit Coat’ off Twitter and Facebook groups. Despite their lack of hatred you are hearing the same comment as you have 899 times that day. Why did you buy that fucking coat? You were sacked from your job because your coat was shit; Your wife drove herself off a cliff with your children in the boot. But you have coped: the job wasn’t all you’d hoped; she got on your nerves; you’d never really warmed to your two children, they had silly names. This one person, only really shouting it to impress a girl she fancies, saying it with absolutely no negativity is the one who pushed you over the edge. Should they be held responsible above anyone else?
My poorly argued point is that it’s hard where to draw the line in the sand. The effects of someone’s words can cause damage for numerous reasons. Clearly some reasons are very bad. Some topics and statements are less so but can have repercussions depending on the audience.
Let’s get back to the story from the news today: is it OK for a man to be demoted because of an opinion stated on a Facebook page? Well it does sound a little bit Orwellian in the abstract. But I think what he says is quite offensive. Both on a non-flippant level and on a flippant level I think his reported thoughts are bad. I can’t abide inequality so him differentiating people because of his sexuality is clearly indicative that the guy is a not my cup of tea. Also, use of the phrase “equality too far” beggars belief – it couldn’t be more contradictory. Have you ever heard anyone complain about things being too equal before?
I think that I want someone to be able to say what they want. But people just use it as a defence for saying bullshit like this. And the very fact that The Daily Mail would have an op-ed defending him makes me think I definitely don’t want to be on the side of the argument of this man and The Daily Mail².
But should be be demoted for his thoughts? Well apparently he had lots of colleagues who were his friends on Facebook and he offended them so I think there is something to hold him up to. But, and again there is no answer here, I don’t like what he is saying. I don’t like intolerance of others, no matter how passively that is portrayed. But might some people get offended by my social network thoughts? Do I think it has anything to do with how I work? It’s easy to criticise others – it really is when they are being aggressively Christian to the point of discrimination.
Anyway, I don’t fucking know. Part of the issue here is that I couldn’t give a fuck about this guy’s opinions. Also: I don’t have a values system associated to religion or its institutes so I aren’t offended on those levels. But people are offended on that level.
Let’s just live and let live eh?
¹Trend-hate is the very button of 21st century social interaction – as is trend-love. For every trend-love, Olympics, there is a trend-hate, anyone idiosyncratic (but not unattractive) on X Factor. They both don’t last very long but are very intense while they are happening. People so desperately wanted to be part of the Olympics this summer, those same people now would struggle to remember much about it, they certainly would have no idea what seven disciplines Jessica Ennis mastered to win the heptathlon. Similarly the people who wish death on celebrities with quite a lot of venom via Twitter have no idea why they are really doing it and almost certainly don’t mean it.
²I wouldn’t necessarily urge anyone to read that article but it couldn’t exemplify Daily Mail-ness any more if it tried: quotes statistics that are clearly bollocks; says it is not being homophobic – it states that it is idiotic to brand Smith a bigot or a homophobe when he clearly is one, to some degree: he has opinions on homosexuals that differentiate them. And it uses the free speech point but calls this man being taken to task for his words as tyranny.