Thursday, February 12, 2009

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech is very hard to define; everyone is okay with it – until someone says something that perhaps doesn’t quite fit. It’s important to be able to say what we want, worship how we want, have access to the information we want, go where we choose, live our lives in the way we want. If we agree with free speech have we got the right to prevent someone from saying things we know to be wrong?

I remember there was a book with the lines, that I can’t quote exactly and I can’t find online, so if you know them please put me straight:

“This is a free country, you can't stop me. This is a free country, I can try.”


icancarryallthebagsandthebabiestoo said...

Good question.

I always try to be respectful of the things people say... even when I do not agree.

And to take that a bit further, sometimes I don't disagree and feel a moral/ethical need to say something... and so I have a debate with someone.

And it's because of free speech that this can happen.

alan said...

The header above the name of a now defunct neighborhood newpaper when I was young carried a quote that I think of often and have tried to measure my life by...

"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."



Anji said...

Icancarryallthebags:It's not always easy to let the other side have its say. We don't appreciate what free speech means until we really think about it

alan: I am constantly amazed by the width and breadth of your reading. A good quote for a newspaper to be remembered by.

Carolyn Ann said...

Ah - one of my favorite subjects! :-) I annoy so many with my insistence that free speech is exactly that: free of encumbrance.

I think freedom of speech is actually easy to define: you can say what you want and believe what you want as long as it does not interfere with my right to do the same. Freedom of speech does not include any obligation to listen, but it does include the freedom to listen, if you want to.

So many do, however, try to prevent anyone saying the "wrong" thing. Some things are clearly wrong: child pornography, shouting "fire" to see what would happen, punching someone because they hold a different opinion and so on.

Often debate is censored because either the person doesn't understand that free speech entails discussion and debate, or because the opinion being stated is "wrong", somehow.

The quote is a disturbing subversion of free speech. The first part is fine, it's the second part that's troubling: if someone is trying to silence me, then it's clear that I can hold any opinion I want as long as that someone permits it. It's too similar to the idea that freedom of expression carries a responsibility. What that responsibility might be is never clearly defined, but is always convenient to the person or group trying to silence the dissension.

What was it that Churchill said? Freedom of expression is welcome except when you disagree? Or the title of a book, from the early 90's: "Free speech for me, but not for thee."

Just as a word to the wise: if you write of free speech often enough, you'll annoy quite a few. They really do want free speech, but only if you agree with them. I've come across quite a few in my mutterings on the subject. I find they (perhaps inadvertently) encourage me to explore the subject in ever greater depth. :-D

Carolyn Ann

Dru Marland said...

I don't recognise the thing you quoted, Anji, but I think that Alan's was ....I was about to say Voltaire, but I did a quick Google and found it wasn't as simple as that.

My opinion about free speech isn't as simple as that, either. I find the prospect of censorship worrying, but I also think that speech which expresses or incites hatred should not be allowed. Which in practice means some form of repression. Ouch.

Salihah סליחה صالحه said...

I'd be interested in this book! Fascinating!

BlogExplosion surfer,

Anji said...

CarolynAnn: I knew that I'd opened a can of worms writing about freedom of speach. I suppose we must define freedom to start off. thankyou for your comment.

Dru: Yes, once I start thinking about it I go round in circles. I thought I'd find my quote on Google but I haven't got the exact wording it seems.

Salihah: If I find out which book it is I'll let you know!