Thursday, 29 March 2018

Free Speech

A familiar hobby-horse of mine, so don't bother reading further if you know me too well.

Heard something about free speech in universities and some decrying the no-platforming of certain speakers. The example mentioned in what I heard (probably on the radio) was pro-lifers.

Free speech is about freedoms. Pro-lifers want to restrict freedoms for others, so if liberal democracy is a tool to guarantee personal freedoms, their free speech is, by definition, anti-democratic. It's no different to facilitating free speech to Nazis, homophobes or racists, who are also intent on restricting freedom of the individual. No-one is preventing pro-lifers from practising what they preach, but they shouldn't seek to impose their beliefs on others if it restricts their freedoms, and that is precisely the aim of pro-lifers.

However, is merely speaking about pro-life issues harming the freedoms of others?

There are legal limits to free speech though, so why is this? Is it intolerant to deny free speech to white (or black) supremacists purely for their beliefs? It is illegal in the UK to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour intending or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or cause a breach of the peace. Are these criteria arbitrary? They're certainly subjective.

Then there are libel and slander laws, which curtail free speech.

So long as truly free free speech facilitates the right of reply to the same audience at the same time, honour is satisfied. It's when the right of reply is denied that we get problems. It's internet bubbles of like-minded individuals separated by great distance where the danger lies and where disinformation and hate spread at the speed of light. Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind; her steps, though sure, are slow and solem

Analyse and discuss.


  1. Free-speech is the right to hear the opinion of others and disagree with it.

    1. So hate speech, and any speech proscribed by law - perhaps for the reason it would cause a breach of the peace - is OK?

    2. Who defines "hate speech"?

      To answer your question, yes, my view is that any speech should be permissible, but, speech is a mitigating factor in weighing subsequent action on either side. However it's actions that should be legislated, not words.

    3. So anti-semitic speech is OK, even when there's no right of reply?

    4. Who defines "anti-Semitic"?

      Yes. In my opinion, it should not be a criminal offence to articulate an opinion that is anti-Jewish. Many Jews believe that circumcision is OK, I disagree I think that it's a form of child abuse.

      If I stood up and said that at speakers-corner would I be "anti-Semitic", if not, why not?

    5. That's not anti- semitic and neither is it in law. Saying Jews should be gassed certainly is.

    6. Why not? It would certainly offend many devout Jews and some might call it hate speech.

      If I said that I thought Jews should be gassed but a) had no capacity to take action toward that goal or b) said it as a joke - is it still hate speech?

    7. Not only Jews practise circumcision.

      What do you call 'having no capacity to take action' if others act on your exhortation

    8. That's true, many "faiths" seem to mandate genital fiddling (you'd have thought their "God" would have got it right first time :) anyway, not really the point. Whatever example we pick the problem we'll have is that words are subjective and transient things. It's not the words that matter, it's the meaning in the context. My view is that we shouldn't ban Holocaust deniers, we should laugh at them.

    9. But why even give them the breath of publicity? Why have to make the effort to refute their ludicrous views, if you even get the opportunity?

      If not refuted continuously, they spread, as do all conspiracy theories. Some are harmless, but many are not.

    10. Because I believe it's better not to reach conclusions before listening to (all) the evidence & arguments. Also, once banned, this kind of thing just goes underground, it doesn't die. People will continue to be people and hold ridiculous ideas and secret ideas are much cooler than public ones.

      Case in point, the end of the BNP happened the moment they let Nick Griffin appear on Question Time, and everyone saw what an idiot he was. Meanwhile there were protests outside the studio trying to get him de-platformed, free-speech won that day.

    11. A valid point. However Hitler took off by using radio - publicity actually helped his cause. There was a willingness to listen due to circumstances and what went before