Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free Speech, Free Response

There is a basic truth that goes with freedom of speech: you can say whatever you want, but others can say anything they want about you. Sometimes, it seems like people want freedom of speech to protect them from criticism, sometimes because that criticism is incredibly vicious.

I’m a big fan of the give-and-take nature of free speech, and maybe that’s why I love the internet so much. I have grown to dislike mediums like TV and radio. No matter how loud I scream at them, they never acknowledge my objections.

But I have limits on what I think an appropriate response should be. I don’t like it when people try to silence someone who has said something they disagree with. It’s a fine line, and I am not qualified to draw it, but there needs to be a point at which one’s actions go too far in response to an expression of free speech.

I don’t think it should be a legal issue, either. I wouldn’t write any law on the matter, I think it’s just a personal matter of morality, in most cases. Clearly, it’s wrong if someone tries to physically harm a person for what they said, but short of that, it’s certainly open to debate.

I’ve never liked “boycotts” in most cases, though I see the merits of it in some instances. For example, I get why people are boycotting Chick-fil-A, and I am personally continuing my several-year policy of not patronizing them, but I see it not as a boycott in my case (which is an organized campaign with a stated goal). I just tend to be very selective in how I spend my money, because I see purchasing as an action that should be considered an ethical choice.

Here is a case where the president of a company is clearly alienating a group of people in word and action, perhaps in an attempt to brand themselves as the fast-food choice of bigots. I guess they want to be to crappy chicken what Ted Nugent is to crappy rock music. That’s their choice, and I think they knew what the consequences would be. I honestly and truly believe it was a calculated decision.

For some reason, though, my skin cringes when I think about people starting campaigns to get broadcasters off the air. It’s certainly within your rights to try to silence someone in the media, I just won’t do it. If your job is to speak or write, I think my duty to “boycott” you ends at me not listening to or watching you.

It’s easiest to see why this is with books. If someone publishes a book I hate, I’m not going to try to buy all the copies and burn them, then protest the publisher to keep it from ever existing again. That’s about the most extreme example I can imagine, but it highlights the basic idea: we should look down on book burners.

[Note: there’s a difference between burning a book in protest and holding public mass book burnings, having the book banned from libraries, having the proofs destroyed, etc.]

If someone in the media bothers you, don’t watch/read/listen to them. It’s that simple in my mind.

I don’t have to talk hypothetically about what it feels like to have someone you like silenced for stupid shit. I’m a huge fan of Bill Maher, and I still think Politically Incorrect was one of the best shows on television in its time. While I certainly enjoy the less censored HBO show he’s on now, I also sort of wish he was available to a larger audience again. The HBO audience is nothing compared to ABC’s.

Because a bunch of touchy assholes couldn’t handle criticism in the wake of 9/11, Bill Maher had to disappear for a while. That’s scary to me to think that our “free press” is so easily censored over emotionally charged issues. It’s especially scary when you consider that Bill Maher was fired for saying something true, though it was a truth that no one wanted to hear at that moment.

The very idea of freedom of speech isn’t just about the government not being allowed to kidnap you in the night for criticizing them (it includes that, but free speech is really bigger than that).

Free speech needs to include being able to work with – or at least around – those you disagree with. When you refuse to allow someone to say something you disagree with without “consequences,” you have doomed the freedom of speech because you have acted in a way that breaks down the lines of communication.

Does anyone actually think that getting Rush Limbaugh off the air (for what will probably only be a few months or a year at most) will result in conservatism disappearing or even taking a hit? Or, do such attempts just make liberals look like douchebag censors who want to take away something conservatives enjoy?

I’ll give you a hint… conservatism will survive Rush Limbaugh’s inevitable heart attack.


  1. Mediums? Really? TV and radio communicate with spirits?
    Perhaps you meant media, which is the plural form of medium.

    1. I'm fairly certain "mediums" can be used as the plural for a form of communication.

      And if you honestly thought I meant psychics, that sounds like a personal problem.


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