In a free state there should be freedom of speech and thought.
Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD)
People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.
Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think. And there is no freedom of thought without doubt.
Bergen Evans (1904 – 1978)
The question of freedom of speech has been on our tongues since the first caveman said to the second caveman “I don’t approve of the way you beat your wife and if you don’t stop it you’ll have to move to that fire over there”.
As humans we seem to be born with the desire to mind each other’s business. Nothing we enjoy more than telling each other what we think – and if you’re here right now you probably have this desire more than most.
We all love to be heard, even when we are talking rubbish. But of course we rarely do that, it is only The Other Fella who talks rubbish – and almost always at that. Why doesn’t someone tell TOF to pipe down, after all no one wants to hear what he or she has to say now do they?
In the olden days (anytime before 2002) we learned from listening to each other. You decided what you thought about something. Then you tried to find out what everyone else had said or were currently thinking about your preferred topic. You put all the info and opinions into the cauldron that was your brain – stirred it around and jiggled a bit – out popped an opinion. Your own opinion.
What on earth has happened to that concept? Where has it disappeared to? When did we become a nation of people who mainly only want to hear from people with whom we agree totally? “Did you hear what This One said about immigration last week? Shocking – just shouldn’t be allowed!” “Did anyone see Her That Woman on QT last night? She shouldn’t be allowed to voice opinions like that!”
Have we completely lost the plot here? Freedom of speech means having the right to put forth your ideas without fear of impunity. That means you should be able to voice your opinions on abortion, immigration, repatriation, privatization, gay adoption – anything really – without fear of losing your job, your position in society or being ostracized (unless you are an elected official or a member of the clergy in which case you need to consider your boundaries).
HOWEVER there are caveats, and of course this is where it gets tricky. There is an ENORMOUS difference between expressing your opinion and inciting. If I say to you “I don’t like scientific experiments being conducted on animals” then I am expressing an opinion. If I say to you “I don’t like scientific experiments being conducted on animals and you shouldn’t either, furthermore you need to go out and take action to prove that you’re with me on this” then I am inciting behavior that is considered socially unacceptable by mainstream society.
That is where it goes terribly wrong. Because certain members of society have taken to ‘inciting behavior’ we now are loath to allow others to ‘express an opinion’.
Yes we need to discourage people whose rhetoric encourage violent or unlawful behavior. Yes we don’t need to have people on our evening news waving their arms about trying to encourage certain members of society to take up arms, do harm, restrict the freedoms, make life generally uncomfortable for other members of society.
But we do need to start encouraging debate from everyone. Not just the people that we like. Besides, as Sun Tzu said ‘to vanquish thine enemy one first needs to know him’. If we shut them up then how will we know their weak spots. And if we don’t know their weak spots, how we will we vanquish them once and for all.