Montag, 25. März 2013

329 | Freedom of Speech & Common Sense

This is supposed to be a ‘difficult question’ but when I look at it, I can’t help but ask myself: is it really so? Does it need to be?
So then I went okay, well, let’s look at it simplistically. What is freedom of speech? It is the freedom to speak. Before we go any further, we can see that we are dealing with the definition of freedom. What is freedom? Everyone is or at least should be able to answer this question in common sense at least from the perspective of the ‘limit’ of the definition, meaning: when is freedom no more?

From that perspective, the answer is simplistic: My freedom is bound to your freedom, because the moment my freedom limits your freedom, my freedom because equal to some form of abuse. From this what I see is that the greatest freedom possible for mankind as humanity, as one, on earth, is within the context of equality. Equal freedom, thus equal rights. Now if we look at this principle we can agree it is common sense, yet at the same time we can see that our world system does not function based on this principle. Our world system does not ensure nor does it provide equal rights for all. The question is why, and from here the questions arises whether what the system defines as ‘freedom’ is indeed that.

So – now that we’ve got the definition of freedom straight – and notice, it need not be difficult or complicated, in fact the simpler it is the closer it gets to common sense – let’s go back to the point of ‘freedom of speech’ and look at it again:
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak and express. Bound by the definition of ‘freedom’ itself, freedom of speech is no longer that – the moment this freedom is abuse to lie or mislead with the intention to diminish or harm another.
Simplistic common sense, isn’t it?

At this point I would like to share the considerations of some fellow Destonians as shared on Quora as perspectives to the question What is freedom of speech and what are the limits of free speech?

Eleonora Gozzini:
There are a few boundaries to 'free speech' that have been drawn over time. They would include 'the boundary of speech intending Harm, as John Stuart Mill explained in his book 'On Liberty'

The limitation he places on free expression is “one very simple principle,” now usually referred to as the Harm Principle, which states that
“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (1978, 9)

There is a great deal of debate about what Mill had in mind when he referred to harm; for the purposes of this essay he will be taken to mean that an action has to directly and in the first instance invade the rights of a person (Mill himself uses the term rights, despite basing the arguments in the book on the principle of utility). The limits on free speech will be very narrow because it is difficult to support the claim that most speech causes harm to the rights of others. This is the position staked out by Mill and it is a good starting point for a discussion of free speech because it is hard to imagine a more liberal position. Liberals find it difficult to defend free speech once it can be demonstrated that its practice does actually invade the rights of others.
If we accept the argument based on the harm principle we need to ask “what types of speech, if any, cause harm?” Once we can answer this question, we have found the appropriate limits to free expression. The example Mill uses is in reference to corn dealers: he suggests that it is acceptable to claim that corn dealers starve the poor if such a view is expressed through the medium of the printed page. It is not acceptable to express the same view to an angry mob, ready to explode, that has gathered outside the house of the corn dealer.
The difference between the two is that the latter is an expression “such as to constitute…a positive instigation to some mischievous act”.

On the other hand George Kateb (1996), however, has made an interesting argument that runs as follows. If we want to limit speech because of harm then we will have to ban a lot of political speech. Most of it is useless, a lot of it is offensive, and some of it causes harm because it is deceitful, and because it is aimed at discrediting specific groups. It also undermines democratic citizenship and stirs up nationalism and jingoism, which results in harm to citizens of other countries. Even worse than political discourse, according to Kateb, is religious speech; he claims that a lot of religious speech is hateful, useless, dishonest, and ferments war, bigotry and fundamentalism. It also creates bad self-image and feelings of guilt that can haunt persons throughout their lives.
His conclusion is that we do not want to ban these forms of speech and the harm principle, therefore, casts its net too far. Kateb's solution is to abandon the principle in favor of almost unlimited speech.

Then the question would be: are we not regulating harmful speech specifically for the reasons expressed by Kateb?
Because then we would have to put in jail all of the politicians and most of those at the head of religious organizations?
And if this is so, is this a reason good enough to allow harm to come to humankind just so those in Power can continue what they have been doing so far?

I think not, my view is that The principle of Harm should be defined and then applied without reservation, and if it would incidentally take down Politics and religion as we have practiced it so far, so be it.

Kim Amourette:
Free speech and other concepts of 'freedom' as it currently exists is based on the neo-liberalist Capitalistic view/ideology where basically you are respected in your 'freedom' to pursue your own interests - with a minimal of governmental or judiciary interference --- yet, within this, with the human being not living/existing based on principle, inner morality or integrity (as religion has also been separated from interfering in public institutions and education) and with a system that only feeds and supports the 'consumer/greed'- and 'survival of the fittest/competitive'-mentality in every way - there is much abuse going on within this allowed 'free speech' (just go through the comment threads below Youtube videos and see for yourself).

So, what the human has learned in our system of protecting self-interest above all - is that you do not have to take responsibility or stand accountable for your words and that you can pretty much get away with anything that isn't downright violent. The problem with this is that we do not realize how the words we speak shape the world/reality we live in - and that, if we do not speak and express ourselves from a starting point of integrity and 'principle', considering another being as oneself -- we are basically unconsciously shaping, creating and allowing a system/world of lies, deceit and abuse.

The solution here is not to go back to censorship and control - but to ensure that the human beings we bring into this world are educated properly to take responsibility for the consequences of their words and action and to stand as inherently respectful beings --- only then does such a thing as 'freedom of speech' make sense. This thus means that we'd have to change our economic principles from the 'protection of self-interest' to 'the protection of all life equally' and create a system that is based on the principle of considering another as oneself.

Anna Brix Thomsen:
Freedom of speech is cool as long as it is not being abused. As a Destonian, I often get the question on my YouTube channel why I have my comments on 'approval only' and some people (mostly people placing abusive comments) get angry at me and think it is unfair that I can censor which comments I allow. But I see my YouTube channel like my virtual home - I won't allow people to come into my home and trash it with their words. I approve all comments that aren't abusive, even if I don't agree with them and also if they are critical. I simply don't allow abuse. So freedom of speech is important – however I've seen it being used to justify abuse where people claim they are being censored in not being allowed to say whatever they want.

Suggested Reading:
Awareness and Conception in Practical Enlightenment - by Bernard Poolman

For relevant context see also my previous blog post:
Expanding Communication and Common Sense

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