Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is an important concept. It means that I am free to write pretty much what I want to on here. But it also means that people can write and speak about ideas that I personally find abhorrent. These two views then enable us, and others to discuss what we have said. This is the principal of debate.

If you live in the UK I assume you have already connected this ramble with a certain event at the Oxford Union recently, where Nick Baker of the BNP and holocaust denier David Irving were invited to speak.

I have never been to the Oxford Union, but I imagine that it is a place where the views of these two men, whose thoughts and agendas I don’t agree with, can be challenged in a rigorous and intellectual way. I have no issue with the open discussion of whatever these people believe.

What is abhorrent to me is the protest against these people being allowed to speak. Would they not protest against religious, sexual, racial or any other form of discrimination in a country where this discrimination is the norm? Just because someone has a different view, however much you personally dislike it, does not mean that they do not have the same right to say it as anyone else.

By letting them speak we can find out what they have to say, and then we can make up our own minds. We may agree, or we may decide they are cretins. Freedom of speech then gives us the freedom to say, if we want to, that we totally disagree and give our reasons.

Let’s not be afraid of these people, let’s give them the rope by which they can hang themselves.


Gord said...

In the words of Christopher Hitchens at a debate on Free Speech (http://onegoodmove.org/1gm/1gmarchive/2007/03/free_speech_6.html), on why free speech must be protected, especially towards those opinions and ideas that we do not agree with:

'How do I know that I know this, except that I have always been taught this and never heard anything else?'

It is always worth establishing First Principle...

'How can I prove the Earth is round? Am I sure about the Theory of Evolution? I know it is supposed to be true, here's someone who say there's no such thing, it's all Intelligent Design. How sure am I of my own views?'

Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus and the feeling that whatever you think, you're bound to be okay because you're in the safely moral majority.


plonkee said...

I was thinking that it's also Freedom of Speech to be allowed to moan about someone else speaking.

So maybe they shouldn't invite these speakers, and maybe there shouldn't be complaints about it, but people who really believe in freedom of speech have to put up with both.

Ed said...

The thing is they weren't moaning, they were trying to stop the event from happening. If they didn't want it to go ahead I would willing listen to their reasons.

Disillusioned kid said...

"Just because someone has a different view, however much you personally dislike it, does not mean that they do not have the same right to say it as anyone else."

I've never been invited to speak at the Oxford Union and probably never will be. Nor will the vast majority of people.

This is where the "debate" about freedom of speech breaks down. It assumes that we all have the same ability to express our views. Structural inequalities are ignored.

Hence there's a big uproar everytime somebody protests against fascists being given a platform, but a telling silence about the complete absence of a platform for (for example) the mentally disabled, travellers, poor Africans etc.

The liberal freedom of speech paradigm made sense in the context of the de facto theocracies in which it emerged. I don't really see it's all that useful today.

Unless you're a fascist like Nick Griffin when it's a useful tool to further your political agenda.