There have been a lot of things happen recently to spark the internal debate about what’s more important… Someone’s right to express how they think and feel, or someones right to be protected from the repercussions of that.
One of the very few pearls of wisdom I learned at Uni was the difference and importance of each. When they left it up to us to decide what was more important, I fell squarely on the side of defending Freedom From… Though apparently didn’t learn with it the ability to express why I think freedom from is such a fundamental right. Until last night when I was reading Jody Picault and on page one, found this: “No man has the natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”
Turns out, me and Thomas Jefferson have more in common than I thought.
In our current debates around Gay Marriage, Trolls on the internet (and how to deal with them), and also in any number of other debates that have raged throughout history, it does seem to come down to one thing: Whether someone’s right to say things that impact on someone else’s freedom things under the banner of ‘Im just saying what I think’ is in any way as important as the right of the recipient to not have to deal with the emotional, social and huge number of other ramifications of being at the other end of what is realistically hate-speech. My definition of ‘hate-speech’ somewhat controversially includes nice old ladies delivering fundamentally the same message, but nicely padded in ‘normal’ social politeness.
While downing a few too many wines in Melbourne, the conversation re-sparked up, and one of our grand old democracy quotes was brought up “I may hate what you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (or words to that effect). That’s all very nice and good, but it’s totally unrealistic and we have long since left those ideals behind. No on these days is legally allowed to threaten someone with murder, even if thats simply how they feel at the time, we aren’t socially (or legally?) allowed to say that we genuinely believe that someone of [insert race here] is a lesser person because of it. It’s fair to say that we have legislated against a fair few things that would fall under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’.
Im not a huge fan of making laws against everything, unless its absolutely necessary, what I am in favour of, is a kind of social law that makes it unacceptable to publicly spout opinions that cause severe harm to others who are vulnerable. While I stand by the fact that everyone is entitled to their opinion, I don’t think spouting your opinion publicly is actually a right that comes above all others. If you (like I saw on Twitter last night) come out with some ridiculous claim about someone/thing/religion/group etc etc, you should be socially prepared to defend that, prove it and deal with the flood of angry people who disagree.
After the past few months, Im genuinely unsure where I sit on things like squatting on domains to hide them away from people you know to be rampant users of the ‘Im free to spout my hideous words whenever I feel’ ideology. Im unsure where I sit even on personally attacking people who say in a nice polite way, words that mean they believe someone is not entitled to the same human rights as them. Im unsure, basically, on a lot of the tacts people seem to feel forced or provoked to use when faced with an battle to defend freedom from discrimination.
I think in the last few months, what has really be confirmed in my mind is that there are times, and there are issues, where the harm caused to people by those who use the freedom to line so, so far outweighs the reason that freedom exists, that it needs to be a lot harder to claim. You have the right to say what you think, but that right comes hand in hand with the responsibility to be able to defend that belief publicly and ongoing to those who disagree.