Enough Please with the Free Speech Nonsense

This is a repost from the old blog, originally posted 14 April 2007. I’ll be doing this from time to time. One thing I will add to this post is that there is a huge difference between someone exercising control over something that they own and someone trying to exercise control over something that was never theirs to begin with. As for the latter, I condemn it in all of it’s forms.

Every single time, without fail, when someone calls someone else out on their racist, misogynistic, homophobic or otherwise hateful and disrespectful speech or imagery, the free speech card gets played. It’s tired. So tired. The most recent examples of this nonsense that I’ve seen can be found at Feministe and at Fetch Me My Axe. What boggles the mind is that these people apparently have no idea what the concept of free speech in the U.S., as guaranteed by the First Amendment, actually means.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I won’t go into all of the history of Supreme Court cases concerning the First Amendment, but it should be noted that the courts now understand the First Amendment to not only apply to Congress, but to the entire Federal government and the States as well.

One thing should be clear from the get-go: The First Amendment applies to the government and not to private organizations and individuals. Let’s look at this a tad more closely.

Y’see, the government can’t tell the New York Times what they can and cannot print; however, the New York Times can tell it’s writers what they will and will not print. The First Amendment does not apply to private organizations or individuals. In blogger terms, when your comment gets deleted from a blog, your Constitutional rights have not been denied. You are free to go somewhere else (like your own blog) and say whatever the hell you want. You can say that you’ve been censored (and in the case of bloggers I’d still say you’re wrong), but your freedom of speech rights have not been violated. Look at it this way. You’re free to piss on a rug in your own house all you want; or if someone else doesn’t mind you pissing on their rug, by all means, go for it; but if I don’t want you pissing on my rug in my house, I don’t have to let you do it and I’m not oppressing you by kicking you the hell out of my house.1

And when someone calls you out for hateful speech, they are not acting as thought police. To make such an argument is disingenuous nonsense. The only way one can effectively be a member of any thought police is to have the power of the state behind you. Even when the President condemns what you’ve said or written, there is nothing there other than the condemnation (perhaps a more powerful condemnation since it’s coming from a person with a lot of power, but still only a condemnation).

So let’s just make this as clear as possible. You are not free to say whatever you want wherever you want. Individuals have every right to control the discourse that occurs within their own spaces. You also have the right to find an appropriate space to say whatever you want. If someone says something that I find offensive, I have every right to call them on it (and said person also has every right to prevent me from saying so in their space); and I’m not oppressing you by keeping your bullshit off of my blog, nor am I oppressing you by pointing out that you’re a sexist, racist asshole.

  1. That’s probably a bad analogy since I’m pretty sure if you try to piss on a rug in the White House you’ll get kicked out too, but you get my drift I hope. []

Tell me something good...

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Well, I’m certainly glad you cleared that up. I suppose I’ll have to piss on my own rug, now.

    Posted by thebewilderness | August 21, 2007, 2:57 am
  2. Excellent, thank you.

    Here in Canada, we don’t have unfettered freedom of speech. We have laws against hate speech, preventing people from publishing or saying publicly hateful things against groups. Mostly, it’s used in cases where the speakers are looking to incite violence with their speech. but at least it’s something.

    Posted by Thinking Girl | August 21, 2007, 7:15 am
  3. In the United States we have laws regarding Speech Acts.

    Generally: it’s recognized that sometimes speech is more than just words. Some kinds of speech constitute action. When you say “I do” at a wedding, you’re not just saying the words “I” and “do”, you’re doing something by saying those words. They’re an action in addition to vocal utterence. There are laws governing how one may act in certain circumstances. It’s against the law to spread lies about people in such a way that those lies cause injury to the victim, for example. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater isn’t just a word, it’s an act, and if there isn’t actually a fire, it’s against the law. We don’t have laws against saying hateful things about people, but we do have laws against saying hateful things with the intention of inciting violence. You can say that you hate group X, but you can’t stand on top of a soapbox and try to get a mob of people to throw rocks at members of group X. You can’t send letters to people threatening to inflict bodily harm upon them, etc, etc. Speech is protected. Speech acts? Not always.

    Posted by Roy | August 21, 2007, 11:42 am
  4. Thanks for posting this again. Some people just don’t get it. They think that freedom of speech literally means freedom to say whatever you want when and wherever you want. There are lots of instances where there are laws against saying things. Like if you work for many companies you are not allowed to talk about company business to people outside the company or else it is a breach of your contract. There are lots of contracts like that. You can’t advocate child pornography (I don’t think), rape, or murder. Art is another story but you can publically advocate for these things to happen to vulnerable groups in society. Government and military people can’t give out information. Businesses can’t give out insider trading information. You can’t defame or slander people. Researchers and scientists will be punished by their governing bodies by promoting quackery. You can’t publish a fiction book and call it non-fiction. Doctors can’t give out medical information. Banks can give out financial information. People who break into organizations and publicize their secrets can get sued. So there are so many instances when you can’t just say whatever you want.

    Maybe the people who use this argument are just trying to sound official or something. Maybe even they know that they are full of it. Its like a last resort used to confuse people.

    Posted by Bronze Trinity | August 21, 2007, 3:26 pm
  5. I had this discussion somewhere else recently where someone was complaining about getting deleted or banned from this or that blog. None of it really matters to me as I’m really too busy these days, but I compared it to Macy’s or some other anonymous retailer- If you go into WalMart and start telling the customers about the factory conditions in which the clothing is made WalMart have the right to throw you out. They own the store. Doesn’t matter if what you say it true. You can go and write about it, or perhaps speak about it at another venue but you don’t have the right to do it in their store. The same is true with blogs and other websites. For some reason people just don’t get this.

    Posted by cooper | August 21, 2007, 7:20 pm
  6. While obviously freedom of speech doesn’t apply to personal spaces (cyber or physical), you must admit it is in poor taste to delete someone’s comments just because you disagree with them. It seems to me that someone who really cared about their beliefs would let their critics voices be heard, and let their opinions stand the test of skepticism. Even if it is poorly proclaimed criticism, all it does is point out the idiocy of your opponent.

    Lesson: Stop bitching about people getting deleted and deal with your farking criticism, instead of deleting all dissenting voices.

    Not that it matters what I write, it’ll be deleted, but remember. Unless you mellow out and learn some moderation and common-farking-sense, you will have alot of enemies.

    Anonymous does not forgive, anonymous does not forget.

    Posted by Moar Cowbell | August 24, 2007, 12:21 pm
  7. you must admit it is in poor taste to delete someone’s comments just because you disagree with them

    Yes, I agree with this. You’ll get no argument from me. Your comment will stand.

    I generally don’t delete comments. There are a few rules here, however. 1)You must refrain from slinging racist or sexist slurs or act abusive. 2)You must write sentences that make sense. The only comments that I deleted were the ones calling me a nigger and the ones that were either incoherent rambling or, for example, like the person who left around 10 comments of nothing but “sage” written over and over again. Sorry, but a single word written over and over again does not constitute criticism. Why would I leave a comment up that is not contributing to anything at all? I don’t give a shit if you swear either, but if you can at least adhere to those two simple rules, you will not be deleted. And you will notice that once all the nonsense died down on the other thread, I opened up the comments to everyone again.

    So by all means, dissent away. You’re free to comment here as much as you like as long as you refrain from slurs and continue to write coherent sentences.

    Posted by Thin Black Duke | August 24, 2007, 2:24 pm
  8. Roy – Dude, you’ve read J.L. Austin!

    Posted by Thin Black Duke | August 24, 2007, 2:38 pm
  9. Heck yeah, I have!
    I read more Wittgenstein than Austin, but, yeah, I’ve read a little bit of his stuff. One of my majors was in Philosophy, and I spent a semester on philosophy of language. Very interesting stuff- not my major field of study, but I really wish more people took it. We read Austin and Wittgenstein and Quine and Derrida and… well, we read a bunch of people. Heh.

    Posted by Roy | August 24, 2007, 4:43 pm
  10. I’m in English Lit, not Philosophy, but Austin, Wittgenstein, et al. have played a major role in my academic work. I’ve got this trifecta of philosophy of language, linguistics, and rhetoric going on.

    Posted by Thin Black Duke | August 25, 2007, 2:15 am
  11. Oh, and one other thing, Moar Cowbell: you come to my blog, presumably as a representative of Anonymous, and complain about me deleting comments? While your buddies are trying to take my entire site down? Because I’m a “challenger”? Well, this is what I have to say about that:

    Stop bitching about people getting deleted and deal with your farking criticism, instead of deleting all dissenting voices.

    Posted by Thin Black Duke | August 25, 2007, 2:43 am
  12. Well said, TBD.

    Still sticking up for his racist buddies, while instructing you to “mellow out.” Lecturing about free speech in your house while threatening you with further attacks. It is the height of hypocrisy.

    Posted by Tom | August 25, 2007, 6:27 am
  13. I was once a comment, but now I am an example of a comment that will routinely find itself deleted, altered, and otherwise fucked with, because I am an asshole.

    Posted by I Love Black People | August 26, 2007, 12:47 pm
  14. [...] Slant Truth: Please Stop Playing The “Free Speech” Card! Because being criticized is not a violation of your free speech rights. [...]

    Posted by Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » The 16th Erase Racism Carnival! | August 27, 2007, 2:37 am
  15. Shorter Moar Cowbell: Whine whine whine whine whine whine whine I WANNA PONEEEEE!!1!

    IOW, What TBD said. You don’t get to shut down people’s sites, send rape and death threats and then whine about being censored. Fuck off.

    Posted by Sheelzebub | August 27, 2007, 6:10 pm
  16. Thank you so-oo-oo much! I have only deleted two comments on my blog. Of these, I took the text from one of them and posted with sans links to the blogger who was writing it. Doing so probably saved the person from getting hate-mail after reading the stuff they wrote on my blog.

    However, I think that it’s definitely okay to refuse to post ANY comment you don’t want on your blog. I have no desire to give advertising space to racists, ableists, sexists, and any other random loser who wants to come through and say “Come on over and see free nude pics of almost underage girls with amputations!”

    Duke, if I had even a modicum of artistic ability, I’d be tempted to create a “sticker” for this.

    Posted by bint alshamsa | August 27, 2007, 10:38 pm
  17. I delete comments at my own damn discretion. Same as I throw obnoxious party guests out of my house at my own damn discretion. Fortunately I don’t have to do either very often (the latter, I don’t think ever). I am not interested in lectures on “poor taste” from someone who does the equivalent of showing up to an open house party piss-drunk, vomiting on the other guests’ shoes and swinging from the chandeliers. go express yourself somewhere the hell else.

    Posted by belledame222 | August 28, 2007, 2:37 pm
  18. Thanks so much for posting this. I think a lot of people need to hear this. I also wish people understood that rights go hand in hand with responsibility, but the people shouting most loudly about rights no one is infringing upon are usually the least responsible. Hate speech is as far from responsible as you can get, verbally.

    Posted by dew | August 28, 2007, 3:17 pm
  19. I’m in English Lit, not Philosophy, but Austin, Wittgenstein, et al. have played a major role in my academic work. I’ve got this trifecta of philosophy of language, linguistics, and rhetoric going on.

    That sounds pretty awesome. I double majored in English Lit and Philosophy with a focus on moral theory. Ah, those were some good times. =D

    Posted by Roy | August 30, 2007, 12:39 pm
  20. a focus on moral theory. Ah, those were some good times

    Because Roy is no longer moral. jk

    Posted by donna darko | August 30, 2007, 1:13 pm
  21. HA!

    It’s so true. The question now is whether I’m immoral or amoral.

    Posted by Roy | September 6, 2007, 10:01 am