A few days ago i wrote a piece on ‘Freedom of Speech’ and the fact that i feel like i may be the only person in the world who doesn’t think it’s such a great idea.
To be honest, i was expecting a bit of a backlash, but no-one seemed particularly interested – in commenting either way.
Then i read a really great piece by Megan Butler on a friend’s blog, titled ‘We need to talk about Charlie’ in which she reminded us of the November achievement of landing a spacecraft on a comet hurtling through space, which didn’t seem to get quite as much attention as the scantily-clad gun-toting women who featured on the shirt of Dr Matt Taylor, who gave a press conference about the event.
Megan basically shouted out a call for consistency in the things we do and don’t allow, if we are calling for freedom. She ended off her piece with these words:
“I need to point out that I think both Taylor’s shirt and the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are awful. But freedom means that people are free to choose well as well as to choose badly. I’m Catholic and have very limited experience in the headscarf-wearing department. However, for me, supporting free speech and freedom of expression means supporting more than the right to publish drawings; it means supporting the right for people to wear what they choose even if it isn’t what I would choose.
So, while “Je suis Charlie” is the campaign gathering the media attention, we need to be able to say “Je suis Susan” or “Je suis Matt” with as much conviction.”
i still wasn’t completely sold on the idea of free speech, but the idea of being consistent if we’re calling for it resonated strongly. And then i read this comment by Shingai Tichatonga Ngara on a Facebook share of Megan’s post:
My only question/caveat is that freedom of speech does not imply freedom from consequence. The power of being able to speak freely comes hand in hand with the responsibility to deal with the outcomes of that free speech.
And i really liked that. The idea that freedom of speech allows you to say stupid, mean or even hurtful things. But that it doesn’t condone the saying of those things or mean that you will be free of consequence. So yes, you can post that racist statement on Twitter, but also you just lost your job because your company doesn’t have to hire a racist. Or something like that.
i don’t think this pulls me completely across to the ‘Fight for everyone to have Freedom of Speech’ crowd, but i do think that it paints a broader picture that is helpful.
What about you? Do you think everyone should be able to say whatever they want to say all the time? Or should there be some systems or controls?