Nobody Wants Free Speech

The recent terrorist shootings in France have brought up the topic of free speech. Free speech is probably the most bizarre of all political issues. It’s sort of like lifetime monogamy in that everyone says they want it, but deep down no one really does.

Free speech means you can say literally whatever you want, over public mediums such as television, movies, newspapers, radio, and the internet, and the government can do literally nothing to stop you.

That still means the free market can punish you for what you say. Your employer (if you have one) can fire you. If you badmouth someone falsely you could get sued and lose a lot of money. You could lose corporate sponsorship or customers. Et cetera. But none of those entities are the government. Free speech means the government is completely powerless from stopping you from saying literally anything within public mediums.

Who really wants that?

Well, I do. A few libertarians do also. But that’s about it. That’s about 4% of the population or less within the United States. It’s less than 1% of the population in most other countries. Everyone else, that other 96-99%, doesn’t want it.

Nobody wants free speech.

Right-wing conservatives don’t want free speech. They want the government to wield massive power over public mediums to make sure no one says the F-word, talks about sex too explicitly, or badmouths certain religions or their own country.

Left-wing liberals/progressives don’t want free speech. They want the government to wield massive power over public mediums to make sure no one says the N-word or anything deemed insensitive to certain races or sexual preferences, what the progressives call “hate speech,” a term that can essentially mean “anything that makes me really mad when I hear it.”

Nobody wants free speech.

When I was a little kid, a common thing adults said to me over and over again, something I was supposed to repeat to other children, was “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But then I grew up, and around high school or so, the adults said, “All that sticks and stones stuff? We were just lying to you because you were a dumb little kid. Words can indeed hurt people horribly, so you need to really watch what you say. Certain words should be illegal. You can’t say whatever you want.”

Nobody wants free speech.

Actually, I think the sticks and stones thing was right. Spoken words are just sounds a person makes with his or her lips, tongue, and larynx. They’re harmless. Literally. And I sure as hell don’t want government force putting a gun to my head, telling me what sounds I’m allowed to make in the public square and what sounds I’m not allowed to make, OR ELSE!

There are a lot of people really defending free speech right now, and I wonder what these people’s reactions would be if some well-known public figure got on television at 5pm and made some psychotic, super racist speech that included both the N-word and the F-word multiple times. All those right-wingers and left-wingers who are now defending free speech would be screaming for government to shut that person down as fast as possible. If the government actually let that person go on without any censorship, many of these same people would be asking, “Why didn’t the FCC bleep his foul language or cut off his speech?!?”

Nobody wants free speech.

The response to this argument is usually something like this:

Well, of course I’m for free speech. But that doesn’t mean UNLIMITED free speech. There are limits to free speech. The government has a right to censor SOME things. I mean, c’mon, people shouldn’t be allowed to say just ANYTHING.

But then you aren’t for free speech, because that’s not what free speech means.

My son is black. If some racist white guy went on TV and started using the N-word in some aggressive way, I’d be really pissed off. I would fantasize about meeting that guy one-on-one in a dark alley somewhere. But I still wouldn’t want the government to censor him, bleep any of his words, or fine him. I wouldn’t want the government to hinder him in any way whatsoever (though companies could fire him and individuals could sue him).

The reason is because, unlike you, I’m for free speech. I think anyone should be able to say literally anything on TV, movies, the radio, the internet, whatever, and the government should have zero, and I mean zero power to censor it or fine people if/when they say certain things. Companies like television networks, radio stations, owners of blogs, and other non-governmental entities can and should be able to censor whatever they like within their own companies. That’s fine. People can and should sue for libel or slander if they suffer from being badmouthed falsely. That’s also fine. All that stuff is part of the free market. But the government should not be able to censor anything, ever, for any reason.

Why? Because government always does more than what you ask. If you give the power to government to do A, it will do A (albeit badly), then eventually do B and C, and you probably won’t like it when it does B and C. If I give government the power to censor that racist, I will at the same time, whether I realize it or not, be giving it the power to censor all kinds of other people and other ideas that I really don’t want censored. Maybe not immediately, but over time it’s 100% guaranteed to happen. That’s just how government works.

I would rather the government stay the hell out of the issue of what you and I are allowed to say.

Because I’m for free speech…something no one else wants.

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  • Korg
    Posted at 06:34 am, 17th January 2015

    I did notice that most people very into free speech in Europe are usually the anarchist types. (And a bit more left wing, to put in the left/right US frame of reference).

    And seems the terrorists have won again. More and more governments are taking steps to ban ‘terrorist’ speech. (Not that this prevents terrorist attacks).

    Not only is free speech once again assaulted by the people who say they want to defend it. But they also are attacking the ways you can speak freely amongst each other. By going after encryption, Tor etc. The ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ logic, which is flawed for various reasons (which I will not go into here).

    “Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.”

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 11:30 am, 17th January 2015

    And seems the terrorists have won again.

    They did. They won in the US a long time ago. Bin Laden succeeded in making a trip to a US airport like a trip to Nazi Germany.

    The ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ logic, which is flawed for various reasons (which I will not go into here).

    Correct. You have a right to free speech and privacy if you so choose; it doesn’t matter what reason you have as long as you’re not breaking the law by theft, trespassing, harassment, or other direct assault.

    In a few decades we won’t have privacy any more because of technology and changing cultural norms; but that’s not government force.

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