Whether or not Free Speech truly exists in our society is something of a philosophical question people have been mulling over for years. Theoretically, of course, it does. We don’t live in a vicious totalitarian society such as that depicted in George Orwell‘s 1984.
We’re lucky enough to live in a society where you won’t be dragged from your home, stood up against a wall and shot for articulating your opinions. But in practice, it’s a different matter. The existence of laws which criminalise certain types of speech and offer remedies to those harmed in some way by the things you say in itself does suggest that Freedom of Speech doesn’t truly exist because a policed Freedom of Speech is not a Freedom of Speech at all. So maybe the debate shouldn’t be whether we have a Freedom of Speech, but whether it’s right that we don’t actually seem to have one at all. As Uncle Ben didn’t quite say – with the power of speech comes great responsibility, and to shirk that responsibility before crying about the consequences is really rather pathetic.
You wouldn’t expect to encourage or incite someone to commit a crime and then hide from punishment behind the claim that it’s an infringement of your Freedom of Speech. It’s a perfectly valid restriction on speech.
You wouldn’t expect to damage someone’s reputation by making false and slanderous comments in public without recrimination just because you think recriminations would be an infringement of your Freedom of Speech. Recriminations arising from the act of saying something about someone that is not true is clearly a valid restriction on free speech.
And in much the same way, it doesn’t seem right that you can occupy a position of power or – while commanding a large audience from a privileged position in the media – spout factually incorrect or violently divisive things without being taken to task simply because it’s you think it’s a matter of Free Speech.
It’s like repeatedly kicking a hornets nest and then complaining when you get stung. You can’t start shrieking about your rights to kick hornets nests free from the risk of being stung. You have to accept that being stung is a risk you take if you’re gonna be a fucking idiot and kick a hornets nests.
If I want to say that I think Toby Young is a potato-faced twat I can. That’s what the Freedom of Speech allows me to do. But with that right comes an understanding that Toby Young may not like me calling him a potato-faced twat and that it is also his right to express that he takes issue with me calling him a potato-faced twat.
Although, I have to say that it seems to me only a potato-faced twat would set up an organisation called the Free Speech Union (https://freespeechunion.org/), charge people an annual membership fee to “protect FREE speech” and then advertise the membership benefits as being as follows:
Free speech is the bedrock on which all our other freedoms rest, yet it is currently in greater peril than at any time since the Second World War. The Free Speech Union is a non-partisan, mass-membership organisation that stands up for the speech rights of its members. If you think there’s a risk you’ll be penalised for exercising your legal right to free speech, whether it’s in the workplace or the public square, you need the protection of the Free Speech Union. How might we protect you?
- If you find yourself being targeted by a digital outrage mob on social media for having exercised your legal right to free speech, we will mobilise an army of supporters.
- If a petition is launched calling for you to be fired, when you’ve done nothing other than exercise your legal right to free speech, we’ll organise a counter-petition.
- If you’re no-platformed by a university—a feminist professor who challenges trans orthodoxy, for instance—we’ll encourage you to go to law and organise a crowdfunding campaign to pay your costs.
- If newspaper columnists and broadcasting pundits start attacking you for dissenting from orthodox views and opinions, we could get our allies in the media to come to your defence.
- If you’re punished by your employer because you’ve exercised your lawful right to free speech, we’ll do our best to provide you with legal assistance.
The claim that Free Speech is in great peril is just utter nonsense.
Take this ‘benefit’ for example:
* If you’re no platformed by a university… we’ll encourage you to go to law and organise a crowdfunding campaign to pay your costs.
What people like Toby Young seem to forget is that the right to express your opinions, no matter how vile, does not come with a right to have those opinions platformed. Just because you have the right to say what you think, it doesn’t mean you have the right to make people listen.
What they’re REALLY griping about, like Verruca Salt stomping around the Chocolate Factory in a frenzy of petulance, is that they want to be able to say what they please without recrimination.
Again… take this – so-called – benefit:
* If you find yourself being targeted by a digital outrage mob on social media for having exercised your legal right to free speech, we will mobilise an army of supporters.
I mean… what the hell is this? Because it reads to me like some kind of a Rent-A-Troll service, or at the very least a Rent-A-Pile-On mob. The right to express an opinion works both ways, and if you exercise your right to express an opinion that others find loathsome, you have to be prepared to put up with people telling you that your opinion is loathsome. It’s no good running off crying about it, setting up an organisation that – in exchange for cash – will provide an online lynch-mob for back-up. If you’re the victim of a Twitter pile-on, for example, because of something you’ve said, how is it any better than the pile-on you’re complaining about to mobilise a retaliation squad. You’re not taking any kind of moral high-ground here by providing a Rent-A-Troll service. All you’re doing is providing a fucking Rent-A-Troll service, which is probably even worse than the little twats who troll for free, because you’re making money from something you’re actually condemning.
This Free Speech Union really and truly is nothing to do with free speech at all. It is about trying to control a narrative that seeks to demonise liberal opposition to predominantly right-wing opinions. As society begins to see a rise in this kind of anti-progressive thinking, and as right-wing populism seems to grow, purveyors of this mindset need to find a way to protect it and its frequently discriminatory viewpoints from the kind of criticism that might curtail its longevity. They are eager to establish that discriminatory viewpoints have an equal right to be heard. And the way they do this is by setting up Tantrum Clubs like Toby Young’s new Free Speech Union. By crying victim when people react against the appalling potato-faced twats of this world, who – instead of seeing that their prejudicial thinking can itself create victims – want to play at being the victims for not being able to spout their potato-faced twattery.