Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In response to Support Censorship by MotJuste:
MotJuste writes:

I don't believe in free speech. Anyone you ask will say they do and mostly they're lying, because free speech means anything, means you can say absolutely anything with no legal consequences, including slander, libel, plaigarism, etc. And people will then go "Well obviously not slander" but then, that's censorship. There's that famous Voltaire quote "I might not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I disagree with that, but I admire him for it because he really understood the principle. Most people who advocate freedom of speech and no censorshipnhave no idea what they're talking about.

And then, oh, the artists. Censorship of art. I love artists and the arts and part of my censorship support is for them: I believe that people don't have the right to violate others' rights to life, liberty or property, and that it is possible to do so with words. Plaigarism is a violation of the victim's right to property. Lying about someone ina court of law can get them injustly imprisoned-- liberty. And if you have information about a te year old girl, where she lives, what her daily routine is, and you put that information up all over the web for any crazy to see along with easy step-by-step instructions on how to kidnap, rape and murder her, that's a violation of her right to life and it shouldn't be allowed.

These sound extreme and I know tha tthey're exceptions, not the rule. And usually I support freedom of speech, but any exception at all means I support censorship, so the standard goes like this:

"We have the right to freedom of speech, to be limited if and only if said speech constitutes a clear and present danger to the fundamnetal rights of others, is slander, plaigarism or libel, or would falsely incite a reasonable person to violence or panic."

It isn't perfectly worded, of course.

It's either that or I support total freedom of speech, in which the victim could retaliate by mailing detailed accounts of how to get into the perp's home to every psycho who might try it but honestly, I'd rather just have everyone protected.

And, there's a real life example.

There's a little college in Canada. Around the campus there were Missing Women posters. They detailed that these women were missing and had probably been abducted from the campus. Women were urged to watch out, be safe. This sort of thing isn't uncommon-- violent crimes against women are an unfortunate but very present reality in most modern womens' minds-- and a lot of people were very angry and afraid. A rally was organized, people met at a certain place and time to go looking for these women. But instead of going looking for them, the search party was lead to the concert of a new band. The posters had been a publicity stunt to raise buzz. The man who thought it up, named Edwin Booth, also directed the band's music video-- which pictured them abducting and beating their old ex-girlfriends and advocated those actions. Booth, when criticized, claimed that people were trying to censor him for his art. He claimed to be a supporter of total free speech. (Later he complained that people were slandering him.)

By my standards, Edwin Booth should go to jail.

By his standards, someone should be allowed to to find out all of his personal information. Where he lives, when he's home and when he isn't. What the easiest way is to break into his house. That person then finds out an easy way to kill Edwin Booth. Shooting him, say. This person then finds out places where you can buy guns, and how to get rid of one afterwards. How to cover forensic evidence and where to run to when you've finished. They then find someone-- say, a man, somewhat deranged, who's daughter was kidnapped and beaten, raped and killed, who is very angry and has nothing left to lose. They give this man this information. They sit down with him and convince him that Edwin Booth has to die. The man uses this information to kill Edwin Booth, get away with it, is never found. Or maybe he is found, or he dies in the process, or whatever. The person who provided him with the information is entirely public about doing so. Makes the public statement, "Edwin Booth deserved to die and I saw to it that he did. The only thing I didn't do was pull the trigger." That person can't be arrested.

Wherein lies justice?


Okay, here we go.

I believe in absolute freedom of speech.

I also agree that in the abuses MotJuste describes, people should be punished?

I can believe these two things because free speech does not mean you can say whatever you want. Other laws still apply.

It should be understood that free speech means freedom from government interference with speech. Obviously, owners of private property may make institute whatever rules they wish on their property.

Moreover, this does not empower people to say things that would otherwise be beyond their ability. Mutes and illiterates still have freedom of speech.

Finally, and crucially, freedom of speech does not affect laws with the accidental effect of supressing speech. A man who has been executed by the state for multiple murders can no longer speak. Yet this execution is not a violation of his right to freedom of speech. Why? Because speech was never the issue.

So when a constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, or freedom from governement laws infringing on freedom of speech, what it means is not that speech will not be impeded, but speech will never be punished as speech. You cannot simply ban a viewpoint. "Because I say so" ceases to be a justification. As a certain American lawyer argued against the Crown shortly before the revolution, truth is a defense against accusations of libel.

Freedom of speech does not conflict with laws against fraud -- you would be allowed to say those things, provided you were not being fraudulent about it too.

Freedom of speech does not conflict with laws against incitement to violence. The state is punishing the will to perform a violent act. In no way is this morally different from punishing physically attempted murder.

Violations of privacy are violations of property, or at least something strongly analogous to property.

The qualification "when no one's rights are violated" is a good sentiment, but at least in understanding the meaning of laws, the identity and extent of rights is bound to be highly controversial when you get down to more complicated specifics.

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