In Defence of Free Speech

One of the most obvious things about me is that I really, really love free speech and expression - more than just "Oh, isn't it nice that we can say what we want?" but "I will defend the right to say what you want, when you want, where you want, even if I disagree with you". It is only fair that all have the right to expression, and I don't really think you can have the moral high ground if you allow some people to speak but not others. You can approve or disapprove of what people say, you can call them out on their stupidity, but that's different from claiming that they have a lesser right to speak.

It therefore disturbs me when people, especially people claiming to defend freedom and human rights (and this has happened before), don't seem to recognise the right to freedom of speech and to disagreement, instead using threats and trying to silence their opponents, perhaps with claims like "you support paedophiles" or "you enable fascist regimes", which at best leave many logical steps out and at worst are outright lies, thrown into the mix, and a good dose of terror as censorship. I've seen this done. It is far from pretty - it is chilling, in fact.

"But they do defend paedophiles and enable fascist regimes!" you might cry. "Therefore, it's good to silence them! Besides, if people do nothing wrong they shouldn't have to fear their freedom of speech being taken away!"

To tackle this one I'm going to enlist the help of some real-life examples. Let's take, for example, antivaxxers. I think I've mentioned my scepticism and hate of woo before, so this is familiar territory. Anyway, you want to stare into the face of evil? Antivaxxers get uncomfortably close out of sheer stupidity. As in, thanks to lowering vaccination rates and therefore lowering herd immunity, they have gotten people killed. The people preaching "don't vaccinate" have blood on their hands.

Does that mean that I'm going to try and silence them? Argue with them, yes. Abusively, possibly so, because I have a terrible temper - though I wouldn't condone abusive language. Threaten to stop them from ever expressing their viewpoint and either exaggerate things or outright lie about them - never. However hateful they may be, they've got just the same right to express themselves as I have. Sure they're wrong - the science bears that out. Sure they cause harm - the evidence bears that out also. And sure, I should be taking on their wrongness wherever and whenever I see it - but by arguing with them and spreading the truth, not by infringing on their right to speak freely. That way lies only oppression (since, you know, you're violating someone's inalienable rights) and suffering, something the defenders of the moral high ground (as much as I hate that phrase) should be avoiding.

This point might be worth reiterating, since people don't seem to be getting it. If you claim to defend freedom, there is no way in hell you should be trying to silence people since that infringes on freedom. If you're going to espouse principles it sometimes helps to live by them. Moreover, freedom of speech until you say something self-appointed guardians don't like, at which point they start threatening you, is not freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is saying whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, as long as you don't hurt anyone else (mere contrarianism or quackery does not come under that category). No-one should have to live in fear of "saying the wrong thing". The fact that they do now, and the fact that people who claim to be moral are the ones inspiring this fear, is just one more thing showing the sickness of humanity.