On Freedom of Speech

January 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

This is going to be a very short blog post. I had to wait a while in order to be calm enough to make it short and concise, otherwise, if I’d written it last week it would have been a long, furious rant.

Here’s the thing, and the thing is simple:

If you attach a “but”, any “but” to your sentence supporting freedom of speech, then you don’t get either what freedom of speech is, nor what it is for. If you start talking about “showing respect”, or “being offended”, or demanding any kind of qualification to this freedom, then you simply don’t get it.

Oceans of blood were spilt for this prerogative to be enshrined in law and the reason for this is that freedom of speech is a tool and a weapon for the weak, not for the powerful. The powerful, the mainstream, the status quo, throughout the entirety of history have had the power to censor, to silence certain types of speech that they found inconvenient; more often than not speech that criticised the powerful, the mainstream, the status quo, or that offered alternative view points to the mainstream and the status quo.

By definition, criticism is bound to upset those it is directed against. And satire is one of the most powerful tools of criticism, because satire is a way of viewing things from a distance, a way of criticising in the most focused, sharp, concise manner, in a way that is immediately grasped and understood by all – unlike a long, involved essay with arguments and footnotes that few will read and even fewer truly care about.

Satire has immediate impact. And if it offends you, it is probably saying something true that you do not want to hear. As we all know, truth is very often highly unpleasant.

Being offended, I must point out, is not the same as simply being angered by something. I am angered by statements to the effect that freedom of speech should be qualified in some way in order to defend people’s sensibilities, but I am not offended by these statements. I only disagree with them, vehemently, because I find them dangerous.

So, satire might anger you, you might disagree with some satirical statement or other, and yet not be offended by it. Not that, if you are offended, or I am offended, or the entire group of people it is directed against are offended, should it matter one whit.

Freedom of speech without the freedom to offend is utterly meaningless.


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