Yes, Free Speech Means Offensive Speech Too

Some people seem to believe that if someone finds the expression of another offensive, that expression should not and cannot be considered free speech. Which is an emotional argument, not a rational one. By which I mean, it is an intellectually shallow, illogical and immature argument. It is an argument that cannot be defended by reason. If you doubt me on this, try to find such an argument that is supported by reason and not by emotional language. I am quite certain you cannot.

The basic argument goes something like this: X expression is harmful because it and/or what it represents offends me, therefore since it is harmful it should not be allowed. What this argument misses is that whether it offends you or not is irrelevant, and being offended is not a proof of causing harm. If you are offended, you are offendable. That is your problem and no one else’s. So leave the kindergarten playground, put your big boy pants on and stop being such an immature child.

Why should offensive speech be included in free speech? Because that is what free speech is for. Inoffensive speech does not need protection. Offensive speech does. And if you try to stop offensive speech, when someone else decides your speech is offensive, you will have no defense.

As Neil Gaiman put it:

Still, you seem to want lolicon banned, and people prosecuted for owning it, and I don’t. You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

I do not have to like or endorse offensive language to defend the right of people to use it. I do not have to like pornographic Muhammad cartoons or lolicon or Piss Christ or Nazi rhetoric or Justin Bieber songs to believe they have a right to exist.

There are places in the world where Christianity is outlawed. Expressing Christian ideas, or even just being in possession of a Bible can get one thrown in prison.

Once upon a time in the U.S., a person with dark colored skin sitting at the front of a bus or at a “whites only” lunch counter was considered offensive.

Laws that are intended to punish child pornography are being used to punish teenagers for sending other teenagers photos of their own genitalia. Which means those teenagers end up on sex offender registries for the rest of their lives.

These are examples of reasons why offensive speech must be covered by free speech protections.

Oh, but surely, Xajow, you are not defending bad things like child pornography. No, I am not defending bad things like child pornography. What I am doing is saying that the answer to offensive speech is not censorship but more speech.

Few things are more cowardly than insisting that offensive speech should be silenced. Censorship is the way of totalitarians and dictators and tyrants and fascists and Nazis and Soviets and authoritarians of all creeds, colors and “good intentions” for the “good of the people.”

But they attacked something sacred to me! So? Censorship attacks something that should be sacrosanct for all of us: freedom of speech.

Well, Xajow, I believe in freedom of speech but… No, when you start carving out exceptions for speech that offends someone you have stopped believing in freedom of speech.

And when you start blaming the creators of offensive speech for getting murdered over that speech, you are guilty of the same fallacy as the person who says the girl who gets raped has only herself to blame. If you blame the artists at Charlie Hebdo for angering the terrorists, you are just as wrong as the person who proclaimed that black people would not be lynched if they just remembered their place.

Freedom of speech is never about the speech that does not offend. Bland, milquetoast language does not need protection. The language that appeases the powerful does not need protection. It is the language of the offensive that needs protecting, must be protected. The language of those who question the status quo, who think revolutionary thoughts, who dare to resist tyranny, who offend the staid and stiff-necked, this is the speech that must be protected. And if I do not fight for the language I find offensive to be protected, then when the thought police come for me, I am left with no defense.

So, yes, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are free speech. If you are offended by them, too bad, so sad, go back to eating your pablum.

Offensive things are going to be said in life. If your mind is so fragile and weak it cannot handle being offended, then it is long past time for you to grow up. Because yes, you are childish if some lines printed on paper offended you so much that you want the creators silenced. If you cannot craft a reasoned reply to offensive expressions, that is your own fault and no one else’s.

And no, I will not apologize for defending freedom for those who say things that are offensive. People who have temper-tantrums like toddlers when they are offended are offensive to me. People who insist that offensive language does not deserve the protection of free speech are offending me by their speech. So if you are just such a person, ask yourself if I should be allowed to make sure you are silenced. If your answer is no, then you should consider the meaning of the word hypocrite.

Free speech is great. That here in the U.S. we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights deliberate protection for free speech is a marvelous, wonderful thing. Liberty is good. And I, for one, will not apologize for supporting it and defending it.

Charlie Hebdo - Love is stronger than hate - small

“Love is stronger than hate”

2 Responses to “Yes, Free Speech Means Offensive Speech Too”

  1. tiziana demaria Says:

    I have just read ur post… i dont agree with some parts…i agree with freedom of speach, but im afraraid there has been way too much mind conditioning…so whats the point? Most people dont event have ideas or thoughts, they just suck them from tv or from a web site, maybe even urs if they end up there cadually

    • Perhaps people will finally get it after reading this post. Free speech protects free thought. Hatred and hate crimes are not acceptable in a just society. Murder is unacceptable as a response. I don’t condone terrorism and never will. It abuses any positive argument.

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