by Richard Wade
I am gratified by the thoughtful comments to my post Do You Really Support Freedom of Speech? Some of the comments have been so thoughtful that they have attributed all sorts of extra thoughts and meanings to me that are simply not there, so I’ll attempt to clear up some people’s misconceptions and incorrect conclusions about what I meant:
My list of five ways to respond, A through E, was not intended to be exhaustive. Of course there are many other ways to respond. Those five ways are a distillation of the basic ways that I see how people tend to respond to the issue of suppressing freedom of speech that does not agree with their opinion. The post is a thought experiment, not an accusation or a judgment of your character. I only suggested that we look into ourselves. No need to get indignant or defensive.
I neither said nor implied that upholding free speech as a principle for all people means that we should not loudly disagree with those opinions that we find objectionable. Disagreeing is not the same as suppressing. Upholding the right is not the same as agreeing with what is said. Protest against the CONTENT of the offensive billboard all you want, just please don’t protest against someone’s right to USE the billboard.
I neither said nor implied that this issue about which I am passionate should be everyone else’s passion too. A few comments correctly pointed out that people have their own priorities. One person correctly observed that there are terribly important issues about which I am not passionately involved. That is all correct, but beside the point I was trying to make.
I acknowledge I made a mistake in using the words “belief” and “support” synonymously. They often are used that way, but in this case I should have used the word “support” consistently through the whole post and contrasted it with “believe.” “Believe” in the strictest sense is a thought, while “support,” in my opinion, has to be an action. This contrast leads to the point I was trying to make, and the one that pushed people’s buttons:
What I should have said and explained more clearly is that in the scenario I described, doing nothing is not supporting freedom of speech. You may “believe” in that principle, but believing is only something that happens in your head, not in your actions. You can think all sorts of thoughts but it is only your actions that make your life what it is. Thoughts have no mass. They will not tip the most sensitive scale. If you think one thought or its opposite, it has no meaningful existence if you do nothing about it. Speaking or writing your thought to communicate to others is the first level of action, of its being real. Getting personally involved in the events pertaining to your thought is another level, a more powerfully real action. We all do what we can about things that matter to us, but merely thinking a thought like “Freedom of speech is important” without an action coming from it is doing nothing.
One commenter said that I was taking the stance that “you’re either with me or against me.” No, my stance is that you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. That is because of the power of apathy. The vast majority of people are very apathetic. Public apathy is what allows freedoms to be lost and despots to rise to power. We are all apathetic about issues which do not directly affect us, so we do nothing other than perhaps think thoughts. In that way we are part of the problem. Doing nothing about an outrage does not mean you are “for” the outrage, as one person said I was implying. Of course not. BUT doing nothing other than thinking thoughts like “Gee, those people should have the right to speak their opinion” means you may believe in free speech but you’re not being SUPPORTIVE of free speech. If you speak up, or write, or donate, or march or demonstrate, then your support is real.
Actions speak louder than words, but mere thoughts don’t speak at all.
My main point is that if you “believe” in free speech only in your head but you do not support it with your hands and feet then please consider that that will not be sufficient if you want to continue to enjoy that freedom. There are many people who want to take that freedom away and they’re doing much more than just thinking thoughts. Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” But vigilance, being watchful, is not enough. Lots of people just watch as their freedoms are eroded. I would say the price of liberty is unceasing action.