Supporting Free Speech, an Afterword

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.

You are what you do, not what you think.

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.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    Richard, I think this is a very important topic and in fact just wrote a blog post on freedom of religion and irreligion last night. My concern is that many Atheists I encounter seem no more committed to free speach than the people they complain about. Support of free speach means supporting the right of people you disagree with to have a say in the public arena. For me, as an evangelical Christian, that means supporting the right of Atheists and Wiccans and others to have a voice, no matter how much I may disagree with what they have to say, for me that means actively defending that right against those that would deny it. Conversely, for Atheists, genuine support for free speach would involve speaking up in defence of the free speach of theists when their compatriots try to tear that down. That is something i see all too rarely. I am thus unconvinced that too many Atheists genuinely believe in free speach. What I see, rather, is just bitterness that Christians and others can say what they like in public. I see some exceptions of course, and its those people who I genuinely want to make common cause with. I believe in liberty and that means atheists and theists mutually supporting each others free speach. By way of demonstration I have publically supported the right of Atheists to run the bus campaign. I wonder how many Atheists would reciprocate in kind. It’s that sort of action that I would take as genuine commitment to free speach.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Really, Richard, that’s just ridiculous and, frankly, impractical. I hear people say things I disagree with on TV, in ads, on billboards, and so forth every single day.

    I do not feel the need to stand up and say “I support your right to say things I disagree with” every time that happens. And that in no way means I do not “support” freedom of speech. By being quiet and letting them say whatever they want to say, I am most definitely supporting free speech by my actions.

    I think you need a reality check.

  • Richard Wade

    Thank you Matt for your support. I too am dismayed by anyone who wants freedom for their opinion but who does not have the courage of their convictions to even lift a finger to protect that same freedom for those who differ. I very much appreciate your efforts to support free expression regardless of the view, and I personally know how that can put you into conflict even with your friends.

    You and I are on opposite sides of the world and opposite sides of the issues surrounding deities, yet we are comrades of the same struggle. I look forward to reading your blog post and I offer any help that I can give to support your efforts to uphold this principle. Persevere.

  • Richard Wade

    writerdd,

    Really, Richard, that’s just ridiculous and, frankly, impractical. I hear people say things I disagree with on TV, in ads, on billboards, and so forth every single day.

    I do not feel the need to stand up and say “I support your right to say things I disagree with” every time that happens. And that in no way means I do not “support” freedom of speech. By being quiet and letting them say whatever they want to say, I am most definitely supporting free speech by my actions.

    Once again you are reading much more into my words than just the words. I am not asking you to be an activist 24-7 about free speech that is not being threatened, nor am I even asking you to be an activist every single time someone’s freedom of speech is actually suppressed. I’m asking you to see the difference between silently believing in freedom of speech and taking actual action to support it even if it’s just once in a while when someone in your neck of the woods is being muzzled, and to do it regardless of what they’re trying to say.

    Listen to how hard you are arguing for your right to do nothing. Don’t worry! I’m not trying to take that away and no one else will ever try to take that right away. Many people are trying to take away your freedom of speech, of thought, of religion, from religion, of association, of assembly, of control over your body and of movement and travel, but NONE of them will mind at all if you freely choose to do nothing about those attempts.

    I’m only asking you to consider once in a blue moon bumping up your level of caring about freedom of speech from belief into support when it is needed by someone whom you can help, regardless of what they want to say.

    I don’t think I’m asking for a ridiculously difficult thing. Why is this so hard for people to even consider?

  • Miko

    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.

    In Jefferson’s day, the word “vigilance” had a slightly more precise definition that just “watchfulness,” i.e., “watchfulness to avoid or prevent danger.” It was used strictly in the sense that a nightwatchman is vigilant: watching what’s happening specifically to prevent undesirable results.

    Incidentally, you’ve picked one of Jefferson’s tamer quotations. More representative of his views are:

    Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.

    –Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819

    A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self- preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation [note the word "citizen" above: this doesn't let Congress pass unconstitutional laws like the USA PATRIOT Act -Miko]. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property, and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.

    –Thomas Jefferson to John Colvin, 1810

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. … God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion; what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.

    — Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787

    While I don’t particularly favor a rebellion right now, keeping the rulers on their toes is still a fantastic idea. For example, I’d say we should all call for the execution of several members of the Bush administration. In addition to being the proscribed punishment for treason, it’d have the added benefit of keeping the Obama administration on its toes, especially in the wake of some of Rahn Emmanuel’s Bush-esque talk about not letting “a serious crisis to go to waste” and plans to enslave 18-25 year-olds.

  • llewellly

    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.

    “I didn’t say it was a spade! I said it was a shovel!”

  • Miko

    I don’t think I’m asking for a ridiculously difficult thing. Why is this so hard for people to even consider?

    Oh, it’s definitely a ridiculously difficult thing. I know too many people who’ve ended up on the “No-fly” list as a result of nonviolent activism. (I’ve managed to stay off it myself so far, but I’ve had my baggage “randomly” searched on every flight I’ve taken in the last three years or so.) But it’s necessarily difficult: if it were easy, assaults on liberty wouldn’t occur in the first place.

  • Richard Wade

    Miko, thank you for those wonderful quotes.

    llewellly, I know the difference between those two stances may be subtle at first glance. I think if you consider that civil liberties don’t stay strong by themselves but need constant maintenance and that they erode and disappear when neglected by those who would do nothing, then you will see that those who would do nothing are definitely part of the problem. It really is not possible to live in the world and not have any effect on it, to be truly neutral. If you’re not contributing something to make things better, then just your being here, by your stable inertia you are making things a bit worse.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    I don’t think I’m asking for a ridiculously difficult thing. Why is this so hard for people to even consider?

    I think you are asking for the wrong thing — unless I misread your first post. It is almost stupid to stand up and say “yes, you can say that but I disagree with you” when someone says something you disagree with, even if you disagree passionately. In that case, I think doing nothing is the most appropriate action.

    When I think it is appropriate to do something more, and when I have done something more, is when it seems to me that the government is doing something to curtail free speech. In the US, that is blatantly unconstitutional. And even more importantly in other countries where that right may not (yet) be recognized by the governments, it is absolutely critical to fight to obtain that right.

    So maybe that’s what you meant. But what I read is that if Fred Phelps makes and ass of himself, you want me to get out there and say “Go Fred! Exercise your freedom of speech!” and, well. Hell, no. I won’t even bother to do anything if a different group of fools tries to silence him.

    But if the government tries to make him shut up, I sure as hell will make myself heard on the issue.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Miko, so far I’ve managed to stay off the “bad” lists (as far as I know) but I can’t say that I haven’t worried about it. But that just proves why this topic is so important. During the reign of the Bush Administration was the first time in my life that I felt that living in the US I was not able to say whatever I really thought in public and on the internet without worrying, and that is just not right.

    So, I’m definitely not a “do nothing” person, but as I posted above, I think Richard either framed the issue incorrectly or I misread his original post. It’s government curtailing of free speech that requires action. Not the act of free speech itself. Silence endorses the act of free speech, as opposed to complaining about something you disagree. But when the government takes action against speech, then serious action on the part of the individuals and organizations is absolutely necessary.

  • Miko

    When I think it is appropriate to do something more, and when I have done something more, is when it seems to me that the government is doing something to curtail free speech.

    That’s how I interpreted what Richard said: “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.” It boils down to the “First the came for the ___, and I did nothing because I wasn’t ___” problem.

  • Richard Wade

    writerdd,

    But if the government tries to make him shut up, I sure as hell will make myself heard on the issue.

    That’s all I have been talking about, and all I have been asking of you, so we seem to be on the same page. Whew. :) I don’t know how you got the impression that I was advocating active support of anyone who is not being unconstitutionally censored. We don’t have to celebrate Phelp’s spewing his bile, but we do have to keep the government from suspending free speech just to shut that sick bastard up, because if we let them do that, sooner or later they’ll get around to shutting us up too. Having to put up with the Fred Phelpes in this country is the price we have to pay for being able to hear the Martin Luther King Juniors of this country.

  • SarahH

    I don’t think the communication problem here is that readers aren’t picking up on a subtle distinction – I think most of the indignation over the first post was over your assessment of the distinction – i.e. we are somehow obliged to or should “support” free speech rather than simply “believe” in it. Not everyone can support every important cause (and there are plenty of Big Causes besides free speech), and donating money or time or energy to every cause one believes in is impractical if not impossible.

    So what’s your aim in pointing out this distinction? Are you trying to convince more people to actively support the right to free speech? If so, then maybe you can post a list of suggestions for concrete actions besides protesting and writing letters, and argue for why this particular battle is especially worth time and energy.

  • Miko

    During the reign of the Bush Administration was the first time in my life that I felt that living in the US I was not able to say whatever I really thought in public and on the internet without worrying, and that is just not right.

    That’s both true and utterly depressing. But at the same time, the fact that this is the fight we’re fighting already puts us light-years ahead of 99% of the people in history and 90% of the people on the Earth today.

    Silence endorses the act of free speech, as opposed to complaining about something you disagree. But when the government takes action against speech, then serious action on the part of the individuals and organizations is absolutely necessary.

    I’ll agree completely. Of course, it’s also appropriate to voice opposition about anything you both disagree with and care about. As Justice Brandeis said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

  • Miko

    argue for why this particular battle is especially worth time and energy.

    If I had a choice between giving up free speech and giving up (say) democracy, I wouldn’t hesitate to abandon the latter. It is impossible to be simultaneously ignorant and free. Unfortunately, the majority of people will voluntarily choose to be ignorant, which is a large part of why our country is the way it is today. Imagine what happens when the government removes the choice.

    For a more detailed response, read the novel Brave New World (by Huxley), about an eternally peaceful and happy utopian society of plenty built primarily upon the complete state control of all media in order to constantly remind everyone that they are in fact happy. Freedom of speech is fundamentally the freedom to challenge any assumption.

  • Richard Wade

    SarahH,

    I think most of the indignation over the first post was over your assessment of the distinction – i.e. we are somehow obliged to or should “support” free speech rather than simply “believe” in it.

    Yes that is exactly what I am saying. We should, we must do more than silently and impotently “believe” in it. I make no apologies, that’s what I’m asserting. We are obliged. It is our duty. We must not kid ourselves into thinking that a thought in our heads is enough to keep this precious freedom in our hands. We have to work for it.

    SarahH, you are exercising your freedom of speech right now. By doing that you have, as far as I am concerned, accrued a debt, an obligation to protect that freedom for yourself and everyone else. Morally, you shouldn’t get to enjoy it unless you contribute to its preservation, when vast numbers of people have died to give it to us and continue to die to keep it for us. Please don’t whine about not having money or time. At the very least you can speak up and object when free speech is being trampled. Screw the “no fly” lists or any other coercive measures encouraging us to shut up. We have crap like that because of our past negligence in guarding our civil liberties. If I have to explain to you “why this particular battle is worth time and energy,” even as we both are using the freedom at this very moment, then I am afraid that you will never understand.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Richard, sorry I misunderstood your meaning then. We agree.

  • Emily

    This has nothing to do with this post but I was wondering if anyone had seen this

  • Autumnal Harvest

    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.

    Richard, despite your claim to llewelly that there’s a “subtle” difference between these two statements, they are in fact clearly the same. Not helping us in the struggle against Islamic terrorism? Then by not helping us, “by your stable inertia” (whatever that means) you’re helping Islamic terrorists. Not helping us in the struggle against censorship? Then by not helping us, “by your stable inertia” you’re helping censorship.

    To claim that by not actively working to fix a problem, you’re therby contributing to the problem, is a blatant, propagandistic, massacre of the English language. It’s ridiculous to claim that by not actively participating in a fight, you’re therby supporting one side. Why can’t censorship advocates equally well complain that by not participating, “by [my] stable inertia,” I’m supporting free speech? Such a claim would be equally (in)valid.

    People have to prioritize what they fight for. If I think my time is currently best spent trying to get the U.S. to stop torturing people, and I focus all my energies on that, it makes no sense to say that I’m somehow supporting censorship. Nor am I going to interrogate you to see if you’ve carried out sufficient actions in all the field I think are important—torture, warrantless wiretapping, refugee assistance, microlending support—and if I find your actions insufficient, accuse you of “being part of the problem,” and of not “doing your duty” to prevent torture and poverty. That would be silly, since I recognize that there are different things that you think are more important, and I respect your different priorities. You, on the other hand, seem to think that everyone should have your priorities, and if they don’t, are just “whin[ing] about not having money or time,” avoiding their moral duties, and helping the enemy. That’s good single-issue propaganda, but it’s nonsense.

  • SarahH

    I’m starting to understand the reasoning here – in order to protest or complain or criticize or fight battles that involve other issues, like terrorism or world hunger or torture or what-have-you, we need to maintain our right to free speech. Therefore, if we care about anything, think ANYTHING is worth fighting for, we must fight to protect free speech.

    I agree that it’s easy to take free speech for granted, and I do think it’s worth fighting for. That said, I think it’s grossly exaggerating to call my previous comment “whining” when I referred to not necessarily having the time or money to contribute to fighting for it.

    Is it worth anything if no one uses it? If I spend my time and money ensuring a better quality of life for people in my community or to help the campaign of a candidate I believe will fight injustice and treat people honestly, I’m using my right to free speech. If I’m protesting at a pro-choice rally, I’m using my right to free speech. I think by simply using it, we help defend it and bolster it.

    The people who funded the “Imagine no Religion” billboard were exercising their right to free speech. They are facing opposition, which should definitely be challenged by the people in the community (who presumably vote for the city officials who may have nixed the billboard or who could boycott the advertising company) and the people responsible for the billboard. Before the billboard was taken down, were its creators/funders fighting for their right to free speech or were they part of the problem?

    If someone tries to interfere with free speech in my community (or, a few years ago, when it did happen on my college campus) I will most certainly fight for it. Fighting for free speech everywhere, or even just on a national level, however, isn’t a huge priority for me, because I’m busy being a regular person with a job, a family, debt and yes, free speech that I exercise.

    It seems to me like you’re trying to draw a line in the sand, and I don’t see the point. I think that belief does manifest itself in real, useful ways, and that people who prioritize free speech will vote for candidates who vow to protect it, at the very least, and might participate in activities that indirectly support free speech. To accuse them of contributing to the “problem” (of the endangerment of free speech) is unfair. Perhaps your style is meant to rile people up, getting them more engrossed in this topic so that it draws more awareness to it, but I think you’re being unfairly harsh.

    But please, go on, because you absolutely have the right to do so. :-D

  • Miko

    Autumnal: I think we can all agree that there are many important causes and that most of us don’t have the time to make everything a priority. Furthermore, given that, it’s better that we have different priorities so that it all gets covered. And given the current situation, I can definitely see why many people would prioritize 4th Amendment issues (although should point out that without a free press, chances are you wouldn’t know that most of the other issues even existed).

    But there’s a difference between actively seeking the issue and responding when you see it. Perhaps you don’t want to go out of your way to advance this particular issue, but when you come across it in your daily life, you most definitely have a responsibility to act. I may not go out of my way looking for fires, but if I happen to see one you can be certain that I’m going to do my utmost to put it out.

    Why can’t censorship advocates equally well complain that by not participating, “by [my] stable inertia,” I’m supporting free speech? Such a claim would be equally (in)valid.

    Both are valid: if you see free speech and make no attempt to have it censored, you’re supporting free speech; if you see censorship and make no attempt to oppose it, you’re supporting censorship. Inaction is always support for the status quo.

  • Miko

    SarahH: Love your first paragraph, but it goes even deeper than that. The United States holds the unique place among nations of being founded on ideas. We are who we are today, know what we know, have what we have, value what we value, solely because those before us have had the right to say it and those in intervening generations have had the foresight to preserve it. By abridging free speech, we’re not only hurting ourselves; we’re robbing the future of its just inheritance, whether we’re talking about a philosophical treatise, a blog comment, a billboard, or the source code of a computer program to unscramble DVD encryption. Free speech means we throw it all out into the marketplace of ideas and let each individual decide which ideas are worth hearing and/or preserving.

    That said, it really is a line in the sand kind of issue, as all liberties are. Historically, once we lose a liberty, we almost never recover it. And if we don’t know what we’ll do to defend it, we won’t even realize when we lose it. It’s fine if you want to prioritize other issues and do other things with your time and money (after all, they are yours), but you should know where, for yourself, you draw that line. If that means sticking with the local fight, I’m sure we’ll all support you in that decision; if we had 300 million (or 6 billion) people fighting the local fights, there’d be no need for anything else.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    I, myself, dislike how when someone says something stupid rather than just saying, “Sorry, guys, I said something stupid” they feel the urge to write a long justification of why, really, they’re right and their detractors are wrong – even when they’re right.

    The original post was foolish. It was accusatory and not particularly well thought out. It was arrogant, too. Most of the people who were offended at it has a great deal of justification in being offended. They were told if they didn’t write to specific people in a specific way, or take specific action, they didn’t defend freedom of speech.

    Oh, now he’s saying that the choices weren’t exhaustive. Yes, we know that. But they certainly were given to be in the original post, and the overall tone was one where, unless a person objected in a way that the writer approved they were the enemy of free speech. Which just about everyone who read it knew was silly.

    So, next time you want to admit you did something dumb, don’t keep trying to shift the blame off to the people who noticed it was dumb, OK?

  • llewellly

    llewellly, I know the difference between those two stances may be subtle at first glance.

    ‘part of the problem’ and ‘against me’ are functionally identical.

    It really is not possible to live in the world and not have any effect on it, to be truly neutral.

    If you accept that it is not possible to be ‘truly neutral’, you must also accept that those who are not with you are against you.
    The ‘difference’ is not ‘subtle’. It’s bullshit.

  • Richard Wade

    SarahH,
    I apologize for characterizing your remarks as whining. That was unfair and unduly harsh. When I get passionate about something, I sometimes overstate things and become insensitive. I appreciate your willingness despite my unkindness to look further at what I have been clumsily trying to say.

    Autumnal Harvest, llewelly and Chris Bradley,
    Okay, if the stance of “You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem” is exactly the same as “You’re either with us or against us,” and if that second statement has been abused so badly by the Idiot in Chief for the last eight years that it will never, ever be seen as a valid stance again in any situation, then I give up trying to assert that stance. You say it is silly, propagandistic, stupid and bullshit. I will listen to your arguments and consider each one, but I won’t argue back any more on this. I have to concede that something about it is stupid. Whether it is intrinsically stupid, stupidly expressed by me or just stupid to try to convince people of it in this case, I don’t know yet. I will have to think about it carefully for a long time, but for whichever stupidity it is, I apologize. While I have usually been able to see the various sides of issues, I admit I am having difficulty letting go of the belief that once in a while things really are either-or. Free speech, as SarahH points out, is the foundation of all our other freedoms and all our abilities to make positive changes in the world around us. So I am passionate about this issue and I get frustrated when I see what I think are too many people taking it for granted and being either passive or not as active as I wish they would be, because I think it is under continuous attack and we are gradually losing ground. Miko put it so succinctly in his or her Nov. 23, 10:03 comment that I need not continue:

    Both are valid: if you see free speech and make no attempt to have it censored, you’re supporting free speech; if you see censorship and make no attempt to oppose it, you’re supporting censorship. Inaction is always support for the status quo.

    Thank you, Miko for your eloquent support of the basic issue. You do a better job than me.

    To everyone,
    In some of my recent posts I have suggested that we take a look at ourselves and our own behavior instead of continuously looking at others with approval or disapproval in our minds. Most of these posts have seriously backfired, causing much anger and indignation where I was hoping to encourage thoughtful introspection. I don’t know if it is the way that I present it, so some people think I am being judgmental or accusatory, or if it simply cannot be done in a public forum such as this, but it clearly doesn’t work and I am discouraged from trying again. I’ll have to practice my own thoughtful introspection privately and not ask others to accompany me. Whether you understood me, didn’t understand me, misunderstood me, agreed with me or disagreed with me, I thank all of you for at the very least reading my stuff.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    Richard,

    Well, actually, part of my problem with your post is that were specifically trying to defend the indefensible. Uh, it’s billboards, man. They’re private property. It is normal for those in the publishing business to be able to decide what they do or don’t publish. They have no obligation, either legally or traditionally, to treat all media submitted to them for publication legally. This is normal and in virtually any other kind of media you’d likely agree the obviousness with which media firms should not publish anything that crosses their desk. It’s just not an issue that’s worth getting up in arms about. It’s a privately owned billboard. Shocker, the publishers of that billboard (and I use the term publisher very intentionally) has broad discretion about what they all to be published on their billboard – just like book publishers or . . . Hemant. I haven’t seen him forward a lot of apologia from Christians. The bastard! He’s censoring Christians! Or . . . it’s his blog and it’s about atheism and he gets to decide who gets published here and who doesn’t.

    Furthermore, I think that you’re also ignoring the way that, overwhelmingly in the US, the trend is towards greater freedoms of expression. Just today I was listening to NWA’s Straight Out of Compton. One of the songs I listened to was “Fuck the Police.” Regardless of what you think about the song, can you *imagine* a black singer in the fifties or even the sixties being able to sing such a song? They’d literally be killed. For a large number of groups – overwhelmingly, even – the freedom of expression is manifestly increasing.

    And the Internet has massively increased Americans’ freedom of speech! I mean, I’m old enough to remember what the world was like before the Internet – there were no groups of transsexual Harry Potter slash writing fans or fursuit yiffing groups. The Internet has obviously and clearly massively expanded our freedom of expression in oh-so-many ways. Hell, even the rash of atheist literature should demonstrate how freedom of speech is improving.

    Which is not to say that, in other places, it isn’t under attack. I detest the idea of “free speech zones” at political rallies for the Bush administration – not only does it limit our freedom of speech but also our right to address our government for redress of grievances. It’s our clear and traditional right as Americans to wave signs in the President’s face. Sure. It is happening – but the trend is still, overwhelmingly, towards expansions of freedom of speech.

    You also . . . I mean, a lot of us were pretty annoyed when you said that blogging wasn’t “doing anything”. Like many people in the US, I do feel that one of the best ways to defend freedom of speech is to use it. (Personally, I am one of those people who have no faith in straight newspapers – they are filled, largely, with anti-communication – or the power of demonstration, so your specific ideas about what to do also rang hollow in my ears because I think they are “doing nothing”.)

    So, your little rants I found to be deeply, uh, like I said, badly thought out. You had, have, a position and you’re not going to let anything like discussion or facts get in your way. You’re going to fail to listen to the people who disagree with the arrogance and bad thinking of your approach. You’ll say this is an “us or them” distinction – and I’m thinking, “Even if it is such a case, and I agree there are such things, what Richard actually said was not very well considered, both ignoring the substantial body of facts that counterindicates the general reality of narrowing freedom of expression, as well as the specific causus belli being something that doesn’t demonstrate the point of a narrowing scope of freedom of expression, and specific suggestions that will not help the matter while attacking those of us who believe that a good way to defend freedom of speech is to use it – something he specifically attacks as ‘doing nothing’.”

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    In some of my recent posts I have suggested that we take a look at ourselves and our own behavior instead of continuously looking at others with approval or disapproval in our minds. Most of these posts have seriously backfired, causing much anger and indignation where I was hoping to encourage thoughtful introspection… and I am discouraged from trying again.

    The same thing happened to me on Skepchick. Maybe it’s inherent to the medium. I’m not sure. Or perhaps we should both keep posting and just don’t read the comments if they are too discouraging. (That’s what Mr. WriterDD keeps telling me.)

  • SarahH

    I think it’s just really easy to come across as self-righteous on the internet and some of your writing seems to come from a position of being on a high horse of some sort, or lecturing the masses on some perfection you’ve already attained. It’s a confrontational style that’s personal in some ways (asking the reader to think about which category they fall into) and very impersonal in others (where are your examples of dealing with the issue in your own life?) so it leads to people feeling offended and talked down to, despite your intentions.

    In your comments, you clearly express how much you value the communication of other commenters, and I think that if you wrote with a conscious effort to write to equals, colleagues, fellow Internet People, rather than down to them, it would go a long way.

    An addendum: I’ve found that telling others that there’s no need to get “defensive” is pretty much always interpreted as defensive in and of itself, and I can’t help reading it that way as well. It’s the kind of thing I think all the time when reading stuff online but never type, because I think it always sounds bad.

    Thanks for your responses, and I hope some of this feedback was helpful.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Richard, thanks, the post was stimulating, even if I disagreed with much of it.

    SarahH, I agree with everything you said, and as Voltaire never said, “While I agree with everything you said, I would be willing to suffer only a stubbed toe, or at absolute most, a small fine, to defend your right to say it.”

  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Hey, this post has been up for a couple of days and I didn’t even see it.

    Richard, I think we’re more or less in agreement and there’s a good chance that we always were. :) There were things you could have worded better, and I could probably still argue with the “part of the solution or part of the problem” thing, but it’d come down to a semantic argument and wouldn’t be all that productive.

    So, yeah.