on free speech


Among the very interesting debates of our times is the one around free speech and whether there should be limitations on what we can say or write. There are countries with laws against blasphemy- laws I call a victimless law-, laws against libel and so on. You can be sued for causing a panic, like shouting fire in a movie theatre or bomb in a plane. Or some such thing. Or you can be de-platformed, fired or hounded out of public life for saying not nice things.

My question is are there topics that should be a no no or should we have unrestricted free speech? Is there any place where this is the case?

Should there be libel suits?

What should governments do about speech that hurt my feelings or our feelings as a group that was previously oppressed (you know with the victimhood Olympics that is on TV currently)?

Tell me what you think.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

53 thoughts on “on free speech

  1. ΠιCΘLΣ says:

    I love how you use the term “victimhood Olympics”. I will not comment further but I’ll be back with popcorn to read the comments. 🍿🥤

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    • makagutu says:

      You have been on the internet lately. There is this ‘oh he hurt our feelings with his speech’ or something that one can’t keep up with.

      Liked by 2 people

      • ΠιCΘLΣ says:

        The daily notifications are overwhelming too. I don’t have enough hours a day to catch up. Over a month ago, I almost slipped and fell outside of a coffee shop and one of those types was offended that I gasped. He was startled, the man said, by my surprised gasp. It must be because I’m tall.

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      • basenjibrian says:

        MY favorite was “they used the wrong pronoun in addressing me. I felt like I had been stabbed with a knife in the middle of my stomach.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, every time someone says something I disagree with I do this one simply thing: I cancel them!!! Cancel, cancel, cancel culture! How do I love thee? Like chocolate ice cream, I love thee! Like candy canes on Christmas, I love thee! Like the first amendment to the US Constitution, I love thee! Yep! I. Love. Thee! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      Cancel is so effing great, it has given some people an exaggerated idea of self importance. They have two tweeter followers and they threaten you with cancelling and blocking you from their accounts like that would stop you from your Nobel Prizes 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • basenjibrian says:

        As a favorite political blogger put it, however, the REAL cancel culture comes from the corporations and elites that own this world. The power of a 22 year old gender fluid blue haired person at Eastern Province State Teachers’ College is somewhat exaggerated. There has never in the West been anything like the House Unamerican Activities Committee (Marxist states have their own version of cancel culture, of course).

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  3. jeannejam40 says:

    The government should never ever control speech. We started controlling free speech with not yelling fire, then progressed to banning libel, then we gave others the right to decide what THEY considered hate speech. Can anyone see the trend to more and more governmental control, less and less freedom? Nothing in the constitution gives you the right to not be offended!

    Liked by 1 person

    • basenjibrian says:

      I am a little bothered by the whole concept of “hate crime”. Crimes of violence are by definition hateful. Why is it the State’s role to define one particular mental state as particularly bad.

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      • Barry says:

        Regulations against discrimination are also regulations against a state of mind – usually hate. In fact discrimination, beit against ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion or neurodiversity are hate crimes. While I don’t believe simply being offended should be grounds for being silenced, there is a point beyond which comment doesn’t just offend but gives rise to justifiably feeling harassed and even threatened.

        While we often think of harassment only in terms of sexual harassment, harassment happens to every other disadvantaged group – racial profiling by law enforcement officers for example.

        The question is where do we draw the line between what could be considered merely offensive and when it affects the well being of those being targeted. If you feel unsafe by the rhetoric directed at you to such an extent that you live in fear or find it necessary to change the way you live, then I think the line has been crossed.

        For example, in my post #MeToo – NZ style I report a story about a sex worker who felt harassed by her employer and was awarded a six figure payout to offset the hurt and humiliation. In the decision of a similar case, the court ruled that if employee felt language was unwelcome or offensive, then it was. It becomes harassment or threatening if such comments continue being repeated.

        I am autistic and in in my younger days I was frequently the target of bullying. While some of the bullying was in the form of physical violence, much of it was verbal. I can assure you that continual verbal bullying can affect you just as much as physical bullying. It plays on one’s self worth in ways that are difficult for those not affected to understand.

        One thing I notice about non-autistics is the way emotions of individuals in a group feed into the group as a whole, amplifying the emotion. That includes the emotion of hate. There were occasions where verbal bullying got “out of hand” and inevitably lead to physical violence. I learnt to recognise the pattern at a point well before any of the attackers had even thought about escalating their actions to violence. It wasn’t always possible to escape from the situation.

        So my question to you is where do you draw the line? When someone ridicules your “lack” of social skills? When someone states that you don’t belong in society and should be locked up? When they state someone should “take you out”? When they threaten to do it themselves? When the first shove occurs? When the first blow occurs? You tell me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • basenjibrian says:

          That is a very good question, Barry. Where does one draw the line? A quite thoughtful post…thank you. Even if I am not sure I agree, for example, that a homicide against a defined group should be somehow more seriously considered than any homicide. Even if a victim is not a member of what we call in the United States a “protected class”, a homicide or an assault is still an act of hatred.

          And what if protected class status concepts are universalized or adopted by…unsavory…groups? Can we be surprised that Nazi nuts are now adopting the language of victimization to defend their nefarious politics? Maka used the term Victimization Olympics, and I am afraid this is true.

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        • makagutu says:

          Barry, as usual, you make very good points but I would disagree to a point, even with the NZ case. That one feels harassed is not in doubt, but then, so what? Quit that job or develop some thick skin. I think we have to draw a distinction between words and actions. And in the market place of ideas, we should counter ideas with better ideas not punitive court awards. I know verbal abuse can be despiriting, but we need not the courts to be arbiters, we can counter these on our own.
          Non discrimination laws, I think, apply to actions that cause harm. I don’t think they are a free speech issue.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Barry says:

            Do you see any difference between harassment and bullying?

            So with employment one could perhaps change employer, but why should anyone be expected to put up with hurtful, insulting or degrading behaviour? And in the case of society as a whole demeaning a minority, how should that minority respond?

            I’m not convinced that there is an effective difference between words and actions. They are both means of expressing ideas. Freedom to express ideas does not entitle one to act without due regard to the harm it might cause others.

            For instance, in Aotearoa New Zealand there is a law that prohibits the desecration of the national flag of any country. Yet we see individuals burning national flags in public frequently without fear of prosecution. Why? Our bill of rights guarantees that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind.” So when a flag is burned or trampled on to express distaste at the actions or policies of a nation or their leader(s), that is understood to be the expression of an idea. However if one were to desecrate a flag for no other purpose but to insult or offend another nation, then you might expect to be prosecuted. It’s the intent behind the expression that is important.

            Let’s take another example where I might fall foul of a hate group. Insults are one thing, but if they state that I should expect to be confronted any time I turn a corner by someone who will “deal to me”, exactly how should I respond? Should I expect to know whether they intend to harm me or are simply expressing a wish that someone else should harm me? Developing a thick skin will not protect me if physical harm is intended,

            I know verbal abuse can be despiriting, but we need not the courts to be arbiters, we can counter these on our own.” Really? Clearly you haven’t been subjected to prolonged verbal attacks by a hundred or more individuals over a period of years. “Dispiriting” is not how I would describe it. So the fact that autistics die by suicide at 9 times the general population is due to being dispirited? I think not.

            And what if the intent is to cause “only” emotional harm, for example by gaslighting? This is something people of the autism spectrum must constantly endure. While on the most part, the perpetrators are unaware of what they are doing, should those who deliberately gaslight be allowed to get away with it? After all, they are simply expressing ideas.

            No amount of reasonableness on my part will reduce the harm of gaslighting, and from experience it can actually increase one’s exposure to risk from those who truly hate. I shouldn’t have to wait until physical harm is done before seeking redress.

            And of course we can return to whether or not shouting “Fire!” in a theatre should be allowed under the right to freedom of expression. As in all freedoms, they come with caveats. In the matter of freedom of speech, the harm that it can cause to others must be taken into account.

            No law will force a person to change their views, although the public forum might persuade a change of heart over time. However that requires dialogue, often the haters have a total disregard of and disinterest in dialogue. It takes two to tango.

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            • makagutu says:

              Harassment and bullying, same cloth; someone in authority or bigger in size using that to either humiliate or frustrate the weaker person. And where any of them is physical, there are laws to deal with that.

              but why should anyone be expected to put up with hurtful, insulting or degrading behaviour?

              one shouldn’t and that’s why quitting if it is an option should be considered. Where this is not possible, one should try and confront said person & try reason with them. It may or may not work.

              It’s the intent behind the expression that is important.

              How is this intent to be determined. If burning flags as protest is allowed. Burning flags for no reason at all should also be allowed. Some one will feel offended, but so what. It is just a flag anyway.
              The point is you can’t legislate intention to create harm. That is tantamount to legislating thought crimes. And no, Barry, as an individual i have not been subject of abuse by hundreds of people over the years. In that respect, I would honestly not relate.
              While it is true that disproportionate number of people get emotional distress from what others say, we shouldn’t stop such speech. People are going to get hurt but so what. We should mount counter responses. I mean it is words they have used, we can respond in better ways not by forcing them to keep quiet through the courts.
              On this *No law will force a person to change their views, although the public forum might persuade a change of heart over time* we are in total agreement. It is my view that only more speech can counter what we otherwise would find offensive.

              Liked by 1 person

              • basenjibrian says:

                I would also note that the definition of “harm” appears to have expanded over recent years. (See the “{wrong pronoun/stabbed in the stomach with a knife” comment above) Once we start outlawing, or cancelling people due to speech, it will be amazing how quickly offense expands. If a teacher uses an image of Mohammed in a classroom, should that teacher lose his or her job? And it can be turned against liberal values very easily: Heck, what if a Christian “Karen” is offended by a gay couple dining in a restaurant? They are SINNERS who offend me. I feel bullied by their presence. This is obviously a ridiculous argument, but when we devolve politics…and permitted speech…into “offense” and “bullying” we will be amazed at how quickly things devolve.

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      • makagutu says:

        i don’t know what adding hate to a crime does to the crime.

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    • makagutu says:

      It would be interesting to yell fire and see what happens without worrying about prosecutors. Jeanne we are in agreement on this

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      • Barry says:

        Perhaps only if the resulting stampede ends in serious injury or death?

        There are many ways we are protected from the possibility of harm due the careless, thoughtless or deliberate actions of others. Many things from overtaking on a blind corner to pointing a laser beam at a landing aircraft are prohibited, not because the act is harmful in every case, but because of the potential harm that might result. One can still overtake or use a laser pointer, but not under every circumstance. I see no difference when it comes to speech.

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  4. renudepride says:

    Another example is that of the duly and legally “un-elected” USA leader who created a deadly riot at the Capital Building here on January 6, 2021, just because he was finally voted “powerless!” Naked hugs! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. keithnoback says:

    Circumstances are everything. If you want to stand on a soapbox in the park and bang on about the merits of fascism, that’s just fine.

    If you want to stand on my front steps and bang on about the merits of fascism, that’s not so fine.

    Likewise, if you want to step down from the soapbox and scream in my face, or stay on the soapbox surrounded by your heavily armed compatriots while you make the same speech you would’ve made as an individual, maybe that’s not so good either.

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      Coming to shout on your doorsteps would be violation of trespass laws and should be dealt with as such or causing a public nuisance.

      Like

      • basenjibrian says:

        The police hate enforcing trespass laws. There is in my town one of our wandering lost souls who has set up camp in a local bank’s parking lot. Enforcement of trespassing laws does not appear to be a priority when dealing with the homeless. It probably shouldn’t be, of course.

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  6. keithnoback says:

    I am not a libertarian regarding speech, but my reasons are completely pragmatic.

    If you’re a Nazi on a soapbox in the park, you’re trying to persuade people to your viewpoint and nothing more.

    You are operating in the marketplace of ideas and should expect civilized treatment.

    If you are not see marching through Skokie Illinois, you doing something quite a bit more than trying to persuade people to your viewpoint.

    You’ve marched intentionally onto the battlefield of ideas, and you shouldn’t be surprised if your treatment is somewhat different.

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  7. Ron says:

    I tend to gravitate towards Stephen Fry’s response to the “I’m offended” whinge:

    It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that,” as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.

    “I’m offended by that.”

    Well, so fucking what?

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  8. […] I last wrote on this topic which was yesterday, I did ask if the state should limit what we can say or what […]

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  9. […] here, and here are some of the instances i have expressed myself on the question of free speech. I […]

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  10. ragnarsbhut says:

    Makagutu, I have heard people make the argument that spending money is equivalent to expressing free speech.

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    • makagutu says:

      That’s a first.

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      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Makagutu, maybe I misunderstand, however, your response seems to indicate some surprise or skepticism.

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        • makagutu says:

          Not skepticism. Just that it’s the first time I have heard it. I have however read that economic freedom is important for all other freedoms.

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          • ragnarsbhut says:

            Makagutu, here are 2 questions for you: 1: What are your political inclinations? 2: Do you think that spending money is equivalent to expressing speech?

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            • makagutu says:

              #1 is a little vague.
              #2 I don’t think so. It is an expression of something though. I don’t know what.

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              • ragnarsbhut says:

                Makagutu, do you have Left-leaning inclinations, Right-leaning inclinations, somewhere in the middle?

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                • makagutu says:

                  Interesting question. Generally left leaning but I don’t know if this distinction applies in my neck of woods where politics are not so clear cut.

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                  • ragnarsbhut says:

                    Makagutu, here is a video for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRnoSL3girI I am not 100% inclined to buy into the money equals speech argument. Having said that, in order for that argument to be valid, every form of financial transaction should be legal by that logic.

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                    • makagutu says:

                      I will watch the video later.
                      Financial transactions that are proscribed, say money laundering cannot be legal because that would make a joke of the law.
                      Though as I said, there is some expression through money. Say I boycott a product or on the converse buy a product as an endorsement. And for this to hold any water, this product must be such that its purchase is politically important.

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                    • ragnarsbhut says:

                      Makagutu, you make a good point.

                      Like

                    • makagutu says:

                      I have now watched the video. I think the youtuber missed the point. The judges didn’t say money equals speech but rather it is property, and a means of exchange. And further that we don’t allow bribery because public officials or anyone else for that matter shouldn’t make decisions based on the considerations they are about to receive.
                      On prostitution, I am for decriminalisation not because of free speech but because I think those involved are generally adults. The concern I think is how to ensure that it is safe for all those involved.

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                    • ragnarsbhut says:

                      Makagutu, if money were to equal speech, would it not be reasonable to believe that such an idea should apply across-the-board?

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                    • makagutu says:

                      Since laws determine informality or legality, it would result in conflict with existing laws.

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                    • ragnarsbhut says:

                      Good point.

                      Like

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