on free speech


When I last wrote on this topic which was yesterday, I did ask if the state should limit what we can say or what should be the consequences of saying stupid things. People should say whatever they want to say and only good ideas should survive. The text about killing witches still exists but it has been overtaken by better speech. And I think only criticism will deal with ignorance.

This brings me to a very interesting case where this is tested. Jill has posted this and I will just quote her

“God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong. Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.”

William Kelly

William was until last week a cop. Do you think the police department should have fired him for holding and expressing such opinion? Does suppressing such thinking address racism in the police force or work place generally? How is this different from the Rushdie affair or from the Charlie Hebdo affair? What is society to do with ideas/ speech that is unpleasant?

About makagutu

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

54 thoughts on “on free speech

  1. Barry says:

    Should he have been fired? Most definitely, for the very reasons his bosses mentioned. Should there be laws for prohibiting such comments? No. I appreciate there’s a fine line between what might might be considered hate speech and what is offensive or reprehensible but it seems to me that his comment directed in support of a specific person fell far short of what might be hate speech. Having said that, I do not know what justification Rittenhouse has provided for shooting protesters.

    The thing is that Rittenhouse is just as entitled to a good defence as anyone else. Kelly should have the freedom to express his views, including support for Rittenhouse’s actions, which he did by contributing to the defence fund. If his donation was kept private, then I can see no reason why he should be fired.

    However, I think in light of the distrust of law enforcement in general within the US, keeping him on the force would only add to that distrust once Kelly’s support for Rittenhouse become public.

    Drawing a line between what is free speech, even if it’s offensive, disgusting or reprehensible, on the one hand and harmful speech on the other is never going to be easy. I don’t consider it a matter of what is said, so much as what harm it causes that matters. But this doesn’t only apply to freedom of speech but to all freedom of expression.

    How does one measure harm? In the case of physical harm, it’s is usually (but not always) apparent. Other forms of harm are not as easily identified, and where it can be, it will often (but not always) be subjective. I haven’t got an answer as to where any limit to the freedom of expression should set, but I have witnessed and experienced sufficient to understand that all forms of expression (even those containing no more than mere words) have limits if the wellbeing of indiviuals and communities are to be maintained.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      Hi Barry,
      I think your third paragraph speaks to what is at play here. There is a feeling that the justice system is biased against people of colour and so not punishing this cop would most likely look like the doj is complicit.

      How do I draw the line between hate speech and an insult? Or does it become hate speech when the insult is directed at a collective?

      Like

      • Barry says:

        Or does it become hate speech when the insult is directed at a collective?

        “Hate speech” is perhaps the wrong way of looking at it. After all, most of us have a hate of something and we feel justified in holding that opinion. It’s where the goal is to harm, the target, beit a collective or an individual, in some way. Psychological harm can be just as damaging as physical harm, which is why in this country online bullying can be an offence under some circumstances.

        I want to emphasise that speech is just one form of expression, and other forms can be just as powerful, whether for good or harm.

        I don’t see insults taken in isolation as being harmful except perhaps to one’s pride or ego, It’s where the intent is to disempower, subjugate, discriminate against, or to encourage harm towards another individual or group that I think a boundary needs to be drawn.

        Of course where that boundary lies is going to differ from society to society. In this country where the concepts of fairness and equity are important components of freedom, that boundary is going to be very different from that of the USA where freedom is measured in different terms.

        Like

        • makagutu says:

          Here in lies the problem, who is to arbitrate intent? Who should we bestow with the power to decide this was an insult and this is hate speech?

          Like

          • Barry says:

            Insult does not constitute hate speech. Harm is measurable and that can be determined by the courts. It is the harm that is being considered, not the expression that causes the harm.

            Like

  2. ladysighs says:

    There is always going to be two sides to everything.
    Make that 100 or more sides.
    Some sides get more exposure and can easily shut down the thoughts of others.
    Too much ranting and raving. No debating. No listening. No reading.
    I don’t know what I really think anymore.
    But if I did know, I certainly wouldn’t be telling my neighbors.
    ‘Cause I don’t want to have to listen to their stupidity. 😉

    “Houston, we have a problem.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. shelldigger says:

    Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

    We can say what we please (supposedly, it doesn’t always work like it should) without being beaten, jailed, poisoned, or murdered in cold blood. That’s free speech.

    When you suffer consequences, such as being fired, deplatformed, defunded, etc etc, for your free speech outing you as a supporter of atrocious murderous acts, well… that’s exactly how it should be.

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      Really, my friend ?
      Are you saying Khomeini was justified in making the fatwa against Rushdie or the shooter in the Charlie Hebdo case? Because that is what it amounts to.

      Like

      • shelldigger says:

        No, getting fired for being an asshole, as a result of your free speech, is much different than being murdered for your free speech.

        I fail to see how they are the same…? The level of consequence are at extreme ends of the scale.

        There is a business close to me, that still has an orange idiot sign in his yard and in front of his business. I will not ever do any business there again. He is excercising his free speech, and I am excercising my consequence.

        I am not killing his family and burning his house and business down.

        Liked by 1 person

        • makagutu says:

          The difference is just in degree not in kind. The goal is the same. Don’t say things that will hurt us. If you do we will kill you, take away your livelihood and whatever other punishments we like. Like cancel you.
          I have no problem where you don’t do business with a guy you don’t like. That is how society operates.

          Liked by 1 person

          • shelldigger says:

            Then, I think we are more in agreement than disagreement 🙂

            Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. It means we can speak out (supposedly) without fear of our governments jailing/killing/beating us to within an inch of our lives.

            It does not mean we can yell FIRE! in a crowded theater. There should be consequences for that.

            It also does not mean I could (nor would I even in a thought experiment) make disparaging remarks about Africans, specifically Nigerians, without perhaps irritating a guy I know there. I would fully expect that sort of speech to be met with disdain, as it should be.

            I also expect a police chief who makes public his support for a jackass that murdered two people, to be met with enough disdain that he gets canned.

            These are all within “how society operates” I would think.

            Like

            • makagutu says:

              You actually could make speech that some nairobian would meet with disdain & he might stop talking with you, but he will not ask that you be fired by your employer.

              A police officer who supports law breaking is likely in the wrong profession.

              Like

              • shelldigger says:

                I will work on not upsetting any Nairobians I may know.

                I see, reactions to actions thought deplorable by others, as a sliding scale. If I piss you off enough, you would stop talking to me. Fair enough. That is a natural reaction. For the record I have no intent to do so 🙂

                Now, take a policeman, who through his actions supporting a cold blooded murderer, managed to piss off enough people that they naturally won’t want to anything to do with him, but also it riled people up to the point, it put his job in jeopardy.

                These I see as more similar than not. Just another spot on a sliding society scale.

                I will not mourn this mans loss of his position with the police force. In fact I see another white supremacist, right wing nutjob, losing his position with the police force, as a good thing. All who share this mans feelings have no business being cops.

                We are better off with them digging ditches and pumping septic tanks.

                Like

                • basenjibrian says:

                  Shelldigger: I think you obliquely touch on an important point here: a police officer is PUBLIC SERVANT. Public servants, to an extent, lose certain “rights” because they need to be seen as dispassionate, fair, etc. How can this cop’s citizen-employers feel any confidence in his ability to provide fair policing services given his expressed opinions? This is not some private citizen mumbling to his cohorts down at the local bar.

                  This may all be theoretical/idealistic…but it is a good ideal to shoot for. There are plenty of other careers or jobs this man can do wherehis toxic masculinity an racism will not be as important.

                  Like

                • makagutu says:

                  I will work on not upsetting any Nairobians I may know.

                  this, my friend, is wisdom.
                  I think there is a broad agreement that an officer of the law should be seen to be impartial and it reeks of gross misconduct if such a person is seen to endorse murder. I don’t know whether this would be different if he were to express his support say in a private dinner party?

                  Like

              • shelldigger says:

                Well now, you don’t yet know what I might have said in this thought experiment. 😉

                You might want to take a plane and kick my ass! And get me fired 🙂 But at least I’d have met the Mak.

                Like

      • shelldigger says:

        Perhaps I misspoke with Nigeria 🙂 I was shooting for Nairobi! I swear Ive been so busy, and so tired, I tried to put tin foil in the fridge this morning… Permit me this error 🙂

        Like

  4. keithnoback says:

    I work in healthcare. Should I be fired if I advocate for bleeding as a therapy? Should I be fired for speculating that some group of people is less sensitive to pain based on their genetic heritage? Such beliefs are highly likely to affect my professional behavior.

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      As long as you are not trying bleeding on anyone, it is all fine. In fact, you can believe in The Church of Science and their opinions on healing but shall not risk the life of those under your care by trying prayer as a method of dealing with septic wounds.

      Like

      • keithnoback says:

        “I thought it was all just talk”. That’s the flip side.
        I just think it’s not a clear-cut issue, amenable to an in principle answer.

        Like

      • basenjibrian says:

        Yet…as your employer I would be very skeptical of your ability to do the job if you are a raving Christian Science practitioner.

        Like

        • makagutu says:

          This I agree. I doubt such a person would pass an interview but we have so many people who believe some donkey talked, express such beliefs and are educators. So it seems possible that what people believe may not affect their jobs, sometimes.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Anytime we use “free” in a phrase, we have to be clear what it’s freedom from. Speech free of government constraints? Sure (aside from advocating violence, yelling “Fire!” in a packed theater, etc).

    Freedom from the judgement of everyone else in society? Not necessarily. No one is obligated to listen to your speech, or continue doing business with you after you’ve uttered it.

    Of course, Kelly worked for the government. But where he probably screwed up was in donating money to Rittenhouse using his official government email address.

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      I am aware of the government not restricting our speech. And I am hoping my readers too, are aware of that.
      Of course, people will judge you. And if the society you live in find your speech reprehensible, you are likely to be shunned and marginalised.
      If the fault was in donating money using his official email, then wouldn’t the punishment be too harsh.

      Like

      • Well, often there is the real reason someone is fired, and then there is the official reason, such as misuse of government resources. We also don’t know about his track record as an employee, and whether this was a “last straw” situation.

        Like

      • Barry says:

        The use of an official email address implies its use is of an official nature – it represents the organisation that provides the address. Surely that organisation has the freedom to exercise whatever control they choose over email addresses under their control.

        Perhaps under different circumstances, an official and public reprimand might have been sufficient if this was an isolated case, however the US is little short of a powder keg with a very short fuse. The possible consequences of being unable to extinguish the fuse once lit needs to be taken into account in any disciplinary action.

        Like

        • makagutu says:

          There’s a point to be made regarding official email. It would be akin to sending support using the official letterhead of the organisation and there should be ways to deal with that.

          But we all agree the US is a fuse ready to blow any time.

          Like

        • basenjibrian says:

          Have to admit I am sloppy with using my work email address for non-work

          Like

          • Barry says:

            I run my own mail servers and host a number of addresses for personal and work use, but even so, I scrupulously separate personal mail from work related stuff. You never know if there might be an occasion where it might be an issue mixing work and private email.

            I have an acquaintance who couldn’t keep them separate and solved the problem by using two different apps – one for work and one for personal use.

            Like

            • makagutu says:

              This would be a learning curve for me, starting with how to set up a server then my own domains.

              Like

              • Barry says:

                I run my own Web hosting business so it’s a piece of cake for me, but there’s a multitude of hosting providers that can provide all the tools necessary to help you establish domain names, mail services and a website for a few dollars per month.

                I am a niche provider, not a mass provider and offer a complete hand holding service that no other NZ Internet host provides (and a price to match) , but there’s probably someone who provides a similar level of support closer to you.

                Like

  6. renudepride says:

    Law enforcers are entitled to their own personal opinions and feelings just as anyone else. However, they – and myself as an university educator – need to remember that caution and forethought are required of us when addressing publicly. Have a good weekend! Naked hugs! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nan says:

    I suppose I’m biased since I feel ANY support for Rittenhouse is WRONG! There are simply too many factors in this case to justify his actions.

    Having said that, I tend to think it was the correct move to fire this officer. He could have contributed without making his actions public, but instead he chose to broadcast his “generosity.” This, IMO, is where he made his mistake considering he is an Officer of the Law.

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      As an officer of the law, I think it is irresponsible to appear to support law breaking- in this case murder. That would be a good ground but not that he said things that are reprehensible.

      Liked by 2 people

      • basenjibrian says:

        Beyond that…I am skeptical an officer of the law should be expressing severe levels of bias towards any group he serves. That to me is a firing offense. How can that group be expected to be treated fairly? The police power…especially an armed police power…is an awesome thing that needs to be protected.

        Like

  8. jilldennison says:

    Thanks for sharing my post! A lot of interesting ideas going here … I like it!

    Like

  9. I think we need to reframe this for a more accurate analysis. Where does free speech intersect with an individual’s right to “be”. With the right to be a citizen, to lead life without gratuitous aggression?
    When false information is disseminated against Jews, or Tutsis in Rwanda, or Gays in Uganda – is that not the greatest form of an attack on free speech? The aim is to remove the right to exist, to speak, to everything.

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      Pink, I admit this is a critical challenge to free speech but we must resist the need to legislate holders of such reprehensible opinions. Only better argument will make it safer for Nigerians to express themselves on non belief or gays in Uganda to live freely.

      Liked by 1 person

      • keithnoback says:

        I think these comments get at the 2 critical issues.
        First, state restriction of speech is a bad thing because of its generality and persistence.
        2nd, there is a distinction to be made between cognitive speech which contains ideas and depends upon a logical structure, and noncognitive speech which expresses an attitude.
        Even if it is flawed, the first type of speech deserves protection, since it can lead to the sort of developmental change referenced by Mak.
        The 2nd type of speech, not so much. When people use noncognitive speech, it is simply as a means to an end, and doesn’t merit any respect.

        Liked by 2 people

        • makagutu says:

          You and i are in agreement. on this The 2nd type of speech, not so much. When people use noncognitive speech, it is simply as a means to an end, and doesn’t merit any respect my point is we should ignore such speech but not restrict it.

          Like

      • Why the need of an all or nothing approach?

        Like

      • basenjibrian says:

        If the arguer is an armed officer of the law, he by definition loses certain rights. That is my hard line position.

        Like

  10. […] Here, here, and here are some of the instances i have expressed myself on the question of free speech. I should make it clear in case I had not done so that in talking of freedom of speech, I mean the government shall not hinder the free expression of thought. I would extend this to include institutions of learning. I have read of several claims of students in universities in America demanding safe spaces and universities responding by prohibiting some forms of speech. I am of the opinion this shouldn’t be the case. What we end up with eventually is either the Rushdie affair of the Polish affair, both unfortunate. […]

    Like

We sure would love to hear your comments, compliments and thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s