Monday, 27 August 2007

Taking umbrage

This Barefoot Bum business has set me reflecting, yet again, on the rocky state of free speech and candid debate in our febrile so-called ‘open’ societies.


When I was growing up during WW2 and at university in the years immediately following, we were taught, and believed, that freedom of thought, expression, and debate was the bedrock of a healthy society. Indeed, it was this very principle, above all, that the War had been fought to defend. Apart from the necessary limits of direct incitement to violence [which included ‘hate speech’] and libel, we believed that the more robustly opinions, however extreme, were expressed the better it would be – because poisonous views are less harmful when out in the open and liable to vigorous contradiction than when they fester secretly underground.


During the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s I was actively engaged in campaigning to protect and preserve free speech, serving on the executive committees of both the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society, which had been set up to defend reputable publishers accused of ‘obscenity’ for publishing avant-garde works by modern authors. As the Society’s chairman once said:


“I believe that freedom of expression is in many ways the quintessential freedom and in fact the key to all human rights, because through it we can win or defend all our other liberties, besides its importance for the establishment of truth. Any derogation from it, however small, is to my mind repugnant as well as a dangerous precedent.”


Nowadays, however, there is a cant ‘politically correct’ doctrine that an open society can best be protected by curbing free speech. Not only do we have laws banning expressions of racial hatred, but there are vigorous attempts to extend a similar legal ban to the denigration of religion. A prime ground for the alleged necessity of such censorship is that those whose feelings are hurt or offended by vigorous expressions of dislike or opposition may themselves resort to violence in ‘self defence’, and therefore free speech must be curbed in order to preserve the peace.


I find this argument singularly unconvincing – in fact, poppycock. If people aren’t able or willing to stand up for themselves and their beliefs in vigorous debate, I fail to see why my freedom of expression, and therefore of opinion, should suffer because of their namby-pambyism. What these folk are really after, of course, is the power to shut down criticism of beliefs and practices which may in fact be injurious or incompatible with a truly free society.


It’s high time that everyone who values their own freedom lets it be known loudly and clearly that there is no ‘right’ not to be offended. Indeed, in a free society there is a duty to ALLOW oneself to be offended.


To all those who are so quick to take umbrage, I say “TOO BAD!”.

5 comments:

anticant said...

Richard has asked me to post the following observation of Noam Chomsky's:

"If we do not believe in freedom of speech for those we despise, we do not believe in freedom of speech."

Emmett said...

I Think it is not malice as much as an anxious sort of dull complaisance. Political correctitude, I mean. Bargaining, in a word. Wishful thinking, /eg/. Because, above all, we must keep them subventions rolling on down whilst we cope in vain with the swelling thronging gangs & relays of YOBs & bucketheads! Also, with the loss of a clear class-structure has come a loss of common politeness in public. Parents used to be deemed fit & able to raise their young in the main -- and they did in the main & once on a time! That is ALL that this is about -- how the professional classes frantically cover their historical record of failure, how they disenfranchised a biologically legitimate aristocracy, and how the trained grandchildren, to-day's liberals & all of that over-paid & non-productive gentry, now have screwed the social pooch thrice-over & queered the gummy pitch! As to freedom to say any God-damn fool thing that blows into your empty heads, of course you may tell me all day long about the various sociopaths & hotheads WHO DO incidentally infest my Islam, and I will not take umbrage. Islam is about hearing the truth, whatever it may be! And, /kindliness/ to the erroneous & deluded. But then, I ain't a c--t, I reckon. The religion helped /me/ with that same c--tsome truculence, so of course I positively cannot understand the boneheadedness of these fundamentalist pinheads. But under no circumstances must anyone /kiss/ that sort of unwiped arse -- it IS idol-worship & therefore /haram/, and thus, and in terms of the religion itself, tiptoeing around these buffoons is WRONG public policy. Let these unmentionable parts of sheep & pigs be held up to the public ridicule & scorn they so richly have earned, above all so that 'their' women finally will be empowered to leave such unworthy skunks -- and bring their beautiful islamic gifts of peace & devotion to men who actually will want & respect them, /amin/.

OBJECTIVELY Yours,

Wook 'abd al-Haq

Emmett said...

IN Other words, fundamentalists of ANY religion INCLUDING science ARE the Jacks of the Human Pack AND on all-fours with Mississippi /soi-disant/ 'whites'!

Grandpa

Yankee Doodle said...

"...poisonous views are less harmful when out in the open and liable to vigorous contradiction than when they fester secretly underground."

"To all those who are so quick to take umbrage, I say 'TOO BAD!'"

"If we do not believe in freedom of speech for those we despise, we do not believe in freedom of speech."

Rock on, Anticant!

Glad to see that Thinking Blogger Bug is right at the top on your blog, where it belongs!

(Although I think the silver version would have looked better with your color scheme.)

anticant said...

Thanks, Emmett and YD. The significant divisions in today's world aren't between countries, religions, or even cultures, but between those everywhere who adhere to freedom of thought, speech, and behaviour that isn't harmful to others, and those who seek to dominate and control by attacking and denying those freedoms.

It's a tough battle to fight, when the lines aren't clearly drawn and the 'enemy' is always in our midst, but everyone who cherishes human dignity has to strive to the utmost to defeat totalitarianism of whatever hue.