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So there was the thing over at Jim C Hines' blog, where I made the mistake of reading comments and once again it made me wonder if we could claim that part of humanity is just something we found on the curb, like an unwanted couch. Jim canceled his Reddit Q&A because there was a really gross thread on Reddit where rapists were talking about the hows and whys of the awful things they've done; he gave an ultimatum that either that thread needed to go, or no Q&A from him.

Immediately, whining about freedom of speech ensued. This is not an uncommon reaction, I've noticed. Christian apologists for Chick-fil-a have been applying this juvenile argument as well, to tell us we're all being mean for not buying their delicious chicken and thus tacitly endorsing their anti-gay agenda. Apparently, freedom of speech has been redefined on the internet as, "I have a right to say anything horrible I want and you're not allowed to protest or try to stop me."

No. That's not how it works. And there's no cognitive dissonance necessary to believe in free speech as a right (via the Constitution) and not wanting to let trolls shit all over your comments section.

This would be because while we all like to say we're part of the government of the United States, this being a representative democracy and all, none of us are actually the government, and none of us are making laws. The power of the state can be a horrible, chilling thing, and it should be kept well away from speech, even really reprehensible speech. (Because of nothing else, one man's reprehensible speech is another man's important point.)

But as I said, I'm not the state, Jim C. Hines isn't the state, and any website with a commenting policy that keeps a terminal asshole buildup from occurring is also not the state. We're administrators of our own blogs/websites, and whining at us about freedom of speech is equivalent to whining at your mom because she won't let you say fuck in the house, and about as effective.

Is it hypocritical, though, to say you believe in free speech and at the same time police jerks on your own space? (Or refuse to share space with shameful people?) No, I don't think so. I have just as much a right to express my opinion as the next person - and actually more, when it's my personal space. I'm not obligated to let my obnoxious Ron-Paul-loving neighbor put a campaign sign on my lawn. Likewise, I'm not obligated to let words that are abhorrent or abusive stand on a space that is mine to control. Want to say awful things? Get your own space.

But what about Jim demanding Reddit take the thread down as a condition for him doing the Q&A?

In the world of emergency medicine, unconsciousness implies consent. In the world of speech, silence likewise implies consent, and agreement. Appearing quietly in the same space as something you find abhorrent implies that you are all right with the existence of that abhorrent thing.

And I think that's an important part that often gets left off on these rants about free speech.

Outside of the realm of law (which obvious does not apply here because hey - not the government!) words have meaning, and consequence. When you run across something despicable, you have a very limited set of choices - you can ignore it, say nothing, move on, or you can protest. If you say nothing, if you do nothing, your silence provides your tacit agreement.

That's why it's important, for example, that Anonymous showed up to stand between the Westboro Baptist Church and the attendees of the memorial in Aurora, CO, even if WBC didn't show up. Why it's important that Chick-fil-a is facing a boycott for their anti-gay policies. Why when you hear someone say something racist, or sexist, or homophobic it's important that you argue, even if it means making Christmas dinner kind of uncomfortable.

Some of the most important speech you will ever make is to stand up and say "No, this is wrong, and I refuse to be part of it."

Related: Civility and free speech at Talking Philosophy. This also addresses why it's not contrary to believe in free speech and simultaneously demand a minimum level of civility in your blog. And unlike my opinion, contains no swear words.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
danielmedic
Aug. 1st, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC)
I agree with most of this post, to be sure, but I'm always uneasy with the argument that says, in essence, "As long as it's not the government telling you what you can and can't say, it's not infringing on your right to free speech." Corporate censorship is a real and powerful force, and given that enormous corporations--which are even less accountable to the people they affect than governments are--control a great deal of our communication these days, we have to recognize that freedom of speech can be, and is, significantly infringed without the direct involvement of the state. If, say, Amazon and Barnes&Noble refuse to carry a certain book, that book has been "censored" no less effectively than if the government puts it on a proscription list.

That being said, the degree to which rights and infringements of those rights come into play is a matter of relative power. Hines is neither (AFAIK) a government censor nor the CEO of a major corporation, and Reddit, while certainly a popular and important site, is only one of thousands of discussion boards on which people can spout off on any subject they choose, and be read by a wide audience while doing so. Joe Internetuser vs. Amazon is a deeply unequal power struggle; vs. a popular author or discussion website, not so much.

And, of course, as you say, the right to free speech always always always includes the right to tell shitheads they're being shitheads. This is something the "b-b-but that's censorship" crowd often seems not to understand.

Edited at 2012-08-01 09:11 pm (UTC)
idemandjustice
Aug. 1st, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
I was about to have a knee-jerk RARRR disagreeing with your first paragraph, but then I took a deep breath, read your actual words, and you have a good point that I can kind of agree with and even relate to. I remember being a member of the Camarilla Fan Club. You pay money to be a member of this club. As such, you are subject to certain rules, and cannot actually criticize the company of which you are a customer. I've even read that this is because fan club members are considered employees. People who pay to apparently work for them and aren't allowed to criticize them. Which I decided long ago was bullshit, and I totally threw a fit and flounced out of the club.

So, anyway, you do have a point that I have to acknowledge, although it makes me feel more conflicted.
danielmedic
Aug. 1st, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading my post all the way through. :)

I'm not trying to anger anyone, or make them feel conflicted. I just think it's important to recognize that--although in this specific case, Hines was clearly in the right and the people who want to spout off about the glories of rape are about as wrong as it's possible to be--in general, in our everyday lives we're at least as subject to corporate power as governmental, and the abuse of any kind of power should be called out.
katsudon
Aug. 2nd, 2012 12:05 am (UTC)
That's a very good point. The question of corporate censorship is a really weird one, because you're right, they do have a lot of power. And I'm thinking that's something that the guys who wrote the constitution really couldn't have predicted. It's so complicated I can't really manage to have a coherent opinion.

There's also the really creepy way some corporations have been trying to monitor employees off the job. Ugh.

What I'm hoping is that it hits the point where companies are treated similarly to the way the government is, because they do have ridiculous amounts of power. It just depends on how the government decides to regulate them, I guess...
idemandjustice
Aug. 1st, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC)
I've been noticing that almost every time I see someone whining about "free speech," they're actually attempting to silence someone.

I agree with everything you've had to say here. And you've also reminded me that I've been meaning to read some of Jim Hines' books. One of these days.
katsudon
Aug. 2nd, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
It's the new derailing technique, I think. I guess, "Well you can't complain because children are starving in Africa" got a little old.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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