Friday, June 12, 2015

Freely Speaking

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

One day at work, a contractor was wearing a tie in a stars-and-stripes pattern. My co-worker Terry and I mentioned that this sort of thing is actually not right, since the flag is not supposed to be used this way according to the Flag Code: “The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard. “
Now that bit of code is routinely violated as the flag symbols routinely appear on t-shirts, wastebaskets, and so on. But, given that the guy was not noted for his sense of humor, we razzed him a bit about it. That, of course, led to him complaining about people burning the flag in protests. “I don't understand,” he groused, “why that's allowed as free speech, but burning a cross in somebody's yard is not!”
We paused for a moment to pick our teeth up and tried to explain the difference between protest and hate speech.
He didn't get it.

Evidently, these days, a lot of people don't get it.

It has become the norm for trolls to issue threats of violence against people who post anything in favor of some form of human rights. Cyber-bullying has becoming a thing, where some ordinary soul finds him- or herself (usually a her) getting taunted and threatened by the goons who are a significant part of the Internet “community.” I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Internet is not a community; it's a mob. What they're doing has nothing to do with free speech; it's all to do with hate speech.
The situation has so gotten out of hand that even Twitter and Reddit are trying to create some forms of policing against these trolls. Good luck to them, but these people will just find other outlets to vent their brand of spleen.
The thing that is particularly sad is that when not posting hate, most trolls are probably ordinary folks. I have known a few that I suspect would post bullying or threatening messages, but those same people would never say things like that in public to someone's face. They might disagree strongly, they might raise their voices, but they wouldn't threaten to kill the other guy.

Then there's the other problem whereby so-called satirists go out of their way to insult some group. The flavor of the day seems to be Islam. Granted it can be easy to insult Islamists, particularly fundamentalists, but the same could be said of other fundamentalist or ultra-conservative groups. Of course, this causes the nut-fringe of Islam (like ISIL, for instance) to start killing people. This, naturally enough, causes the people who are against all Islam to point their fingers and scream, “See? We told you they were evil!!”
A rational person would think before, say, violating a basic tenet of someone's religion by publishing a picture of the Prophet, that such an action could lead to violence. A rational person might think, “I wonder if I can make my point in some other manner.”
These days, unfortunately, rational people seem to be in short supply.
Satire has always ticked off those being satirized. But well done satire is a caricature, not a slap in the face.
I wonder how many of these clever satirists, had they been in Germany, say, in 1935, would have been just as eagerly satirizing Jews as money-grubbing, anarchist, subhumans.

I am depressed these days by the extent to which hate has become an accepted mode of operation. I am even more depressed how free speech is being used as a cover story for posting or publishing vile or stupid things. The freedom to say what we think is a great thing, so long as we recognize the potential consequences. But, the freedom to say what one thinks is dependent on actually thinking in the first place.

That's a lesson all the defenders of hate speech might want to think about.