Let's be clear — the right to free speech is the right to express oneself without state retaliation. It is not a right to speak without social retaliation. Speech has consequences. Among those consequences are condemnation, vituperation, scorn, ridicule, and pariah status. Those consequences represent other people exercising their free speech rights. That's a feature of the marketplace of ideas, not a bug.
Yet too many people seem to think that free speech includes not only a right to be free of consequences imposed by the state, but a right to be free of consequences imposed by other people. Therefore they attempt to portray criticism as a violation of their rights. This, of course, finds no support in the law, and is patently unsustainable as a philosophy besides — it nonsensically elevates the rights of the first person to talk over the rights of the second person to talk.
This noxious concept is now sufficiently widespread to warrant its own tag here: Speech is Tyranny! Often the argument involves portraying speech as violence, as when thin-skinned speakers complain that criticism of their speech is "terrorism" or "abuse", or claim that it is "chilling," thus misappropriating a term used to describe the effect of government restrictions on speech. To that extent the argument is related to, but not identical to, the European/Canadian/UN concept that "hate speech" is a violation of the rights of others. Examples of this noxious trend:
- California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who thinks that it is a "terrorist threat" for conservative commentators to tell Republican legislators that they will be voted out of office if they vote for new taxes.
- Canadian Censor-In-Chief Jennifer Lynch, who thinks that free speech advocates are guilty of "reverse chill" when they criticize government censorship.
- Clint Eastwood, who thinks he ought to have a right to tell ethnic jokes without having to fear someone might call him a racist.
- The endless parade of morons who think that companies are violating entertainers' free speech rights if the companies cease paying the entertainers to promote products after the entertainers say something obnoxious (In the linked examples, David Letterman being dumped by Olive Garden for being a dick to Sarah Palin's daughter, and Whopi Goldbreg criticizing George Bush and losing SlimFast).
- The parade of idiots from both sides of the spectrum who decry boycotts as violating the free speech rights of the boycotted (see, e.g., "this boycott violates the Dixie Chicks' right to free speech!!").
- Rick Moran of RightWingNutHouse, a representative instance of the view that calling somebody or something racist breaks the marketplace of ideas because it goes "beyond critiquing the work and enter[s] the world of pure politics."
- Prop 8 supporters who conflate actual violence and vandalism with harsh criticism by calling it all "intimidation."
- Michael Savage, who thinks that people criticizing him and displaying clips of his show for comment are violating his free speech rights.
Now, some marketplace responses — some criticism and consequences for speech — display a fundamental intolerance for dissenting views. Some marketplace responses are premised on ignorance or prejudice. The proper way to deal with that is with more speech, trying to win more in the marketplace over to your view. If I criticize President Obama or Governor Palin, and twenty blogs link to me calling me a fascist idiot who should be bombed with nasty comments and shunned from decent society, it's completely reasonable for me to respond by saying that fans of Obama/Palin are thin skinned weenies whose dramatic overreaction to critique demonstrates the bankruptcy of their ideas. But if I respond by crying that my free speech rights have been violated by the response, I'm being an ass and willfully promoting ignorance of the fundamental nature of freedom of expression, perhaps our most important democratic value. Someone ought to call me out on that. Nobody promised the marketplace of ideas would be a fragrant rose garden. Suck it up, or shut up.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- I Stand, Despite - August 30th, 2016
- How The University of Chicago Could Have Done A Better Job Defending Free Speech - August 29th, 2016
- Gawker, Money, Speech, And Justice - August 18th, 2016
- Lawsplainer: No, Donald Trump's "Second Amendment" Comment Isn't Criminal - August 9th, 2016
- Why Openness About Mental Illness is Worth The Effort And Discomfort - August 9th, 2016