…with every packet of Monster Munch
February 13, 2009
The solution to the problems of free speech – that sometimes people will say terrible things – is always and irreducibly more free speech. If you don’t like what a person says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people.
Alternatively, you could, like Hari, threaten them with legal action.
But let us assume that Hari’s views have changed since he used the Independent‘s lawyers to threaten a blogger with a libel suit, and that today he is, as the above passage states, a “free-speech” fundamentalist. The response to speech you don’t like, he argues, must always and only be “more free speech”. In that case Hari presumably finds troubling all the official restrictions placed on speech anywhere in the world — not only by Muslim governments but also, for example, by our own beloved liberal democracies.
In England, lamentably, many speech acts are criminal offences, such as those threatening violence or “encouraging” the commission of an offence. We can look forward, I assume, to Hari’s campaign not only to abolish the concept of libel, but to defend everyone’s “right” to say to someone in a pub, “I’m gonna cut your face to ribbons”, or to stand on a street corner and shout: “Murder all Catholics!” Because, as I think we can all agree, the idea of “free speech” means nothing unless it is absolute.
As an example of what principled champions of “free speech” such as Johann Hari are up against, I offer the decadent reasoning of an American:
[P]recisely because speech is never “free” in the two senses required — free of consequences and free from state pressure — speech always matters, is always doing work; because everything we say impinges on the world in ways indistinguishable from the effects of physical action, we must take responsibility for our verbal performances — all of them.2
Of course, if you give that kind of postmodern nonsense any credence, you’re basically an appeaser of tyrants.
- Hari wrote:
I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice.
This, he now pleads rather ambitiously, was part of a “a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics” — though he does not, so far as I can tell, adduce any actual examples of Buddhofascism. And evidently it was not, as he now claims, just a matter of “stating simple facts” (see this comment below). ↩
- Stanley Fish, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too (Oxford, 1994), p114. ↩