Friday, March 24, 2006

Freedom of speech... for people I agree with

Today Dave T makes another of his garbled contributions to the debate over free speech:

One of the strongest arguments for Freedom of Expression the protection of speech facilitates the exploration of conflicts of belief: freely and without restraint.

He goes on to offer a rib-tickling chant for the free speech march:

"What do we want: FREEDOM OF SPEECH. When do we want it: NOT NOW BUT CERTAINLY IN A FORUM IN WHICH THINGS CAN BE SEEN AND DEBATED WITHOUT THEM BEING, IN CONTEXT, INTIMIDATING TO ANYONE"

But of course not republishing the cartoons at issue was the line advocated by two Harry's Place contributors, and not disputed by Dave T. (Brownie cunningly suggested that, instead of the originals, anti-semitic cartoons be published instead. Gene chipped in with a stern reminder that to republish would be to offend the Iranian bus drivers Harry's Place cares so much about.)

He should therefore have altered his “strong argument” to:

One of the strongest arguments for... the protection of speech [is that it] facilitates the exploration of conflicts of belief: freely and without restraint... but if that speech would cause offence then this argument evaporates.

This applies especially when those being offended are Harry's Place pundits. Back when two BNP activists were acquitted of inciting racial hatred, Dave T was similarly muddled. In fact, such was his bemusement that he went spiralling straight into doublethink mode.

“What it boils down to”, we're told, “is this”:

Racist rhetoric should be condemned, discrimination combatted, and racists exposed and fought. However, the State shouldn't punish speech unless there is a direct causal, and intentional, link between the speech and a physical attack, an act of discrimination.

So you might think that meant dear Dave was against prosecuting Griffin and co., because nobody suggested Griffin calling Islam a “wicked vicious religion” had a direct causal link with violence or discrimination. But of course not. Smoothly adopting the exact opposite of the conclusion that his ringing declaration demanded he went on:

That said, I can't fault the prosecution. There is no point in having a law on incitement to racial hatred, unless what appear to be clear cut cases are prosecuted.

He reiterated this in a further posting. So we can add a second modifier:

One of the strongest arguments for... the protection of speech [is that it] facilitates the exploration of conflicts of belief: freely and without restraint... but if that speech would cause offence then this argument evaporates... and if a law exists that looks like it could curtail that speech it should be used.

In other words, the State shouldn't punish speech unless it wants to punish speech; and one should uphold one's principles right up to the point where they conflict with the law, whereupon they should be abandoned, because we might otherwise have wasted ink on the statute books. Thanks Dave -- it's much clearer now.

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