Free Speech Isn’t

I’m probably the 3 billionth blogger to chime in on the maddening murders in Paris yesterday. Last I remember hearing there were a dozen dead and the killing was centered on but not limited to the offices of a satirical magazine that dates back to 1969.

Though I am not marching or protesting, I am, like so many others deeply saddened at this horrible news.

I may be less inclined than average to toss in with the Free Speech Folks.

That’s what Charlie Hebdo was is all about, right? Each report I’ve heard about it, anyway, seems to be defending the satirical magazine with claims like, “But they made fun of everyone!”

Then I heard this: “One ought to be able to make fun of oneself, and of one’s opponents.”  And of course, “Within civilized society there must be room for satire, for free speech, for poking fun.”

All of these make very good arguments for those of us on the inside; for those of us, in other words, already convinced we are a part of this thing we call civilization and who think this is a good thing.

But what about those outside what we consider to be “civilized society”?  How many of us expect that simply referring to them as “uncivilized” or perhaps satirizing them ought to snap them out of their uncivilized-ness and awaken them to the reality we all know and love as civilization?

The problem is, of course, that civilization itself has some problems.  And you and I can see this from within what we call civilization! Can we allow for the possibility that, from outside our civilization, our way of life might not appear entirely desirable?

So, among the constraints you and I have agreed to on our way into “civilized society” is the notion of free speech.  It is not a natural law or right, existing amorphously somewhere until we claim it. It is, rather, an agreement at a large scale that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Except they do. Words do hurt.  Therefore, as we all learn in relationships and, one would hope, in society, there are things we don’t say, even if we have the right to say them, out of respect for other persons.

How much more ought we learn to respect those who haven’t even bought into the same understanding of “civilization” that you and I have?

I am not justifying the massacre in Paris.  I am also not arguing against Free Speech.  I am, rather, suggesting that satire for satire’s sake is, perhaps, not the greatest good.

Or, larger, free speech for the sake of free speech is not free, if free means without consequence.

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One thought on “Free Speech Isn’t

  1. I think you pretty much summed up the whole situation. I am personally against oppression BUT not up for mockery (and this is what CharlieHebdo had been doing all this time). I believe that you lose the right to ask for tolerance when you can’t show any respect yourself. This is definitely an eye-opening incident. Here’s an extract that I found from a newspaper: “A cartoon questions and ridicules authority. Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Islam cartoons kicked someone already knocked prostrate. That is not what cartoons do. That is not why cartoons are loved and eagerly awaited by readers of newspapers.” Whatever happened was bad and could have been avoided, but I have got to say that I couldn’t agree more with you. Thumps up!

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