I have written about free speech, hate, racial discrimination and
the state of our democracy on many occasions and this question will not
Why is it, in ‘the name of free speech’, that we need to enshrine, the right to abuse each other, in law?
You would think that an enlightened progressive free thinking society would want to eliminate it not legislate it.
It is not a question that requires great philosophical, ideological
or even theological debate. It is a black and white question.
Supposedly we live in an age of enlightenment, a period where the
world has made enormous technological advances, but at the same time our
intellects have not advanced with the capacity to understand simple
Indeed, if we were truly enlightened we would treat our fellow human
beings, with respect love and faithfulness. We would do unto them as we
would expect them to do unto us and we would strive to do no harm. We
would love life and live it with a sense of joy and wonderment.
We would form our own independent opinions on the basis of our own
reason and experience; and not allow ourselves to be led blindly by
others. And we would Test all things; always checking our ideas against
our facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it did not
conform to them. We would readily admit it when we are wrong in the
knowledge that humility is the basis of intellectual advancement and
that it is truth that enables human progress.
And of course we would enjoy our own sex life (so long as it damages
nobody) and leaves others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their
inclinations, which are none or your business.
We would uphold the principle that no one individual or group has an
ownership of righteousness. We would seek not to judge but to
understand. We would seek dialogue ahead of confrontation.
We would place internationalism before nationalism acknowledging that
the planet earth does not have infinite resources and needs care and
attention if we are to survive on it. In doing so we would value the
future on a timescale longer than our own.
We would recognise that the individual has rights but no man is an
island and can only exist, and have his rights fulfilled, only by the
determination of a collective.
We would insist on equality of opportunity in education acknowledging
that it is knowledge that gives an understanding. We would seek not to
indoctrinate our children in any way but instead teach them how to think
for themselves, evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with us. We
would, in our schools open their minds to an understanding of ethics
instead of proselytizing religion.
We would never seek to cut ourselves off from dissent, and always respect the right of others to disagree with us.
Importantly we not overlook evil or shrink from administering
justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and
Lastly we would question everything. What we see, what we feel, what
we hear, what we read and what we are told until we understand the truth
of it because thoughtlessness is the residue of things not understood
and can never be a replacement for fact.
If these things truly are the embodiment of enlightenment. How do we
stack up? It is fair to say that some societies and individuals could
lay claim to attaining a measure of it. For example in some countries
gender equality is more readily accepted and there has been advances in
education. Overall though I think the reader would conclude that in most
instances our enlightenment has not progressed much.
This is no more empathised than in our understanding of what free
speech is. Are we honestly enlightened if we think we need to enshrine
in legislation a right to express hatred? There is something
fundamentally and humanely wrong with the proposition.
There is an intolerable indecency that suggests that we have made no
advancement in our discernment of free speech. If free speeches only
purpose is to denigrate, insult and humiliate then we need to rethink
its purpose. There are those who say it identifies those perpetrating
wrong doing but if it creates more evil than good it’s a strange freedom
for a so-called enlightened society to bequeath its citizens.
To quote Jonathan Holmes:
Let’s be clear: Charlie Hebdo set out, every week, withThe Charlie Hebdo massacre as vile and as unjust as it was gave no
the greatest deliberation, to offend and insult all kinds of people, and
especially in recent years the followers of Islam, whether
fundamentalist or not.
Look at some of the magazine’s recent covers: An Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood protester in a hail of gunfire crying “The Koran is shit –
it doesn’t stop bullets”; a full-on homosexual kiss between a Charlie
cartoonist and a Muslim sheik with the ironic headline “Love is stronger
than hate”; a naked woman with a niqab thrust up her backside.
excuse for repressive world leaders to lecture anyone on freedom of
expression. The sheer hypocrisy of it was breathtaking. Some of the
world leaders locked arm in arm in the Paris March were from countries
with the world’s worst suppression of press freedom. To see the Foreign
Minister of Egypt marching arm in arm with world leaders was two
faced-ness in the extreme given that Peter Creste has now been in jail
for more than a year.
It’s all in the name of satirical free speech but it’s not funny if has no insightful truth.
Is this really what an enlightened society means by free speech? Does
it demonstrate our cognitive advancement? Is this what well-educated
men and women want as free speech or should we see free speech as being
nothing more or nothing less than the right to tell the truth in
whatever medium we so choose.
One has to wonder why the so-called defenders of free speech feel
they are inhibited by what they have now. I don’t. I have never felt
constrained in my thoughts or my ability to express them. I’m doing it
now. But then I don’t feel a need to go beyond my own moral values of
what is decent to illuminate my thoughts.
Why is it then that the likes of Abbott, Bolt, Jones, Brandis,
Bernardi and others need to go beyond common decency, and defend others
who cannot express themselves without degenerating into hate speech? The
answer has nothing to do with an honourably noble sort of democratic
Why does this demand for open slather free speech always come from
the right of politics and society? They seem to have an insensitivity to
common decency that goes beyond any thoughtful examination.
They simply want the right to inflict hate, defame with impunity,
insult, and promote bigotry if it suits their purpose. And behind that
purpose can be found two words. Power and control.
The way we presently view free speech simply perpetuates the
right to express all those things that make us lessor than what we
Debate, in whatever form, should not include the right to vilify. It
is not of necessity about winning or taking down ones opponent. It is
about an exchange of facts ideas and principles. Or in its purest form
it is simply about the art of persuasion”
The argument that bigots are entitled to be bigots or that
unencumbered free speech exposes people for what they are, doesn’t wear
with me. It simply says that society has not advanced. That our cultural
ethical intellect has not progressed at the same rate as our
The fact that so many people agree with the free speech argument
highlights the tolerance we have for the unacceptable right to hate each
other, which to me is the sauce of everything that is wrong with human
And we want to make it acceptable by legislating to condone it.
Are we really saying that in a supposed enlightened society that
should value, love, decorum, moderation, truth, fact, balance, reason,
tolerance, civility and respect for the others point of view that we
need to enshrine in law a person’s right to be the opposite of all these
If that is the case then we are not educating. We are not creating a better social order and we are not enlightened at all.
The fact is that free speech in any democratic system should be so
valued, so profoundly salient, that any decent enlightened government
should legislate to see that it is not abused. That it carries with it
sacrosanct principles of decency that are beyond law and ingrained in
the conscious of a collective common good.
After all the dignity of the individual (or individuals) within the
collective is more important than some fools right to use freedom of
speech to vilify another.
It says something about the moral sickness in our society
when the right to abuse each other, in the name of free speech, needs to
be enshrined in law.