Monday, 12 December 2011

Free Speech: A Boxing Ring, not a Shooting Gallery

This is a re-post of an entry I made in a different blog. I'm posting it here for reference purposes.

Okay, maybe if I say this often enough in enough comments sections of enough blogs and newspapers, it might stick.

A quick precis of the situation I’m referring to: Jim Wallace of the ACL posted some comments on twitter about ANZAC day. He referred to the idea that ANZACs didn’t fight for muslims or gay marriage, asserted this as a fact, and then apologised for ‘the timing’ of what he’d said, claiming he didn’t mean to ‘demean ANZAC day’.

Outrage was swift. Which is great. It came from many quarters, including Christian quarters, which is also great. But where I run into a problem is with the defenders of Mr Wallace claiming something along the lines of the following:

‘Whatever happened to free speech?’

Oh my. Oh my, oh my. Please, follow the jump if you’d like to hear me lecturing on exactly why this is the most juvenile and uneducated argument anyone can make in any argument anywhere, ever.

Bill Muehlenberg made a post about how Political Correctness is a free speech issue. Over here on Chrys’s Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear post, you can see a collection of comments opining, “Oh my! What’s this? Jim expresses his opinion and is pilloried for it? What ever happened to FREE SPEECH? Only exists for some, it seems!”

I see where they are getting confused. They are mixing up a free market of ideas and an exchange of free speech with cowardice.

You see, offering your opinion is easy. Anyone can do that. In this modern day, I have offered my opinion on the subject of Jim Wallace of the ACL on about five different platforms. Can I stress that enough? It’s so easy that literally anybody can do it multiple times in an hour.

What is difficult - what is worthwhile, brave and admirable - is defending your opinion once offered.



 [kou-er-dis] –noun lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.

If you’re willing to face opposition to your point of view, then you are worthy of having it in the first place. Once some opposition is offered, the test of cowardice comes from your willingness to stand by and defend it on its own terms in the face of (yes, sometimes overwhelming) opposition.

So when I see comments that demand ‘whatever happened to free speech?’ crop up in relation to something like Jim Wallace’s disgraceful tweets, I am left dumbfounded. What happened to it?? We are exercising it right now, is what happened to it!

Freedom of Speech is a boxing ring, not a shooting gallery. You trade blows, you give and take. You do not sidle in, camouflaged, take pot shots at sitting targets, and then disappear to the pub. Either you stand ready to defend yourself, or you get immediately knocked out. If that doesn’t suit you, can I suggest that you really shouldn’t be advocating a free speech position.

What these people are trying to do has nothing to do with free speech. They are trying to use free speech like a shield from negative criticism. They seem to be labouring under the impression that if someone disagrees with an opinion, they must remain respectfully silent, which is categorically untrue. What these people are trying to do is play a coward’s game, whereby they can take pot shots at sitting targets free from return fire.

Your opinion is the most precious thing, even if you are Jim Wallace. But you cannot simply declare that it is what it is, and anyone who disagrees is being a big meanie who is trying to bully you. Grow up. By all means, throw down the gauntlet of your opinion! But don’t try to tell me that you won’t get into the ring because there’s other people in there. Those are the words of a coward.

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