More than a Right

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Free speech is life.

Allow me to elaborate.

Breathing is not considered a right.

It’s not considered in the same category as rights, privileges, and all the myriad distinctions thereof.

No. Even prisoners and slaves are unquestionably reserved the right to draw air. Certainly, a hair-splitter might say ah but they are killed!

Yes, sometimes but until the point of termination, no one rations their air…sets restrictions on it…how much to inhale…how much to exhale…and where such a thing is appropriate.

Throughout our lifetimes we adopt and abdicate many a position. In so doing we exhale and inhale ideas. If it is bizarre to assume restriction on literal respiration why is it any less bizarre to restrict intellectual respiration?

Yes. But breathing and speaking are two different things. You don’t need to speak to live. I disagree. We are a social species. Our very existence depends on interaction.

Ok. But its only a certain sort of speaking that is absolutely essential. Why should we let fascists, and bigots, and all kinds of meanies be mean?

Throughout our lifetiems, we adopt and abdicate many a position. Its important to allow this to take place naturally. You will gain very little in the way of reforming someone’s position by telling them to shut up. Even less so with the might of the state behind you.

People often say erroneous and heinous things. But we cannot know the intent with certainty. Even when the certainty of intent is almost certainly established we cannot penalize someone for intellectual respiration. This somewhat foppish metaphor I’ve adopted has its merits. It is used because throughout our lifetimes we adopt and abdicate many a position.
Speaking is popularly considered unproductive. Busy people use terse language and do busy things like profit handsomely from exporting manufacturing to exotic locations with charmingly lax labor laws. But even these humanitarians need to speak to do so. In fact, the assembly of ideas into an actionable coherency is speech whether or not it is externalized as air passing over the vocal chords.

When people mull a problem they often mutter under their breaths. This is because they are breathing in and out ideas. They are engaging in something that is more than a right. They are engaging in intellectual respiration.

Many people say things they don’t mean. They’re exhaling bad air. Should an accident of fraught nerves be grounds for prosecution? Again even if the intent of malice is clear there is no guarantee that the expression of an offensive and wrongheaded notion isn’t entirely or at leas in part representative of a misapprehension of the offendee.
Exhaling an idea is an inextricable part of processing that idea. Those who do so may process the idea entirely out of their being. It is not our business to force their breathing. You don’t do CPR on someone merely because they have a cough.

Let people be let people breathe.

But what if they shout fire in a theater? There is a difference between libel and speech. If you accuse the theater of being on fire when it clearly isn’t…I’m of course joking but I think this defense still holds.

Let people be let people breathe.

Anyone that’s around the age of thirty is likely well aware of the distance between the ideas and politics of their early twenties and their present outlook.
Should you have been throttled for thinking skinny jeans were cool?

Well, perhaps so. But then you have become the bully you wish to resist.

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One Comment on “More than a Right

  1. Great! Freedom of speech, or freedom in general is a necessity of a nation that is capable of progression and change.

    An excerpt from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir… she’s speaking of women’s oppression, and yet, her themes can be extended to all oppression: “Her mind’s freedom enables her to take responsibility for all the movements of her curiosity, her ambition, her gaiety; faced with such a resolute heart, material obstacles cannot fail to decrease; her only problem will be to carve out a destiny worthy of her in a mediocre world.”


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