Freedom of Speech Cuts Both Ways

With great power comes great responcibility.
With great power comes great responsibility.

Now that the dust is starting to settle from the murders of the staff at Charlie Hebdo, and we have had some time for cold honest reflection about events.

It is time to face some unpleasant truths about ourselves. The sight of world leaders in Paris showing solidarity with Charlie Hedbo just made me think, “Je Suis Hypocrite!”

Every one of those world leaders in Paris has preached free speech and suppressed it at home. Which brings me to the point. Freedom of speech, means freedom of speech for everyone, not just for people whose opinions we agree with.

In order to learn and more importantly understand what we have learned. We need to have the freedom to voice an unpopular opinion, or even a heretical one. Just because orthodoxy says that something is true, does not make it true in reality.

The history of science is littered with such moments. It is probable that the most famous example of this being Galileo Galilei’s battle with the Roman Catholic Church over heliocentrism. The Roman Catholic Church believed in the Ptolemaic geocentric system

[url=Heliocentrism, or heliocentricism[/url], is the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun at the centre of the Solar System.

In astronomy, the Geocentric Model  (also known as geocentrism, or the Ptolemaic system) is a description of the cosmos where Earth is at the orbital center of all celestial bodies.

We need to be able to wield the butchers knife with gay abandon, and slaughter the sacred cows of orthodoxy. If we are wrong then we will learn from it, and hopefully why were wrong. If we are right then we have advanced and added to the sum of human knowledge understanding.

Which brings me to Universities. Recently we had government trying to set limits on who and who could not be invited to speak to students. We have also had the press and other pressure groups campaign against certain people being invited to debate at the Oxford Union.

This is so wrong. We have to trust the students of these centres of learning to debate controversial and heretical subjects. The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Debate and free thinking is what they are for. Universities should not about limiting humanity to the stuffy orthodoxies of our time.

The trouble is that the idea of free thinking terrifies governments and the establishment. Who worship at the twin altars of orthodoxy and Luddism. Which may be the real reasons behind the current trend in making university students into slaves to debt .

So we have established the importance of having freedom of speech. Now we must look at the extreme end of freedom of speech the freedom to offend.

This is a very things start getting difficult. I have chosen to start with the presumption that whatever you argue, or any statement that you make, will cause someone will take offence to it.

So clearly you cannot have a blanket ban on causing offence to anyone. When does Iconoclasty become malice? But what happens when someone sets out to cause offence through malice?

It seems to me that the key is what was intended by controversial exercise of freedom of speech. Provoking discussion is fine. Being burned at the stake rather less so.

Political and religious leaders, together with their disciples and devotees, are notoriously thin skinned. The astute will observe that there is no functional difference between religious and political power. They both stem from the same root.

In Europe we have a tradition of using satire to hold our masters to account. Unfortunately our masters no longer have to face this satire at the front of the audience, so they can hear and feel the derision heaped upon them by the electorate.

By and large the political leaders and religious leaders are now totally remote from their constituents and devotees. It seems that the greater the distance between leader and follower, the thinner the skin of leader.

Freedoms are Powers. Freedom of speech is a great power. But with all powers comes responsibility. The greater the power then the greater the responsibility that comes with it. We all have the power to say what we like. But we have to accept that sometimes we are going to get a slap round the chops for exercising that privilege.

Finally can it be that we are all too thin skinned, and too ready to take offence at the words of others. We have two eyes two ears and one mouth. they should be used in those proportions.

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Author: Dr Suusi Watson

Editor of the Bastard

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