June 20, 2008
No free speech for assholes!
For some time now, I have noticed that defenders of free speech are more concerned with whether they agree with the speaker than with the principle of free speech itself. For leftists, free speech is fine for Bush-hating antiwar activists, disruptive demonstrators, artists who ridicule Christianity by putting crucifixes in urine or throwing dung at the Madonna. But where it comes to the free speech rights of rabid anti-abortion protesters, anti-gay demonstrators, or those who ridicule or insult Islam, leftists tend towards either silence or open hostility. (The latter often takes the form of calling it "hate speech," which is increasingly being conflated with "hate crime" legislation).
While I'd like to believe that conservatives (especially libertarians) are more principled, the reality is that in practice, most people tend to defend the rights of speakers they agree with, while ignoring the rights of speakers they disagree with. (An S&M takeoff on a religious painting drew a very strong reaction from anti-gay activists, who called it "blasphemous" -- and they think society has a right to censor blasphemy.) I worry that this is human nature. The principle of "free speech for me, but not for thee" is an old one, and it cuts across the spectrum.
An article linked by Glenn Reynolds this morning made me wonder whether the key inquiry is now simply whether the speaker is an "asshole," and whether the principle can be restated as "free speech for assholes, but only for our assholes!"
No seriously. In "The elephant in the room" -- a writer who describes himself as "a member of Canada's expansive arts scene" looks into the deafening silence by the left over the censorship of conservative speech by Canada's "Human Rights Commission":
The state will order Maclean's to publish something it does not want to publish. Isn't that what China does? So why don't ear-to-the-ground, free speech-loving Canadian artists denounce it?Good questions. But whether Steyn should have free speech seems to revolve around whether he's an "asshole":
At a trendy Toronto Annex watering hole, I recently posed this question to a lead scion of the left. Without hesitation he said, "Because Mark Steyn's an ---hole." "That may be," I responded. "He may also be right-wing, and you may be left-wing. But those are very poor reasons to deny a person or group their Charter rights." The fellow conceded my point, but I could sense he didn't understand how easily he could come to find himself in the same position in the near future.Well, the problem is that "morality" is reflexively seen as superseding free speech rights. That's why attacks on free speech are couched in moralistic terms. To prevent "hate." To protect "the children." Or even to maintain "fairness" or uphold some vague notion called "neutrality."
Hey, I just caught myself repeating myself, so I might as well repeat myself:
It doesn't seem that they'll ever stop. If it isn't one pretext, it will be another. If not "fairness," then "hate speech." If not "hate," then "the children."Will the leftists who believe in free speech be coming to the defense of Mark Steyn against the "Human Rights Commission"?
I haven't checked the blogs in detail, but my worry is that Steyn will be defended only by his fellow "assholes."
I guess defending his rights would make me an asshole too, but that's not the way free speech is supposed to work.
What's more shocking is the lack of media coverage over something that is happening next door. Bookworm looked at American journalists' "stunning lack of curiosity, let alone outrage, about the Mark Steyn persecution taking place in Canada:
....As a matter of principle, American newspapers should be howling at the thought that the Canadian government is stifling free speech. The most that's happened in the MSM, though, is a single New York Times article that presents the whole thing as an interesting relativistic question between old fashioned American values (free speech) and sophisticated European norms.It's nice that Times readers can learn about Canadian censorship and the Steyn case -- even if under the rubric of "culture clash." But far from the expressions of outrage you might expect, there's been little to no reporting of this case in most newspapers. I've seen nothing in the Inquirer about the case, even though Mark Steyn is a journalist who is facing censorship.
Is that because he's an "asshole"?
posted by Eric on 06.20.08 at 10:18 AM
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