Yet more wailing and footstamping about the threat to free speech this week. Between the forced resignation of a swivel-eyed eugenicist, the latest round of convulsions in the Labour party, and that knob with his twitter account, anyone would think that the only thing we have to worry about is the dangers of political correctness (gone mad or not).
Thing is, there have always been limitations on ‘free speech’ (and we might as well include social media postings and even slogans on t-shirts along with actually opening your mouth and uttering stuff here). While you can call someone a shit, or indeed a [insert offensive discriminatory insult of your choice – or worst nightmare – here] you can’t call them a thief, a murderer or a child abuser when that isn’t true, or you can’t prove that it’s true. And if you restrict yourself to insults or ‘opinions’ about other people, you can air them but you cannot force others to listen. Even if your namecalling is at playground level such as ‘Bumface’ or ‘Twerp’ you can find yourself in perfectly justified trouble if you keep on and on and on aiming insults at someone in a way they can’t escape. You do not have the right to trot after someone with a megaphone, telling them what you think of them for hours at a time.
Yes, the law can be a bit of a mess, and those utterly tiresome individuals determined to seek attention as ‘free speech martyrs’ don’t help. It’s worth remembering that some of the anguished predictions of terminal straight-white-man oppression are based in ignorance and/or a desire for more drama, rather than fact. The trial judge agreed that the police were too heavy-handed in their dealing with Harry Miller and most of those whining can’t-say-ANYTHING-these-days tabloid columnists are not only still out of jail but still getting paid to air their various prejudices.
What some people seem unable to cope with, though, is the idea that free speech doesn’t mean that what you say should be free from any consequences at all, even to the extent that someone calmly and politely putting you straight on your factual misconceptions is an infringement of your human rights. You have a right to your opinion, but other people have the same right to theirs. Which may be that you are a shit…