Freedom of speech and expression is the indispensable foundation of a society of free individuals. Civilization cannot long survive without it any more than it can survive without food. As Rowan Atkinson so eloquently argued in his defense of free speech, it is the second most essential thing; the first being food in your mouth and the third being a roof over your head. I am afraid that the trend has not been good in that sphere and it is imperative that we fight for our freedoms. The mindless collective is the greatest threat humanity faces, not climate change or even total nuclear war. Continue reading
You know why free speech? Because we humans are not infinitely wise. That’s all. If we, or some of us, were infinitely wise, we would be able to tell which speech was OK and which not-OK. Then the wise could sort out which speech to allow. But none of us is infinitely wise.
The way out is to allow all speech, and let us be free to decide whether to accept whatever proposition makes sense to us, and let the nonsense just be. Let whoever wants to say anything have a go at it and allow us the listeners the freedom to choose what to believe and what to reject.
OK, so we allow all speech. But what good does it do us? It helps us advance our civilization. I am making an utilitarian argument here. It is good for civilization to allow all speech, and to let them compete in the marketplace of ideas, and those that withstand scrutiny survive and advance our understanding. Continue reading
Freedom of speech, expression, and the press is a distinctive mark of civilization. It distinguishes — and indicates the degree of civilization achieved among — the nations of the world. Nations that valued the Enlightenment traditions of the likes of Kant and Voltaire prospered and became culturally (not to mention militarily) powerful enough to profoundly impact, and indeed create, the modern world.
Just compare where the Islamic nations are in relation to the Western nations in terms of social, cultural and economic well-being. The Islamic nations fail miserably. They languish in the bottom of the heap suffering terrorism and imposing it on the rest of the world. Part of the explanation must be that their civilization lacks the freedom of speech and expression.
“Congress shall make no law …”
And consider that the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, is what it is partly because of the wisdom of its Founding Fathers who included the critically important First Amendment in the “Bill of Rights” of the US Constitution which says, in part, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”.
Say what you may (and you may say whatever pleases you) but I am a freedom of speech fundamentalist. It is non-negotiable, it is off the table, it is not for sale, trade, barter or exchange. I reserve the right to say whatever I wish, and I defend your right to say whatever you wish. And equally importantly, I reserve the right to choose to hear, read and watch whatever others freely choose to express in whatever form. The operative word is choose. You choose to speak, and I choose to hear, without compulsion on either side.
I recognize no authority over me that will dictate to me what I may say or listen to, read, write or watch. I will resist any government that attempts to take away my right to free speech, and the corresponding right to listen to the free speech of others.
Now that I have expressed my position on the matter, let me get down to why I did so. Continue reading
In my view, freedom of speech is a non-negotiable right that free people have. It is a natural right, not a right that is artificially conjured. Human dignity is lost when the right to express what you think is restricted. I regret the fact that Indians don’t have genuine freedom of speech. Here’s a piece I wrote for the June issue of India Currents. Excerpt:
Publishing anything that the government is likely to take serious offense to is akin to publishing an invitation to officialdom to please come and shut down the business on some pretext or the other; and also to audit the accounts; and to get an income tax raid done on your home immediately; and file a few cases against your business which the courts will take decades to settle.
For the record, I reproduce the full piece below.
“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.” –George Washington
The importance of the freedom of speech is underestimated by most people.
George Washington stressed the instrumental role of the freedom of speech — as a defense against oppression. But freedom of speech, like the right to be left alone, is also something of value in and of itself, even if there was no possibility of being oppressed.
Free speech has always been under attack. Throughout history, there have always been people who claim to know the truth and to possess the right to silence others who hold contrary views. So also throughout history, there have been defenders of free speech. The great English political theorist and moral philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was a formidable force in defending the freedom of speech. He devoted the second chapter of his book “On Liberty” (1859) on the topic of the freedom of thought and expression. Here’s a brief excerpt from it.
The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are. ― HL Mencken
And usually these troublemakers are the ones who need to be muzzled through suppression of speech and expression.
Pat Condell is a hero in the true sense of the word — a warrior known for his exceptional courage and bravery. But you would not have heroes if there were no cowards. He is a heroic defender of human freedom and therefore the cowardly attacks on him. He is being censored. Vimeo took his videos down. Now YouTube has done that to some of his videos.
However, the internet is what it is because of its distributed nature. The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it, as John Gilmore put it. So here is the incomparable Pat on dotsub.com thanking the anonymous cowards who are afraid of what Pat has to say and what they don’t want you to hear.
Here we go again. The UPA government of India wants to dictate once more what people should know and what information is OK for people to handle. It routinely blocks websites, prohibits or limits the use of mobile text messages, and is now threatening to block twitter altogether. The government’s repression of the people is an old habit and it should not evoke any surprise or comment. Yet the fight for freedom of speech and expression is too important to life and liberty that one should not give up merely because one has been on a losing streak for centuries. We, the people, have to win that battle if we have to win the war for freedom.
Frederick Douglass (d. 1895), the renowned American abolitionist wrote, “Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them . . . The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” I used that quote in my book, Transforming India, (click for a free download). Indians will submit to a lot, and have done so for centuries. The current oppressors are “democratically” elected. Allow me to quote from the book: