Free Speech and Being Offended
The concept of ‘Free Speech’ is often misunderstood. The thing is, a person does not have the right not to be offended by another person, and either persons have the right to speak their mind on whatever they want (even if it is in opposition to what the other person says), however they want, as long as where they are doing it allows it. This includes public spaces and the Internet. Free speech is an integral part of skepticism (the right to call ‘bullshit.’) and critical thinking. Politeness has nothing to do with any of this, although I reason that it will usually get you further in most situations. Nor does diplomacy figure into it. In fact, politeness and diplomacy are,
Separate From Free Speech…
This is where it gets tricky for many people, because there are situations that are uncomfortable to talk about. There are aspects of the human condition that will immediately trigger a reaction in some people that can cause them duress. Some venues exist where speech is regulated for content. These restrictions have nothing to do with politeness or diplomacy. They are put in place because these areas represent spaces that may be accessed by the general public without their consent.
If someone is walking down the street, they are exposed to a variety of stimuli that they are forced to observe. This is called ‘advertising,’ and is one of the venues where free speech comes with restrictions. Let’s use an adult entertainment establishment. Here’s a typical advertisement for a gentlemen’s club:
The sign is legal because it doesn’t violate obscenity laws, contains no objectionable words, etc. The subject might elicit a wide variety of conversation regarding the very existence of strip clubs. However, the sign itself is merely an advertisement. It offers information that the establishment exists, the city it is in, and a phone number for more precise information. This particular image is of a billboard, but the point would be the same if it was the sign on the front door of the business.
The Game Changes When You Go Inside…
Using our example of an adult entertainment establishment, the minute someone walks through the front door, they lose their right to not be offended. They have made a conscious choice, having been advised of what takes place at the establishment. If they approach someone in authority and demand that the girls get dressed immediately because they are offended at the sight of naked women, their request can not only be refused, but the establishment has the right to ask the offended party to GTFO, forthwith.
You see how this works? This is where free speech allows the establishment to advertise, and what keeps their advertisements from being censored, as long as they remain within the law of the land. It doesn’t matter if it’s a strip club, a pharmacy, a church, a cemetery or a strip club that looks like a pharmacy, located in a church cemetery. Someone bitching and moaning about a perfectly legal sign being offensive is ridiculous, and if you think I need to further explain this, then you should just stay inside your home and never venture out into the real world. By the way, I have the same opinion on people who find certain styles of dress offensive. That’s a whole other post, right there, but I digress. Now, with that said about public spaces and advertising, there are a lot of people who just don’t understand that this is,
Not How The Internet Works…
For fuck’s sake, if something is being said about you or about a subject that you are sensitive to on the Internet in a way that is going to cause you extreme duress, stress you out, or trigger a reaction that will cause you to have a psychological breakdown, the stay the hell away from those spaces. Really, it’s that simple. This is a truism that effects anywhere on the web. Read these words, carefully:
“The Internet is the last bastion for total and complete freedom of expression in the known universe”
If you click on a link that you know is going to take you somewhere that is gonna flip your shit, in spite of the fact that you don’t want your shit flipped, then your shit deserves to be flipped. This is not blaming the victim, because you have made a choice to expose yourself to something that you are fully and completely aware will cause the exact reaction that you expect it to. It is not blaming the victim if you intentionally step in front of a freight train. Jesus Christ in pink satin pumps, what his so hard to understand about this? If you are a writer, author, blogger, journalist, news reporter or in a related field and you are that sensitive to the shit you write about, you would do good to find another topic, or unplug from the web.
I don’t care where it is on the Internet, free speech here needs to remain unfettered. I will state it again, and I will type slowly for those of you who still don’t get it. If you know what is on places like Omegle, 4Chan, Chatroulette, YouPorn, Reddit, The Slymepit, Freethought Blogs, Skeptic Ink, Big Think, CNN, Fox News, The Southern Baptist Convention, etc., etc., times a gazillion, and you know it is going to offend you, and you go there anyway, you pretty much deserve to be offended. You have the right to be offended, but another person also has the right to offend you. The rights of the one offending trump whatever it is that you find offensive if you are in their house.
This Is Why I Don’t Moderate Comments…
As I stated in my irritatingly forced and hastily crafted ‘Welcome Aboard‘ post yesterday, my house (this blog) has an open door policy. If I have the right to say what I want, about who I want, in any way I choose, then others have the right to comment on it – which, by the way, includes their right to disagree with me, even vehemently. This is how unfettered free speech works. This is the way of the Internet. This is why it is so important to keep it this way.
If someone demands the censorship of something just because it fucking offends them, then how is this different from a certain religion that separates heads from bodies because members of said religion are offended at something as simple as a carfuckingtoon. Do you understand where this is heading? How long will it be before there are beheadings just for uttering the words, “Picture of Muhammad,” because it sparks a mental image?
I want to thank everyone who has offered support for my move back home, here, in this space. The response in my email, my Facebook inbox and on Twitter has been wonderful. I have a list of websites, blogs and forums that I will be visiting – thanks to many of you not only letting me know you are out there, exercising your right to speak your mind, but also to those venues that have been unfairly represented as being something other than they are.
Follow me on Twitter at @Stefanelli