Monday, March 13, 2017

"Freedom of Speech" and Why You Sound Dumb Saying It

One of the hallmarks of the ridiculously stupid and the inanely ignorant is that they will toss around words and phrases without actually knowing what they mean. Of course, they think they're using the words or phrases correctly and, sometimes, the people around them do, too, because they're under a kind of mass delusion of meaning. My favorites, right now, all have to do with the Constitution, and my very favorite are the Conservative jutnobs who keep yelling about their "freedom of speech."

So let's talk a little about "freedom of speech" and the 1st Amendment and what it means and does in regard to that freedom. But just a little, because it's a big topic with lots of small parts that we could talk about for... well, for far longer than I would hold your attention, I'm sure.

The first thing you need to understand is that the "freedom of speech" being granted by the 1st Amendment is a protection being granted to the individual. A protection from the government. See, in many countries, criticizing the government or a religion can get you thrown in jail. Or worse. Having just emerged from the tyranny of a government that had no problem punishing people for things they said, the founding fathers wanted to protect people from thin-skinned assholes who would abuse their power by throwing people into jail for saying bad things about them or just for disagreeing with them in general.

Here's the thing: "Freedom of Speech" does not mean you have the right to say whatever old thing you want to say. That was never the intent, and we have many laws dealing with the kinds of things that are not protected. Of course, the popular one is about how it is illegal to stand up in a crowded theater and yell, "Fire!" Then there's yelling "bomb!" in an airport. Your "freedom of speech" argument isn't going to get you very far in either case.

What the 1st Amendment does allow is that you can go out on any street corner and protest against the government or a religion or, actually, be as racist as you want, and you can't be arrested for it. Well, as long as you're not promoting violence. Because, see, the promotion of violence is not protected.

The problem with all of this is the misconceptions.

First, your right to say whatever it is you want to say does not in any way obligate me to listen to you. Also, it does not in any way validate whatever it is you're saying, meaning your right to an opinion does not make your opinion correct. People (mostly on the Right (though those anti-vaxxers from both sides are pretty bad, too)) seem to be under the misperception that they are having their "freedom of speech" violated if I don't want to listen to them, which is just another asinine assumption those people like to make. Further, if I tell them they are wrong (and from me, generally, that means their opinions are based on no facts whatsoever) and that I am no longer going to engage with them on the (or any) subject, they tend to froth at the mouth and tell me I'm violating their "freedom of speech."

But let's go back to that street corner I mentioned earlier. See, the 1st Amendment does indeed give you the right to stand on that street corner and pontificate as much as you want about "illegals" and "swinging dicks" and your right to own as many guns as you want (which is a topic for another time), but I don't have to stop and listen, nor does anyone else. We are all free to walk right on past you and leave you shouting at the air. Not to mention the fact that that same 1st Amendment right gives me the right to pause and tell you what an asshole you are and how all the things you're saying just prove how ignorant and uneducated you are. You use your freedom of speech the way you want; I'll use mine the way I want, up to and including letting you know just how big of an ignorant asshole you really are.

Second, the 1st Amendment does not give you the right to exercise your word vomit anywhere you want to. Which takes us back to the street corner. The public street corner. Because that's what's protected, public spaces. I'm not going to get into the nuance of how that applies to businesses because that can be very different depending on the type of business, but your freedom of speech does not extend to other people's private property. That means that if you are in my house and you start saying things I don't like, I can tell you to stop and you're pretty much obligated to do so. You are not protected by the 1st Amendment. You either stop or you leave.

And just to make the point: That extends to my blog and to my facebook page. For all intents and purposes, those are "my" spaces. What that means is that if you post something on my FB wall or make a comment on my blog and I don't, for lack of a better term, approve of it, I can remove it, and I have not violated your "freedom of speech." In fact, when you start telling me that I have, that, again, just shows how ignorant and uneducated you are. And, certainly, you should not start citing something that you actually have no clue about, because it proves you're talking out of your ass, and no one wants to see that. If you feel the desperate need to say the things you are trying to say in my space, please feel free to go to your own space and say them all you want. That's what your "freedom of speech" gets for you.

[Just to be clear: "My" space on this blog or on facebook is not actually my space. It is only my space insomuch as google and facebook have allowed me to use them. They own the spaces and could at any time decide that they don't like the things I've said and take them down. That goes for pretty much everyone using those spaces. But, still, as google and FB have granted me the privilege of using their spaces, it is an extension of me, and your "freedom of speech" does not extend into it.]

Not to go all Princess Bride here, but, when you start spouting off at the ass about your "freedom of speech" any time I say I'm not going to discuss a topic with you until you actually get educated about the subject, I want to say, "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Which is to say, "I know that it doesn't mean what you think it means." Which is to say, "Here's another thing you should really go educate yourself on before you start making statements about it."

Not that education is going to remain something that is accessible to the "common man" if Trump and cohorts get their way.


  1. Ooh, that last line. Nice one.

    The answer to speech we don't like is more speech. My own pet peeve is when people confuse a boycott with an infringement on speech. Boycotts aren't infringements. They are speech of their own, protesting speech someone else doesn't like. Personal/private action to shut up someone who says something dumb isn't an infringement on First Amendment rights. It's a First Amendment right in and of itself.

    1. Briane: Exactly. Which is why I get so tired of hearing that I'm squashing their "free speech" if I say they're saying something stupid.

  2. These blogosphere owners do exercise their rights to censor things placed on their pages in their Terms of Service Agreements. For full freedom someone would have to create their own server and hope that Google would come along and propagate their link - which they don't have to do either.

  3. Most of the time, when I say "freedom of speech", I say it really fast, and when mashed together it kind of sounds like "freedoma speech."

    Maybe I DO sound dumb saying it. You have really given me something to think about.

    I'm going to go ponder this on myspace. And just to be clear, when I say myspace, I don't mean my actual space, I mean the 2003 social network Myspace. I'm burned out on Facebook.

  4. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. That should be taught right after learning about the first amendment because people have no idea what it means. There are entirely too many people who need to shut the hell up when I tell them they're being assholes instead of whining about their freedom of speech.