Saturday, April 23, 2005

*On the Freedom of Speech*

Short post today, too brain dead from criminal law and increasingly odd (and not in a good way) hours kept for this exam period.

I'm a liberal, more Tony Blair/Clintonian Third Way than traditional Lefist beliefs. I a firm believer in free trade and the market. I'm an environmentalist who doesn't buy much into the traditional literature. I abhore capital punishment but probably support it for mass murderers and terrorist (ala Kerry). I generally believe that the government can be a force for good though I think the less interference the better. I believe in the private/public divide but no if it perpetuates inequitable power structures i.e. husbands over wives and parents over children. My opinion on the freedom of speech and hate crime legislation is very ACLU.

As any good liberal will tell you, the basis of liberalism or liberal theories of anything is derived from Mill's Harm Principle: Individual freedom but only to the extent it does not harm a thrid party. Or more eloquently: "The right to move my fist ends at your nose". Similarly, as paraphrased by the great judge and jurist Justice Holmes, "My rights end where your nose begins."

But more pertinently he said that while the freedom of speech was nigh absolute (recall: the Bill of Rights states that Congress Shall Pass No Law abridging the freedom of speech), nevertheless, it was not absolute and can be aborogated when there is clear and present danger in the use of that speech e.g. shouting fire in a crowded theatre.

Two lines that we can draw from this.
1. The freedom of speech can be curtailed
2. BUT only when there is clear and present danger and it seems in a public forum.

What's has happened unfortunately is that Isobel a.k.a. Izzy see links at right) has decided to abandon her current blog at Xanga to a private blog. She will only give her new address on request and has similarly requested that anyone with her new address not to give it out without her express permission and not to link to it.

Of course this is a reaction to the entire Cheng Zhan incident where the sanctity of privacy has been trashed, debate is a foregone thing and what we can think and say is increasing governed by a group of moralist. By moralist, I don't simply mean the extremist social/religious conservatives but also the far-left who if given their way will curtail anything that smacks of racism, sexism or any form of discriminatory speech, even in private. The following ought to be in caps and itallics but it will spoil the format *ahem*, such curtailment is bad no matter which side of the spectrum you are on.

Lest it be said that the chilling effects on free speech is not observable, other blogger friends of my are practicing increasing self censorship on top of that we already practice by virtue of living in Singapore (See James Gomez's thesis in Self-Censorship in Singapore). So whatever freedom of speech that we do have (a lot I might add) is further being curtailed.

Let people make whatever comments they will, irrational as it may be, unless it promotes, advocated or creates violence towards others (so yes, Focus on the Family would fall under this heading). In turn, we will crush their arguments with rational debate and not simply make ad hominen attacks for what good does it really do?

Irrationality cannot exist long under public scrutiny, and in fact mainstreaming extremist parties is the best way of handling them. For example, the Greens in Europe, Far-Right Parties (Haider, Le Pan, Pauline Hanson) either jetison their xenophobe or racist leaders or tune them down such that a debate can exist. Better to engage and know what we are up against then simply marginalise and create a martyr/persecution complex.

I stand by what I say and there's is sufficent information on this site that makes contacting me relatively easy. I believe that we need to stop practicing self-censorship and in general stop trying to shut people up unless there is valid cause (again Focus on the Family and that Queensway Church who says that Homosexuals can change would be notable exceptions).



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