Toughen Up: Freedom of Speech Is Absolute, There Are No Thought Crimes
WARNING: This essay contains materials that will offend just about anyone in one way or another. Yet free thought and speech – even when challenging, or even offensive and in bad-taste – are the underpinning of liberty. Only through the fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas can we usher in an era of peace, justice, equity and sustainability based upon the identification of truthful action. All political ideologies, democratic liberties, the human family’s well-being, and the ability to identify solutions to looming global catastrophes are ill-served by efforts to stifle freedom of thought and expression. I have written at length that there is no god. That both authoritarian fascism and progressive elitism threaten our liberties. That it is a self-evident fact that we are all one human family. And that in an era of environmental collapse and abrupt climate change, ecology is the meaning of life. How can I hope that my unorthodox (yet I believe truthful) ideas are given fair consideration, if I don’t insist upon the right of self-expression by others that may be equally challenging? We need to stop being perpetually aggrieved by every perceived slight, and listen to divergent viewpoints to end perma-war, feed the hungry, achieve full employment, and avoid global environmental collapse. Censorship is undemocratic and can only lead to tyranny.
Earth Meanders, Deep Ecology Essays by Dr. Glen Barry
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.” – The Christian Recorder, 1862
“Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death.” – George Orwell, 1984
“Mookie: You garlic breath, pizza slinging, spaghetti bending, Vic Damone, Perry Como, Luciano Pavarotti, Sole Mio, non-singing motherfucker.
Pino: You gold teeth, gold chain wearing, fried chicken and biscuit eating, monkey, ape, baboon, big thigh, fast running, high jumping, spear chucking, three-hundred-and-sixty-degree basketball dunking, titsun, spade, Moulan Yan. Take your fucking pizza-pizza and go the fuck back to Africa.
Stevie: You little slanty eyed, me-no-speaky-American, own-every-fruit-and-vegetable-stand-in-New-York, bullshit, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Summer Olympics ’88, Korean kickboxing son-of-a-bitch.
Officer Long: You Goya bean eating, fifteen-in-a-car, thirty-in-an-apartment, pointed shoes, red wearing, Menudo, meda-meda Puerto Rican cocksucker. Yeah, you!
Sonny: It’s cheap, I got a good price for you, Mayor Koch, how-I’m-doing, chocolate egg cream drinking, bagel and lox, B’nai B’rith Jew asshole.” – Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee, 1989
“In a democracy, the only correct response to impolite political speech and imagery is to grin and bear it, choosing either to ignore or respond, while fighting with your life for the right of the offender to think and speak. Otherwise your free speech may be shutdown next, and there can be no lasting liberty or revealed truth.” – Dr. Glen Barry
As one with both progressive and libertarian tendencies, I am terrified to see the efforts to stifle free speech from across the political spectrum. Freedom of thought and speech is the bedrock of human advancement and an absolute global human right; that once lost, threatens a return to medieval ignorance.
No one is ever justified in telling another person what they can think or say, period.
One must differentiate between words and actions. And be particularly careful to not abridge the right of political satire and comedy (even when ill-conceived and poorly done) as a particularly adept way to facilitate thoughtful insights.
It is unacceptable that one race can use the word Nigger and it is perfectly acceptable, yet others are pilloried for doing so. It is racist to say some races can utter these sounds and sentiments, while others cannot. If one believes in universal truths and a society free of bias, either uttering this offensive term is acceptable in limited instances by all; or no one should ever speak the word, and we accept that we live in a totalitarian society. It is historical fact that under unimaginably onerous slavery that some were imprisoned to work in houses – disparagingly referred to by some as “House Niggers” – and others were enslaved in the fields. We must not turn away from historical truth that shows the magnitude of evil-incarnate, and de-legitimatize any reference, however in-artful.
As an early #BlackLivesMatter supporter married to a dark complexioned woman, I assure you I am keenly aware that black people have been persecuted terribly, and systematic oppression continues to this day. Yet so have other ethnicities and religions. Speaking freely about race including in a purposefully shocking satirical manner – such as in my favorite movie scene of racial tirades from Do the Right Thing that mocks bigotry (quoted above), or recently by serial-offensive comedian Bill Maher – helps to promote free thinking, and at the margin ensures that the most egregious forms of racial violence do not happen again. There has been no comparable censorship of terms regarding the Jewish holocaust and other historical travesties, nor should there be.
My point is simple: use of such a repugnant and emotionally charged word should be rare, only in limited appropriate situations and contexts (i.e. satire or discussing history), and the user be prepared for the consequences; but it should not be forbidden on the basis of race. Freedom of Speech means freedom to speak. And liberty’s prohibition on thought crimes is absolute.
Frankly I like seeing fake images of Donald Trump being beheaded. I understand it as imagery meant to signify the horror of his immoral and narcissistic rule, which threatens human decency and our very survival. Such expression does not constitute a threat of actual beheading. If someone were to try to do that ACTION, an actual crime of volition would have been committed. Thought crimes harm no one and exist only as ideas which have the potential to enlighten.
The picture of Kathy Griffin holding a fake human head pales in comparison to the fascist, charlatan, authoritarian, pussy-grabbing terror being unleashed by a narcissistic madman who couldn’t even win the popular vote; yet rules with imperial fervor. UnPresident Trump routinely attacks other in obscene manners outside of what has been contemporary political norms. Billions may suffer and die as this sociopath unleashes nuclear war and climate change ruin upon Earth. I think that is what Kathy was getting at in her satire, and it is protected political speech in any true democracy.
Even bigoted self-aggrandizers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Anne Coulter have the right to say whatever they wish, and to be ignored.
Many of my thoughts and words offend others. Frankly, I think Islam is a violent and vile medieval religion bereft of truth and with little to offer to post-modern humanity. Yet as an atheist, I think exactly the same of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and any other illogical faith that uses myth and violence to dominate our lives based upon self-serving lies regarding what non-existent ghosts in the sky want us to do. This is God Pollution.
I’ve taken some hard knocks speaking truth regarding the powerful in Wisconsin. Congressman Mark Pocan should not get away with bragging of raping children. Nor should politicians like Governor Scott Walker be able to victimize others for a lifetime with impunity as a means to gain power.
If I don’t acknowledge the right of others to speak whatever they wish, how can I legitimately expect people to respond to my own challenging notions of truth? Censorship however carried out is for the weak and inarticulate, and can only lead to unchallenged falsehoods and tyranny.
There are no thought crimes. If you don’t like what someone says? Don’t listen. Or argue back persuasively your viewpoint. But don’t try to stifle free thought and expression. Otherwise suppression of your voice is equally justified. And what constitutes acceptable speech will be arbitrarily determined by transient social mores and whomever is in power at the time.
Both political correctness and rising authoritarianism are equally responsible for getting us to this current point of perpetually aggrieved sensibilities, an inability to address numerous looming catastrophes, and the very real potential for political violence.
The political middle where most truths are to be found has grown slender and disturbingly irrelevant.
Faced with abrupt climate change and biosphere collapse, in a world of grotesque injustice and perma-war, only the fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas can save the human family. We live in a world of tremendous diversity, and only by embracing our differences while learning from each other can we hope to survive as a species.
The right to speak your mind must be extended equally to anti-science climate deniers as to experts who have trained and acquired knowledge for a lifetime. To racists filled with hate, as well as to peaceful prophets of love. Free thinking and speech are granted as a human right equally to right-wing fascists as well as left-wing elitists. All have the right to think and say as they wish (while being held accountable for the veracity of their words, but not censored including self-censorship), including graphic art and satire meant to shock in a manner intended to bring about thoughtful reflection upon important matters.
We have a responsibility as a society to create an educated citizenry who can logically and rationally examine competing claims in order to arrive at judgments of fact and ultimately achieve knowledge. Individually it is up to all engaged citizenry to forcefully push back in the public arena against pseudo-science, fake news, and other nonsense. Yet while remaining open to new ideas.
In a democracy, the only correct response to impolite political speech and imagery is to grin and bear it, choosing either to ignore or respond, while fighting with your life for the right of the offender to think and speak. Otherwise your free speech may be shutdown next, and there can be no lasting liberty or revealed truth.
And through the discussions, often rabid and desultory, an educated citizenry can converge upon the truth. There may be missteps along the way, but only through fearless exchange of ideas do we have a chance at enlightenment and righteous action.
It is a well-recognized matter of law that speech which purposefully incites imminent violence is an exception to absolute free speech. This should not necessarily mean it is never justified, just that those espousing such thoughts have to be willing to accept legal responsibility for doing so.
So stop being such pansies. Toughen up. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t let political correctness or authoritarianism stifle your own self-awakening and free thought. Confront yourself with the speech and ideas to which you have not been exposed and thus go beyond the limited worldview into which you were born and have been indoctrinated.
If anything in this essay made you uncomfortable, good, that was the intent. Break out of rigid orthodoxy and join in the global discussion. Toughen up, stop being weak and whiny, as you hone your own message. Seek truth and purity of thought and expose ideas of others that are neither.