Free* speech (and fuck your quenelle)

What am I missing here.

How to balance free speech advocacy with what appear to be reasonable laws restricting what people are legally entitled to say?

I ask this today because I can’t get over a simple rhetorical hurdle: I accept that (e.g.) harmful racial abuse, death threats, etc. are and should be crimes subject to the appropriate legal tests. I therefore accept in principle that speech is not, and I do not want it to be, totally unequivocally free.

Given this I can only perceive the battleground – social, democratic, intellectual, whatever – as a giant and necessarily never ending haggle over price. That is, over the definitions, extents, costs and benefits of “freedom of speech” as a broader subject.

This isn’t a first amendment question as I have no stake in the American constitution. And I certainly don’t agree with all of our (English) laws, for goodness’ sake not by a long shot, and nor do I believe I place excessive trust in our institutions. But I do basically believe in democracy. And how such institutions, laws, etc. pertaining to speech came about anywhere, and how they function in both real and abstract terms, seems to me to be the material issue. Not so very long ago blasphemy was a crime in law, which I feel is no more or less ridiculous in principle than the Charlie Hebdo killings.

I think I can state my core belief as that private views / expression are never a matter for anyone else, but that I expect a certain amount of properly democratic law and justice to protect me from certain public expression – you know, when it’s false and dangerous, or a clear and present danger of causing a crime to be committed, or someone deliberately singing Popular Music in my face, and so on.

WWDD (What Would Doctorow Do)?

Note: Despite this post I don’t have a view on Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. But I guess fuck that guy in general, and the so-called quenelle in particular.


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