Limiting freedom of speech

The shootings in Arizona has highlighted the hate speech issues in this country. There is no way to know what or if hate speech triggers the mentally unstable to act out violence. There is no hard connection between vitriolic words and violent action, and yet, most reasonable people seem to understand that words can indeed, have consequences.

The question I would ask: Is there a way to rein in vitriol in public discussion and still preserve freedom of speech? We cherish the right to say what we want, but is there any responsibility attached to this freedom? If there is a line, where is it? How do we obtain civility in discourse without jumping on the slippery slope of PC?


I’ve thought about this a bit myself, and really…well, I think it’s impossible. You can’t say to people, “You’re allowed to say whatever is on your mind, but you have to say it in a decent way” and expect no one to take that to its extreme – the PC or anti-PC slippery slope. You’ve the people who don’t give a shit, and the people who have sensitive feel-bads and freak out about every little thing. Those of us in the middle get to deal with the headache.

I just don’t think that will ever change.

Sounds about right to me, Blurred.

So… if I post to the internet the opinion that an abortion doctor is a murderer and deserves the death penalty, then post a picture of him along with the address of his clinic, his residence, pics of his wife and children, the schools they attend, pics of all the cars they drive, etc. I haven’t done anything but exercise my freedom of speech rights, have I? I haven’t specifically asked anyone to kill the doctor or a member of his family. All the info I’ve posted is public access, so I haven’t breached any privacy laws. I’m home free, right? More to the point, I can do this on any issue with any person without any personal liability because I’m just exercising my rights of free speech.

There is a disconnect here. Does freedom of speech absolve a total lack of responsibility?

In a civilized society, people have rights and responsibilities. We are now totally fixated on rights and ignoring responsibilities. For example, the right free speech seems to mean you can say anything in any way that you chose but actually there is a responsibility to use free speech in a way that is respectful of others. Communicate your ideas but communicate with consideration. Those who are highly visible in the media need to set an example and they are not doing it. It’s really about teaching people and kids especially to act in a civilized manner. Self-regulation is critical . The ‘anything goes’ attitude has to go.

I don’t personally believe so, no, but I’m baffled as to how you would go about holding people responsible in a scenario like the example you gave. So you have to make a blanket law that covers exactly how free our speech is – but that doesn’t really work, does it? They have blanket laws for things like sex crimes. Because of those blanket laws, I have a friend who did nothing more than sleep with his 17 year old girlfriend when he was 18, and he is now a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, with all the joys that come along with that.

It’s tricky and dangerous, making laws like that, and you can’t exactly call it “free speech” if it’s regulated.

There is a difference betweeen morality and political law. That difference is a disconnect. Vitriolic speech is morally reprehensible, but we recognize a disconnect between that speech and the criminal behavior of someone influenced by that speech. Palin’s “hit list” is only tangentially related to this multiple homicide. It’s as deluded of Bob Brady to try to ban those symbols as it is of Palin to think she is blameless. I’m not sure how this relates to your hypothetical example, given our current laws. Do you know? Is such a situation considered legally allowable in the U.S.?

First, political law is a reflection of the general moral principles in place at a particular time. We know that freedom of speech is inhibited to some degree -ie- it is not legal to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. There are slander laws in place as well. But the example I gave IS legal, regardless the morality issue. So the issue becomes one of how much freedom of speech? I don’t pretend to know the answers, and I’m just as leery of prohibitive laws as the next person, but there must be some answer to how do we hold people responsible for blatant encouragement of violence? The old saw that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Well, we’ve just seen that it doesn’t always work that way. For the mentally unstable, words can indeed hurt us. The line… where the fuck is the line?

I don’t know, Tentative.

Freedom of speech is over-rated, most people just talk shit anyway. In fact, limiting freedom of speech might help people exercise their freedom of mind a bit more thus resulting in a better quality of speech. I’m all about quality over quantity.

then again, look at the other free speech issue highlited in the news recently: Pakistan’s blasphemy laws - they are a product of someone demanding that there be some kind of line - where’s the fucking line, indeed! - it’s wherever you draw it, and that’s the problem - among other things, no matter where you draw it, some one is going to accuse you of being politically correct

the unfortunate reality is that peoples’ right to say stupid shit needs to be protected

Sarah Palin is not directly responsible for anyone’s death, and that is admittedly hard to reconcile with the fact that her freedom of speech entitles her to publically wish people dead and get away with it, as she did with her crosshairs stunt. So her wish came true this time, that doesn’t make her culpable.

God, i wish someone would just shoot her, don’t you?


Absolutely not! But if she got run over by a moose or maybe maimed a little by a brown bear… I prolly wouldn’t shed too many tears. :-"

And I take it you have a good idea on whom we should entrust with making such quality determination? Perhaps those same people should also decide what we could watch on TV (surely the vast majority of programming is not of high enough “quality”)? Which books we should be allowed to read (again, away with all those low quality books)? What music we should listen to (only bands that pass the quality check need apply)?

But why stop with speech and culture? Why not ask our masters to decide what we should eat, drink and smoke (or not smoke)? What about education and jobs? Surely, our benevolent masters know better than us what’s good for us in terms of education and employment too.

Hey, let’s keep going. You wouldn’t want people to marry low-quality spouses, would you? Surely we ought to get permission before getting into a romantic relationship?

Seriously, of course quality is important. The big question, as always, is - who gets to decide. As far as I know, not even the strongest proponents of freedom of speech suggest forcing people to listen to that speech. Anybody in the country can decide (for herself and for her children) what to listen to. That is as it should be.

This is a common misunderstanding which I would like to correct. Not being allowed to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre is not a limitation of the freedom of speech. It is a manifestation of the property rights of the theatre owner.

Words don’t hurt us. It is the mentally unstable that hurt us. And, if not triggered by “words”, the mentally unstable could end up hurting us for any number of other reasons. If we tried to control every potential trigger that may cause a mentally-unstable person to hurt people, we wouldn’t have much left.

Instead, let’s think of how we can identify, control and limit the mentally unstable.


Can you see the problem? In any social setting, someone has to create the definitions, the proscribed behaviors, and the consequences. What is “freedom” of anything is subjective and subject to the whims of power. It isn’t a question of whether we can limit free speech, it is a question of what is limited and the consequences for breaking the “rules”. I don’t expect any solution to this issue. There has never been a satisfactory answer. The obvious answer always lies in control-of-self. But when people choose to disregard self control, then we see prohibitive PC laws.

An aside, the shooter had a 9MM Glock with a 30 round clip. Now we can say that a 30 round clip doesn’t kill people, only people kill people, right? WTF do you need a 30 round clip for? But hey, the clip and the people who produce and sell them are completely innocent, right? Riiiiight. Sometimes, just sometimes, common sense has it’s own validity.

Actually, as much as possible, we should each decide for ourselves. This principle is obviously accepted with respect to most day-to-day decisions. It can be extended to issues currently considered “in the public sphere”.
For example, adults and parents on behalf of their children should decide what speech they want to listen to.
Private property owners should get to decide what weapons they want to allow visitors to carry. So schools, shopping malls and residential areas can decide to limit which weapons (if any) they allow visitors to carry. A dude in a ranch in the middle of nowhere can play with his automatic weapons.

The gun control debate has two sides. For example, would the gunman have been stopped sooner if any person in the audience was armed? There is absolutely no evidence that gun ownership is correlated to violent crimes. Switzerland has a high level of gun ownership, and a low level of violent crime.

But, as I said before, I believe private property owners should get to set their own rules.

Umm, no. Nobody’s saying Palin should go to jail for Loughner’s act of criminality. We’re saying her (and many others’) rhetoric is irresponsible and reprehensible. We draw lines with respect to criminal culpability, but those lines don’t actually exist with respect to how life actually works. I’ve brought up the distinction between politics and philosophy before - this is precisely what that distinction entails.

You know, if she wasn’t in the middle of all of this, if it was someone else put in her place, she wouldn’t be saying that.

I think we need to draw a very sharp bright line between criminal culpability and moral disapprobation. You are perfectly entitled to your opinions about Palin’s rhetoric. Anybody who criticizes other people’s speech should be very careful to look in the mirror from time to time.

I think that when somebody criticizes violent action, one is justified in using very sharp words, even if calling for violent action is not typically prudent. Criminal use violence is not limited to criminals. It can, has, and still is, practised by government officials on a regular basis. Jared Loughner killed six people. That’s awful. Governments are routinely responsible for the death of thousands of people. Let’s keep things in proportion.

I wonder. It strikes me as consistent with her view of people as isolated individuals. I blame Jesse Kelly more than Palin though.