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Thinking About Freedom of Speech

So this is International Blog Against Racism Week, which seems like a perfect time to point to the Open Letter from the Carl Brandon Society on racial/gender discourse.

I’m hopeful that, as in previous years, I’ll learn some things and get to read and participate in some good discussions this week.  But reading that letter, I found myself wondering how long it would be before I came across the first “Oh noes, the PC Nazis are Censorin’ our Free Speech!” response.  (Answer: not long at all, as it turns out.)

Let’s start with the PC part.  I’m not sure when “Politically Correct” turned into such a ridiculous phrase.  The belief seems to be that, in order to be truly politically correct, I must immediately go through my goblin books, rewriting the goblins as hygienically impaired, height challenged creatures with alternative dietary habits.  (Actually, now I want to write a story about Veka demanding that the rest of the world describe her as a goblyn, but that’s a tangent.)  The point is, people have waved their wands and cast reductio ad absurdium on the whole concept.  We’ve turned it into a joke (perhaps because then it’s easier to ignore it, and we don’t have to actually do anything?)

I keep thinking about the first time someone told me what “politically correct” meant to them.  She said, “I want to be able to choose what label people use to describe me.”  Why is that such a ridiculous premise?  It is really so absurd to think that an individual should have the right to say “I prefer to be called ________”?  To choose to be addressed by a label that isn’t demeaning, insulting, or simply not what that person wants to be called?  People don’t seem to mind that I prefer to be called Jim rather than James, but if the Carl Brandon Society tells Harlan Ellison not to use the term NWA, suddenly it’s a massive inconvenience and political correctness is censoring our freedom.

It annoys me how easily we toss the word “censorship” around.  Spend 30 seconds reading the comment threads for just about any news article that touches on race (the Gates/Crowley stories should provide plenty of reading).  Trust me, there ain’t no PC Censors working in this country.

Complaining because someone censored your comment on his/her blog not only misses the meaning of the word, it’s also rather insulting to those people who have actually had to deal with censorship.

  • People disagreeing with you is not censorship.
  • People stating that they don’t like your cover art and think its racist, sexist, or whatever, is not censorship.
  • People banning you from their blogs is not censorship.
  • For the writers out there, an editor rejecting your story for his/her publication is not censorship.
  • People saying they don’t like something you said is not censorship.
  • People telling you racial slurs are unacceptable is not censorship.
  • People criticising, mocking, or insulting you for choosing to use racial slurs is not censorship.

The nice thing about my country is that you’re free to say just about anything you like.  I don’t have any obligation to provide a platform for your words, but you can certainly go out and create your own.  The very fact that people are writing 1000+ word rants on their blogs about being censored tends to undermine their point.

But freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism.  If you say something offensive, you’re probably going to get challenged on it.  If that’s a problem for you, you might want to examine your words more carefully.  Either that or move somewhere that censorship actually exists — that way you can start suppressing those who disagree with you.

We talk about freedom of speech, but I hear very little about responsibility for speech.  You choose your words.  You’re responsible for what you say.  If you say something offensive or insulting, that’s on you.  You might disagree over whether something is offensive, but now we’re getting back to political correctness.  Tell me, who has the right to say whether the word “nigger” is insulting?  Do I as a white man get to tell black people that they’re overreacting and shouldn’t be offended if I use that term?

To put it another way, Freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



Jul. 29th, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)
Not to a third party only hearing the offending words. That's my whole point. Two kids walking down the hall between classes pass by you and you hear "
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Not to a third party only hearing the offending words. That's my whole point. Two kids walking down the hall between classes pass by you and you hear "<words you can't hear clearly> she's a nigger." What's your reaction? Zero tolerance gets them in trouble. Case by case determines the rest of the sentence was "This ignorant white guy said 'She's a nigger'." Innocuous statement of fact similar to the conversation we're having here. Non-issue.
Jul. 29th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)
Which is why we talk to students before handing out detention. And we explain that a better way of saying that is "She's a n-word". Same content transmitted without fear of offense or misunderstanding. Added to that I was speaking about in the classroom, where the entire sentance/conversation is heard.
Jul. 29th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
Also we seem to be having a difference of opinion on the term 'zero tolerance'. You seem to feel, and forgive me if I am wrong, that zero tolerance means the second something is done, no matter what, punish, punish, punish. By zero tolerance I mean correct the behavior. Speak up and say that that language is not appropriate. And yes if I heard that entire sentence used by a student I would speak to them about their word choice, and let them know they could have chosen better. If they are using that term to refer to an individual yes, I feel it is my responsibility to say something and let them know it is not acceptable.
Jul. 29th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Quick question for my own clarification -- I used the word "nigger" in the original post. Would you say that use was acceptable, in your opinion?
Jul. 29th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
I would as it was contextualized as listing the term (after all if we don't list the terms when we are discussing appropriateness how will any one know what we are talking about. And the young especially may not realize the impact of their word choice when they bandy these terms about so I feel it is incredibly important to bring it to their attention.
Jul. 29th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
Zero tolerence of weapons in school. Is a t-shirt with a exploded diagram of a pistol acceptable?
Jul. 29th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
Not in my district. Violates the dress code. Student is asked to cover or turn inside out.
Jul. 29th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
Because goodness knows that t-shirt drawing could kill.

This is exactly my point. Over the line PC Policing having ridiculous effects. The only thing this does is show the students that people in a mob mentality react just like sheep. Or lemmings. Just follow with no thought behind it, even to their deaths.
Jul. 29th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
Actually, thinkspeak deletion of a word is offensive to me. It is NOT the same content. Bopping someone in the nose with a foam bat does not equal hitting them with an aluminum one. I'm sorry, but this is not an acceptable solution. Removal/replacement of a word does not make the concept any less onerous, it removes the concept of accurate quotation and muddy's the strength of the offending concept. All the while casting a negative impression on the children that pushes towards not discussing the concept at all, if even to come to an agreement that the concept is wrong. I see this as just as vile an act as not teaching that the holocaust occurred. Or that the Crusades occurred. Ignorance of history's mistakes will doom us to repeating them.

Tip toeing around offensive concepts does not help children deal with being offended later in life in a constructive manner. It leaves them with out the tools needed to resolve the problem when they're not in a protective environment.


Jim C. Hines

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