Freedom and society

Amy Alkon talks about some of the petitions sent to the White House – in particular, one calling for the social damnation of the Westboro nutcases. (Calling them a “Baptist Church” is an insult to every real Baptist congregation out there, all of which have disowned the Westboro cultists.)

In particular, she points out that the institution of Thought Crime penalties in our culture is antithetical to the freedom of speech and to equal justice under the law. This is true.

However, freedom of speech is not absolute. You can be prosecuted for fraud, slander, and libel. It’s commonly accepted that shouting “FIRE” in a crowded area when there is no fire is not acceptable use of the freedom of speech – aka, lying in such a way as to predictably injure others is not ethical behavior. (I don’t know what that would fall under, legally – disturbing the peace, perhaps.) Note that the exceptions to the “right” to freedom of speech have to do with social behavior – no one cares what you say in private or to those who agree with you, but if your publicly delivered speech has a high likelihood of Damaging the Other Members of the Tribe, your speech is not covered by the First Amendment.

The growing prevalence of ever-more draconian limits on speech is a logical consequence of the Members of the Tribe being taught that they have a right not to be offended, and that offense – an emotional reaction – qualifies as actual Damage.

As for the “Honoring America’s Veterans Act” – well, that’s just a sad commentary on modern society. What ancient pagan needed to be commanded by the chief to honor the tribe’s dead, fallen in combat for the safety of the tribe? Every child should learn respect for the honored dead. Those who contravene this custom – so ancient it predates recorded human history – deserve to be driven out from society. Simply regulating how far away in space and time they are allowed to be inhuman is a very lenient approach, one that comports very well with the fact that the freedom of speech is not absolute, but balanced against the competing good of cohesive society. Society, after all, flows through time with generations – a fact that is forgotten by those enamored of MEMEMEMEME.

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