Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Freedom of Speech Part 2

Due to comments received on my recent post regarding the freedom of speech, it’s clear that some issues I raised in that article require expansion and clarification.

Over the last few decades several forces have been at work in certain liberal western democracies, which have unfortunately, weakened our willingness and ability to confront a number of unsupportable and clearly harmful beliefs and dogmas.

I believe that key among these forces are:

1  The expansion of human rights legislation

2  The doctrine of multiculturalism

3  The rise and promulgation of political correctness

4  The growth and spread of moral and cultural relativism as an acceptable philosophical position.

In many ways these four forces are inextricably linked and believing in the opinions they promulgate has led to a diminution of both free speech and freedom of conscience. Many of the ideas in the above areas have unquestionably been adopted from the best of intentions and the noblest of motives. However, I believe they have also worked to undermine resistance to toxic and irrational opinions. 

In our desire to be seen to be fair and even-handed, we have fallen into the trap of attempting to treat all moral and cultural differences as equally valid and of equal value.

This has inevitably led to some pretty unedifying attempts to justify clearly unacceptable practises as not necessarily ‘worse,’ but simply ‘different.’ 

We need to have the courage and conviction to acknowledge the superiority of some moral positions and cultural practises over others and stop asserting that all beliefs, opinions and actions possess equal moral value.

For example, I would wish to argue that it is not simply different not to kill people for apostasy and adultery, it’s better

It’s better not to mutilate the genitals of young children. It’s better not to subjugate women and deny them equal rights. It’s better not to believe things without good evidence. It’s better not to brainwash children into believing in invisible sky monsters. It’s better not to allow courts based upon belief in an unknowable god to decide upon questions of justice. It’s better not to condemn people to death because they write a book, make a film, publish a cartoon or any other way insult one’s beliefs. 

Everyone has an absolute right to believe whatever they wish. What they do not have, not now, and I hope not ever, is the right to have their beliefs respected. You as an individual have rights. Your beliefs do not. I’m afraid that this clear and absolute distinction has tragically escaped the minds of many liberal and left-leaning thinkers.

Unless we in the West begin to vigorously assert the inviolability of our hard won freedoms, we shall find them eroded and diminished by default.

It would be an immense tragedy for the whole of western civilisation if were we to lose our rights and freedoms to a world view born in the minds of bronze-age, illiterate dessert tribesmen, who thought the earth was flat and for whom the wheelbarrow was the pinnacle of technological achievement.

However, it would be absolutely unforgivable, if we gave them away without a fight.

Note to readers: Please click on the tab below if you wish to leave a comment.


  1. Believe in better? ;) I think folks do have the right to believe in what ever they wish, but they do not have the right, based on those beliefs, to impose them upon those who do not agree. It is the political propaganda that has tainted every religion, it is fear mongering to impose the wrath of invisible sky gods on children that preconditions them to hold their place in the sheeples pasture. We must support open communication, no matter how it may or may not offend our senses...we know enough now, at the most basic level, that Zeus will spare us his thunderbolt...let's move forward in the honor of evolution, let's embrace all of humanity as one, dance for all the gods and the role they have played...then put them in the museum where they belong...Let's take responsibility for the world WE have created, and simply...make it better.

    1. "Believe in better? ;) I think folks do have the right to believe in what ever they wish, but they do not have the right, based on those beliefs, to impose them upon those who do not agree."

      Yep, with you there Natasha. But you're premiss that we "know enough..." is I fear rather wishful. My variant on James' relativistic assumption, says that the differences in perspective and understanding between some groups or factions (e.g. Western culture and that of the extremist Muslim world) is such that that 'knowledge' is sometimes tainted by a narrow local history, particularly in parts of the world where education is very limited, other than by the indoctrination enabled by religious leadership.

      I so wish this were not the case, but I fear it is the hardest task we face to have a 'meeting of minds' to achieve a 'via media' between polar opposite doctrines, which are held as gospel by the sheeple (forgive the patronising tone, but it is a truth).

  2. Thank you for your contribution to this post Natasha. Truly appreciated.

  3. Straight to the point, James. Well argued and agreeable to my way of thinking. Much as I think we need to avoid 'fighting' talk, since this would tend to predicate escalation of current military activity, there is certainly a case for sticking out flag in the ground and saying: "Oy, you, watch it!".

    I understand the four 'forces' that you elucidate well.

    Human rights legislation needs to be tempered, preferably not by the high and mighty intellectual/academic/civil servants of the European Union, but by well chosen and balanced citizens. In so doing, we need to avoid the risk that we would still restrict our ability to speak freely, by the process of removing human rights legislation.

    It is my view that multiculturalism in Britain, as well as elsewhere in the Western world, is inevitable, given increasing world population. Your view on this depends what perspective you have. If it is to solve the 'problem' inside our lifetime, then It will create pain for a generation or two, unrest and inter-community struggle, even Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood", all of which point to an intrinsic function of the human condition, but you would expect a new order to evolve in a few generations, whether or not it involved "rivers of Blood".

    As for political correctness, the less said about this stupid state of affairs, the better, as far as I am concerned. And, yes, it has constrained freedom of expression (e.g. I refuse to be called Chairperson of the Choir's committee. I am a man and therefore a Chairman. The next person to be appointed to the post can call themselves whatever they like, but I am a Chairman!).

    As for relativism, I think I am at odds with you here. It is my belief that it is a logical consequence of human genetics and environment that makes each one of the 7 Thousand Million people on this earth unique in some way, so we are all different, in howsoever a small a way. That difference, for some groups, however, is clearly far greater than we allow for in human negotiation. It is for this reason that I think you have a point, but not the point I think you intended! I'm afraid to say, the consequence of this is that it makes it doubly inevitable that conflict will escalate between cultures, but none more so than between us and the blind and hot headed extremists, who fuel insurgency, the effects of which we see every day, on the news, in the Middle East. This must therefore colour our points of view of what is absolute truth and validity, whether morally or culturally or even scientifically. Throw vested interest into the ring, and you get an immensely complex mix of perspectives. If this embodies relativism, then I am a relativist.

    "You as an individual have rights. Your beliefs do not." Fully agree with this. We have to earn respect, by proving our beliefs are not only valid, but stand up to the test of time and, above all, have moral integrity and make common sense. We have to behave responsibly and in as civilised a way as is humanly possibly, even in the face of extreme provocation, but I think human history has shown that the history of the world is the history of war and, if we are not to allow ourselves to be battered by this one sided chest beating, wailing and sabre rattling tirade from certain factions of the Muslim world (and I say "certain factions" because that is what they are; I'm certain 'they' do not represent the opinions of a majority of Muslim people, would that they could feel free to express them without fear of oppression) then, one way or another, we will have to stand up and be counted.

    One thing I am clear on is that we have to keep a clear head. We need to defend our hard won freedoms with level heads. Let us not counter provocation with provocation.

  4. Thank you for your very considered response to the debate John. You make some excellent points and have raised many important issues for us to address here in the West. You may not totally agree with my reasons for objecting so strongly to moral and cultural relativism, but I'm sure you would agree that some beliefs must be rejected, particularly if holding them results in the death and destruction of innocent people.

  5. ...

    I prefer free speech /
    even if it means someone /
    can criticize me

    #haiku #poetry #mp

  6. I come here for the intellectual stimulation. I am not disappointed. The lively volley of ideas and perspectives encourages me to refine and better understand my own systems of belief. Thanks for that.