IS Freedom of Speech really free? Really?
Thursday 4 October 2012
Last night I had a very brief Twitter exchange with a learned friend about the notion – seemingly quite prevalent on the airwaves at the moment - that Freedom of Speech comes with freedom of responsibility.
I do not share that view.
It’s a great defence and it goes something like this: He said/she said this and that so suck it up princess – we’ve got freedom of speech in this country.
Well here’s my disclaimer: I’m about as far away as the moon from being an academic or scholar, philosopher or intellectual. I am but a person who has lived and experienced life for not quite her four score years - let alone her four score and seven as Titus Andronicus would have us say.
And here are my thoughts:
Regardless of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there IS a time in each of our lives when we enjoy complete and utter freedom to do whatever we can or want to do. From the moment we’re born to the moment our wits adjust to the fact that there are certain boundaries to our behaviour… we do as we jolly well please. We wee and poo wherever and whenever we feel like it; shake our fists and hit out at anything and everything; kick and scream and drive everyone bonkers; and some of us are lucky enough to be loved for doing it.
But gradually as our eyes come into focus and cognizance of our environment takes hold, we realize that our actions bring certain other actions… and results. Some will be pleasant – bring relief and our needs met; for some however, the reactions will not be so pleasant. We will all learn accordingly.
And thus it is when we emerge – either by free choice or forcible ejection - from our house, squalid hut, riverbed, igloo, orphanage or mansion into the wide world of freedom - we’re supposedly mature enough to take care of ourselves and be responsible for our actions.
Sadly it is not so.
Some of us will have been shown an age of reason by means of reasonable discourse; some by a thump, starvation or a stick.
Some of us will emerge as everyday citizens going about our business; some will emerge as preachers, brimstone firing on all cylinders; and alas – some will emerge as thieves and thugs… and bullies. All shapes, sizes and colours, we bear the markings and the trappings of those who trod before us.
But emerge we do - given or left to repeat or repeal and find for ourselves values, morals, attitudes, abilities and standards by which we shall live.
And it’s into a country with remarkable personal freedom that we do this emerging. With some notable exceptions Australia is a free country in a myriad of ways. We can largely ‘do our thing’, dress, choose friends and religion and what we say, at will. Albeit ever so slowly, the freedom in the Scales of Equality between the sexes is adjusting, the female dish no longer dragging its bum on the floor; and in spite of fears of Bestiality and Group Unions, Australians in their number appear to be growing in favour of Same-Sex Marriage. Perhaps one day we will even see that in this wide, brown land of ours, there is ample room to share the things we have with those who have nothing.
But how well or wisely are we using this gift of freedom? Are we taking personal responsibility for it? I remember with sadness that it took legislation before we saw the wisdom of rejecting our freedom-to-be-tossed-around-and-mashed-to-pulp in favour of using seatbelts in our cars.
Even in the USA where there’s a constitutional right to ‘keep and bear arms’, one is not allowed to pull a gun out and shoot another for putting insufficient salt in the soup, without taking responsibility for it.
And thus it is with our Freedom of Speech. Are we taking responsibility for the things we say?
No matter the model we assume, no matter the repeat or repeal of behaviour we take on – are we realizing there’s not one thing we say or do that does not have its consequences of one kind or another?
Earlier I made a disclaimer to address the fact that I am not a Learned Person qualified to speak about Human Rights and the laws of this land. I speak not of Laws against any Incitement of Violence or Hatred.
I speak merely as a member of the Human Race; I speak because I care about the wellbeing of my fellow Man.
Is it not possible that we tread this earth for better reason than to gorge or gloat or indulge ourselves; or rape, murder, brutalise, bully, embarrass, vilify and give pain to another human being?
Is it not possible we’ve been given the freedom of speech that we may uplift the confidence of those around us; that we may encourage, support, share ideas and pull together resources to ensure we leave our world (and those who occupy her) in better shape physically, emotionally and mentally than our forefathers could ever have imagined?
Is this not bringing to the forefront a sense of Human Decency?
Look at the outpouring of grief over the senseless rape and murder of a vital, young woman in Melbourne recently. How many of the tens of thousands who trod the March of Peace knew her? Jillian’s death has come to symbolise the massive Call to Arms against Violence towards Women, against the continuing brutality and misogynistic behaviour some women suffer every day of their lives.
The message is very clear: Take heed those of you who verbalise publicly, that any words of brutality, hatred or violence will no longer be tolerated. Say what you want by all means; but should you publicly go against the grain of ordinary, common, human decency be prepared to take full responsibility for your actions; and should this cause you loss of income, loss of power and certainly loss of any dignity you may have enjoyed… so be it.