On Free Speech

Far too many people these days seem to think that freedom of speech means freedom from being criticized, freedom from consequences, freedom from verbal retaliation. We need only look at the response of the two guys whose columns triggered the current kerfuffle over the SFWA Bulletin for an example of this — apparently people criticizing their columns is censorship, oh noes!

One of my favorite quotes on this subject comes from Jim Hines, who said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.” Everyone who’s ever whined that their free speech was being curtailed because people responded by saying mean things about them needs to tattoo Jim’s quote on their forearm or something, someplace where they can see it every day.

Tobias Buckell just linked to this great post by Ken White on Popehat, the legal blog. It’s right on point and well worth reading. It starts like this:

Let’s be clear — the right to free speech is the right to express oneself without state retaliation. It is not a right to speak without social retaliation. Speech has consequences. Among those consequences are condemnation, vituperation, scorn, ridicule, and pariah status. Those consequences represent other people exercising their free speech rights. That’s a feature of the marketplace of ideas, not a bug.

Yet too many people seem to think that free speech includes not only a right to be free of consequences imposed by the state, but a right to be free of consequences imposed by other people. Therefore they attempt to portray criticism as a violation of their rights. This, of course, finds no support in the law, and is patently unsustainable as a philosophy besides — it nonsensically elevates the rights of the first person to talk over the rights of the second person to talk.

There’s more; click through and check it out.


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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.