My Answers to Questions For Free Speech Absolutists

I’m going to give my answers to the (more than two) questions raised in “Now Two Questions For The Free Speech Absolutists“.


Can any book or video or anything which has been shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have motivated the violence it intended, be banned? Or am I right, your position is that no number of deaths or violent attacks is ever enough to allow banning?

If a book or video clearly incites violence, it is reasonable to ban it. The right to safety of person of others trumps your right to free speech. That said, the burden of proof is on those claiming a work incites violence. For example, Charles Manson was inspired to commit murder by the Beatles song “Helter Skelter”, a song about an amusement park ride; that doesn’t mean that the White Album should be banned.

What about laws such as those in Germany which ban the promotion of Nazism?

Assuming this is referring to the Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, it clearly curtails free speech and expression. For example, displaying a symbol of “white power” can land you in jail for 3 years. I would oppose such a law in my country. While I have no sympathy for those who’d want to do this, I think it’s wrong to imprison them for doing so. In the same way, I don’t think the Black Panthers should be jailed if they display symbols promoting “black power”.

Free speech broadcast without restriction in Rwanda resulted in what might be the most horrifically effective and rapid, low tech, spontaneous attempts at genocide in living memory. Are the laws the Rwandan government put into place to try to prevent another such horror worthy of criticism?

Yes. The Limits on Free Speech in Rwanda mean that when an opposition politician said “there is no shame in saying I am Hutu or am Tutsi; there’s nothing wrong with that,” she was interrogated by police and warned that she would be arrested if she continued preaching “genocide ideology”. Amnesty International responded by accusing the government of “intimidation and harassment”.

Is published instructions of how to murder you, giving details of your real name, address, etc., not also covered by your bravely asserted free speech absolutism?

No. This is pretty clearly inciting violence, IMO.

Why are the pieces I’ve posted on the issues of speech and media have gotten some of the most violent objection during my seven years of public writing?  There  is a close to absolute taboo against questioning the slogan of “free speech”.

Free speech is not a slogan, and opposing it is not merely taboo. It is a fundamental human right, according to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Anyone who attempts to advocate against a fundamental human right should not be surprised when he meets opposition.

In discussions of proposals to suppress violent pornography, the rote assertions of the free speech industry are almost always recited. “No rights are lost through speech,” “There is no causal link between pornography and violence,” etc.

Free speech is a right, not an industry. Assuming that the acts shown are between consenting adults, then, however distasteful they may be, I’d have to agree that no one’s rights are being violated. If there was clear evidence of a causal link between the material and real violence, there might be cause to ban such content. However, previous claims that violent video games where leading to actual violence where discredited and, in fact, video games have now been found to give a necessary safe outlet to aggressive impulses. The burden of proof must fall on those who wish to curtail free speech and expression.

How about the example I cited yesterday, “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors”, explicitly, a how-to book for committing murder? The instructions given in the book book were used by hired killer James Edward Perry.
Looking around the internet, I haven’t found any sympathy for James Perry, sentenced to death (He died of natural causes in prison) or his employer, who was sentenced to three life terms. I have found considerable lamentation about the fate of the book and its publisher, who destroyed all of its copies and settled a lawsuit out of court.

Why would there be sympathy for the murderer or to the man who incited him to murder? The book and its publisher presumably did not intentionally incite people to follow their method. I can imagine such a book being useful to police, or to someone researching a crime novel. Does the fact that it can be used for evil make it evil? If a scientist publishes a paper on a new method of enriching uranium, is he responsible for the terrorist who uses it to build a bomb? If I write a crime novel where the antagonist follows the manual, would that be subject to banning? Where does this end?

As we can see, for the stalwart free speech absolutist, the book has more rights than the victims of the crime, their families and loved ones.

The author of the book has the right to freedom of speech, as long as he doesn’t incite violence. Otherwise, only the murderer infringed the rights of the victims, not the author of the book.

I don’t think anyone pretending that the those who supplied the book and issued its publicity didn’t really mean it to be used as advertised – as it was proven to have been used, beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law – deserves to be taken seriously.

I would say they absolutely do need to be taken seriously. Taking away a fundamental human right is very serious. The use of the material alone is not relevant. Only if the intent of the author to incite violence can be established beyond reasonable doubt can the book legitimately be banned.

But it is exactly that level of obvious, ludicrous lying that is required by turning free speech into an absolute position.  It is denial of reality closely related to the denial of another aspect of that same reality, resulting in dead people, that the gun industry promotes in its financial interest.

Smith and Wesson are not responsible for gun crimes; the people who pull the triggers are. In Canada, we have what I consider a very sound compromise on guns: 1. I must take a written test and pass a criminal background check to acquire a permit; 2. Said permit allows me to carry a long gun (rifle or shot gun) that is not an automatic weapon. I can then use it to keep the coyotes out of the hen house. Should I instead use it to kill someone, that’s on me, not the company that made the gun.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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