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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Salman Rushdie: "We're losing the battle for freedom of speech"

Rushdie is on the money here. I can actually understand why Germany and Austria (and maybe some other countries like Poland) would ban holocaust denial - different jurisdictions do have different concerns arising from different historical experiences. At least for a period, you could argue, the Holocaust should not be denied within the borders of the countries most associated with it.

But that's open to debate. The overall message is that freedom of speech is far too precious to be trumped by hurt feelings.

34 comments:

Robert N Stephenson said...

Freedom of speech is always a difficult area to tread in this modern age of swift information access.

This reminds me of the world is flat association (can't quite remember the actual name) who firmly believe and promote the idea of a Flat Earth.

Then there is the ridiculous education changes in Texas where science is replaced with creation science.

You see both are on the edges of Freedom of speech and like Holocaust denial, just knowing and proving something is wrong isn't enough to gag the speakers or the teachers of these falsehoods.

Where does it start and where does it end?

Just glad I'm not the person who has to decide on such things...

tomh said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote:
Then there is the ridiculous education changes in Texas where science is replaced with creation science.

What makes you think science has been replaced by creation science in Texas? It is not legal to teach creation science in public schools in the US.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Sorry Tomh, I wasn't talking about public schools, and I don't see where I suggested this... sorry if you read it that way.

BenSix said...

At least for a period, you could argue, the Holocaust should not be denied within the borders of the countries most associated with it.

But that's open to debate. The overall message is that freedom of speech is far too precious to be trumped by hurt feelings.


Would there be any more compelling reason than "hurt feelings"?

tomh said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote:
I wasn't talking about public schools, and I don't see where I suggested this

What education changes in Texas are you talking about when you say,

"Then there is the ridiculous education changes in Texas where science is replaced with creation science."

Where is science being replaced with creation science?

Kirth Gersen said...

Rushdie raises an important point, but to some extent it sadly plays into the growing meme that facts are somehow matters of opinion (e.g., the dangerously erroneous statement that "vaccination has nothing to do with declining child mortality from disease" we constantly hear from the anti-vax crowd). I wonder if there comes a point when a lie is so mendacious, and so destructive, that we have to put our foot down and say, "look, your personal opinion that X is true doesn't make it so, and doesn't excuse you continuing to spout it."

If one publicly advertises that an inert product cures cancer, and clinical tests overwhelmingly show that it does no such thing, is that an instance or free speech, or merely of false advertising? Is it perfectly legal? Taken a step further, is it "free speech" if I claim that lead-based paint is non-toxic?

tomh said...

Kirth Gersen wrote:
Taken a step further, is it "free speech" if I claim that lead-based paint is non-toxic?

If you're not trying to sell something connected to that claim, just voicing the opinion would certainly be allowable under free speech, at least in the US.

Kirth Gersen said...

@TomH: I get your point -- there's a clear difference between one standing on a street corner and talking with his mates, vs. advertising -- or, more extremely, if the President of the U.S. got on TV and declared, "My fellow Americans, lead paint is harmless and can now be included as an ingredient in school lunches").

I can see a similar treatment applied in the case of Holocaust denial, as well:

Example 1: Joe Skinhead espouses this view to his buddy Adolph and is overheard. No criminal status there; free speech trumps truth.

Example 2: Joe Professional airs "The Myth of the Holocaust" on the History channel. Criminal proceedings begin against Joe and the History channel both, due to presenting fiction as fact using a public venue.

March Hare said...

Free speech must be absolute.

When Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in the US tried to limit free speech by saying you can't yell FIRE in a crowded theatre he missed two points: the theatre (possibly by local decree) should be able to evacuate safely; and that the theatre had the right to ban the person for life. Why is the state getting involved in that?

Free speech is the second most precious thing we have and we should look after it. Just because a minority abuse our rights does not mean the majority should be denied those rights.

Any speech, however inflammatory, however given to violence, however distasteful, must be allowed so the arguments can be seen and be defeated, and be seen to be defeated.

The ability to spout bullshit should not be in the purview of the state.

Shatterface said...

This bit is just fucking dumb:

'He said the sole exception should be Holocaust denial, which must be banned. And the sole exception to that exception, he said, is America, where he lives, and where free speech is regarded as such a fundamental part of life.'

Convenient that he grants his own country a freedom he denies others.

Why should Holocaust denial be banned in the UK but not in the US? After all, the US has a greater neo-Nazi problem than we do in the UK (ours are fewer in number, they aren't armed with automatic weapons and they aren't living in camps entirely cut off from the rest of society where they won't have to face historical evidence, survivors, etc) and while I don't want to criticise America for joining WWII after us, we did have a longer tradition of opposing the Nazis.

Russell Blackford said...

It does seem pretty crazy banning it in the UK but not the US. Germany might be different. Given that it was actually Germany that perpetrated the Holocaust not all that long ago, a ban on Holocaust denial within its borders may have symbolic value as part of the process of repentance and renunciation of the Nazis, Holocaust denial may be menacing in a way that goes beyond mere hurtfulness, etc. I'm not going to tell the Germans what to do in response to their unique, and in this case terrible, heritage (and I also can't forget the special situations of Austria and Poland). I'm not an absolutist about free speech or anything else ... but I'm certainly a strong supporter of free speech, and I see it constantly under attack.

Here in my own country, Australia, I see many attacks on free speech that appear to have no justification at all.

tomh said...

March Hare wrote:
Free speech must be absolute.

Would you include commercial speech in that? Would you allow any and all claims to be made, under the umbrella of free speech, in order to sell snake oil? There is an argument that can be made for that point of view, as in, let the buyer beware.

DM said...

but

DM said...

but your words have ABSOLUTELY NO EFFECT...

you are in fact SILENCED whether you are aware of it or not...

Russell Blackford said...

March Hare, the statement was that you shouldn't be able to shout "Fire!" falsely in a crowded theatre. That can create a nuisance or even endanger people's lives. We know that people can get trampled in such situations. Similarly, even John Stuart Mill didn't think you can stand outside someone's house and address a mob - and call for the person to be lynched.

There are exceptions to freedom of speech, but the point is not to keep extending them. In some cases, we should be pushing back and narrowing them. E.g. libel law needs to be narrowed to have a less chilling effect on public debate.

Robert N Stephenson said...

perhaps Free Speech needs to be seen as 'Not Freedom from Responsibility'

Yes, indeed be allowed to say whatever you like - the great Freedom we all have if applied correctly by law. But free speech might best not be confused with freedom from responsibility for those words.

I am responsible for each and everything I say, and I put my full real name to those comments and thoughts - right or wrong. I am expressing my freedom of speech, but I am also taking responsibility for what I say.

Where is the separation between the two? And can you really have freedom of speech without responsibility? Perhaps the greater question in the end.

Anonymous said...

@Shatterface

Quote:"Mr. Wiesel agreed to a point that religious defamation should not be illegal. He said religion is like money and love. "It all depends what you do with it," he said. It can and should be noble, but it can also be a vehicle for fanaticism.

He said the sole exception should be Holocaust denial, which must be banned. And the sole exception to that exception, he said, is America, where he lives, and where free speech is regarded as such a fundamental part of life."

Clearing up some confusion the above quoted is from Elie Wiesel who is a US citizen and Holocaust survivor. I don't think Salman Rushdie has ever advocated for a ban on Holocaust denial.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Sadly with some religions no laws or counter laws will make any difference. You speak against them in any way and they will kill you...

Before anyone jumps up and down about the evils of religion and killing etc - which is all well and good and accepted. It needs to be noted that most of the people in prison don't believe in religion. A subtle point... there are no sides here or on this issue, only the actions of fanatics and the sad reactions of law.

It is wise to not only free up voices so they can speak freely while at the same time dealing with the obvious threat of death. How does a government react when one of its citizens verbalizes or writes about a religion and members of that religion them promptly blow up a bus full of children.

I am not advocating bowing down to these kinds of threats and actions by any one, but damn! If you were a legislator it would be a tough, tough job indeed.

I understand who these comments might have been aimed at, but there is no way I'm tackling it with my little voice. Dead is pretty permanent you know.

March Hare said...

tomh, Yes, tragically, commercial speech must be free too. However, to advertise on TV or in commercial newspapers there can be a standard which requires claims to be backed up. However, to sell on the street there can be no limits.

People in the UK can deny the holocaust all we want, we have many problems with freedom of speech but that isn't one of them!

Russell, to falsely call fire in a crowded private place is an irritant. If it causes death then the location is at fault. A false shout of fire will, necessarily, cause fewer deaths than a legitimate shout, so the place is a dangerous one, and that is the problem. The owner should ban the person for life for making a false shout, but that is the extent of it.

To stand in front of someone's house calling for their death is a different kettle of fish, but harm has to be the main factor in deciding what is and what isn't criminal. Does one person alone constitute a criminal act, what about a group? To say that something you do alone is okay but not if there is a group of you is illogical. I am willing to be convinced that calling for someone's death should be illegal, but not by the arguments I have heard thus far. There is a fundamental difference between calling for someone's death and enticing (paying) for someone to do it for you.

DM said...

Let me show you the FATE OF TRAITORS...


http://www.loiterink.com/photos/products/182_3424_500x500.jpg

they are incapable of telling the difference between SCIENTIFIC *FACT* AND RELIGIOUS AND PHILOSOPHICAL *TRUTH*... FATAL ERROR!

they also preach a *VALUE FREE SCIENCE* called *POSITIVISM* that ignores the inequalities of wealth and power in capitalist civilization...



for a sample taste of PZ Myers' GARBAGE...

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/sunday_sacrilege_imagine_no_he.php


HIJACKING IN PROGRESS!!!

http://hawaiiwebgroup.com/maui-design/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/website-hijacking.jpg


HIJACKING IN PROGRESS!!!

how can these HEADLESS IDIOTS BET AGAINST GOD!!!
________________________________________


what happens when you LOSE Pascal's Wager...


http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/pascals-wager.htm

_____________


you FIGHT PAPER MONSTERS...

the blood and bodies of the atheist movement...


you mofos killed MICKEY MOUSE!!!!


this has more TRUTH then what Dawkins, Randi, Harris, Myers, and Shermer
combined have said in their entire lives...


http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=5R2wE8Sduhs&playnext_from=TL&videos=hht1U_19anc&feature=rec-LGOUT-exp_fresh%2Bdiv-1r-3-HM



they tried to BULLDOZE the entire METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION...

they LOST THE WAR......

you have FORFEIT YOUR SOUL, shermer... you have become an object in the
material world, as you WISHED...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUB4j0n2UDU

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/7/11792994_ffaaee87fa.jpg

we're gonna smash that TV...

They had become ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE AND OF GOD...
you pushed too much and *CROSSED THE LINE*

degenerates (PZ) or children (HEMANT) - ATHEISTS!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRRg2tWGDSY

do you have anything to say, you STUPID LITTLE F*CKER?

how about I tell you, Mr. Shermer, EVERYTHING YOU THINK ABOUT THE WORLD is

*WRONG*

THE BOOBQUAKE - 911!

http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/philosophy-f1/the-boobquake-911-t1310.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx7XNb3Q9Ek

RUN, ATHEISTS, RUN!!!

tomh said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote:
It needs to be noted that most of the people in prison don't believe in religion.

I don't know why it "needs to be noted," but what is your source for that assertion? Certainly not any poll I've ever seen, which all show the opposite by a large margin.

Shatterface said...

'To stand in front of someone's house calling for their death is a different kettle of fish, but harm has to be the main factor in deciding what is and what isn't criminal. Does one person alone constitute a criminal act, what about a group'

There's a clear and unambiguous causal chain between inciting a baying mob at a lynching and someone being lynched; a different matter entirely than making false scientific or historical claims which are better countered by hard evidence than legislation.

And apologies to anyone who hadn't read the linked article if they thought I was attributing the quote in favour of American exceptionalism to Rushdie himself.

tomh said...

March Hare wrote:
However, to advertise on TV or in commercial newspapers there can be a standard which requires claims to be backed up. However, to sell on the street there can be no limits.

I'm not sure why you would separate the two, just because things are sold in different venues, but the end result is that freedom of speech would not be absolute and you would approve of some exceptions. It's just a matter of which exceptions are approved and who decides where to draw the line.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Hey TomH

seeing as I know people who work in the prison system here in Australia many of those who show a Faith get it after they are put inside, not before... luckily those who minister to them also understand why this also happens...

There could be a lengthy discussion on this, including the convenience of obtaining a Faith once in prison to garner extra privileges secular prisoners do not get... so many turning to God or belief system that support the concept are playing what is known as the Jesus Game inside... This is what polls would show

In a prison not far from me, in a populations of about 1000 prisoners actual Christian service is provided to around 20-30 prisoners who are interested or have connections with Christianity, only a small fraction of that group will actually believe in Christianity. I have seen this direct program across several prisons; it gets good rehabilitation results, but the numbers are just too small to effect a whole prison.

The important point I was making with the comment: While the secular populations do cry out when a religious person commits a crime, the number of secular criminals is much, much higher. So, even though I would like to say what I really think about this issue at its core, I must accept that to do so would put me in a position of threat.

I have already received Death Threats from secular people for my Christian views, I am not prepared to get them any longer for my views on a particular area that lurks beneath the freedom of speech rhetoric. The Holocaust issue is nothing more than a cover for something a bit deeper.

tomh said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote:
seeing as I know people who work in the prison system here in Australia

Personal anecdotes don't really carry much weight.

While the secular populations do cry out when a religious person commits a crime, the number of secular criminals is much, much higher.

A remarkable assertion, without any credible evidence.

I have already received Death Threats from secular people for my Christian views

Wow, you must live in a particularly barbarous culture. Secular people usually aren't so fanatical about other people's views - actions, perhaps, but not views. Even here in uncivilized America one never hears of such a thing.

Robert N Stephenson said...

tomh...

while I appreciate and respect all people views, values and beliefs my sole purpose of coming to this site, Russell's site was to find some answers for myself. I already understood a great deal about my faith side, but there were of course doubts - naturally when you have lived half your life as an Atheist you do carry very strong understandings about science and reason.

I knew Russell was an Atheist and naturally I thought I come here and see just how my Atheist side had managed to assimilate with my Christian side. Those who think such a change is easy have never done such a thing and I dare say wouldn't understand it anyway - I don't bother explaining these days.

I ran with questions, good and bad. I used my knowledge in some areas to see what would happen and also I wanted to know if I still held with some Atheist views - and I still do but just not in the same way.

I have also engaged in conversation with Atheist on other strong Atheist sites, some where there is an even stronger presence of dogmatic views - even greater than the narrowest of views here Tom.

Unlike those I have encountered I do not put everything I know into one all encompassing basket of truth. And I do not believe reason, logic and rational thought are solely owned by the Atheist, like every single Atheist thus far has claimed.

I told Russell I needed information and I needed it fast. I would probe and lead and I would do what I felt necessary to get what I wanted to know. He did not know I came here with serious doubts about what I believed and what my Christian faith really meant. It is a massive step from Atheist to Christian and if not for one small event I would still be an Atheist. I have found excuses, made alternative justifications and even tried to rationalize what happened to me, and despite everything I cannot deny what happened. Nor can I ever hope to properly explain it.

Russell, Tom and others, I have my information, taken from you and many, many others - though one transhumanist Atheist I did find to be very wise - most suffered from the same condition.

After about a month of discussions across the internet there has been not one thing said to convince me the massive life change I underwent was in vein. Now I know why, even minus the event, I turned my back on this belief system, and all my reason and logic and rational considerations have gone a long way in determining what tomorrow will bring.

Thank you for your time.

Oh, Russell and Tomh - life experience and knowledge are very important things in life: If we were to stand before each other with a knife, whose street knowledge would be of value? Beware of whose life you dismiss in your journey - ignorance is no excuse these days

r said...

yes - this is freedom of speech - but, it is also at the hand of someone else...

tomh said...

@Robert N Stephenson

As expected, all these confident assertions you make have no evidence to support them. Lots of words, no logic, no evidence.

March Hare said...

Robert N Stephenson: "...not one thing said to convince me the massive life change I underwent was in vein."

I underwent an alien abduction last year, I was taken aboard their ship and experimented on. When I returned my personality had changed, I was more paranoid and suffer from sleep problems. Many people have tried to convince me this didn't happen but I know it did and no amount of rationalising can make me change my mind.

You see what I did there? You see how ridiculous it sounds to someone who doesn't believe in alien abductions?

Why not let us know what was so momentus in your life that made you not only believe there was a single divine creator of the universe who knows/cares about humans but that he loves us so much he sent his only son to be crucified to save our souls (which he created and thus damned, requiring a sacrifice to be made to save them in the first place)...

tomh - commercial entities do (should!) not have freedom of speech rights because they are not individuals and they also have a duty of care to their customers so can be sued for false advertising or be reprimanded by an advertising authority if that's the preferred method for society to keep them in line. The reason I didn't mention that initially as I was thinking of the sole trader which is both a company (kind of) and an individual. But in commerce people must honestly advertise goods and services otherwise they are in breach of contract.

Robert N Stephenson said...

TomH
I certainly apologize if you feel I am no meaning. I don't have a place in everyone's world you know.

Tom, I have posted my blog on my journey and I am happier now I have discovered what feels right.

When you actually discover what you are missing I hope it finally makes you happy.

As for Evidence - it is everywhere Tom, you just stopped looking when you thought you were right. Proof is also something the Atheist has a problem with... but lets us not discuss such silliness here. I have what I want, all the evidence I need for my own determinations. If you found no benefit in my presence then the loss is yours, not mine. Tom, you failed basic testing - I can't help you.

Robert N Stephenson said...

March - you have no need to know. Good luck with the alien

tomh said...

March Hare wrote:
commercial entities do (should!) not have freedom of speech rights because they are not individuals...

The US takes the opposite view, with a long string of Supreme Court decisions that have ruled that corporations are persons with the same rights under the Constitution as individuals. The most recent case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), held that corporate political spending is protected under the First Amendment, the right to free speech. Of course, this is different from false advertising, but the fact is that false advertising laws carve out an exception to free speech. I think that absolute free speech is naive in concept and impossible in practice.

tomh said...

Robert N Stephenson wrote:
When you actually discover what you are missing I hope it finally makes you happy.


This kind of arrogance might be what irritates me most about diehard religionists, such as yourself. I couldn't possibly be happy because I'm missing something, some kind of ephemeral "feeling" about some supernatural mumbo-jumbo or other. Religionists are fond of elevating themselves above the common herd because they have discovered what nonbelievers are "missing". So egotistical and condescending.

March Hare said...

Shatterface said: There's a clear and unambiguous causal chain between inciting a baying mob at a lynching and someone being lynched;

Indeed, but there is an equally unambiguous line between a US Pastor threatening to burn a Koran and crazy people attacking embassies.

Surely we have to place the blame in both situations on the people (autonomous adults!) who commit the acts of harm. Either people are responsible for their own actions or they are not. Obeying a bigot to partake in a lynching is your fault, not the bigot's.

Otherwise I will have to roll out some crazy scenarios like blaming the inventor of the automobile for the clear and unambiguous causal link to car accidents.