Monday, January 19, 2015
Writing at the New York Post, Nicole Gelinas directly takes on the "They
had it coming," post-Charlie Hebdo crowd, ending with
Blaming the dead for their own murders is dangerous in another way, too.Gelinas is completely right.
Nobody with power likes free speech. If you write for a living, you learn that important people will try almost anything to get things in print or keep them out of print.
Today, it's maybe irresponsible -- and therefore should be illegal? -- to print a Mohammed cartoon. Tomorrow, maybe it'll be irresponsible to criticize a wartime president or prime minister.
To get an idea of how tempting it is for power to censor, consider that more than half of American colleges restrict campus speech, vaguely prohibiting things like "inappropriate expression."
The dead cartoonists, in the end, were right. If you can't put pen to paper without risking death, you can't do anything freely.
To make one exception means to make them all.
Now let’s see how many supposed defenders of speech will just stop there ... instead of adding the "but, but, but" that shows they don't believe in free expression when it really counts -- when people just died for it. [minor format edits, links in original]
That said, as I thought about her rebuttal of the "yes, but-ers", I was reminded of a nagging doubt I have had about her response and others like it that I have seen. Thanks to this, I believe I can now address it.
One can, without being a cad, suggest that someone should take reasonable precautions against rape -- or any other crime. While it is unreasonable to suggest that a woman walking alone at night in a dangerous area "had it coming", it isn't to suggest that it might be imprudent to do so. This is the cover that false defenders of free speech and the jihdists alike crave.
But what makes it cover? In other words, how do freedom of speech and other actions, like walking about, differ? Quite simply, there is no hiding what one has said once one has said it. One can choose to walk in safe areas at night, or not go out at all. One can lock the doors to his home at night or install a car alarm. And one can, say, insult the mother of a thug like the Pope, when one is out of arm's reach.
But speech can't be contained or revoked. Once you go out for your walk, or drive home, or wake up at home in safety in the morning, you're done. But once you say something, it's out there. And saying something that displeases a thug may well be used as an excuse by the thug to retaliate. Nevertheless, suggesting that the bounds of prudence include not just avoiding speaking with thugs in one's immediate vicinity, but what one can say would be analogous to suggesting that, say, a woman who wants to walk outside treat all neighborhoods as equally dangerous at all times; or that homeowners who lock their doors are skimping if those doors aren't made of steel; or that an alarm isn't enough when he could hire an armed guard for his car. That is, the nature of speech, which is the expression of one's thoughts, puts limits on saying what those thoughts are beyond the realm of the prudent and into the realm of surrendering to one's enemies.
The thugs and their appeasers, well aware of how different and powerful speech is, hope that we will forget that difference and that power as they liken speaking one's mind to daring some criminal to harm them.
Ironically, there is truth in the idea that, if we wish to speak our minds, we must take precautions to protect our lives: But the precaution is, in fact, to take exactly the opposite of their advice and use our freedom of speech to resist these thugs and to insist on our governments doing their job, which above all includes ensuring that we remain free to speak. For, as Gelinas points out, if we can't say anything freely, we can't do anything freely, either. One cannot live a life proper to man, the rational animal, when one is forced -- by a dictatorial government or by thugs in a de facto anarchy -- to pretend that one doesn't have a mind of his own.