By Tim Kitz
Free speech is good.
Here at The Leveller we like free speech. We like dissent. We like to argue.
As editors we do it all the time, from broad political questions to whether there should be a comma before the word ‘and.’
We also make choices with every issue. We reject some articles completely. Others we accept – but we edit, cut, and revise each one.
Why do we do this? (Are we… editorial Stalinists?)
Why don’t we publish everything we’re sent, exactly as sent?
Because no one would read The Leveller if we did that. We love our contributors, but some of the stuff we’re sent… it’s horrible.
Printing everything freely and without limit would be publishing suicide. We would blow a year’s budget after just one issue or two, producing unreadable phonebooks of mostly verbal diarrhea. The project would fold and… well, we would miss you, dear readers.
In every particular context, free speech has limits.
Even 4chan forums – even 8chan forums, for people who find the gleeful cauldrons of politically incorrect chaos-memes that is 4chan not extreme enough – have rules about posting. If they didn’t, forums would be overrun by spam and off-topic posts, without recourse. No one would read them. The forums would stop working.
Free speech is good. But it isn’t God. It’s good, but other things are good too. Sometimes one thing that is good is in tension with other things that are good.
Why are we talking like this? Because, in what is probably a terrible mistake, we’re addressing this editorial to the interconnect. To the anti-social media. The alt-right trolls and basement-dwelling man-babies. The ones who drone on about leftist snowflakes but start shrieking shrilly if you criticize what they say as, you know, sexist. (Or racist. Or homophobic. Bad.)
If we use our free-speech to disagree with something you say, man-baby, how is that limiting your free speech? Is it because you don’t like thinking, having to reflect on yourself, or considering changing?
If you freely say things we don’t like, we freely don’t have to listen to you. We might not invite you to places where we can here you again. We might use our free speech to tell other people – who don’t have to listen to us – that they shouldn’t listen to you.
Because free speech doesn’t free you from consequences.
Free speech is good but it’s not an absolute good. There are limits to the goodness of free speech.
For example, we think it’s a good thing that your average white person no longer uses the n-word, no longer casually calls adult Black men ‘boy.’
Is that a limit on free speech? Absolutely. We think that’s good. We think that’s progress, even.
Is that totalitarian? Not really. It’s just shifting social norms – shifted by people using their free speech to say ‘Hey, these words are dumb and bad. Have you ever thought about not saying them?’
It’s just that sometimes two good things are in conflict and you gotta make choices.
Whose free speech are you choosing to standing up for? Why, dear man-baby, does it always seem to be neo-Nazis, male supremacists, and warmongering imperialists?
What about the free speech of Indigenous folks, who keep saying “we’re still here and we’re not going to let this pipeline poison all of us”?
What about the free speech of prisoners?
What about the free speech of every trans person, of every woman who doesn’t add their voice to public discourse – doesn’t do anything online publicly – because of you, man-baby? Because you will use your free speech to insult, harass, threaten, lie to, lie about, and dox them.
Did you notice that – the way one person’s free speech can limit another person’s free speech?
Whose free speech do you stand for? What are the effects of standing up for it? These are questions worth asking whenever the ‘free speech’ card gets played.
We’re not saying bad people should never say bad things.
Nothing’s absolute. Even free speech. Even you think it has its limits.
We’ve noticed that you’re pretty into copyright, man-baby. That limits free speech.
You’re also pretty into limiting the free speech of non-citizens in elections.
We’re pretty sure you’re against free speech that would show porn to kids or make porn using kids.
You obviously believe that, in some circumstances, other rights trump the right to free speech.
You probably think your right to property trumps our right to break into your home and scream obscenities into your ear while you’re trying to sleep.
That’s pretty reasonable!
We just think it’s also reasonable that we’ll punch you in the mouth if you use your freedom of speech to talk about killing people we love.
Because we remember the last time someone was talking a lot about how ‘those people’ are the worst and don’t really deserve to exist. It ended in mountains of dead bodies.
Let’s make a deal, man-baby! We promise to never punch you in the mouth again, if you stop saying the worst things people have ever said – things we have to stop and can only stop by punching that mouth.
We really don’t like punching, you know. It’s bad. It’s just not the worst. (If you lost track somehow, genocide is the worst.)
Then you can say your thing and we can say our thing. Sometimes we can listen to each other and sometimes not. We can do that nice thing where we argue, but agree to disagree like adults – not enemies whose words threaten the existence of the other. It’ll be nice.
Because free speech is good.