There is no such thing as “freedom of speech”
Did I give it all away in the title? Is there even any point in me continuing to write any more than that? Well, truth be told, the title is only half of the truth. Why? Because there is such thing as freedom of speech.
I know you’re not confused. But let’s pretend that someone else reading this is confused and I want to explain my thought processes to them. Let’s see how badly I do.
Freedom of speech
I will try to describe my thoughts as bluntly as possible. So if i come across as a stupid person, please accept the fact that it happens to each one of us sometimes.
So there is such thing as freedom of speech. What do I mean by that? Mostly everybody and anybody in the world or at least the vast majority has the ability to say anything that they want. One can open up his or her mouth and speak total nonsense or insult somebody or describe a fine picture or poem. We have this free ability, an ability that cannot be restrained by any external force other than whatever it takes to force your mouth physically closed.
And with this free ability to speak comes the ability to express ourselves. A person can write some words or draw a picture. In fact there are so many ways to express oneself I could waste this entire article trying to think up a significant amount of them. But for now I shall focus on the expression that reveals itself by portraying itself verbally or pictorially or textually in order to reflect content that is within the mind. Literally speaking, the only way to properly stop this form of expression is to physically silence the person either through death or through physical retardation or damage.
In this sense it doesn’t matter what reprisals or retaliations or reactions you may get. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been taught or how you were raised. Each person has this ability and can use it as they wish.
So in this sense, there is utter freedom of speech, more or less.
Hmmm … can there be “more” to “utter”?
There is no freedom of speech in the “free” countries
I get the feeling that when someone says they have a right to free speech, they actually mean that they should be able to say what they want without any reprisals, without any retaliation or reaction. It may be believed that this right of free speech means that the government can not use its coercive influence, its decrees and thuggery (I mean police or army), to limit what an individual can say. The government shouldn’t be able to punish a person simply for what they say.
I think if a person thinks even just a little bit, one will realise that this belief is total poppycock!
Let me tell you something that is a joke to me. I go to different sites that refer to “freedom of speech” or “freedom of expression” and they will paint a wonderful picture of how a person’s right to free speech shouldn’t be infringed upon, and then somewhere close-by there is a restriction on this supposed free speech. A dictionary site defines it as
The right to speak without censorship or restraint by the government.
For example, the much honoured and worshipped “constitution” of America has a clear statement that government, sorry, I mean congress should not pass a law that limits freedom of speech.
Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.
But the history of America contains a chronological list of restrictions to that right, whether the sedition act that some American tyrant established punishing anyone that spoke against government, or the police using the excuse of “breaching the peace” to kidnap and cage people for simply speaking. There are laws against certain lies, against slander, and teaching what is deemed as terrorism.
Not so “free” huh?
What about the universal declaration of human rights which contains a clause on freedom of expression yet on the same site declares arbitrarily (there’s no real basis for a lot in that document) that along with that right is the duty to act responsibly and curtail one’s own speech (maybe even have someone else forceably curtail it for that one) and avoid certain things deemed to be negative.
In the land I live in, which Britons claim is a free country, the same contradiction exists. It is claimed that there is some unwritten “constitution” or some invisible rights that exist (aren’t all rights invisible?) that gives the inhabitants of this “fair” land rights including free speech. Yet once again a subjective nod by a policeman and someone can be carted off to a cage for “disturbing the queen’s peace” (what a ludicrous name for a law!) or for inciting hatred with words or pictures. If you have opinions and beliefs that the government don’t like and you want entry into this country, especially if you have any celebrity status, there’s always that possibility that the government officials will not grant you a visa. And once again, there are laws that prohibit speech in one form or another, whether it be slander, fraud (conman tactics) or the sharing of disapproved literature.
And I believe such is the case worldwide. There is always something that will use coercion and threats of violence (that’s all government laws are) or violence itself to limit what you can say or punish you for what you say, whether it’s legal or personal. There are so many cases in history and now of someone saying the wrong word or using the wrong image and being attacked for it. You could be at a social gathering or even in private, and someone uses obscene language against another, and a fight break out. Have you ever heard of “yo mama” jokes where someone insults another’s parentage? That can lead to a punch in the mouth or another physical attack. There are many things that people can say that can lead to a harmful response.
If freedom of speech or expression is the ability to say what you like without government or personal attack or retribution, I’m surprised that anyone really thinks this exists. Again, a little thinking tells you that once something is restricted, in any way, it is no longer truly free. Once you say “yes I have freedom of speech but I can’t say x” then it isn’t freedom of speech.
And when someone says they have a right to freedom of speech, I’m not sure what they mean. It’s one thing to have the ability to do something, but the “right”? It’s known from history that no government truly protects something that really means “free speech” because there is a plethora of evidence that when it wants to, government is more than willing to control what you can say (and a lot of other aspects of your life). That’s part of what makes government “government”. Think about it! To govern doesn’t mean to let free. It means to control. And the only way the group of individuals known as government can control is through coercion and threats (manmade laws). These laws are not for teaching and enabling, like the Torah. They are not from a higher source. They are simply a group of people saying “do what we tell you or we will hurt you.” And when a person wants more government laws or government control, they are simply wanting exactly that: “do what we tell you, or we will hurt you.” When it comes to freedom of speech, you still have to be careful what you say, even about that same government. Abraham Lincoln is a prime example of that.
So this sort of freedom of expression (expression without reprisal) is a myth. It’s great PR to dupe the public into thinking it is empowered and free. But myths are good at doing that.
There is no freedom of speech in Torah
So having given my brief view on “freedom of expression” in the land of human laws and interactions, let’s get to Torah and that includes Torah for us Gentiles, the Seven Commandments.
One thing that I’m thankful to God for is that his Torah doesn’t make what I see as stupid claims that a person is entirely free to do x or y. It doesn’t seek to give people a false sense of empowerment by stating that they have something they could never really have. For me personally, looking at God’s Torah, the aim isn’t just “freedom”, but rather all that is good for a human being and society through wisdom and proper behaviour. There is no statement in the Torah that states that a human has free speech or that it is promoted as a good thing. What is promoted is that a person should be wise with their tongue and the ways they express themselves. There are wise teachings and principles about lashon hara, or evil speaking which discourages ways that one can express themselves about other people that can lead to negativity. There are teachings that discourage tale-bearing (spreading gossip) and giving a bad name. There is a Torah law in Leviticus 25:17 that is interpreted as prohibiting people wronging each other in speech which includes details that many wouldn’t even consider, such as giving someone a derogatory nickname, asking someone to do something not in their power or ability to do, giving compliments that you don’t mean, etc.
The area that applies most to Gentiles “legally” speaking, or according to the core seven commandments is blasphemy, or more properly, cursing God’s name. According to the Seven Commandments, we Gentiles do not have freedom of expression (expression without reprisal). If you verbally curse God’s name in any language, then you’ve committed a terrible crime, one that will either go to a righteous court (no such court like that these days) or get the consequences from Heaven itself.
Although some people may question the applicability of the prohibition against cursing God, and I’m not going to go into that now, it does teach us an important fact: there is no such thing as freedom of expression. You can’t say everything that you feel and want without consequence. There is a line that even a Gentile should not cross in what he says. There are limits. A person has to control one’s speech and expression for the betterment of oneself and those around that person. This in fact touches on the deeper concepts of yishuv olam, the settling of the earth, and tzelem elokim, reflecting God’s image, which I spoke of in an earlier article. “Settling the earth” is, to summarize, the concept that God created the earth to be a hospitable civilised place and our conduct as humans should be geared towards making our world a peaceful place. How a person conducts oneself in speech is part of that picture. And also “reflecting God’s image” refers to the fact how we were made confers upon us certain responsibilities. The Hebrew word translated “God” has elements of mastery, control and judgement, balancing different forces to create a controlled harmony. To reflect those aspects in a full way, to live in the “image of God”, a person should conduct himself thoughtfully and responsibly, to control himself for a better purpose. And this, of course, includes how we speak.
There are also aspects of the prohibitions against theft, idolatry and injustice that cover speech. It is forbidden to speak lies as a false witness and it may well be forbidden to cheat a person into buying something they never agreed to, to defraud someone. It is forbidden to pray to something that is not God as if it is your god, or to verbally claim (with intent and purpose) that something other than God is your god. And I’m just dealing with the core commandments. A person can learn further moral principles by delving into these teachings and commandments, and there are supplementary commandments as well and extensions. There is so much for us to learn.
But at the very least, God’s directives and teachings for Gentiles shows us that it’s never about freedom of speech, but about wisdom and responsibility in speech. God’s Torah binds us to reality, the reality that what you say matters, and it can destroy as well as build up.
So when I am approached with the belief that “we have the right to free expression” or “we got freedom of speech, man,” I accept it for what it is. As well as seeing that this person as swallowed the P.R. pushed out by government lovers/worshippers or those with delusions of “freedom”, a person may have the ability to say what he wants (that’s not a “right” just an ability), but as with most things in life, there are consequences, good or bad, whether it comes from government, the courts, a government sponsored thug, people in general, or even Heaven.
Recently – but it has been going on for ages, but people choose to pick on recent events – a certain act, that I won’t even mention due to its stupidity on all counts, was deemed by some as an attack on the freedom of speech. I heard one person by the name of Stefan Molyneux, given an idiotic commentary that it is through offence that society progresses and lifted up a fool’s banner of “protection of offence” in the name of “freedom of speech”. This teaches me something. There is great wisdom in the biblical proverb that a fool, when he remains silent, can appear wise. Responsibility, conscientiousness and wisdom are sadly lacking in this world of sensationalised media, where even the news can be guilty of destroying people’s lives with its irresponsible characterisations of what it tells the general public, where tweets and facebook posts and “memes” can be so sloppy in the accuracy of their wording that pointless offence is caused, where gossip has become an internet phenomenon and social media is the latest craze. Words (and pictures, which are said to be worth a thousand words) have power and they are thrown around so glibly, so lackadaisically, so thoughtlessly … the world has become so noisy with essentially meaningless or shamefully harmful noise that it is almost as if we kill ourselves every day.
I remember there is something called “noise pollution.” I didn’t think that phrase could mean so much.
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