Who’s Against Free Speech? All of us!
Just read another article on the non-existence of free speech in a real and meaningful manner: Off-color remarks at conference result in two developers getting firedÂ from TechRepublic. It is truly abominable that, in a nation which prides itself on protecting the rights of individuals to free expression, it is perfectly acceptable to fire someone just because an “objectionable” statement is made!
This points out a fundamental truth in our society – free speech is “free” only in the sense that one will (probably) not be shot or imprisoned for its use. Admittedly that is a great improvement over totalitarian regimes such as Napoleonic France, Hitlerian Germany, Stalinist Russia, not to mention modern horrors such as the massive repression within mainland China. That being said, the fact that a private conversation (such as the two Python developers were having) can lead to firings points to a hysterical reaction against individual thoughts, actions, and expression.
Such a reaction isn’t unusual – we even have a name for it now as Politically Correct (PC). In this constrictive and fear-guided climate, the vague threat of legal actions requires any business that hears of employees speaking against the current mainstream cultural values immediately to sever all ties with those individuals. (For some discussions on this disturbing fact see Harassment Law and Free Speech Doctrine or Employer Liability for Racist Hate Speech by Third-Parties: Comparison of Appraoches in Great Britain and the United States.)
The point is that our “free speech” is anything but free. I work within the U.S. Government and the pressure to conform one’s opinions and expressions within the environment (not to mention outside the workplace) is palpable. There was not much difference in the corporate world; I spent 20+ years leading and developing software products for shrink-wrap and corporate use (very large / very small companies) and in *every case* the need to conform was clearly articulated.
One may well ask, Why is this a Problem? After all, we all know that yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is not just objectionable but irresponsible and downright dangerous. My issue is that this same argument is being extended to all facets of our life. In the name of Safety one cannot poke fun at religion as it may incite a ruckus (just consider Religion vs. Free Speech or Free Speech, Religion Clash Over Anti-Muslim Film as practical examples). Additionally, a new term has evolved to keep us all silent: Hate Speech. With Hate Speech, the political class entirely abrogates any notion of individual rights or liberties – entire classes of individual expression are deemed outside the law. For example, if some lunatic wants to burn the letter “T” on his or her own front lawn – that qualifies as Hate Speech and the individual is criminally liable for the action.
The one exception to Hate Speech is Religion. In the name of religion, the sexual violation of a 9-year old can be celebrated as a good and joyous thing. Or, the eternal damnation of all homosexuals can be preached and demonstrated as a public service to the rest of us.
Of course, as a Technologist I cannot say my own personal opinions because – I have a job and I actually need to keep that job. My opinions may offend at least one person in this country so I must keep silent. As the saying should go “What goes to the Internet – STAYS on the Internet. Forever.”
(By the way, that last statement is not original. When I first wrote it I felt so clever for 15 seconds!)