In light of the horrendous events in Paris, this blog series has taken a turn towards commentary on the cultural limits of free speech. I stand in solidarity with those who value liberty, equality and fraternity. A right to free speech must be defended and even offensive speech must be protected as a liberty in free societies. My previous posts encouraging civility are in no way meant to suggest that free speech should be limited legally (the fact that some speech is in fact limited is another matter). My points are more about impact. If indeed pens are mightier than swords, it should come as no surprise that pointed penmanship might provoke an attack. Words have power to stab, and while civilized people do not attack their mockers, there are plenty of uncivilized people who would. Should we muzzle our mockers? No. They have their place in society. As I have said before, satire is useful to shine light on societal issues, but it is not a peacemaking tool. It takes a good sport to receive mockery as constructive criticism. We cannot expect this of terrorists, and we must therefore ask ourselves what the mockery is good for. Simply as an expression of freedom? As a wake up call? As a call to arms? For entertainment? Words and images have purpose, even if that purpose is poorly aligned to the content of the communication and even if the purpose is to communicate purposelessness. If it were otherwise, the communications would not exist. So what is the impetus behind the speech and why does civilized society protect it? Fundamentally, we hold that the freedom to express is beneficial and good for human community. Even in discord, this freedom is “good”. What would make it not good?
Not everything that is permissible is beneficial, but the fact that it is permissible is generally a good thing.