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Blank is Great

I’m never gonna sign off on “Blank is great! Because I can come up with a way to phrase it such that blank counts as speech, and Free Speech Is Axiomatically Good because we should outsource all our thinking to James Madison, a 1780s slave owner who had never seen an image board, a modem, or even a daily newspaper.”

I’m gonna stick to what existentialist ethics says: ya gotta case-by-case it!

Good things are good, bad are bad, regardless if we can wrestle them into counting as “speech”. (Sweden’s racist hegemony with it’s ridiculous “Bookburning is technically speech y’all” paradox is messing up royally.)

For example, I support photographing or documenting police misconduct. Not because “it’s speech”, but because it’s good. That’s right! Feels over reals as is my wont.♥ At the same time, I think that peeping into ordinary citizen’s windows and photographing them is super wrong. Same “means”—just a click on a camera button—but ends matter, too.

I’m not onboard with the whole cover-up with fake reports and false flags. The putinist noise drowning out the truth in Russia is “technically speech”, too. But truth will drown in lies and alternative facts if we don’t remember how precious it is.

Listen, I’m not the government and I’m not talking to the government. I wouldn’t trust them to handle this stuff and to sort lies from truth properly. I’m talking to y’all, to myself, to us. Don’t platform lies. Don’t spread lies. Don’t enable harassment either.


Aradayn asked:

Are you talking about avoiding (positive) blanket statements here?
If so, what is the connection to free speech?

I’m specifically talking about not giving a blanket approval to speech acts.

Here’s an example from the world of copyright. The DMCA was (rightly) a big boogeyman to us copyright-haters. It outlawed DRM-cracking code. We want DRM-cracking code because DRM is bad. The argument I heard a lot at the time, and bought into at the time, was “code is speech”. We should be able to make and publish DRM-cracking code because it’s code and yay free speech.

I no longer buy into this argument. (I still think DRM is bad, it’s only the argument I don’t like, I’m not suddenly a copyright fan.)

I think “it’s good because I can squeeze it into counting as speech and all speech is magically good” is a bad argument. Otherwise, I would have to say “DRM is good” since it’s also code.

I’m not sure if James Madison was a free speech absolutist. The founders of the USA were pretty smart and probably drew finer distinctions than that.

Sometime free speech absolutists lean on James Madison (other times they have other reasons for their position). I disagree with the assessment of him being smart. He didn’t know how to play Tetris, implement an RFC, and, most basic of all, respect other human beings as free and unownable citizens instead of enslaving them. Like, even li’l kids know that last one.

Regardless of Madison’s unsmartness or not, American law has plenty of legal exceptions to free speech, thankfully.


João writes in:

Exactly, all rights and duties in a society should have a purpose behind them or they are meaningless. I like how the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights frames it (it starts with “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.” as an absolute statement and imperative and then lists the positive rights as “Everyone has the right to…” subordinating them to that goal).