There IS something outrageous about stamping out dissenting speech

A recent article, by Osita Nwanevu, published in Slate magazine, makes the, superficially, appealing claim that we should stamp out bigoted speech. However, in doing so, he makes a number of logical fallacies and sets up poor standards which we should hope to not find in widespread use.

Before we start, I will say that I am very much on the free speech side of things. I strongly believe free speech is the most important human right there is and that there can be as, without the ability to freely discuss and debate ideas, we can not even begin to entertain the notion of any other human right. The very existence of a right to life or freedom from discrimination is dependent upon one being able to express those thoughts in the first place. Continue reading

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If not free speech then what?

Free speech is absolutely vital for the sort of society in which I wish to live. I want a society where ideas can be freely exchanged, where they are judged on their merits alone and not on who supports or derides them. If we do not have freedom of speech then there can not even be debate on any other issue. This is something I’ve tried to defend throughout the history of this blog, whether it was calling out France for outlawing opinions, the UK for arresting people for harmlessly expressing their views or just arguing against offence being something we should be protected from. Now I need to do it again. Continue reading

E&R is three years old!

Technically my blog’s third birthday was on the 14th of October but, I’m ashamed to say, I forgot all about it this year. To make up for it, I decided to move the celebratory post, and future ones, back to the end of the year as it will hopefully be easier to remember.

There doesn’t seem to have been much change in the number of hits per week compared to last year, though this year seems slightly higher. I now have 188 followers (45 in the first year, 118 in the second year) and this is my 220th post (168 at the end of last year). I no longer consider PZ Myers as a good example of rational or free thought and have removed Pharyngula from the blogroll. There also seems to have been a remarkable number of spam comments recently; 9070 spam comments blocked this year, more than half of the total number.

Views per week

Views per week

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That’s offensive! So what?

There seem to have been a number of incidents recently where one person has said something that others took offence to which have made it into the news. Some of these cases involve people expressing their opinion but most concern inappropriate jokes. I have some concerns that, given the ability of social media to find things to take offence to and the amount of pressure that can be levied with it, we are heading towards a dangerous situation where it will be safe only to voice the most popular opinions or tell the most politically correct jokes.

At times, the apparent need to get offended gets justified in the most ridiculous ways, as shown here in South Africa. I would encourage everyone to read the Broacasting Complaints Commission of South Africa’s (BCCSA) findings with regards to “jou ma se paw paw” that was said on Heart 104.9FM. A complaint was made after a DJ said “jou ma se paw paw,” which translates to “your mother’s paw paw.” Fairly inoffensive. The problem is that “jou ma se poes,” which translates to “your mother’s cunt” is a common insult. The complainant said that by using something similar it is an attack on women’s dignity and encourages sexism.

Against all common sense the complaint was upheld! Although the BCCSA only reprimanded the broadcaster and found the words did not amount to advocacy of hatred, they , somehow, concluded that:

The words “Jou ma se paw-paw” are grossly offensive within the South African context. They strongly remind of the seriously derogatory original phrase, which need not be repeated here. The words are also, within the same context of children, harmful to children in terms of clause 6(1)

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Exaggerated and misguided statements by ANC

One can seemingly always rely on the ANC to say something stupid. I had planned to ignore the most recent example of this until I saw it get even worse. They have taken issue with an art project by some high school students. Some of the T-shirts on display had unflattering depictions and captions of ANC members. They’ve since decided to ignore the constitutional right to freedom of expression, that the ANC members are public figures and all that entails, that the artists are high school students and that the syllabus includes a section on political commentary. Continue reading

Two years, still going strong

Today marks the second birthday of my blog. You can read about the first birthday celebrations here. Hopefully the quality of posts has improved since last year, although I know that the overall number has decreased from 100 to 68. There have been some special moments this year which I didn’t include in my top 10 posts are worth noting. Early in the year saw the first guest post (I had a second one planned but that seems to have fallen away) and, a few weeks ago, the publication of my first scientific paper. Continue reading

Western laws constricting free speech

There is one aspect of the US that I particularly admire and that is their protection of free speech due to the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Unfortunately that protection is not always available to people in other Western countries, with the UK having a number of high-profile incidents where citizens have been arrested for things that they’ve said. Continue reading