Free speech

It's called a slippery slope argument

Since, as one debater observed, sometimes 140 characters aren’t enough, some thoughts arising out of a twitter debate this evening.

Free speech is meant to be offensive. Free speech wears tattoos and wants to date your daughter. Free speech wants to do drugs. Free speech wants to stop immigrants taking our jobs. Free speech hates your god, your country, your most cherished beliefs. Free speech must be offensive, or speech isn’t free at all.

(More here)

Feel free to comment.

It’s called a slippery slope argument [Image via MorgueFile

By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.


  1. Free speech isc not meant to be offensive, sometimes it is. Perhaps asking for my daughter’s phone number, or her hand, may be quite agree. Telling me she has some F**king ass man on, the other hand…………….
    However, the point I was raising is this. Th simple act of defending the right to freedom of speech, opposes you to those who disagree with it. Freedom of sppech surely pre supposes that the listener is in a position to disern the value of what is being said. I suggest it is a false pre supposition. Practically every human atrocoty,from Pol Pot to Hitler are the product of free speech. Too often in human debate the victor is the one with the persuasive manner. The one with the ready cliche immediatly acceptd as having hte wisdom of the ages. Wheras, the argument should be won by the person who is actually correct.
    In short, and as a conclusion to round 1, I suggest your description of free speech, you attempted visualisation of the beast, is wholly imcorrect and requires you give the matter some further consideration. Bil Walsh

  2. On the contrary, you’ll find that one of the first things despots do, from Hitler to Pol Pot, is to eliminate freedom of expression.

    People are free to disagree with me. That’s kind of the point.

  3. agreed. however, who decides what is despotic? Certainlt not the followers. It must be seen from the outside. From inside it is merely freedom of speech (though perhaps not called that) It is perfectly legitimate to despise jews, gypsies, slavs. Sometimes it is not merely enough to counter argue. To simplify this, what you suggest is that sedition, insightmanet to hate to wwronglt accuse as perfectkly acceptable as it supports theethos of free speeech. The world advances. I believe in general most people, like you, like me, wish that advance to be for the better. For the common good. Would I allow that which has been hard fought, that enlightenmment be reversed simply on the grounds of freedom of speech. I would not. Fighting the despot with merely the tools of free speech (see burma) is a wasted effort. Often I hear it said , and I willl hear a lot more of it, foreigners are coming here taking our jobs. Right wing extrmism, even in little old ireland, will raise its ugly head. For personal reasons I find it offensive. That is my central point. There is a difference between freedom of expression in a fair and free envoirnment. And the use of free speech solely to belittle and to denigrate others. That freedom I can not, and will not, support. B’

  4. You seem to have very little faith in the ability of your fellow citizens to spot bullshit and call it when they see it. Do you really want a moderator from the government deciding which speech is worthy,and which speech cannot be allowed?

    All speech offends someone. I don’t particularly want to listen to certain idiotic opinions (maybe the same as yours, maybe radically opposed to what you believe) but I’d rather hear things I disagree with vehemently and debate the other side, than live where some thoughts aren’t allowed free expression.

  5. But you are an inteligent, thoughtful, human being. Capable of seeing an opponents argument, of disecting it, of coming to your own conclusion and I would accept without reservation that your conclusions would be in the best interest of all. However, that is not to say all people are capable of such deliberations. Many many people at time of uncertainty will believe whatever promises to relieve them of that insecurity, of their fears. Where that fear is used in order to bring about offence to another individual or group then I suggest it is an offence, That is the nub of it really. It is what that free speech is used for. That while I of course support freedom of thought and of expression, I would suggest that a society capable of supporting that right would also be capalble of setting a boundary. A boundary that ensures freedom of speech is not used as a tool to argue to restrict the human rights of others. Of minorities.

    You might agree that we live in a free society, It is a free society with rules. it is not a free for all freedom. If freedom means anything surely it is the freedom to set out rules and values.
    Freedom of speech should not mean a free for all freedom either.
    In a real sence political correctness is , whether you agree it or not, already sensoring free speech, and doing it in advance of you speaking at all. . Certain words and phrases have already been banned or removed from the language. In a sence censorship already exists.

  6. It is of course pleasing to me to hear that you consider me an “intelligent, thoughtful human being”. Trouble is, its equally insulting to dismiss the Great Unwashed out there, who presumably are stupid and thoughtless. It’s the argument that says I should be allowed read a book, but it should not be made available where wives and servants might see it.

    People are smarter than you think. Give them credit. And have a little more faith in your own ability to sway the with a good argument. After all, all those intelligent, thoughtful human beings are free to argue their case in a democratic society too.

    You cannot set a boundary. Once you do, speech is no longer free, and you have already restricted the human rights of others, minorities or otherwise. And once you’ve admitted that some thoughts cannot be said out loud, those same intolerant forces you fear are free to tighten the gag even further.

    Political correctness is usually a red herring in debates. Look closer, and you’ll find that labelling something PC is usually a debating tactic. It’s a simple ad hominem, when someone cannot refute an argument, to label the idea (and the speaker) as the product of some wooly hippy thinking.

    Finally, Certain Words are *not* banned. Thanks to the outcome of vigorous and free debate, certain words may be disapproved of. And that’s an entirely different thing.

    Yes, censorship exists. But we should fight it, and resist any attempts to introduce more censorship.

  7. we are all part of the great unwashed one way or another and I certainlu do not consider myself worthy of reading while others are suitable only to turning the page. Let’s put it this way. We accept a liimited form of liberty. We are free to do as we wish so long as we cdo nothing to restrict the liberties of others. I would suggest we apply the same criteria to speech. That free speech is not used to undermine the liberty of others.
    I often think, that once mankind has made an advance,say,
    the earth is not flat. I would probably make it an offenct to teach children it was flat. Impossible I know but you might perhaps see the good in my aspiration.

    There are people out there who are vulnerable. washed or otherwise. We are all capable of losing our reason. Our sence of fairness. We can all be vulnerable.
    There are people who would and do use that vulnerability to thei own end. All I am suggeting is that the use of free speech to intentionally undermine the rights of others should not be tolerated. Your argument, the argument of reason, will not always win the day.
    Have free speech. But define what it means. Give it responsibility. Then defend it.

    This state once banned Sinn Fein on the grounds they were inciting and recruiting impressionable young men and were undermining the very existance of this state. I wouild have come from that generation. A generation brought up by the christian brothers to view the British in a certain way. Yet here we were siding with them against what we had been brought up to believe were our own attempting to end the 800 years of misery in Limerick. It wast Orwells 1984. Was Dez O Malley right? B’

  8. Your ideas cannot hurt me, so why should I fear them? If you don’t like what I have to say, don’t listen. But don’t tell me I can’t speak. It’s that simple.

    I really do not want to live in a world where the government thinks I am so weak-minded I should not be exposed to heresy. Do you?

    And since you mention Sinn Féin… I grew up in border country. My first appearance in the national media (by accident) was to oppose Section 31. And I opposed Sinn Féin too. Censorship didn’t stop 30 years of violence. Talking did. What does that tell you?

  9. It tells me you’re a tough cookie.
    Without doubt until recently I would have supported you 100%. I’d read Morgan Kelly’s piece and his suggestion of extreme right wing groups not exactly marauding the countryside, but far from siting on the hedge. It could have been a frightening vision but thanfully he ran of of ink. Then,as luck would have it, I read your description of free speech………and the rest, as they say………..! I would disagree the my ideas cannot hurt you, they can of course be the reason, the driving force, behing you being hurt. And yes it is extremism and those rare times when history ofrers it the appearance of rationality that concerns me. Few people listen or wish to understand both sides of a discussion. We leave it up “the government”. Only when that ceases to function for the greater good, we listen with intent.
    In more innocent times Gay Byrne had on the Late Late Show a group advocating sex with children, They told of their experiences even telling us how much children enjoyed it when done properly.
    All I am suggesting is that free spech should not be used as a vehicle ti incite hatred orf others. To deny them thei civil and human rights. It’s hardly what I would call the end of free speech. We have laws of libel regarding the individual. Is it really such a stretch to extend a shield around the vulnerable? B’

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