Thursday, March 01, 2012


Freedom of speech is our right because we claim it and we manifest it, not because it is granted by authorities elected by votes or money or guns.

The only way to maintain our freedom of speech is to exercise it, and rigorously so. We must not censor ourselves under any circumstances. We must not do the work of liberty-hating authoritarians by muzzling ourselves for fear of their reprisals.

This is so glaringly obvious it embarrasses me to write it. And yet I note, in disappointment and desperation, that there is some need to highlight these sentiments.

We can accept no limits on our freedom to speak our minds. None. No one who tells us it is illegal to say these or those words, in this or that order, has any legitimate power of us.

This is not an invitation to be irresponsible. Quite the opposite, actually. Every time someone says something vapid, ill-considered, mean, baseless, racist, off-topic, ignorant, self-aggrandizing, they step over to the side of authoritarians who seek to limit free speech. It serves those in positions of power and oppression to speak when you have nothing to say. Your narcissism knocks us all down a peg.

When you have nothing of value to say, be quiet and listen. When those you are hearing have nothing of value to say, lend your ear to something else.

The charge of sedition has made a comeback of late, the idea that certain words, said together in a certain order, are cause to remove the sayer from society in one way or another. But the only way the charge of sedition could be legitimate is if the power claiming offense to your words is legitimate. It is not.

We must be certain of this, that we can and will say any words, in any order, at any time, for any reason, and we will not accept the charges of sedition, terrorism, incitement made against us. We will not accept fines, jail time, "indefinite detention", torture, and assassination for using words to express ourselves to each other. We will not be made to fear communicating with each other just because the powerful threaten to abuse us for doing so.

The idea that the way we speak will be met with gun violence, chemical weapons, police brutality, torture, show trials and prison sentences proves the very need to continue to speak freely. What other ways do we have to defend ourselves from violent authoritarians? What other ways do we have to proclaim the good world we wish to live in?

We must accept that while we claim the right to say what we will, others will say things we may not like. Unless we wish to use our freedom of speech to sound like a bunch of raving narcissists, we ought to avoid amplifying and encouraging the ugly, baseless things that some few will continue to say. Uplift foolish people with your intelligence, not by pandering to them.

We do not have to dignify with a microphone the sound coming out of every asshole. Say more good, powerful, intelligent, meaningful things and more good, powerful, intelligent, meaningful things will have been said.

There are words that I have said in this brief text that, taken together with my determination to travel freely and, perhaps -- who knows? -- taken together with the people with whom I associate and, perhaps, with the people or organizations their friends associate with, and taken together with the books and articles I read, would be cause for that fucked up, illegitimate state authority that claims the right to bomb the world, to take me into custody, to place me in a windowless jail cell, without charge, without a lawyer or light or heat or clothing, for the rest of my life. It doesn't matter that I've never lifted a hand against another human being, that I've never held a weapon, that I've never encouraged any kind of violence, that I have no record with these illegitimate authorities of any kind of wrongdoing whatsoever. For using these words, they claim the right to haul me away from my community, my work, my loved ones, forever.

Now someone tell me again how getting active in local politics is going to change a damned thing? Speak up!

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