The Trouble with Free Speech

Filed under Random Grumps & Raves, Rights and Responsibility, Things to Consider
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I love free speech.  I am very happy that I live in a society that allows all to hold and communicate their opinions.  For me, free speech is a cornerstone of democracy and vital to its survival.  It is also vital to the growth of human knowledge – remember the difficulties that confronted Galileo?  Censorship, thought control and political correctness are the tools of the forces of darkness.

The world-wide-web with its email facilities, blogs and social-networking systems provides a platform for the whole world to communicate.  So I should rejoice, right?  Well, not entirely, mate!  A platform for learning and enlightenment is also a platform for banality.  A medium for information can also be used for misinformation.  A forum for understanding is also an opportunity to promote bigotry and hatred.  On the Internet, geniuses and halfwits, poets and proselytisers, statesmen and racists, thinkers and wanna-be celebrities, scientists and chicken-lickens, writers and chain-letter zombies, all have the same right to disseminate and promote their views and themselves.  And so, they twitter away.

Blogging provides a wealth of information, entertainment and amusement.  From travel anecdotes to family records to seriously well-informed scientific discussions – whatever, it’s all there.  Some of the forums raise very intriguing questions, inviting replies from interested readers.  The self-promoters butt in in the forum response sections, with mindless gushes like “I just wanted to say Hi”, or “Amazing – keep up the good work”.  Good grief – all to see their “contribution” in a public forum.  It’s a waste of space and time, and the noise makes it more difficult to find the answers from the real contributors to the forums.

You know the chain-email types.  Pass this on to at least 20 people and spread warm fuzzies, raising the total happiness in the world.  Or save a starving child/dolphin/nuclear family/world peace/the Earth.  Break the chain and they are doomed and you will suffer bad karma and die alone.  If you really believe this stuff, don’t saddle me with it.  Keep your fantasies to yourself.

And then there are endless emailed jokes.  It seems that nearly everybody forwards every goddamn joke and cutesy URL link they ever receive, to everybody else.  Is there anything to be said in their defence?  Well, maybe – some are actually funny.  About one in a hundred, that is.  And of the one percent that are funny, one in ten is funny enough to forward on.

That leaves ninety-nine percent that are not funny and a waste of storage space, bandwidth and my time.  That would be bad enough to deserve a good old-fashioned grump, but it’s not the worst of it.  No, the worst of it is that a disturbing percentage are created to promote the bigoted stereotypes of the writers and senders.  Their intention is to promote and maintain hatred or derision of whatever group or groups the writers themselves may despise.  That could be Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Asians, Whiteys, Catholics, Capitalists, Communists, Republicans, Democrats, whomever is blamed by the writer for the ills of the world.

Here are three examples of Internet “jokes”.  I wonder if they will make you laugh:

Scientists are trying to combat crime by combining the DNA of a Maori and a Samoan. The are hoping to come up with a blackie that is too lazy to steal.

The presidential inauguration compared to  Hurricane Katrina:  “How can 2,000,000 blacks get into Washington, D.C., in one day in subzero temps when 200,000 couldn’t get out of New Orleans in 85 degree temps with four days notice?”

“Breaking News!  Playboy just offered Sarah Palin $1 million to pose nude in the January issue.   Michelle Obama got the same offer from National Geographic.”

These examples are not funny, and I am very grumpy about them.  If you are in the habit of passing on stuff like them, please stop it.  There’s enough misery in the world.

P.S.   If you get a one-in-a-hundred joke email that is really funny enough to pass on, send it.  Even grumpy old men need a good laugh.

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