JP McGlone

I'm an iOS Software engineer, a meetup organizer, a gamer, and much more.

You absolutely have the right to free speech

04 Oct 2019 » free-speech, philosophy

Someone said to me that there is no absolute right to freedom of speech, and I’m here to debunk that.

The concept of rights isn’t that complicated, yet so many people (usually the same people who tell you silly things like “Truth is subjective”) make such nonsensical (and ironically, absolute) statements about the nature of rights and where they come from.

In this post, I am not going to go too deeply into where rights come from, but I will make this little aside:

Ask your friends where our rights come from. The answer they give you tells you what they bend the knee to–what their God is–and I don’t trust anybody who thinks my rights come from the government.

A crucial aspect of human rights, regardless of where they come from, is:

Your rights end where mine begin

That is to say, I have the right to do just about anything as long as it doesn’t directly infringe on your rights.

Let’s go through some of the obvious rights. For the next section, I’m using the Declaration of Independence’s “Right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”

Right to life

You have the right to live. This is probably your most important right, as it is it the precursor to all of the others. Most people agree on this one, and they understand its relationship to murder (I don’t have the right to murder you because you have the right to live). You can surely waive your right to live by committing murder, but more on that later.

Right to liberty

You have the right to liberty. What does this mean? Thomas Jefferson described it as:

unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.

This is also pretty widely agreed on and most people understand its relationship to kidnapping. If I were to lock you in my basement, I would be infringing on your right to liberty (as it is me who is directly getting in your way to go wherever you’d please).

Right to pursue happiness

This one has stirred some controversy among defenders of the Declaration of Independence because it seems that ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ was the verbiage chosen in place of ‘property’ – and you do have the right to your property; that is to say, you have the right to the fruit of your own labor (or the fruit of the labor you traded for).

Although those on both sides of the debate agree you have the right to the fruit of your own labor, some wonder why not just use the term ‘property’. Theory is, our founding fathers worded it “pursuit of happiness” because of how slaves in that time were seen as ‘property’, and to avoid future men from continuing to defend slavery, they changed the verbiage.

I personally think they should have kept it as ‘property’ (“The right to life, liberty and property”) and demonstrated how having a human as ‘property’ infringes on that human’s right to liberty! But that’s not the route our history took, and that’s not really what this post is about.

Recap

To recap, we went over how our basic rights are to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or property. Thank you Declaration of Independence!)

And your rights end where mine begin, right?

Great!

So let’s talk about free speech, demeaning speech, humiliating speech and harassment.

The person who said to me that there is no absolute right to freedom of speech went on to say that my free speech is limited when it “starts to become harassment” and that he thinks this is reasonable and fine.

It’s not.

His comments were in context of this new law in New York that makes it illegal to use the term “illegal alien” when used with the intent to demean, humiliate or harass a person (presumably even toward an illegal alien).

In order to believe that I don’t have the right to demean, humiliate or harass you, you must first believe that you have the right not to be demeaned, humiliated or harassed.

Do you have the right not to be (or feel) demeaned? Absolutely not.

Do you have the right not to be (or feel) humiliated? Absolutely not.

(Now I’ll admit, “harassed” is an interesting one, but only to the extent that it can be interpreted a few different ways.)

Do you have the right not to be (or feel) harrassed? Absolutely not.

What is harassment? Harassment is when someone (or something) makes contiuous demands of you. That’s it. Frankly, you don’t have the right not to be harrassed. Sorry!

What you do have the right to do is to enforce your own boundaries and continuously tell me “no” when I make such demands. You can collectively bargain and cut me off from your resources if I don’t stop harrassing you or your friends. There are many ways to guard against harrassment, but insisting that we don’t have the right to harass is wrong. And lazy.

Our legal system exists to enforce laws that protect your rights, not enforce laws that infringe on your rights. To punish those who are freely expressing themselves is against the constitution, and anyone defending this NY law is defending the blatant disregard for our constitution.

The bottom line is, I have the right to demean, insult, humiliate and harrass (although I’d expect everyone to sanction me immediately if I did, because, guess what, I don’t have the right to their resources), and you don’t have the right to be free from insult or harassment.

I think that only feels bad in a world where government tells you who you must and mustn’t give your resources too. That’s another blog post idea right there!

Anyone who still wants to defend this new law and say that I don’t have the right to call someone an “illegal alien” in a way that “demeans, humiliates or harasses” them, please tell me just one thing:

What right of theirs am I infringing on? (What right of theirs is the law protecting?) And, if you manage to find an answer to that, please tell me where that right comes from.

Thanks!








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