Sunday 18 January 2004

When the Free Speech brakes fail

The right to self-destruction
Expressing themselves clearly
Just as people do not appreciate, the value of good health until when struck down by illness, so do people maintain an atmosphere of indifference until someone abuses the right to free speech or self-expression.
As it happens, the issue of freedom of speech never arises until someone says or writes something that excites commentary. The proponents then seek the refuge of free speech to no avail.
Two events stand clear in this rush to the free speech refuge but the caretaker refused entry for all the banging and pleading at the gates.
Senator Trent Lott, the former Senate Leader of the US Senate at a birthday speech in celebration of the late Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday.
Robert Kilroy-Silk, the talk-show host of a programme bearing his name, a former member of the British parliament and occasional newspaper columnist, the news column being the trigger for his misfortune.
Oops, that is offensive
Interest follows observing the similarities between both cases, in that the speech referred to the past and the column was once published eight months before.
Concerning the speech, the celebrant ran on a segregationist presidential ticket in 1948, Mr Lott in his speech apparently reminisced about how American might have been different if the celebrant had won.
Mr Kilroy-Silk had written the piece in the heat of the second Iraqi war, then focus was on events in Iraq, with a commentary by-line questioning the value of Arabs to modern society.
The comments caused great offence and an avalanche of recriminations.
Congenitally predisposed to pre-judge
The common saying that we judge others by their deeds and ourselves by our good intentions always fetches true in situations like this.
Nobody would feel elated when offered a frank assessment of his or her personality, creed, culture, views, identity, appearance or expression, which contains disparaging language that belittles, demeans and possibly offends.
Expression is not always necessary for a frank opinion, even though it might be true and valid. Everyone has a degree of subjective leaning, however, when expressed that becomes a kind of prejudice.
Frank is not necessarily objective; it is a facet of observation by the purveyor of the expression.
Be nice or be silent
Anywhere the free speech advocates rear their heads, the dichotomy of political correctness receives much commentary. For any issue, there is opportunity to project benevolence or malevolence; however, beneficence never attracts much attention except in recognition or award.
Malevolence demonstrated as a characteristic of the exercise of free speech is disingenuous at best and blatantly horrid at worst. It serves no particular purpose than to tug at the fragile seams of society and create division in an uneasy accommodation. It is the lit fuse to a bomb without knowing what would be the extent of the havoc caused.
It is no doubt that silence is never a virtue of the malefactors who are presumably expressing the views of the silent majority affected by the issue addressed. The expression is an incitement, though it may not receive enough momentum to spill into the streets.
Whose free speech?
The affected in the debate about the exercise of free speech usually have no clear forum of advocacy to seek redress. Redress for where free speech is abused is the exclusive preserve of the rich.
The law offers censure for slander, libel, blasphemy or sedition, which are loose synonyms of the abuse of the free speech. Only those who can afford the expense of the legal process can exercise the right to challenge offense.
That group of people who are subjected to the pique of inconsiderate and self-serving pronouncements either grin and bear it, or may have the fortune of a representative organization that seeks censure.
Free speech becomes the property of the broad audience of society, ownership is exercised by the all sides that are affected by the commentary, no matter how strong the retraction, it cannot be wrestled back from the offended.
Speaking up for a demise
In the two cases that feature in this article, none of the advocates of free speech could save the proponents from the consequences of their machinations.
The great lament about the ascendancy of political correctness over freedom of expression serves no beneficial ends for the perpetrators. Instead, it creates a finer focus on the offense and a greater outcry for a lynching.
The offended usually demand incessant apologies, which do not go far enough to ameliorate the feeling of wrong. The thirst and baying for blood only gets sated with the loss of a valuable position.
Mr Lott resigned the leadership of the US Senate and Mr Kilroy-Silk resigned from hosting his own talk show, considering none of what they said or wrote happened at the Senate or on the BBC talk show.
If there is any morale in these episodes, people who express themselves without restraint or an understanding of responsibly enhancing a harmonious society stand to lose the pedestals from which they pronounced their opinions and folly.

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