Saturday, February 18, 2012

Down with Free Speech

I'm opposed to free speech.

Let me pretend, for the sake of this discussion, that I am a full-fledged Filipino citizen. I know for Proud Pinoy that is like running your teeth across the blackboard, but please extend yourself for about five minutes.

Let me start my argument with two case studies of free speech then discuss this "liberty" and why I think it is important that our notions of democratic principles evolve .

  • Case 1. Manila, Philippines. 2012. Court employees band together to protest the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Corona.

  • Case 2. Oakland, California, U.S.A. 2011 and 2012. "Occupy Oakland" protestors intentionally confront Oakland police.

Case 1

By definition, the courts ought to be the most rational of civic institutions, the place where our personal biases and emotions are set aside in favor of a rational dissection of the law and the case being adjudicated. The scene of court employees marching in an emotional political protest against the checks and balances that assure a strong democracy is surreal indeed.

To understand the protests, one has to understand the emotional esteem issues that underpin many interpersonal engagements in the Philippines. Consider what loss of "face" means to a lot of Filipinos. Simplistically put, it is this chain of events:  (1) Personal integrity is questioned. (2) This cannot be allowed. (3) Grab a gun.

What is happening regarding protests by court employees is that they are taking the Corona impeachment personally. They have lost sight of the fact that checks and balances are what make democracy work.

So those who are supposed to represent our highest institution of rational, apolitical impartiality - the courts - are throwing a personal tantrum. In the name of free speech, of course. They toss aside their obligation to remain objective, unemotional interpreters of the law.

Now I don't think court employees should be stopped from protesting by any legal or police action. But I think the rest of us, acting through the social institutions available to us, ought to make clear that we think our court employees ought to have a better understanding of their role in a well-functioning democratic society.

By "our" in that sentence, I mean to make clear that government employees work for the people. We are the boss. We have, through our representatives, designed and built the government institutions and processes. The checks and balances. Our employees must tread carefully if they decide to criticize these decisions, institutions and processes. That would be like a tool worker at Mitsubishi Motors standing outside the shop foreman's office with a sign protesting the way the assembly line is run. He'd be out of a job 10 minutes later.

Given their attitude, I figure the court employees are about one battalion short of a coup.

We ought to tell court employees to respect the law they work to uphold, sit down, and shut up. Let the legal process work its way through and stop imposing their personal pride issues upon the rest of us. Their "free speech", a personal right undertaken in a court robe, is undermining respect for law, and the neutrality, independence and impartiality of the judicial arm of government.

Just as I should not sit here and type "Corona is guilty", they ought not to shout "Corona is innocent". It is wrong for them to be complaining about the process of "due process" because their feelings are hurt.

You see, free speech isn't about the right to blabber any old thing. It is why I cannot scream "bomb" in the airport terminal or shout obscenities in a school yard. Free speech needs to be responsible speech.

Court employees engaged in a political protest are irresponsible to the "liberty" the rest of us are entitled to:  independent, impartial, well-functioning courts.

Case 2

I'm back to being a U.S. citizen.

The Oakland branch of the "Occupy Wall Street" protest has staged a series of confrontations challenging the local laws and police. They were offended by harsh treatment of protestors by police at the outset of their protests and have changed their mission. They are no longer concerned about unreasonable pay for corporate CEO's, or abuses of power by banks. They are, like court employees, taking up a personalized agenda. They are obsessed with "police brutality".

The problem is that their idea of free speech is undermining the reputation and power of those hired by government to protect and serve the rest of us. The police department. So, in the interest of promoting values they believe in . . . namely a a police department that lets them do whatever the f*** they want . . . they are fine with undermining the values that protect the rest of us. Those of us who believe obeying the law is important.

Again, the problem is that the Occupy protestors disregard the impact of their free speech on society's well-being.

In this case, I fully support arresting those people who decide free speech means they can break the law by gathering where they were instructed not to gather. And I support the police department knocking heads with their batons if the protestors get physical. Refusing a lawful order to move along is a physical act requiring use of force. The alternative is to allow the seeds of anarchy to sprout, to root, to spread.

As a citizen, I did not elect the representatives who appointed the Occupy leaders. I elected the representatives who employ the police.

If the police were out of line, there are methods in place for me, the citizen, to punish offenders. If the Occupy protestors are out of line, there is no method in place for me to punish offenders. Frankly, I want a police department that can be brutally forceful when challenged.

Free speech does not mean sealing the speaker off from the laws of the land. It does not mean anarchy is permitted under the Constitution.

A Fundamental Liberty: Responsible Speech

I suggest that we adjust our understanding of free speech with a simple asterisk, a notation that "free" means "responsible", it does not mean unrestrained, and it does not mean that individuals or even organized groups can act recklessly, where recklessly sacrifices the well-being of others.

A smoke bomb over the White House fence is not free speech. Court employees marching undermines the neutrality of the courts. Occupy protestors taunting police undermines our safety.

New laws should not let protestors hide irresponsible, dishonorable behavior behind the honorable intent of the free speech law.

We all need to work hard to discern when the scales of partiality penalize the greater good. We need to use existing laws, new case laws or social media to help the irresponsible few understand that they are not entitled to damage the rest of us.


  1. And who is to decide what is "responsible" speech? You? A panel of morally upright old folks?

    You are creeping dangerously into facism, sir.

    You are no American.

    1. Damn, I must have grabbed the wrong passport then. You are not of the ilk who believe democrats are not "real Americans" by any chance, are you?

  2. Simply put, Joe, you want to say this:

    Think before opening your mouth/ typing up anything for publishing on the internet. A call to action should have a solid basis.

    You forgot to add this:

    Case 3:

    A president openly calling for disobedience is not free speech.

    With great power comes great responsibility. The president of this country constantly forgets that HE IS president of this country.

    I understand the man is not perfect. However, that is not justification for him to act imperfect all of the time. Maybe it's the fault of his propagandists. Instead of messages of hope and the call to great action, what do we hear? A waste of good ratings, if you ask me. A waste of free speech.

  3. brianitus, ahhh, right. I agree with you on all points. I do really believe both Mr. Aquino and Mr. Corona should shut up and let due process do its processing.

    1. Given a choice of arena, I'd rather have the two just slug it out in a boxing ring. Both of them appear to be out of shape. I'll put that match at even odds. :)

  4. ahahaha, can you imagine those two in shorts? OMG!


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