Je Vous Dis, Merde! 37: On the Moral Limits of Free Speech

White supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday 12 August 2017.

Free speech is the liberty of unfettered expression in opinion, thought, and lifestyle, hence the liberty to engage in what John Stuart Mill, in , called “experiments of living,”[1] aka , and above all the liberty to express edgy, challenging beliefs and ideas by means of talk, writing, or any other communicative medium.

Free speech has many important values, including scientific truth, aesthetic beauty, profound artistic or philosophical insight, and authentic self-realization — and their pursuit.

But what, ultimately, rationally justifies free speech?

In , chapter II, Mill famously attempts to provide a rational justification of free speech on strictly Utilitarian grounds.

Here is Mill’s conception of “utility” or “the greatest happiness principle,” as formulated in :

[2]

In other words, morally speaking, we ought to do all and only those things

But Mill’s attempt to justify the value of free speech on strictly Utilitarian ground, since it is always possible that the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people — where “happiness” is cashed out in terms of increasing the number and intensity of pleasurable experiences or reducing painful experiences, relative to that historical context and relative to what we are capable of doing by way of action in that context — will consist, precisely, , e.g., if that speech intensely offends a great many of us for any reason whatsoever, thereby causing a great many painful, unhappy experiences in us.

In my view, by contrast, the highest value of free speech is manifest when we exercise the liberty to engage in peaceful criticism of, protests against, and resistance to, any and all, which especially include individual and collective violations of human rights and other immoral uses of political power.

This morally and politically exemplary kind of free speech is not merely “speaking truth to power,” because, over and above truth as such, it is also -driven by a wholehearted commitment to and peacefully .

It is, therefore, speech.

Emancipatory speech is the kind of free speech, precisely because it most fully manifests the highest intrinsic moral value of respect for human dignity

Therefore, the value of free speech consists in, and is precisely determined by,

It is also generally held that free speech has some limits.

Standard candidates for these limits are:

(i) (e.g., defamation of an individual’s character, or slander more generally),

(ii) (e.g., incitement to or triggering of violence, or coercion backed up by threats of violence or other significant non-violent harm — such as being fired from your job), and

(iii) (e.g., profane or scatalogical speech, erotic or otherwise sexual speech, shockingly religious or shockingly anti-religious speech, “politically incorrect” speech of any kind, politically subversive speech, and hate speech).

The issue of hate speech, in particular, is of course of great contemporary pitch-and-moment, in the media-circus aftermath of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally and anti-fascist/anti-racist protests two Saturdays ago.

Take, for instance, this follow-up opinion piece in on 17 August, by K-Sue Park, “The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech.”

That article concludes as follows:

OK. In other words, Park is arguing:

(i) that for general reasons of history and social power-relations, hate speech is more equal than others,

(ii) that for general reasons of history and social power-relations, some hate speech is equal than others, and

(ii) that for specific reasons of history and social power-relations in the USA up to 2017 and beyond, white supremacist hate speech is equal than other kinds of hate speech, therefore

(iii) the ACLU should condemn restrictions on, or the suppression of, white supremacist hate speech.

But it seems self-evident that Park’s argument depends entirely on Mill’s assumption that the value of free speech is rationally justified on strictly Utilitarian grounds.

According to Park’s argument, the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people — where “happiness” is cashed out in terms of increasing the number and intensity of pleasurable experiences or reducing painful experiences, relative to our particular historical context and relative to what we are capable of doing by way of action in this context — will consist, precisely, in our collectively restricting and suppressing the hate speech of white supremacists, because of our particular context of history and social-power relations in the USA up to 2017 and beyond, and because this speech so intensely offends us, thereby causing a great many painful, unhappy experiences in us.

Nevertheless, if I am correct about the nature of the value of all free speech, then Mill and Park are mistaken, and it also follows that the moral limits of free speech are violations of the very thing that gives free speech its highest value when it is realized as emancipatory speech, namely,.

In other words, the moral limits of free speech are violations of respect for human dignity.

Correspondingly, this entails that the moral limits of free speech are:

(i) (e.g., defamation of an individual’s character, or slander of individuals more generally), and

(ii) (e.g., incitement to or triggering of violence, or coercion backed up by threats of violence or other significant non-violent harm — such as being fired from your job ).

This in turn means that our merely being by someone’s speech, no matter what the special context of history and social-power relations is, and no matter numerous or intense our unhappy, painful experiences of being offended are, is a moral limit on that person’s freedom of speech.

Therefore, profane or scatalogical speech, erotic or otherwise sexual speech, shockingly religious or shockingly anti-religious speech, “politically incorrect” speech of any kind, politically subversive speech, and hate speech of all kinds, white supremacist hate speech, are morally permissible — provided that this speech does include defamation of an individual’s character or slander of individuals more generally, incitement to or triggering of violence, or coercion backed up by threats of violence or other significant non-violent harm — such as being fired from your job.

And, as always, to anyone who seriously disputes the soundness of this argument,

Je vous dis, merde!

NOTES

[1] J.S. Mill, (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1978), ch. III, p. 54.

[2] J.S. Mill, (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1979), ch. II, p. 7.

***

Here is the seven-part platform of , aka akaaka

1. (URHD):

· Human dignity is the absolute non-denumerable moral value of every member of humanity, and everyone ought to try wholeheartedly to treat everyone else in a way that is sufficient to meet the demands of respect for human dignity, especially including (i) alleviating or ending human oppression, and (ii) actively engaging in mutual aid and mutual kindness.

2. (UBI):

· Anyone 21 years of age or over and living permanently in the USA, who has a personal yearly income of $50,000.00 USD or less, and who is capable of requesting their UBI, would receive $25,000.00 USD per year, with no strings attached.

3. (FHW-for-UNBJs):

· Anyone 18 years of age or older who is living permanently in the USA, who has completed a high school education, and is mentally and physically capable of doing a job, would be offered an , paying a yearly wage of $25,000.00 USD, for fifteen hours of work (three 5-hour days) per week.

Thus anyone 21 years of age or older with a high-school degree and who is also mentally and physically capable of working, would have a guaranteed yearly income of at least $50,000.00 USD if they chose to do an eco-job.

The rationale behind the three-year gap between (i) being offered an eco-job at 18 and (ii) beginning to receive their UBI at 21, is that every young adult who has finished high school will have the option of pursuing three years of part-time or full-time free higher education without credentialing, i.e., for its own sake, after high school, before making longer-term decisions about what I call and.

***

Here are a few more details about UBI and eco-jobs.

(i) The UBI is to be paid by a monthly stipend check.

(ii) Eco-job income is not taxed.

(iii) For all individual yearly incomes of $50,000.00 USD or under, no tax will be levied; hence for someone receiving their UBI and also doing an eco-job, no income tax will be levied.

(iv) For all individual non-eco-job incomes, for every $1.00 USD earned above the standard UBI of $25,000.00 USD, the monthly UBI stipend is reduced by 50 cents, until the recipient’s UBI is reduced to zero; hence for those individuals with yearly non-eco-job incomes equal to or under $50,000.00 USD, the maximum UBI + non-eco-job income sum is always $50,000.00 USD.

(v) For all individual yearly incomes over $50,000.00 USD, for every $10,000.00 USD earned, that surplus income is taxed at the rate of 1%, with the highest surplus income tax rate being 50%; hence the maximum surplus 50% tax rate starts at individual yearly incomes of $550,000.00 USD, and applies to all higher surplus incomes.

***

4. (HEWC):

· Everyone would be offered, beyond their high-school education, a free, three-year minimum, optional (but also open-ended beyond those three years, as a further option), part-time or full-time universal public education program in the so-called “liberal arts,” and also in some of the so-called “STEM” fields, including the humanities, the fine arts, the social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences.

· For many or even most people, their HEWC would fall between (i) the end of their high school education at age 18 and the corresponding availability of eco-jobs, and (ii) the beginning of their UBI at age 21.

· But HEWC provided they are mentally and physically capable of doing the program.

5.(UFH):

· Every human person living permanently in the USA will receive free lifelong healthcare.

6. (2P-UOB):

· Starting in 2021, there will be universal open borders with Canada and Mexico, and everyone who moves across those borders and then claims residence in the USA, will receive and also , with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents to depend on the current availability of (i) adequate funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the USA, provided that .

· Also starting in 2021, the USA, Canada, and Mexico will collectively form a (GRC), with three-way open borders , who will receive and also , with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents, and the precise distribution of new residents among the three members of the GRC, to depend on the current availability of (i) funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the three GRC countries, provided that

7. (UNG):

· No one in the USA, police, internal security forces of all kinds, armies, and intelligence forces of all kinds,

· UNG would be implemented .

I’m also assuming that (UPE) — universal free access for all human persons of any age to good public education up to the end of high school — already exists in most countries, and needs no further justification.

Where UPE does not already exist, it would automatically become a necessary part of the seven-part package, thereby making it a eight-part package.

***

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.