Sunday, 6 January 2013

Freedom of Speech vs The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

So, there has been a whole lot of talk on the twitterotubesphere lately regarding the freedom of speech and what constitutes a breach of it, and a big part of the problem seem to be that one side (I won't say which) seems to be mixing up the 1st amendment of the united states constitution and the concept of "free speech".

Now I'll get this out of the bag, this post is directed towards Matt Dillahunty, a man whom I have had great respect for, and continue to have a lot of respect for, and his recent exchanges with Thunderf00t, a man who I don't always agree with (seems like I do less and less these days), but tend to agree very vehemently with when I do. I know Matt (or anyone else), won't likely read this, but if you do, please have a listen, as this is a point I think he's got right and you have wrong.

The 1st Amendment is as follows (from Wikipedia).

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This fantastic bit of text is possibly the greatest part of any document in the world, and one of the prime principles of one of the greatest nations in history, the lack of similar in many countries being the cause of tremendous strife and pain. And no one, not one single person I have seen is accusing anyone of violating this, if it were true, you would be in front of the supreme court for judgement, and not the judgement of your internet fans and peers. But why then, do people complain?

The answer is thus; there is an idea, a concept, a thought, called "free speech",  and the first amendment was designed to protect that concept. Without this, skepticism cannot truly exist, because without the ability to speak and discuss ideas freely and openly, without the ability to question without fear of suppression, bullying and censorship, ideas cannot be truly debated on their merits.

So how does this relate to you, well in two videos of yours, you have come out with shameless support of censorship, on two separate levels, not censorship in violation of the 2nd amendment, but censorship of ideas, I will link both videos below for context, and go over each point individually.

For the record, I am not arguing with the points on feminism in the first video, those points can be discussed in other blog posts, I am merely addressing the free speech issues, anyone reading this who has not seen both videos should watch both now.

So lets start out on the bit about PZ blocking comments on youtube videos, (and really, this applies to the whole FTB crew, the twitterati, the youtubers and paranoid pre-emptive blockers like Melody Hensley and Greg Laden.) But you specifically mentioned PZ, so we'll stick with that.

When you post a public video on youtube, you are stepping into the public square and shouting out your ideas for the world to hear. Or possibly making a hand puppet remix of Gangnam Style. But we'll stick to cases of the former. In the very spirit of free thought, once an idea is out there, the people will discuss it, debate it's merits and flaws, and decide whether to adopt it for themselves and propagate it, or reject it and move on to other ideas. Youtube may infuse this process with an unhealthy dash of trolling and foul language, but in the end, people who agree will like the video and share with friend, or debate it in the comments, but the idea will receive discussion and debate and hopefully both the viewers and video maker learn something.

When PZ Myers disabled comments on his youtube videos, he was well within his rights to do so, he did not violate the constitution in any way, but what he did was turn himself into one of those street preachers who bellows into a megaphone from the corner, hands out pamphlets and ignores anything anyone has to say to them. He's said to the masses "THESE ARE MY IDEAS, THEY ARE FACT AND YOU MAY NOT DEBATE OR DISCUSS THEM!". "But wait!" You say, "PZ allows commenting on his site.". Indeed this is true, so now, you get to go to the street preacher's house to discuss his ideas, where he has in fact outright stated that he will ban anyone who has ever posted in a site he doesn't approve of.

I hope you've had conversations with him about this Matt, and not pleasant ones, ones that involve the words "IT'S FUCKING CENSORSHIP!", in that order. The fact is, these are creationist tactics, you may not have hung around youtube long enough to be familiar with VFX, Yokeup and their ilk, but this is what people who are too scared to face criticism do. If your ideas are sound, then they will stand up to both the opposition and the mightiest of trolls, only those who fear the fallibility of their ideas (or in cases o the world where free speech is not permitted, the reprisal of the government and law) will not subject them to public scrutiny.

He may have the right to block these comments on youtube, and the internet, and anyone not on it, has the right to call him a censorious coward for doing so, because that's exactly what he is.

If I am to receive a medication, I prefer it to be one that was tested in clinical trails and peer reviewed before being used on me, and not something that the chemist only tested within his own basement, because he was afraid of opposing ideas or trolls. The process f discussion and debate, much like peer review, is far from perfect, but is a far cry better then "I said it, take my word for it, no discussion allowed."

Now onto your suggestion that conferences are private events and are not subject to free speech laws. Firstly, see above, and secondly, since when does "it doesn't violate the letter of the law" have anything to do with "is it true" or even "is it right." If you want to suppress clothing you find offensive, for -ANY- reason, then you are violating free expression, and when you ban speech that creates a "sexualized environment" you are suppressing free speech, and doing it while at the same time allowing presenters to make sexualized jokes on stage, is suppressing free speech in a hypocritical manor. (It's OK when "the Party" does it, right?).

All you are doing with these videos Matt, is proudly proclaiming to the world; "I've destroyed the concept that the first amendment protects, and there is nothing you can do to stop me! BWAHAHAHA!".

Its not illegal, but I don't agree with it, lots of people don't agree with it, and even if you don't do it yourself as much as Thunderf00t suggests, you are outspoken in the support of suppression of free speech. The fact that you didn't violate the constitution while doing do doesn't put you in the right, it only makes you the asshole who got away with murdering free speech.

Have a nice day.

Stand up and fight!



  1. Thanks for exercising the free speech rights you think I've destroyed. Bye.

  2. While I appreciate even sarcastic responses since I was snide in tone with the blog post, you're actually Illustrating my point. My blog is safely immune from what you and Pzod support, would you care to take a bet on how long my free speech would have remained "undestroyed" had I posted this at Pharyngula? or the TAE blog?