Sunday 30 June 2013

It's the Thought that Counts

There is a fantastic quote by everyone's second favourite Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (second to, obviously, my Philosophy teacher Dr Jonas Green) which goes as follows:

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought they seldom use"

It rings true when thinking about people who appeal to their freedom of speech to justify saying some truly hateful and horrible things that any decent human being would not dream of thinking, let alone saying. There are countless people like this, people who benefit from living in a democracy where we have to put up with views that not only we fundamentally disagree with but also that we find abhorrant. As much as there is a bit of me that believes freedom of speech should only be a right for those who also exercise freedom of thought before they speak, I would not change that. 

That quotation seems to fit nicely when thinking about Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer (and the EDL and, of course, radical Islamic clerics and so on) - all people who say things that, perhaps, are only justifiable by appealing to freedom of speech but who choose to abstain from thinking (or at least, are unable to think what I would term 'properly'). You may think I am now going to proceed with an article broadly along the lines of defending freedom of speech and, yeah-we-may-not-like-what-they-say-but-that-does-not-mean-they-don't-have-a-right-to-say-it and all the rest of it. If you were hoping for that sort of article there are plenty to be found on the web (like here) but I will not be indulging in one here. It is a relatively easy point to make, one that I think has been made to death on social media and, indeed, in articles like the one I have linked. In addition, when you see tweets suggesting David Cameron is a Nazi sympathiser because of this decision, you wonder to what extent you really can defend freedom of speech. If you were, however, looking for a different take on the decision then read on.

This post is simply about what an awful decision I think May has made. Not because of freedom of speech. Not because there are plenty of other people that we are forced to put up with in this country that we disagree with (isn't it slightly telling that the only examples all these bastians of free speech and democracy can think of, however, are Islamic radicals? It is almost like they have some sort of agenda...) No, rather, it is simply because being banned from speaking in the country is almost better for Geller and Spencer (and their supporters) than being allowed to speak in the country. It has turned what is a relatively routine occurrence - people whose views other people do not agree with or even find hateful etc, flying to other countries to spout the very views that those other people did not agree with or found hateful, into news. In fact, it has almost turned Geller and Spencer into the victims of oppression, namely the oppression of their free speech. What an absurd turn of events! You will have read all the articles on freedom of speech, double standards and all the rest of it. Those articles, those arguments are only made possible because of Vaz's proposal and May's decision to ban them from entering the country. No one would have even known about Geller and Spencer had they simply been allowed to spew their hatred and been done with it.

Freedom of speech is wonderful because it allows us to see what people really believe, to see what people say when they are free to say whatever they want. Freedom of thought allows the rest of us to make up our own minds about whether we agree.