Legal Blasphemy

There are persons who say they support ‘freedom of speech’ so long as the speech contains no ‘incitement to violence’. This is interesting. This is how The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘incitement’:

 The action of inciting or rousing to action; an urging, spurring, or setting on; instigation, stimulation. Also, the condition of being incited

One simple point is this. Just because ‘the law says’ ‘incitement’ is a real thing with a real effect doesn’t make that true in reality. Sometimes – and I hope this doesn’t shock or distress anyone – the state makes laws for the benefit of it, not the citizen.

Given the definition, those who claim to support freedom of speech, so long as the speech doesn’t incite violence, are refusing to support a prime minister’s rousing wartime speech designed to urge, spur or stimulate the population of fighting age to violence in the defence of the country. I’m sure that no true Englishman (after thinking about it) would agree that’s what he actually meant. He would probably say he supports freedom of speech so long as it doesn’t incite criminal violence. In doing so he opens up another debate entirely, one which might contain some ironies at the expense of that Englishman.

What I’m interested in is whether there is a causal aspect to incitement. If there’s not, then why might there be laws about incitement, and why might intelligent persons risk sounding silly when they say they support freedom of speech with qualifications?

If you ‘support’ freedom of speech, but not if it does such and such, then you don’t support freedom of speech, you support limited speech. It’s true that your qualification is a minor one, but it’s there: it changes what was a principle into a soggy relativistic lettuce.

If there’s no causal question, it means that a person, though they might be ‘urged’ or ‘spurred’ or ‘roused’ to do something – or whatever word you want to use – are not ‘made’ or ‘compelled’ or ‘forced’ to do it. There is a simple conclusion, then, that if a person is not forced to do the violence, they must have chosen to do the violence, and they chose to do it, then what’s the problem with incitement? On this logic, incitement is no more than giving someone an idea, and yet there are laws against this? Are intelligent persons saying they support freedom of speech so long as the speech doesn’t give anybody ideas about violence? That would be absurd. Nobody would be able to watch Tarantino movies because the violence in them would give some viewers ‘ideas’ about violence.

I’ll sum up my position. I think a person should be able to speak or write anything – no matter if it’s racist or ‘offensive’ or calls for violence – without having the law being involved. Such a person could be publicly ridiculed, slow-clapped or suffer massive career damage and other consequences, and perhaps rightly so, but I can’t accept the idea that certain thoughts should be illegal. That is totalitarian. It is grotesque. There is no such thing as incitement. Even the most persuasive language doesn’t ‘make’ a person act, the person acts because they want to. The persuasive speaker does not do magic to the person’s mind or their power to choose. The person could hear the persuasive language urging him to beat-up the Jew, the black or the immigrant, or whoever, and respond to the persuader by saying ‘No.’ If the speech, persuasive or not (and how do you measure that?) doesn’t ‘make’ a person act, then you have a situation where certain thoughts are just illegal and mustn’t be expressed, even though they don’t cause bad things to happen. This is legal blasphemy – another grotesque idea loved by crypto-nasty state-worshippers everywhere.

People talk about a ‘change of mind’ because they heard this or read that. I understand this. It’s a conversational convenience, a habit of mind and language use, but if people really thought about the process of ‘changing their mind’ they would realise the mind doesn’t change, as such, it discovers it agrees with something it didn’t know it agreed with. And if the thoughts are already there when a writer writes himself to a ‘change of mind’ there is every reason to believe the idea, thought and so on, was already in the head of the person who finds he agrees with the persuasive speaker. His mind wasn’t changed: he just realised he thought something he didn’t know he thought.

If people said that they ‘think something else’ instead of saying they’ve ‘changed their mind’ they would be quicker to see this point.