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The Chilling of Free Speech Has Consequences

Lately, particularly over the latest kerfuffle in science fiction, but even before that, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend amid my progressive acquaintances.

They will sometimes go so far as to mutter about how the First Amendment should not protect people who say this or that – you know what I mean – usually speech they don’t like under various guises: racism, sexism, and other things ending in “ism” such as any flavor of conservatism and libertarianism (they’re oddly okay with communism. Go figure.  I like to abbreviate this to “we’d like the First Amendment to exclude things that make us upset,” which might be unkind, but is certainly truthful).

But lately a smug and idiotic saying has shown up in those circles: “You’re allowed to say whatever you want to, so long as you take the consequences.”


Apparently, they’d like to align themselves with places like, oh, the Islamic republics, Cuba, and North Korea, where you are also allowed to say whatever you want to as long as you take the consequences.

I see some of you starting to quibble. And yeah, it’s an undeniable fact that speech has consequences, but what should those consequences be? How proportional should they be to the speech? Should they be so overwhelming that they – de facto – negate free speech?

Look, the logical and inevitable consequence of free speech is to have your own free speech challenged. If I climb onto a podium and state that the Earth is flat and the universe is made of turtles, I should expect my free speech to be argued with.

And that’s perfectly logical. Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not everyone is entitled to their own facts, and obvious lies should be challenged.

Then there’s the other immediate reaction. In older, more sane days, saying something about a guy’s mother might get you punched in the mouth. Or it might get double said about your mother. Nowadays it’s more likely to involve lawyers or a call for safe spaces.

I’m even willing to concede getting punched might be a logical consequence of free speech. (And a saner one than safe spaces.)

But if you say something about some guy’s mother and the guy shoots you, we can all agree it’s out of control, particularly if the guy doesn’t get punished for it.

In the same way, when I was discussing this with one of my friends, he pointed out another area in which you take consequences: when you work for a company and say something that damages the company, you should be fired, or at least demoted.

I am willing to allow that if what you said is directly related to the company.