One from the Vaults: Free Speech

(From 8th October 2009)

In the beginning, it was all so simple. Little amoeba in a pond, wiggling around. Skip through history: the dinosaurs, the monkeys. Everything was so simple until human beings got here.

We like to communicate and we realise (but perhaps do not fully understand), that we have a different perception of the universe. We communicate that difference in perspective and we learn something about someone else.

Do this well enough and it means that we can alter who is the dominant monkey in our monkey troop. Some privileged people do not like the idea that they might lose power and status; so they say the others should keep their opinions to themselves. They might enforce the silence of dissent with force. Ridicule. Minimisation. If they are crafty, they might make the others self-censor. Out of fear or simple peer pressure.

And thusly, in the fires of oppression from a privileged minority, the concept of “free speech” was born. The tentative idea that is should be okay to express any opinion or view.

How lovely!


Then you get into hot water because sometimes people are oppressed because what they say and think is what scientists have termed “arse clenchingly stupid”.

And complications of layers of complications, with our different perspectives and takes on things, no one person is objective enough to decide who the bloody stupid “shut up shut up shut up” people are.

So, we try to move towards a system where you are allowed to express your opinion just as long as you do not threaten someone with violence, encourage someone else to resort to violence… checks and balances. Little kindnesses. Little markers of acceptability.

Occasionally, someone will say something which is perhaps a little mean or upsetting and then you have a discussion about if it is acceptable to say things that might be upsetting.
There are some who say that you should have an absolute right to offend.
There are some who say that you must never offend someone and this should be illegal.
There are some who say that should be allowed to offend as long as you have motives other than causing offence. Which is hell to prove. “I only intended to highlight the hypocrisy of the Church, officer”

Most people want to be respectful. They want to show they care about their fellow man. They do this by bearing in mind that people get upset by a lot of things and perhaps dealing with those hot-button issues sensitively… where possible…is the way forward.

In Denmark, it is often that an outsider is deliberately offended. They might have their religion mocked, they might have their accent mocked, they might have their culture held up for ridicule, the colour of their skin, the things they love and the places they call home.
Yes, I know the people that partake in this stupid-twattery are red necks and not “real people” in any meaningful way.
But, their absolute right to be an arse is defended by a culture that call such knobishness “freedom of expression” when perhaps it would be better described in terms of “freedom of fuckwittery”

The outsider may react in a number of ways.

Some of them more eloquent and/or respectful than others.

This is where we get into the real complication. Yet another layer of it, like one of those fancy French desserts.

If an outsider dares speak critically in Denmark a number of things can happen.

  • They might find that they have to have an argument with a loved one
  • They might be told they are bad people
  • They might be told they should be grateful
  • They might be told to piss off back home
  • They might be told they are overreacting
  • They might lose their job
  • They might have a file compiled on them at the kommune
  • They might have their activities scrutinised

This might not happen every time. It may never happen to an outsider who speaks critically.  But it happens often enough for the other outsiders to take note and heed.
Without anyone even having to lift a finger to force the populace to act a certain way, the threat is implied. A bully testing the weight of a weapon without needing to lunge to get their victim to flinch.

People who would like to speak critically about Denmark find that they cannot find a balance between saying what they want to say and getting into trouble. Either people are anonymous voices or else they limit their conversations to private mutterings.

And we see the problem.

The free speech, such as it is, exists only for people with privilege. It is only for a certain sect here. It is not FOR the likes of us. This oppression exists for the same reason as any oppression exists, to keep that sect in power. Keeps them with the privileges, the status, the rights.

And I would like to invoke my Free Speech to say that I think that this is disgusting.

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