May 15 — Freedom of speech!

~~~ This week’s discussion is brought to you by Eduardo & Michael ~~~

(and hence it’s thrice the usual)

Freedom of speech! Or, as the ancient Greeks, who had 4 words for love (or was it 6?or… 8?..) would call this all encompassing concept of the modern western world: isegoria and parrhesia.

According to this article from The Atlantic, isegoria translates to something like “equal speech in public”: the right to speak public forums as equals***, regardless of monies.

***With many asterisks of course. Remember that for basically all of human history, equality doesn’t apply to women, slaves, and other select groups.

Now, parrhesia will be more more familiar for us here: The Greek means something like “all saying” and comes closer to the idea of speaking freely or “frankly.” Parrhesia thus implied openness, honesty, and the courage to tell the truth, even when (and at Sovereignty club especially if) it meant causing offense. The practitioner of parrhesia (or parrhesiastes) was, quite literally, a “say-it-all.”

Then the greeks were engulfed by the Romans (who apparently had no words for love). Their cultural successors decided it was a great idea to constrict public discourse to 140/280 characters, in order to really make sure it’s impossible to discuss complex concepts.

Now “free speech” reaches us as a kind of catch-all concept, mangled left and right by governments, corporations and culture. Indeed, the world’s most innovative autocracy recently leveraged all three when introduced doxxing with Chinese characteristics.

Such mangling takes many forms, even amongst the best of us. Singapore, perhaps leaning on some bad habits acquired when driving the commies out, will prosecute you (and win) if you say bad things about religion, races, the government, or if you gather to protest (anything). Slightly freer speech is allowed in this corner of the park, as long as you still don’t talk about religion, bad things about race, get a permit, keep foreigners from attending, and don’t mess up the paperwork when you got the permit (yes.)

Sometimes you mangle, sometimes you chop, the possibilities are endless! But do not despair, for here at the free world, we know better. The following accounts of humanity at its best and brightest are brought to you by Michael.

USA: The US probably has the strongest free speech laws in the world, with no restrictions on hate speech. The First Amendment has consistently been interpreted by the courts to protect everything from the right of neo-Nazis to protest to the right of anti-war protestors to burn the American flag.

Threats to free speech in the near future come from society more than government. There have always been social consequences for unpopular opinions, but the increasing polarization of politics greatly increases those consequences. On college campuses, overly broad speech codes, concern over microaggressions, and disinvitations of speakers can lead to the effective censorship of unpopular opinions. This survey summarizes a poll of student viewpoints on free speech: large majorities support an open learning environment that tolerates offensive speech (70%), but most students believe their campus “prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive” (61%).

Canada: The Canadian Constitution protects freedom of speech, but the Criminal Code criminalizes advocating genocide, publicly inciting hatred likely to lead to a breach of the peace, and willfully promoting hatred. Convictions under these laws have taken place, but in practice it is rare for hate speech to be prosecuted and even rarer for the prosecution to succeed.

Canadian defamation law is exceptionally plaintiff friendly, and unlike the US, has no exception for public figures. The plaintiff doesn’t have to prove falsity, malice, or special damages to win a suit, leading to things like the PM threatening to sue the Leader of the Opposition for defamation.

Europe: I don’t know as much about this, but in general European laws seem even stricter than Canada’s. Most of Europe has laws against denying the Holocaust in addition to hate speech laws–and these are enforced more often than in Canada. In Germany, hate speech on social media has recently been made illegal, with social media sites being fined up to 50 million euros for not removing offending speech within a week.

Ancient Athens: Ancient Athens, the world’s first democracy, was also the first state to have anything like modern freedom of speech. In Athens, all adult male citizens had equal right to address the popular assembly. Playwrights mocked political leaders and even gods, usually with impunity. As the orator Demosthenes said, “In Athens, you are free to praise the Spartan constitution, but in Sparta, only the Spartan constitution can be praised.”

Athenian freedom of speech was not unlimited. Most infamously, Socrates was executed on charges of impiety and corrupting the youth, although the real motivation was probably political. He had close relations with the tyrant Critias, whom Sparta installed in place of the democracy after winning the Peloponnesian War, and with the three-time traitor Alcibiades (he betrayed Athens and went to Sparta; betrayed Sparta and went to Persia; betrayed Persia and came back to Athens). Also, Anaxagoras was charged with impiety for saying the Sun was an inanimate fiery mass, and even in the assembly, the graphe paranomon made prime movers of a bill liable to punishment if it was found unconstitutional within a year.

So join us tosay, Wednesday, 6pm at the Sovereignty Lounge, BBB B101 for a riveting discussion!

Eduardo & Michael

This is relevant:

Also relevant:–crime_hypothesis