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Andres Aullet

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Why is freedom of speech so vastly different in the USA compared to the rest of the world? What does that mean in today's global culture?

Well, i may be exaggerating when i say "so vastly different", but it is my inalienable right to lie and exaggerate if that helps to get my point across.

Or is it?

Is there a limit to the amount of insults or lies i can utter in order to get a point across? or worse off, not even to get a point across, but simply to provoke a reaction on certain audience?

One of the main differences between the way freedom of speech is understood in the USA and elsewhere, is the concept of "hate speech".

Seems to me that in the USA, all the responsibility is passed to the listener, to remain rational in the face of lies and provocations, and never indulge in the most minimal reaction (other than use hate speech back).

Being a parent, I can say with certainty that not everybody can control their irrational impulses equally. Teenagers, in particular, are prone to act first and think later. And this has been known and exploited for centuries.

Can someone honestly claim innocence when making a speech that is capable of provoking this kind of out of control reaction in someone? Isn't that one of the things that could get you accused of treason, for example, when your speech incites people to rebel against your own government?

Now, to the second part of my question. Jurisdiction. If i say something that may be protected by free-speech in the USA, but which may not be protected as such in a different country (due to their differing definition of "hate speech", for example), under whose jurisdiction does this speech fall? Can someone honestly claim that they innocently released a comment on the internet for "domestic consumption only", and that they are not responsible of its international repercussions?

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  • Sep 17 2012: "One of the main differences between the way freedom of speech is understood in the USA and elsewhere, is the concept of "hate speech"."

    It's not so different in some other countries: many countries that officially have laws against hate speech barely reinforce them anymore, Germany is the big exception for historical reasons. A Dutch court dismissed all charges of hate speech that Geert Wilders was accused, after a lawyer had found a legal trick to begin the trial even though the public prosecutor had refused to prosecute Wilders, signaling the justice system's unwillingness to enforce hate speech laws.

    "Seems to me that in the USA, all the responsibility is passed to the listener, to remain rational in the face of lies and provocations, and never indulge in the most minimal reaction (other than use hate speech back)."

    The allowed "most minimal" reaction include suing for slander, boycotting, and using hate speech back, that should be enough.

    "Can someone honestly claim that they innocently released a comment on the internet for "domestic consumption only", and that they are not responsible of its international repercussions?"

    They don't have to justify that: people in other countries don't have to watch youtube, or even allow it. You can't be held to all the laws in the world at once because many are contradictory, irrational and most of all you never got the chance to petition or vote for or against most of them. If Egypt wants Americans to comply to its laws even when those Americans are in America then Egypt should allow Americans to vote in Egyptian elections.
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      Sep 17 2012: Hi John,

      Thanks for your response.

      Regarding your first assertion, I beg to disagree with you. Frederick Schauer has researched and written extensively about free speech (and hate speech) and after digging for some time in his papers, I did not get the impression that "many countries that have laws against hate speech barely reinforce them". But i won't take his word, or yours... please send me some reference material and i'll be glad to take a closer look

      What should I tell a kid who is bullied in school? "man up"? "sue your classmates for slander"? "start a boycott"? Is that enough? Most schools in this country have taken a different stand against bullying, and that goes beyond that "most minimal". As part of a civilized society I consider part of the responsibility of the stronger to defend the weaker, and the anti-bullying policies in most schools are a good example of this.

      Seems like in your last sentence you are saying that we should be allowed to say anything here in the USA, however irresponsible or denigrating about people in other countries, and it would be their responsibility to censor internet content in order to protect them from hearing/watching it? Way to go! follow the Chinese/Syrian/Egyptian model i guess?

      There are two behaviors that are inherent to human nature that i find relevant here. One is the conviction that we know more about others than they know about themselves. The second is that the exact same action appears less intense when we do it to others than when it is done on us. I think these two asymmetries combine in a bad way when we think about hate speech and how others should be allowed to respond to it.

      Whether the legal system has caught up to the fact that we are animals that react in some predictable ways, and that it is false to think of humans as always rational and always in control, our understanding of psychology and human behavior should illuminate and guide what our future legal system should aspire to be

      cheers
      • Sep 17 2012: "Regarding your first assertion, I beg to disagree with you."

        "What should I tell a kid who is bullied in school?"

        1) a kid is a person, not a group of people, persons have rights, groups do not, so this cannot be compared to "offending" people of a certain religion, 2) a school is an organization that can enforce its own rules, it is legally allowed to take action against bullies that bully on its grounds and it is allowed to deny entry to bullies who bully outside of the school. Kinda like I have the right to walk on a public road but you are not legally obliged to let me into your own house. The kid that gets bullied does not have the right to shoot his bully, unless ithe bully starts threatening his physical safety.

        "Seems like in your last sentence you are saying that we should be allowed to say anything here in the USA, however irresponsible or denigrating about people in other countries, and it would be their responsibility to censor internet content in order to protect them from hearing/watching it?"

        Yup, just like we have to turn away when they call us immoral infidels that deserve to burn in hell. It's that little piece of enlightenment that separates the civilized from the uncivilized. You should google "heckler's veto" to see how awful the alternative to free speech (the most irrational and angry people in the world silencing everyone else) is.

        @Andres

        What you see as "drawing a line" I see as silencing and in a way that's the best argument there is for freedom of speech: see I could claim I'm offended by everything you say. Every religion is offensive to every other religion, and they all spread lies and hatespeech (eternal hellfire and such), so religious groups benefit from freedom of speech more than anyone else, for them to want to curtail it is the highest form of arrogance. That's just besides the fact that you'd run into paradoxes (two opposing statements could be banned without freedom of speech).
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          Sep 18 2012: Thanks John, I will google up the "hecklers' veto", however it seems to me, in the way you suggest it, that you see the issue of free speech in black and white. I am not for silencing others, and i hope i have not conveyed that impression. I just happen to draw the line on what is acceptable to say to others with the intention of causing distress or prompting a reaction differently than the US legal system.

          In my view, there are many more things that distinguish the civilized from the uncivilized. Restraining from using hate speech towards others ranks in my list as high as not reacting with violence when we are the object of hate speech. Recognizing the false assumption than our group is better than "the others" ranks even higher.

          cheers
      • Sep 18 2012: Hi Andres,

        I have a few comments:

        "What should I tell a kid who is bullied in school? "

        Kids and school are special circumstances because kids are still learning how to communicate and understand the adult world. I think John is referring to adults.

        "Seems like in your last sentence you are saying that we should be allowed to say anything here in the USA, however irresponsible or denigrating about people in other countries, and it would be their responsibility to censor internet content... "

        I think people that hear something they don't like and is offending to them are making the free choice of being offended or feeling certain way. We cannot restrict freedom of speech in that regard. Similarly you will not stop criticizing communism even if I tell you that I feel offended and denigrated?

        I also question the assumption that you are making here that all people in Muslim countries do not want to have the same freedom of speech and want to be part of this critisism. Why extremists or even majority should dictate what everyone will do or not do?

        Here is a good article on the recent events from a woman that lived in many Muslim countries and stands for women's rights and freedom of speech anywhere:

        http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/09/16/ayaan-hirsi-ali-on-the-islamists-final-stand.html

        cheers

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