The price of free speech

I preface my remarks by saying I’m opposed to the use of the name “Karen” as a derogation. Objections to my objection are typically of two types, the “get over yourself” dismissal type, and the type that adduces names such as “John” and “Dick” as exhibits A and B, respectively, in the prosecution’s case.

I have something to say to both replies. In the case of the first, there’s nothing about me that I need to “get over” because it isn’t about me. Every woman named Karen that I know hates the expression. One even told me she used to love her name and now she detests the sound of it, even when spoken by an ally in a friendly way.

So go tell the Karens of the world to “get over it” while you’re in the dismissal business, “Jack.” They’re the ones who are paying the price for your words, not me. And while you’re at it, explain to me why you’re too lazy to come up with a word or expression different from “Karen” to describe a racist asshole. Come to think of it, why won’t “racist asshole” do?

I don’t know where to begin with the second justification, because that’s the one that appears the most obtusely stillborn to me. It’s like saying since other people’s names are unfairly open to abuse and bullying — however seldom they are employed in that way — what’s the harm of creating another one? It’s a stupid rationale for continued mindless parroting of a meme that is also distinctly misogynistic. But, if you want to be a mindless parrot you certainly can. It’s a free country.

Which brings me to my point. My piece is titled “The price of free speech,” so you might be justified in turning the whole thing back on me and saying, “Using the name ‘Karen’ in a derogatory way is your price for my free speech, it’s the price all people named Karen must pay, for that matter.” Fair enough. But therein is the crux of the whole problem, and the whole motivation for my need to write this.

Of course you have the legal right to go on using it. In fact, even if I could stop you from using it I wouldn’t, because I regard free speech as sacred, even more sacred than the people you harm by abusing the name Karen. But what you may not clearly comprehend just now is my contempt for you for your using it is also part and parcel of my free speech, and that’s the price you get to pay. Understood?

It’s the other side of the coin you see. Free speech always comes with a price tag. We all love it when freedom of speech is on our side, and hate it when it’s not, and, either way, it comes with an inevitable cost. Donald Trump is a case in point. He wants the freedom to insult and abuse and lie about people as much as he likes, but he also wants journalists and pundits jailed and murdered when they call him on it, or when they insult and abuse him back, or when they fall short of giving him the love he so desperately needs. He doesn’t want to pay the price of freedom of speech, he only wants to profit from it. Freedom of speech is just another business transaction to him.

Not only is free speech a thing that few are willing to pay for, many people don’t even understand what it is, or that it is, in fact, anything but “free.” Free speech is your Constitutional right to say or write anything you want provided that it doesn’t violate certain legal statutes pertaining to incitement, hate speech and conspiracy to commit a crime.

But that’s all it is. It doesn’t mean you are also entitled to immunity from social scorn. It doesn’t mean that you are entitled to remain a member of a private club (such as Facebook or twitter) if your speech violates the rules of that club. It doesn’t mean we have to like you no matter what you say.

You still have to pay for your food when you get up from the table. Free speech isn’t part of the welfare state. It comes with a price tag. If you don’t want to pay the price, that doesn’t make you a “prisoner of conscience,” it just makes you an asshole who wants others to pay a price that you’re unwilling to pay.

I think the reason so many people are confused about this is because they think that social scorn is an infringement on their freedom of speech. It’s not. I attract social scorn every day from Trump supporters and certain malcontents on the Left who look for reasons to disagree with me. None of it limits my right to freedom of speech in any way. If my opinions become so universally odious everyone stops listening to me that doesn’t constitute infringement, it constitutes a drastic loss in popularity. Freedom of speech also implies freedom from speech.

But it would constitute infringement if I were jailed for my speech, provided again that the speech in question didn’t constitute hate speech, incitement or criminal conspiracy. Don’t confuse social scorn with incarceration if you don’t want to attract even more scorn than you already have. They are not the same, and shame on anyone who thinks they are.

Martin Luther King’s speech was infringed when he wrote his justly famous “letter from Birmingham” from a Birmingham jail cell. Nelson Mandela’s speech was infringed when he was jailed for 27 years for daring to suggest that apartheid was a social evil. Your being put in Facebook jail for 3 days ain’t the same thing. Get the difference?

Not to worry, though. If by some miracle or some highly unlawful act of fraud and corruption Donald Trump should win a second term, you might, sooner rather than later, find out what free speech infringement really is. Because if he could have his way Trump would take your free speech away from you just because he doesn’t like you. He would even take your life away if he could. We know this for certain because he said so.

That is why (and here I am exercising my right to free speech) you must vote for Joe Biden on November 3rd, and if you don’t you will attract a great portion of public scorn — and you will deserve every ounce of it, too. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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