miriam english (miriam_e) wrote,
miriam english

a little story analogy for free speech

You're having a pleasant afternoon stroll in your neighborhood. With its tall trees, much shrubbery, plentiful birds, and lack of fences, it looks like virgin bushland, but it's actually fairly well populated suburbia, with low-built homes nestling among the trees, mostly hidden. You and most of the people who are privileged to live here are very proud that this area supports an extraordinary diversity of rare and endangered animals and plants, and is one of the few remaining strongholds of koalas in the state. Usually it is lush and green and damp because of the way the trees tend to keep everything under them moist, but we've been going through an unexpectedly long drought lately, so everything is unusually dry.

You round a corner in the path and are surprised and horrified to see a fellow standing, lighting matches and dropping them into the grasses near him. He seems fascinated with the fire and giggles each time it catches. In alarm you run forward, snatch the box of matches from him and successfully stomp out the flames.

This makes him angry, "Hey! Those are my matches! You can't take away my property. I have a right to them and to use them as I see fit."

Is he correct? Does he have the right to put everybody's lives at risk by setting alight to where you live? Fire is an incredibly powerful tool, and without it we humans probably would have died out long ago, but do we have a responsibility in its use? Does he have an unrestricted right to the matches he clearly owns?

Free speech is very important, and is an extremely powerful tool, especially in the hands of public figures, such as politicians and people in the media. Should they be allowed to ignite division and hatred among people and risk burning our diverse and peaceful society down? Or should it be a requirement of their position to be the best of us, wielding their tool of free speech responsibly?

(Crossposted from https://miriam-e.dreamwidth.org/333858.html at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

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