If you are one of the three people in the educated world that have not yet read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, then you should probably drop everything you are doing and rush out to get a copy and curl up this weekend with a good bottle of single-malt scotch and put it in your brain.
It is not just to finally grok the true meaning of Big Brother, MiniTrue, Newspeak, IngSoc, and other now-cultural terms, but to send shivers of recognition down your spine as you see words written in 1949, can seem so prescient in 2016.
There are hundreds of reasons to read this book, but the one that has always remained foremost for me is the look at "free speech" and manipulation of language.
If you are not in the know, then the protagonist, Winston Smith, is employed at the Ministry of Truth (MiniTrue), where he spends his days modifying historical records and dictionary entries. The ultimate goal of this exercise is to completely eliminate factual history and to reduce the common vocabulary to the point where it is completely impossible to express ideas that are contrary to the ruling elites' interests.
Having absorbed this book in high school, I have watched the world march unceasingly towards those very goals. We call them "political correctness" and other euphemisms, but the concepts and the results are the same.
We are often treated to a certain group of left wing polemicists harping on "free speech," while simultaneously ridiculing anyone expressing ideas and concepts that are outside their carefully crafted narrative. For instance, we might hear Noam Chomsky wax philosphical about linguistics and the control of language (or through language), but turn right around and attackurn someone promoting a boycott of Israel for the Palestinian attrocities. This is a textbook example of Double Think - holding two diametrically opposed ideas at the same time and believing both of them with fervor.
The thing about free speech is that it involves the right of everyone to say anything they believe, and even to try and convince you of the value of their position. To repeat - ANYONE to say ANYTHING they believe, no matter what the topic or viewpoint.
There have been multiple legal boundaries put up over the centuries since the Enlightenment. The US Supreme Court ruled that free speech does not include the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater when there isn't one. The reasoning was that to incite a panic for no reason that can lead to grievous bodily harm is not permitted. This makes sense, until you expand it to mean that someone advocating revolution is also outside the protection of free speech, when in fact, it is that person's speech that is the most protected.
The thing is that free speech protects the presentation and argumentation of ideas and concepts. If one person is free to present the argument that the Nazis committed a racial holocaust against a certain segment of society, then someone else is must be allowed to present the opposing view. The two sides battle it out on the basis of evidence and persuasion, not on who can slam the door the hardest on the opposition.
In fact, in the above example, laws have been passed in a number of countries making it a crime to question the "mainstream" narrative of the Nazi holocaust. To my mind, any argument that requires that extreme to protect it is weak on its face. If, in fact, the entirety of the story were true in every detail, there would be no need to use the deadly force of law to protect it, as it would stand on its own merits.
Another example is the recent banning by Amazon of a book called Nobody Died at Sandy Hook. The fact that the book had to be banned shows the weakness in the "mainstream" narrative and the fear on the part of the elite that their carefully woven fabric might be undone by pulling on the wrong strings.
At this point, some readers will accuse me of being a "conspiracy theorist," and I admit that I am open to reinterpretations of history. It is a fact that history is created by conspiracies and that historical events and persons are open to new data. Even in the "mainstream," history is being rewritten all the time. A new discovery at CERN or the publication of Planned Parenthood videos allows the public to reconsider their understanding of things. If respected researchers build documented arguments that turn common beliefs on their ears, I am all for a fair listen and reserve the right to change my own opinions based on that information if I so choose.
In other words, if I have to choose between a protected species and the survival of me and my family, the protected species loses. End of story. In the same way, if a protected story deeply affects the ability of me and my family to function because the narrative has come at a social price, then I am all for re-examining that story to ensure what I have been asked to give up is worth the price. The Nazi holocaust being used to jail and shame people, Sandy Hook being used to limit my right to self-defense, 911 being used to rein in civil liberties, and religion being used to fence my right to reason mean that these things (and so much more) are open to review and criticism and revision until we are all satisfied that the truth is known and it justifies the sacrifices being foisted on us.
The moment someone wants to take something from you based on some event or argument is the moment that free speech is most valuable and necessary. If the food safety board declares that cherries are no longer healthy and must be eradicated from my diet, then I want to see the evidence and arguments to the contrary before I surrender my warm slice of pie with a heap of vanilla ice cream on top.
In criminal law in most Western countries, a person must be proved guilty beyond a "reasonable doubt" before being convicted of a crime. To remove ANY of my liberties and freedoms is effectively the same as convicting me of a crime beyond a "reasonable doubt." Therefore, I want to examine the evidence from all sides. I want to hear all the witnesses. I want to see all the forensic research. I want to question every detail before I surrender my freedom. To abridge my right to free speech and access to information, to limit what and how much I can ingest of any substance, to hide any facts or alternatives is to convict me (or anyone) without trial.
So, what does all this mean? What is "free speech?"
Does it mean we can question the right of Jews to claim a "homeland" called Israel? Absolutely. Despite 150 years of feverish digging in the Sinai and Egypt, there is yet to come to light any hard evidence to support the Biblical narrative of Exodus, and thus the claim of ancient homeland is suspect. That the holocaust has been used to justify the political state of Israel, even with the paucity of evidence for the claim, and the use of lethal force (government and law) to enforce it, makes the entire thing suspect and open to critical review. If the facts later support it, no problem. But...
Does this mean we have the right to question 911, 77, and other acts of terrorism? Absolutely. Because those events have been used to justify indicting and convicting (removing civil rights) from the entire populace of nations, then we have the right to investigate thoroughly and ensure that the foundations of our collective conviction is justified and factual.
Does this mean we have the inalienable (in-a-LIEN-able) right to say whatever we want, no matter how offensive to others or the elite. Absolutely. We must be allowed to speak our minds and cast our opinions into the marketplace to allow others to judge their worthiness. If we abridge a single word, then we have opened the floodgate, no matter how small, to further incursions on our liberty, and even the wholesale editing and control of history and what/how we think (a la Nineteen Eighty-Four). None of us has a "right" to not be offended, but we all have the right to change the channel or move to another seat.
Does this mean there is an inalienable right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater? Absolutely. It is not the act of yelling "fire," but the reaction of the crowd. If anyone is injured or property destroyed, there are remedies under the law if the intent of the person yelling "fire" can be shown to have been less than honorable.
Free speech is a huge right, and one that all other rights are founded on. It is also the foundation of a republican (not the party) form of government to preserve and protect fundamental rights for all members of society, no matter how many heads can be counted in each camp. It is the classic case of two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner, and lamb is off the menu.
"I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it," is often attributed to Voltaire, but it was more likely expressed by Evelyn Beatrice Hall. Thank goodness for historical revisionists. It is not that Voltaire did not think this way, or even say something quite like it, but rather the fact that it was his biographer who expressed it in those particular words.
There is always room for new information, new ideas and revision of old concepts. To limit any speech or deny anyone the right to put forth an argument on any topic is to set back human advancement if even an imperceptible amount. It is vital that we protect the right of ALL people to express ANY argument, no matter how offensive we may personally find it. If the argument has no merit (some genders/races are inferior to others), it is easily dismissed and eventually the speaker will have no audience. If the argument is valid, then no matter how ridiculous or offensive it may seem, it deserves to be examined by a free society. Any idea that requires deadly force (government and law) to enforce it is by definition unworthy of publication. QED