Words and swords, free speech and accountability

They do say the word is mightier than the sword, don't they?

However, nobody ever seems to think that a word can, and actually does kill, just as a sword, or a bullet, as the case may be.

Let's not dwell on the obvious

So, this fellow that shot a number of people in Tucson, Arizona, is a nut job.

I'm not even going to defend this statement, because it's as obvious as all get out. I mean, anybody that will hold a gun and discharge it to countless citizens participating in any gathering, political, social, educational, whatever, is a nut job in my book. So this is beside the point completely.

My question is, are we all going to accept that these things are the doings of wackos and be done with it?

I should hope not, and I should hope any citizens in a nation plagued with these nut jobs should be screaming bloody murder as opposed to be arguing whether this is the work of a nut job or if there's any ulterior motive. Please!

Free speech

I sometimes have a feeling that "free speech" is taken a bit too far, and that the excuse of being able to say just about anything because it's a free country allows some monstrous dialogue to seep in public forums, creating a violent atmosphere that only generates more hate and violence.

This is worth a read: The end of an era of intolerance, or just the beginning

I tend to end up sucking it up, because "limiting" what one can say presents even a worse alternative, a "gag state", where nobody, friends nor foes, can say what they think. Kind of from the frying pan into the fire. Besides, generally, when free speech is limited the ones that suffer it are the ones who never abused it to begin with, if you know what I mean.

With my heart, I would ban certain types of speech, especially in public forums, I would start banning any sort of apology of violence, I would ban the slightest justification that some people deserve harm done to them.

But with my mind I know that bans to free speech may end up being worse that the original problem to begin with. It's really not possible to limit what one says, because we'd soon be limiting much of what everybody said.

However, there has got to be a balance between free speech and personal responsibility, or accountability. Hate speech cannot be forever protected under the cloak of "free speech".

Responsibility and accountability

So, by and large, limiting free speech isn't the answer, or the complete answer, but there has got to be a middle ground between what one can say and how much this person can be held accountable for the words spoken while in the exercise of free speech.

This is called responsibility and accountability, and it very much reminds me of the Judgment at Nuremberg. Many of those Nazis defended themselves as saying they "simply followed orders"... But there is a choice in the following of orders. Just as many people followed these orders, a great number of others were interned or simply executed for opposing them.

In any event, those who spoke the orders, voiced the hate and violence, are the ones who are held accountable by history. Is there a lesson here?

Free speech and accountability

At any rate, and back to the free speech issue: Words spoken are actions, too.

One may not pull a gun trigger, but if one permanently infuriates the audience with incendiary speech, with maps filled with pistol targets, and then someone actually pulls a trigger, it is NOT acceptable to say "this doesn't have anything to do with me"!

At the very, VERY, least, it's got a lot to do with what you're saying! Someone with either more guts or with no brain, or likely both, just did what you're preaching about, nonstop. So how does that NOT relate to your free speech nonsense?

If the past is any indication of the present, I'm fairly sure in your defense you'll use and abuse the very used and abused justifications that:

  1. Words are one thing but actions are another, and you didn't do anything but speak your mind, and this is a free speech country
  2. Because it's a free speech country, no one can't righty stop me from speaking my mind, and it doesn't mean I'm responsible for all the wack jobs that listen to me and decide to take matters into their own hands.

I beg to absolutely disagree with both justifications, and besides, if there was a way to sue you, or throw you in jail for them, I would.

If this doesn't shock you... well... f*ck you.
If this doesn't shock you... well... f*ck you. | Source

Justifications that fall on my very deaf ears

Número 1. Words spoken are actions, too.

Regardless of the subtelties of language, police have taken into custody, more times than can be counted, suspects of killing someone simply on the basis that they bragged about it with friends over beers. Police detained these suspects because they had good grounds that these words spoken had some relationship with a murder committed.

I hear that in that Free Speech is King society anybody can say what they want, as long as they don't hurt anybody. This is proof, and by gob, it's really mind blowing proof:

I'm sorry, this is complete nonsense to me. At the very least, these words are utter apology of violence and they are offensive to a fault. Which takes me to number 2.

Número 2. Your free speech is full or violence or, at the very VERY least, apology of violence, and whoever hides behind the cloak of "these are just word only," they are just throwing the proverbial stone and hiding the proverbial hand.

Rhetoric, through history, is as guilty of hate as any physical violence, if not more, because it's usually instigated by educated enough people that can actually string two words together and inspire those wack jobs who can't really even think if full sentences. Hearing inflamed wording, through history, has initiated more than one assassination.

Speaking evil but acting like an angel isn't credible, and whoever speaks this kind of evil may have just as well pulled the trigger

Free speech and personal responsibility

Many of us are ready to bitch and moan while having beers with friends, but when we're under oath, or when our name is attached to a statement, most of us think carefully how to frame our opinions, in a way that we still use out right to say what we think, free speech and all, but where we protect the right of others to be different, to have diverging opinions.

Most of us don't blabber violence, don't speak words that can be equated to verbal assassination, don't point our index finger while holding the thumb up, a la pisol and trigger, while we speak.

This is exactly what some are doing, and it's all in the name of free speech, something that most of us wouldn't do even with people we thoroughly hate.

I am up to here with incendiary, hate-inspiring free speech which insults the civilized world and converts it into a free for all shooting range.

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Comments 10 comments

pam 5 years ago

Well said, Elena. Thanks.

I do think there is something about electronic media that fuels this all this hate. Matt Bai's NYT article talks about that, and I think he's right to bring it up.

There have always been mentally ill people in the U.S. and there have always been fringe groups, but they don't always go around murdering people. In fact the vast majority of people with mental illnesses and/or weird ideas are not dangerous, they're just annoying or challenging to be around.

But in the past, these fringe groups and disturbed individuals never got the kind of instant press and community the net now offers, and they've never been openly egged on to this degree by (some) politicians and influence peddlers.

But it's more than that really. The whole culture of the net kind of celebrates trollishness and meanness, as if cruelty were wit and threats were arguments. And people who are massively unstable and can't tell the difference reach out to each other and connect instantaneously now. I don't know what to do about any of that, but I do think it's part of it. Often web sites and blogs encourage a certain amount of drama to drive page views. In a way, this is no different than the yellow press of bygone years, but the effects somehow seem much more poisonous.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid Author

Yes, media do add fuel to this fire. Well, this fire and any that will bring them views or hits... but it's not only the media, it's also this instant Tweet-it or Facebook-it world we live in, where we're all a sort of press corps in disguise, giving coverage to anything and everything, sometimes because we care and sometimes for our 15 minutes of fame, I guess.

And besides this instant communication capability we all have, we also have the capability to remain utterly anonymous through the most scandalous comments and postings, and in this case anonymity represents total impunity. There is no helping that, but what about those who aren't anonymous and are spreading hate right and left? I mean, we can't really revert the clock and change the trollishness factor of the internet, but what about those with a public voice that TROLL the REAL world and get off scott free after all their trolling?

I may be completely wrong, but it looks and sounds like they don't mind mentally unstable folks doing the deeds they won't actually do but don't stop talking about... arghh


HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

You are right Elena. Words are also actions. Political rhetoric in my country has been obscenely violent for a long time now. The consequences were finally realized yesterday by way of the senseless massacre in Arizona. So many are saying that only the gunman is to blame but that is not true. He is primarily responsible but those who spew their poisonous political invectives are indirectly to blame. You are also quite correct to post Sarah Palin's shameful crosshairs target map. I hope the politicians in the U.S. come to their senses immediately. Great Hub Elena. Does this level of violent political rhetoric occur in your country?


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi HSchneider, thanks for your thoughts.

No, this level of verbal violence doesn't occur here.

We see "crispy" verbal assaults every now and then, but images of guns, or crosshair targets and that sort of thing would only ever appear in Neo-Nazi demonstrations, and formerly sometimes in ETA rallies. Precisely because of ETA, we do have a law against the apology of violence. It's not only not OK to kill people, it's also not OK to say or insinuate you want them dead in any sort of political forum.

Guns, and the "tradition" of taking matters into one's own hands, a la John Wayne, aren't part of the culture here, and no one in their right mind would resort to that sort of dialogue even in their drunkest hour. And, I mean, they would need to be seriously drunk or seriously deranged, because this violent rhetoric simply has no place in collective conscience here, it's something no one would even think about using, you know.


HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

I'm glad to hear that political sanity reigns in Spain. It is out of control here and needs to stop. People here are so in love of freedom of speech and the right to bear arms that they go out of control and abuse the freedoms. We could learn a lot from your country in regards to political debate.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid Author

I don't think we're saints here, either, but indeed this isn't a society that condones vicious and violent verbal diarrhea in the name of "free speech". Much less when it comes from supposed representatives of the people. I mean, what sort of an example is it when supposed community leaders talk of killing thy neighbor? They don't hesitate to point their finger as a pistol with one hand, while they hold the bible with the other, too... guess they skipped right over the "love thy neighbor" bit...


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

I'm late to the party as usual, Elena, but totally on the same page with you about words being actions too-- words have power-- often more power than bombs.

The tragic shooting in Arizona not only points up the bitterness of the current political discourse, it also illustrates the sad state of mental health care in the United States. As you point out, the shooter was clearly mentally ill. I think it is shameful that he was not hospitalized or on medication somewhere and even more shameful that he was able to buy a semi automatic gun capable of taking out 20 people in five minutes. Nobody who isn't a soldier needs a gun like that-- why do they sell them to mentally unbalanced people in Arizona? ( Arizona has some of the loosest gun laws in the USA)

The media, particularly right wing talk radio< is a fault here too and needs to take some responsibility. Folks like Sarah Palin need to stop the gun rhetoric. She claims she is not responsible for what some nut job does because of what she said, but she is wrong. As you point out words are actions too and the pen really is mightier than the sword.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid Author

Not late, Robie. Unfortunately, this topic will be current for a good number of days (if not months!) still...

You may have noticed I didn't even mention the gun laws in the speak-my-mind-athon above ... frankly, I think that deserves its own separate rant. However, you're right that we can't ignore the fact that these laws have a weight in the shooting, it's not only the incendiary rhetoric that pulled the trigger, it's also the fact that a young fellow had a gun that should only have a place in Terminator movies (and yes, the army), it's the combination of match and fuel that sets your country aflame...

I still think that WORDS are the match that sets the fuel off in this particular fire, I think we agree there. Maybe I'll follow up with a gun related article... I do have a thing or two to say about the ever famous Second Amendment ... whoops!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

A well worded, fantastic hub. Well done, Elena.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid Author

Thanks, Hello!

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