Today's Hump Day Topic states: "we're going to tackle the notion of free speech in writing, particularly blogging, considering that court cases are considering it fair to limit free speech on blogs and are definitely willing to use your words against you. "
I have tried writing an entry several times, but I keep coming back to the feeling that it will not be well received. And each time I think that, I consider the irony of it, given what I keep wanting to write. If free speech doctrine truly protects my writing, then I am safe to write what I feel without fear of rebuke or reprisal. But the rebuke and reprisal can absolutely follow comments of dissent. Fortunately, though, in the United States, I do feel safe from government rebuke or reprisal for what I write. In so many countries around the world, the same cannot be said. News media that disagrees with the government in most Middle Eastern countries will be shut down, and those guilty of attacking the government might disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Even in Europe it has only recently been safe to write against the "king and crown" without fear. So I am thankful to be an American, as I write about free speech without fear.
Can what we write be used against us in court? It absolutely can, in the court of public opinion. Whenever I write something on a blog that disagrees with typical crowd who frequents that blog, I can expect (and have often received) a backlash. It feels somewhat like being the "ignorant redneck" (or whatever derisive term would follow) who walks into an art show and wonders if the artist just spilled a can of paint. "He must not be refined enough to appreciate such vision, what a half wit."
How easily we turn against those who disagree with the group. I find that people of like minds congregate to avoid feeling like a lone reed in the wind, so dissent is met with ridicule. Is that healthy? Should we revile those who speak against us? Perhaps, but I think not. Rarely do we learn from sycophants and yes-men who parrot the groupthink we agree with. Watch what happens, though, when a student disagrees with a teacher - either in writing or in speech. Even if the teacher lets the comments slide, the other students often mock the student as a fool. In rare cases, the class supports the student when they agree but were too afraid to say anything, but most of the time the student who stands out is beaten down.
So, in the end, what is true of free speech? Are we truly free to write what we believe? We are, in most cases, free from the expectation of going to jail for what we say and write. We are not, however, free to write without expectation that it can be used against us.