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July 13, 2020 / Congau

Freedom of Gibberish

The spirit of free speech does not extend to the right to use so-called bad and offensive language. That is not to say that swearing and cursing should be outlawed, far from it, it just serves to show that free speech is not about speech. I personally have no problem with swearwords and some may even occasionally pass my lips, but I don’t insist on my essential right to utter profanities, since I don’t really mean anything when I say it. Neither do I demand my absolute right to step on people’s toes or other activities that would give me no particular gratification. A principle is never for the sake of principle, and everything that is allowed is not an invitation to do it.

But when I have a real opinion about something, I feel the urge to express it in a deeper sense than I am drawn towards ice cream and f-words. An idea is something inside me that wants to come out, and for it to be a proper need, it must be something real. If I don’t understand the meaning of my own utterance, it is hardly anything I can’t do without.

It’s difficult to have a law against blasphemy in modern secular society, but that doesn’t mean it should be protected or encouraged. The attitude in some circles of the enlightened West have been to challenge the narrowmindedness of the Eastern Muslims by pronouncing words or showing pictures that are known to provoke a reaction. By such action they are not exercising their freedom of speech since their “speech” has no meaning for them. They are evidently not expressing any ideas of their own and accordingly they have no need of either support or protection.

Freedom of speech only protects what can be conceived as speech, that is, words that have a meaning for the speaker.

July 12, 2020 / Congau

Freedom of Nonsense

Freedom of opinion is immensely valuable. Freedom of speech, if opinion is excluded, is nothing. Freedom of images, if no opinion is expressed, is debatable.

It is true that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference, and then it’s better to err on the more generous side, but this is not meant to suggest practical advice but only to get an idea of what it is that actually makes this revered freedom valuable, not as an empty principle, but as something that makes sense.

We want everyone to be able to express their opinion so that society has access to many viewpoints and the citizens are better equipped in their own search for what is right. It both serves a purpose for society as a whole and for the individual. Also, the elementary personal sense of freedom from oppression by being able to express ideas that come to mind, is essential. This constitutes freedom of thought and that’s the only freedom that must be considered innate in the absolute sense, since nothing can be more properly private.

But an output of just anything that doesn’t even have a meaning to the person blurting it out, has no value either to society or the person himself. If you are not expressing an opinion of some sort, you are not expressing anything. Any statement that cannot somehow be called true or false, is essentially meaningless. Why then would you insist on your freedom to say nothing?

You might think that no one could possibly mind your shouting out your nothingness, but what if they do? A picture that constitutes no statement about anything can still be considered offensive and there is no reason to offend people if nothing else is to be gained from your action. We need no freedom to provoke.

July 11, 2020 / Congau

The Spirit of Free Speech

The spirit of the law is often different from the letter of the law since it may be difficult to capture the former in dry paragraphs aiming to spell out clearly what can and what cannot be done. It then often happens that the idea behind the law gets confused and even forgotten, and the rules take the form of petrified principles that must be obeyed at any cost without knowing why anymore. The noble principle of free speech has suffered this fate. Whenever that label has been placed on an action no one would dare to condemn it.

It is of course commonly understood that free speech is not about speech in the literal sense. The use of vocal cords is obviously not necessary, writing serves the same purpose, and so does a number of other means of expression that don’t even use words. If a picture can say more than a thousand words, a picture is also a form of speech, and soon you find yourself arguing that any photograph or drawing should be allowed based on the principle of free speech.

Maybe any picture should indeed be permitted, but in that case, it must be justified by some other principle than the one discussed here. It is called freedom of speech, but that name inaccurately expresses its spirit even in the extended sense. There was never a point in defending the right to say just anything, to allow any meaningless combination of words or images. Shouting and screaming and incoherent rambling may pose no threat to anyone, but no particular benefit is to be gained from it either, neither for society nor for the person engaged in such utterances. What is valuable, and what society should always protect, both for the benefit of the community and the individual, is the freedom of opinion. When a “speech” whatever form it takes actually expresses some sort of opinion, then it addresses the spirit of free speech.

July 10, 2020 / Congau

Freedom of Opinion

The right to free speech is not given us by nature. Mill’s argument is entirely utilitarian, claiming that society will be better off if it grants its members this freedom. He may or may not be right about that, maybe restricting speech would actually make a society healthier, but we will not go into that. We will just assume that free speech is beneficial. But what could speech possible consist of that would make it conceivable that society could benefit from it?

Freedom of speech is a misnomer. What is actually meant, and the thing society needs, is freedom of opinion, or the right to express any opinion whatsoever in the public space. If an expression cannot somehow be reduced to an opinion, there is no particular reason why the state should protect it, at least not based on the same principle. Should any word be allowed, any picture, any piece of art? Maybe, but the principle of free speech is often not a relevant reason to allow it.

Let’s take the example of pornography. There may be good arguments why a state should not ban it, but the principle of free speech is not one of them. Pornography does not in any way express an opinion about anything. It’s images that some find offensive and some do not, and the debate between them must evolve around very different principles.

Freedom of opinion, once it has been accepted as a valid principle, must override any other concerns, and to consider an opinion as offensive is certainly not something that can be used to silence its expression. Any, if not all opinions are potentially offensive and if protection against offense had the highest priority, freedom of opinion would effectively be eliminated. Still, probably no one would argue that all kinds of offense should be tolerated, and if can be demonstrated that no actual opinion is expressed while offending, the action may be punishable.

To be continued

July 9, 2020 / Congau

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is not about speech, not in the literal sense of course. Writing and other means of expression are obviously included; no one makes a mistake about that. Still, there is a considerable confusion about what constitutes “speech”. Any sight and sound that a person can produce is sometimes counted since people tend to focus on the mere principle of this freedom rather than the underlying intention. At the same time certain utterances that without doubt are instances of speech (hate speech for instance) are to be excluded from the otherwise generous liberty. This is what happens when the original meaning and argument for freedom of speech is not fully understood, and it is what often happens when an idea has grown old and becomes a habitually accepted truth. It is taken for granted and religiously revered and the mere resemblance of the cherished object is worshiped and moved beyond criticism. The only remedy for this is always to navigate back to the starting point and try to examine the thing with the untainted eyes of a child for whom all ideas are fresh and unspoiled. Where then does this idea of free speech come from. What is the meaning of it all?

Here I don’t want to argue the case of free speech versus unfree speech. I happen to think that free speech is a good thing, but I will not try to explain its advantages. John Stuart Mill’s famous essay “On Liberty” does that admirably and his arguments are generally accepted in the Western world. He may still be wrong of course, but I will not go into that old debate now. Let’s just assume that freedom of speech is a good thing and move on from there. There is still a big question remaining about what this thing really is. Granted that it is good in general, we must figure out what it makes sense to include in this good.

To be continued

July 8, 2020 / Congau


The self needs succor. Nothing can uphold itself without support from outside.

Even the freest eagle hovering in the sky and gliding effortlessly without any visible support, uses the winds and the currents to keep its arrogant height and when the wings are tired it rests in a tree rooted in the firm ground. And it can’t stay a lonely bird for long; a spouse, equally haughty, condescends to provide a nest where it can find succor for itself.

Even the lone wolf, the romantic ideal of a self-sufficient hunter, is a grumpy creature. It trots along the fields, suspiciously eying anything that may infringe on its domain and selfishly guarding its dead prey. At night it cries to the moon for succor.

Even man, the most beastly of all animals, is helpless. In fact, he is more lost in the world than any other species and is in almost constant need for someone to come to his rescue. Such a proud creature with such an inflated sense of individuality, and yet he would soon succumb without the most basic support. Not only are his newborn offspring utterly defenseless but also the grown specimen is a weakling when left to himself. He arms himself with tools that are foreign to him and builds a shelter to protect his fragile shell. He helps himself to what is external to him but fails to find sufficient help in all that nature offers.

He himself needs help. She herself needs succor. They themselves are nothing in themselves.

A mind seeks another mind. It delights in objects, sure. It is amused by tasks and puzzles, right. But more than anything it desires confirmation. It must believe that it is not alone among those lifeless things.

The self needs another self. The self needs succor.

July 7, 2020 / Congau


Everything seems to be an obligation. Our life is so full of duties that every waking hour appears to be presenting us with inflexible demands. Do this, you must, you have to! Stay here, go there, be quiet, speak! The rules and laws of our authorities are always valid, and only the unconsciousness sleep gives brief nights of relief.

There can’t be an escape if our obligations are loaded on us from the moment of our birth. If humans have all these strict duties just because they are humans, we will necessarily always fall short of the requirements and for a conscientious person life must be misery.

How can we possibly come even close to obeying all those commandments that the moralists heap on us? The world is so full of suffering and we are all responsible for it. There isn’t a starving child in Africa that is outside of your personal domain of duty and should you ever fail to recycle a piece of plastic, you will be held accountable for the earth’s environmental disaster.

Mere humans that we are, we can always do better, but to perceive our shortcomings as failed obligations is hardly very encouraging. After all, if our duties cannot be fulfilled anyway, why bother? They are abstract demands that keep expanding whether they are obeyed or not. The greater and more overwhelming they appear, the blurrier and more meaningless they become. We might as well ignore them then. They are not real.

We don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to have obligations, but most of us have acquired them voluntarily. We were not born with duties since we didn’t choose to be born, so it would be possible to escape it all and run into the wilderness where no one can demand anything of us. But if we choose company, we are obliged to observe our part of the tacit agreement. For the rest, let’s just do our best.

July 6, 2020 / Congau

The Suspect

Who pulled the trigger? Is that the question?

No, the question was: Who did it?

Isn’t that the same thing? We are dealing with a murder victim who has been shot, and all we want to know is of course who did it, in other words: Who pulled the trigger?

No, it’s not the same thing. The murderer may not have been the one who pulled the trigger.

What nonsense. How can it not be?

Well, anyone who has read or seen a murder mystery knows that the detective is not always just looking for the immediate cause of the killing. If the killer was a hitman, was tricked into shooting, didn’t know the gun was loaded or was the victim of a number of other circumstances, he was not really the murderer. Or if you still insist on calling him by that name, we must agree that he is not the person we really want to catch. The real suspect is the one who was behind it all and ultimately caused it.

You mean the one who gave him the gun and told him to kill? Even if there is such a person, would that take the blame away from the immediate killer. I say he is still our suspect.

He may not be blameless, but he was not the ultimate cause. The person who set the process in motion that led to the killing, is our man.

Who might that be? When is the start of a process? We might as well look for the mother who gave birth to the person who sold the gun to the one who gave it to the one who pulled the trigger. Who knows, maybe you should suspect yourself for having been present at a certain point in this endless train of events. Did you do it?

July 5, 2020 / Congau

An Excursion

Short trips sometimes become long trips. It happens that what was meant as a quick excursion into unknown territory, with the expectancy of a speedy return to normalcy, gets prolonged and stretched out indefinitely until one day you realize that reality has irrevocably changed. The anxious should therefore always stay at home where all habits are firmly set, and the world is clearly defined. It’s better never to learn that reality could have been different.

If you are made of more resilient stuff, however, you may venture out of your abode for a short period of time without risking your precious identity. It may even serve to affirm yourself and strengthen your own sense of righteousness. When you allow yourself to take a look into how distorted other environments and cultures are, your sense of pride and self-worth might increase, and you can face the world with greater assurance.

Differences are dangerous if you are weak and easily stressed out. If you get the idea that there are many possible answers to the same question, you are no longer safe. Then you may not be able to find your way home again. You may become a vagabond on a perpetual excursion, always on the lookout for solutions to nagging questions but getting farther from a reconciliation. When searching for certainty you get ever more uncertain and you can never return to safety again.

But then what is life if not a prolonged excursion? You are born in one place; it may be a good place, but it’s not the whole world. You acquire your basic knowledge at an early age, but there is more to learn. The chance that the entire readymade truth is found exactly where you find yourself is rather small, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be truly yours until you had examined it. Go out then. Look around. If you don’t find your way back, you have still gained more than you have lost if what you had was an illusion.

July 4, 2020 / Congau


People don’t want to be told the truth, not your truth at least, not mine either. We know we are right, of course, but they just refuse to listen, don’t they? Try to explain to them their obvious faults and shortcomings in an honest effort to improve their character, and they will aggressively shut up and turn their back on you. Strange, isn’t it?

People don’t like straight talk. They insist on being offended by the most obvious descriptions of reality. It’s as plain as day, but they prefer the obscurity of the night. So it seems to be your lot to have to spread the light.

Poor you. No one listens, but you keep going, shouting your message to the world. If someone is ugly, you have to tell them. If someone is so selfish that they don’t give you their part, they ought to know. You just want to be fair, but somehow it doesn’t make you popular.

Maybe you are simply not loud enough like the big guys. You don’t have the megaphone of a president of the divided states, and your manners are not crude enough to be a professional bully. There is still room for improvement, and if you just drop that last piece of self-restraint, you may reach far. Everyone knows that the fittest survive, that might is right and that man is a wolf, and it would be rather stupid not to give the world that obvious message and not take advantage of it. Isn’t that what you think?

Unfortunately the world is not quite that simple. The purity of black and white is rare and the shades of dawn and dusk extend into most of the day. As soon as one statement is made a paradox arises and eliminates its certainty. Maybe your truth is not the whole truth. Discretion is advised.