Insult and Injury, Ideas and Actions: An Anarchist Defense of Unlimited Freedom of Expression

  • Posted on: 1 September 2017
  • By: thecollective


(This piece was originally published as a broadside in 1994 but remains particularly relevant today)

Virtually everyone in the united states claims to support freedom of speech and expression. When debate arises around attempts by certain individuals to exercise this freedom, however, one frequently finds purported free speech advocates among those hoping to suppress the speech of others. Unfortunately, the position taken by many anarchists and leftists on this issue is no more principled than that taken by more mainstream conservatives and liberals.

In practice, most people, whatever label they use to describe themselves, support the freedom to say things with which they agree, but favor efforts to prevent the expression of ideas which they strongly oppose. Many conservatives, for instance, wish to prevent any discussion of homosexuality which does not condemn it, but advocate the freedom of college students to use racist expressions. While, on the other hand, quite a number of liberals and leftists support allowing black racists to speak on college campuses, but oppose attempts by white racists to have public rallies. And anarchists have frequently sided with those who oppose free speech, going so far, at times, as to physically attack white racists.

One argument heard from those who wish to stop others from expressing themselves is that saying or depicting something nasty is the same as doing something nasty. By this logic, racist speech is the same as physically attacking someone because of their color, or the acting out of a rape scene by performers in a video is an actual rape. This is simply untrue. But using expressions like “verbal assault” to describe name- calling tends to blur the difference between speech and action, between insult and injury. Even as children, we were taught that “sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will never hurt us.” And, while it is not true that we are not in some way “hurt” by being called names or otherwise offended by the speech of others, a clear distinction must be maintained between emotional distress and physical pain. Self-defense is completely justified when one is physically attacked, whatever the reason. But, offensive speech, while we may wish to respond to it using various non-violent methods, is something we must allow if we wish to have a free society.

Another rationale for stifling the expression of others is that, even though the speakers or writers are doing no more than propagating certain ideas, these ideas might encourage some people to engage in actions which could physically hurt others. It is certainly true that people’s actions are motivated by what they think, and that their ideas may be influenced by others. Nevertheless, wherever people acquire the beliefs which motivate them, each individual is responsible for her or his own actions. If someone, after hearing a racist speech attacks someone of a different color, or destroys someone’s porn magazine after reading an anti-porn article, the attacked are justified only in defending against their attackers, not the speaker or writer. Only hostile actions merit a physical response.

The way to respond to ideas with which one disagrees is to propagate different ideas. Open debate of opposing ideas is the best method of finding the truth and promoting ethical philosophies. Only those who fear that they will lose in such a debate advocate that the views of their opponents should be suppressed. Those who advocate a new kind of society where people live in freedom, but feel it is necessary to suppress the ideas of others in order to achieve this new world, might benefit from a look back at the history of the soviet union, where exactly such a philosophy was implemented. As an early critic of the leninists said, “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”



The core point of this article,
"Open debate of opposing ideas is the best method of finding the truth and promoting ethical philosophies."
Is an argument for allowing actual fascists, who organize publicly, but generally carry out actions outside of their public 'free speech rallies', to gain momentum and followers, advocate and encourage violence against anarchists and their other perceived enemies, and to build their movement, with a stated goal of eradicating anarchists (as well as poc, queers, etc) as soon as they have enough power. Seems like we should just talk it out right?

Personally I believe antifa has shortcomings. Plenty of them. I get that the anti-racist and anti-fascist militancy has been around since the 90s, and we're facing some of the same problems/questions now as we anarchists did back then, but I think this argument for 'free speech' is (still) misguided at best.

Agreed. Much like the question of violence itself, it's difficult to say anything intelligent about this issue without context. Sweeping statements for or against free speech and open debate are always insufficient.

You have to look at the circumstances but if there's any broad statements worth making at all, it's probably something like: the more power you wield, the more accountable you ought to be for your words and actions.

This is why an isolated mentally ill person who screams racial epithets isn't going to be targeted the same way as someone with the ability to organize a reactionary movement to attack their perceived enemies.

There's no evidence to suggest that organizing in an open platform space is a driver of ideological movement momentum. There is also no evidence that the precautionary principles of antifail stop the momentum. The evidence shows the opposite.

You sound like an oil company rep hammering away on the uncertainty principle regarding climate change.

Would be more honest to say there's too many variables to predict much of anything here.

I've seen inexperienced Antifa do stupid things that boost their enemies AND I've seen antifascists with a good sense of timing and context. It's all context, like I said.

in the ongoing continuum of relational conflict, the words 'fascism' and 'anti-fascism' point to relational activity in differing relational contexts. there is no such thing as a 'fascist' or an 'anti-fascist' where we understand actions at the level of relational context.

your formulation of 'context' seems to be a sort of halfway measure that retains foundational use of the notional concept of 'things-in-themselves' signified by the words 'fascist' and 'antifascist'. 'things-in-themselves' are created by the process of 'categorizing' which means cherry-picking a few common attributes then using that cherry-picked category definition as a cover for a diverse multiplicity of relational dynamics [that we can semantically capture in simplified, actor-action terms].

A replacement reference for anarchism which combines artist, poet, nihilist and anarchist is needed for the 21st century, something like nihassist or penishardist

But seriously, the name carries with it so much negativity just by connotation, something to seriously consider, neo-anarchism almost succeeds.

Voltaire was talking about european monarchies using force to censor their critics … not random peasants bickering about the boundaries of what's relevant to anarchist discourse. He also loved to say DEFINE YOUR TERMS so the discussion doesn't go in pointless circles. I assume he would have hated most of you nihilists ;)

Voltaire wasn't singling out the monarchies, though it appears so because they were the european standard. But you forgot about the papacy, the cross was the conduit to the peasant soul, though working with the crown, the church was a separate and more powerful hierarchical and authoritarian institution. Voltaire was careful, no one was an open atheist in his day.

I wasn't talking to you Le Fool, stupid site misplaced my comment, not to mention you completely missed the point. This article is suggesting that Voltaire gave a shit about anarchist publishing lol, I'm half kidding but this is the much critiqued free speech argument about the distinction between censorship by force from powerful institutions (yes, like the church as well as the monarchy) OR other ordinary people thinking you say shitty things and telling you so, which has nothing to do with free speech, or Voltaire's point.

AND apparently this isn't even a Voltaire quote and is attributed to a pedo-nazi?!?! WTF Boston anarchists?!

I can't let you get away with this ill-mannered comment, though you probably will, since your top speed definitely exceeds mine. Anarchists did exist in Voltaire's era, as Diggers or believers in the Free Spirit, or the Anabaptists to a degree, and the whole libertarian emancipation after the Enlightenment gave them voice through the printing press (which preceded the wheel-chair but followed the wheel-barrow), Voltaire would have cared about the ideas and freedom of speech for the peasants.

Wow you're dense … you still managed to miss my point somehow. I can't spell it out any more than I already did so oh well?

You're so ambiguous, oh well, insult and ideas are your strengths,,,,,,,

Yes, I constantly insult you. It's intentional and richly deserved ;)

so what happened to that truce I offered,,,,*awkward silence*,,,,Well I've heard the insults, how about some ideas, anything, or are you a silent nihilist?

PS And every culture has its set of taboos continually swapping over or evolving into other increments of acceptable or forbidden practice. Take the death penalty, Hiroshima or Auschwitz, the nihilist would prefer none at all because they are all the same in the end. I think Voltaire would nave liked nihilists.

as i said in my comment on voltaire that thecollective deep-sixed, 'the defining of terms' is the problem.

voltaire was a great fan of Newton because Newton developed a way of perceiving the world wherein the 'whole world' was the 'sum of the parts'. e.g. Voltaire said;

"Before Kepler, all men were blind, Kepler had one eye, and Newton had two eyes."
"Newton invented the calculation of infinities; he has discovered and demonstrated a new principle, which sets the universe in motion." -- Voltaire

'define your terms' is a RATIONAL-ANALYTICAL action that fails to address one's deeper, unspoken feelings [empathy or antipathy]. defining your terms allows you to build a logical structure from precisely described atoms of meaning [defined terms] which has little to do with the physical reality of our actual relational experience.

if we insist that when donald trumps uses the terms 'muslims' and 'euro-americans', he 'defines his terms', ... will there be anything missing in the definitions? he did sign off on 'all men are born 'equal' and 'constitutional rights apply equally to all men regardless of race and religion.

you can define your terms with scientific and rational clarity and precision. but as george carlin pointed out using the 'n-word', how you feel about the realities pointed to by these defined terms and how you give them meaning based on actual experiential context within the relational-social dynamic, over-rides the 'defining of terms', however scientifically correct the defining of terms may be.

as nietzsche observed, we have put rationality and analytical abstraction into an unnatural precedence over intuition. intuitively, we know that 'defining your terms' means squat.

That quote is by Kevin Alfred Strom, a white nationalist neo-Nazi pedophile.

Doesn't change the context and relevance of the quote, death of the author etc. So what is your point?

My point is accuracy of attribution of a quote. What the fuck is your point?

Oh shit! Nice catch … that is some fuckin creepy Overton window shit right there!

Hi Buddy, just to let you know I was - anon 05.04 - Bye :)

There's nothing in your link that connects Voltaire to that quote.

If a link to the precise quote in "The Works of Voltaire: A Contemporary Version" isn't a specific enough or strong enough connection to the originally quoted author to prove authenticity nothing will matter to you.

Dude, your link is to a Google books page titled "Essays on literature, philosophy, art, history." There is no direct link to that quote. It shows page 173, with the word Newton on it. When I type the quote in to the search field, nothing comes up.

There is nothing related to that quote in your link.

if you're right and it's not voltaire, thanks.
if you're wrong and you're trolling, catch ya next time.

The only Voltaire quote in this entire thread is emile's: "Newton invented the calculation of infinities; he has discovered and demonstrated a new principle, which sets the universe in motion." -- Voltaire" Which is the very first sentence of the first full paragraph on page 173 of the Voltaire anthology linked. Your links all refer to some other quote contained nowhere in this thread. Either the quote you are trying to call out as a fraud has been deleted or you are intentionally trying to tar with the brush of fascism where there is none.

"The only Voltaire quote in this entire thread is emile's"

That's because you are late to the party. When this article was first posted, it included this graphic

The quote on the graphic "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize" is the one I was correcting as not belonging to Voltaire:. The graphic has since been removed and replaced with the current graphic.

What limits, if any, should be placed on freedom of speech?

What if ISIS or ITS wanted to hold a rally at Berkeley? They could have guest speakers, talk about Jihad, shout death to America, brag about killing infidels, recite the Qu'ran, and hand out recruiting pamphlets. All in the name of free speech of course.

Or how about Pedophiles? They could hold a rally, have guest speakers, have display photos of half naked kids being diddled, hold workshops on how to lure kids into vans, and hand out recruiting pamphlets for NAMBLA. All in the name of freedom of speech.

Or how about if I organize a large group of people to stand outside your house yelling and holding signs accusing you of being a rapist? We would post it on youtube with a false and salacious title to get clicks. All in the name of freedom of speech.

I seriously doubt anyone, including any anarchist, truly believes in absolute freedom of speech.

So I am fine with the above said groups so long as they are not planning a murder through their speeches something terrorist or illegalist groups are not stupid enough to do anyway.

And if a group of people protested outside your residence falsely accusing you of a crime?

Though stuff like that already happens to some degree(e/alf going after huntington types).

We already know white nationalists, supremacists and Nazis have killed people, and have a direct pipeline to the White House now, and we know their plans to segregate, deport, or exterminate entire populations of ethnic minority groups. But yeah, let's wait until they're actually in our 'personal space' before we do anything Lol...First, they came for the Socialists...

How do "white nationalists, supremacists and Nazis [...] have a direct pipeline to the White House now"? Would you say that Richard Spencer's platform of, among other things, 1. a total halt on immigration, 2. a "peaceful ethnic cleansing" (mass deportation), 3. "socialism done the right way" (i.e. nationalized health care and welfare for whites, an end to unregulated finance, etc.), 4. crushing the political Left and liberalism (which, for him, is almost everyone, including Wall Street), 5. an end to foreign interventionism and regime change as foreign policy, and 6. wildlife restoration and reducing emissions to address climate change in a bullshitty lukewarm way is even remotely on the table for the political class and their financial backers? A sober assessment says no, these people are nearly as marginal as anarchists. Don't conflate Trump's occasionally dogwhistling to them with their having real political clout - he just wants to toss red meat to them once in a while so that they will show up in 2020, not because he (who maybe shares some of their views), his cabinet (who do not), or their financial backers (who definitely do not) actually want to implement their policies. The ruling elite are still neoliberals/neoconservatives, not goofball nazis.

Jarrod and Ivanka rule not people like crying christopher cantwell. Bannon(who is now fired) was someone who showed implicit white nationalist values at most.

"How do "white nationalists, supremacists and Nazis [...] have a direct pipeline to the White House now"?"

Is this a troll question? You're kidding, right? White nationalists, supremacists, and Nazis, are the GOP's base (well, I guess more Trump's base). Steve Bannon is a well known racist, so is Jeff Sessions, Sebastion Gorka, and a raft of other aids and insiders. Bannon and Gorka are gone now, but Trump is still surrounded by racists, even though I don't think Trump is personally quite as racist as say, Bannon. Trump equivocated on Charlottesville, has doubled down on his support for cops who shoot blacks, pardoned Joe Arpaoi (a notoriously corrupt Police Chief known for stop and search abuses on the Latino community) and has ripped off immigrant and black workers employed in Trump's various businesses. When Trump won the election Stormfront and other white supremacist groups couldn't contain their joy.

Trump's Muslim travel ban, his designation of Antifa as an official terrorist group, his ramping up of drone killings in the Middle East, his purging of black voting rolls and electoral district gerrymandering, and his increasing budgets for ICE enforcement are all the first baby steps in Richard Spencer's plans. I mean, it's not like Trump isn't trying to implement at least some alt-right policies.

One would have to be pretty clued out to not be aware of this.

Those groups are no more the GOP's base then the left wing equivalent extremes are the Dems base. They are not even a Trump voting base, strong marginal support yes but voting base no. Also Trump did not equivocate, 'many sides' does not mean equivalence, quit with these silly media talking points.

The problem with cops and Arpaoi is a problem with a mentality towards law enforcement not racism.
Again quit these silly liberal talking points which are not accurate. The rest are problems that stem from mainstream pro property pro law ideology not altright talking points which have a particular racist

White supremacists make up part of Trump's base. That's just a fact. Otherwise he wouldn't have equivocated. "Many sides" DOES mean equivalence. "There were good people on both sides" DOES mean equivalence. Can you imagine if it were black people who held a rally, showed up with automatic weapons and ran over a protester? What do you think Trump would have said? Give your fucking head a shake.

The problem with Arpaio is the mentality towards law enforcement AND racism. Arpaio lost a class action law suit involving racial profiling. He tried to turn it into a circus and was convicted of contempt of court. The guy is a nutjob. To say Arpaio's problem is not about racism is to deny the actual facts. Just stop before you embarrass yourself any further.

Is not the actual base. I'm sure if a REALLY proggy dem got in part of his/her base would consist of far left hope bloccers. Many sides means there are numerous bad actors and positions. It does not mean the left wing protestors are as bad as the white nazis. The state would have have phrase like 'just as bad' to be equivocation. Stop looking at this like an IDPol idiot. Perhaps Trump would be more spooked by black panther types, that doesn't make his statement equivocation.

There is no evidence that Arpaio is actually racist. His policies may have asymmetrical affects, but the intent is not racism. The problem with the IDPol left is that they halucinate racism that isn't there and avoid more radical language such law abolition or reduction. The real problem with Arpaio is that he is a letter of the law enforcer. That is the real problem which center left liberals are incapable of taking on.

"Many sides means there are numerous bad actors and positions. It does not mean the left wing protestors are as bad as the white nazis."

That's EXACTLY the way Trump meant it. I can't believe you are defending that obvious equivocation. Everyone else knows exactly what Trump meant....except you. Trump was trying to deflect away from the obvious murder of a protester by a white supremacist, someone who makes up part of his base.

"There is no evidence that Arpaio is actually racist" Good grief. Arpaio was actually breaking federal laws (and the Constitution) in order to shake down and deport Latinos. He was not doing this to all racial groups, only Latinos. It's called 'racial' profiling for a reason.This is not someone following "the letter of the law', this is someone breaking the law. (Not that I personally care about 'laws' per se, I'm just saying, Arpaio broke laws out of obvious racial attitudes).

Just try to give a minimal effort in learning about something before you start arguing. You'll save yourself some embarrassment.

We don't know what he actually meant, going by his actual words 'many sides' does not equal a statement of equivocation. That's just your inference. He may have been deflecting from his core rightwing base to some degree but that is still not an equivocation.

Arpaio to my knowledge was never actually convicted on what was claimed, they only got him on a misdemeanor. It's ironic that you are going after him on issues of law and legitimacy, since when is the application of the law fair in any actual sense. It makes a lot more sense to go after Arpaio for being a letter of the law enforcer to then for the character reasons that liberals usually go after him for. Enforcing the law is actually a bad thing for many in this modern existence.

If you can't see how saying "many sides" is not equivocation, when only one side committed an act of terror, I can't help you. Arpaio was ordered by a federal court to cease racial profiling and detaining Latinos for no reason. He was convicted of contempt of court.

You're not even reading what I post, so I'm not going to say anything more. You're obviously just gainsaying to waste my time.

^Can't believe this tool is still in denial. Some people will never pull their heads out of their asses, fact of life I guess.

The premise that this is a free speech issue ought to be negated.

White Nationalists aren't getting attacked because they said anything wrong. They're getting attacked because they are White Nationalists who are outing themselves in public. They'd be attacked in private if the same people knew how.

Stop accepting the terms these bastards are setting for the debate. Negate this premise.

The debate isn't about who should have the right to speak or express themselves. The underlying debate is about how White Nationalists and their ilk ought to be dealt with.

You do realize your comment is playing to that right? There is no general 'ought' there are only preferences.

Playing to what? Normative moral standards?


Nazi was hidden. Now Nazi is not hidden. Nazi gets attack.

Not a free speech issue. Some people want to attack Nazis because they're Nazis. They're being given an opportunity.

In the mere elective sense warrants an attack? People who throw the first punch are usually not exemplars of non hierarchical behavior.

Troll dude, fuck off with your morals pls.

Punching Nazis is fun. Plain and simple.

That's not a moral, its a well grounded observation. Those outside the Overton window are by their geography the aggressors.

I don't need to know the answer to that. All I know is...

The Nazi says: "Meet me by the bike racks and we'll chat."
The Antifa meets them at the bike racks and attacks them
The Media says: "The Nazi said that they were just meeting there for a chat."

But everyone knows that you only meet at the bike racks to fight.

It's a basic challenge being met for what it is. Some people are associating themselves with one gang, others are associating themselves with another gang. Both gangs are setting a date and time to fight. That's not a free speech issue and it's dumb to let it be spun that way just because the Nazis are calling it a free speech rally in the same way that "we'll chat" is used as a euphemism for planning a fight.

Which are not my affair or interest then I can see why these larpy street battles don't apply. When you are talking about a college or university however then the attack and shutdown approach is silly as they're are all kinds of authoritarian ideologues expressing themelves or their ideas.

I go to the bike track to ride my bike, not to meet nazis. That's a weird fetish dude,,,,

That's what makes the most sense.

Yeah, I made my point. You know it's true that this has way more to do with people attacking each other for who they are and not for what they say or how they express themselves. There are definitely better things to do than participate, but so what? Maybe someone will win the America's Windiest Wind Bags award or the America's Toughest Snowflakes award. At the end of the day all of this is way more about what type of person someone is claiming they are than it is about the outfit they wear or their bad poetry.

I've met some black-leathered biker types and under the tough exterior they were melting snowflakes. I think many mean looking neo-nazis are really mommy's boys who tremble in their storm-boots at the sight of a clenched fist. The real neo-nazis wear banker suits and snarl at their chauffeur every morning.

As a matter of fact... Nazis wore suits and ties, their uniforms were also Hugo Boss. Those crusty hairy bikers would have been sent to the death camps, probably with black triangle patches. It's funny that these days there's a seizable number of neonazis and antifascists who confuse fringe countercultures with Nazism or fascism. Fascism is all about hyper-conformity to militaristic levels.

Lenny K, for instance, was deep down antifascistic, even while wearing Nazi regalia.

Lenny Kravitz?
When someone like Lemmy Kilmister wears Nazi regalia it's a détournement.

BUT some poorly-informed antifascists for a time have called him a Neonazi. It happened a few years back and Lenny made a statement to that regards.

Detournement is neocon now, without them aware of their own complicity in cultural hegemony, the antifa left now approve of the Speer-esque architecture which oozes the Teutonic totalitarian Weltanschauung.

Hey look everyone, it's Tina Fey!

Richard Spencer is trying to speak at UF at Gainesville Sept. 12. There is an organized resistance.

as described in my comment which thecollective deep-sixed, bogus notions concerning 'truth', 'falsehood' and 'editing'/'filtering' build one on top of the other.

classical communications theory acknowledges that the ability to filter out noise depends on knowing in advance what is true/meaningful signal. therefore the filter or editor that is a general noise removal filter must know everything in advance since new signal being received that was unknown to the filter could not be validated as meaningful signal and would have to be rejected. we see this in social situations all the time. people reject new information because it lies outside of what the editor knows for sure to be meaningful.

this classical communications theory which defines noise as 'not meaningful signal' leads to a hierarchy of filters or editors based on their ability to discern meaningful signal from noise aka non-meaningful signal [once again, there is the assumption that the receiving editor/filter knows in advance what is meaningful signal].

the more comprehensive, quantum physics compliant communications theory of dennis gabor makes no assumptions that the signal is comprised of a mixture of meaningful signal and meaningless noise, accepts all transmissions without filtering or editing and extracts meaning from relational coherency across multiple sources/transmissions.

this 'relational coherency' based message extraction, which doesn't need to distinguish between signal and noise and thus does away with the need for filters/editors, is described by Einstein as follows;

A geometrical-physical theory as such is incapable of being directly pictured, being merely a system of concepts. But these concepts serve the purpose of bringing a multiplicity of real or imaginary sensory experiences into connection in the mind. To “visualize” a theory therefore means to bring to mind that abundance of sensible experiences for which the theory supplies the schematic arrangement.” – Albert Einstein, ‘Geometry and Experience’

e.g. if multiple people observe the same mountain and there are differences in their respective descriptions, there is no need to assume that the different data sets are mixes of signal and noise and so select the least noise-contaminated dataset. the datasets can be simultaneously mined for 'relational coherencies' as in 'holographic imaging' wherein differences in the raw, unfiltered datasets, which would have been removed in an editing/filtering process, enhance the resolution of relational coherency-based information extraction.

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