Freedom of Speech (Just Watch What You Say)


Neil Gaiman, the acclaimed author of Sandman, American Gods, and many other superb works of fantastic fiction, has a very long and very good post at his blog on why defending freedom of speech sometimes means "defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said." He's writing in response to the case of Christopher Handley, an Iowa man facing up to 20 years in prison for possessing comic books that allegedly depict minors engaged in sexual activity. These aren't photographs, it's worth repeating, they're illustrations. Here's Gaiman:

When I was writing Sandman, about eighteen years ago, I had thought that the Marquis de Sade would make a fine character for my French Revolution story (I loved the fact that at the time he was a tubby, asthmatic imprisoned for his refusal to sentence people to death) and realised I ought to read his books, rather than commntaries on them, if I was going to put him in my story. I discovered that the works of DeSade were, at that time, considered obscene and not available in the UK, and that UK Customs had declared them un-importable. I bought them in a Borders the next time I was in the US, and brought them through customs looking guilty. (You can now get De Sade in the UK. The arrival of internet porn in the UK meant that the police stopped chasing things like that.)


Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you're going to have to stand up for stuff you don't believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don't, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person's obscenity is another person's art.

Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.

Whole thing here. reason on the panic over virtual porn here and here.