Free speech has a cost

The Saturday Paper - - Letters & Editorial -

Yass­min Ab­del-Magied makes it clear that much of the dis­cus­sion about “free speech” is about the def­i­ni­tion (“Trou­ble at the John Stuart Mill”, May 5–11). Ab­delMagied leans to­wards that view that free speech means a per­son has an equal op­por­tu­nity to ex­press and trans­mit an idea. Then peo­ple with op­po­site views should not protest about the ex­pres­sion. In fact she seems to ar­gue that of­ten they should ac­cept the view first ex­pressed. Free speech is never with­out cost. There may be a cost to so­ci­ety or in­di­vid­u­als ei­ther to the speaker or to those who are of­fended by the speech. John Stuart Mill did not mean that speech should be cost­less but that the ben­e­fits of hav­ing min­i­mum state con­trol out­weighed the costs. The con­straints on speech from the state should be lim­ited to di­rect as­sault on pub­lic good. The so­cial costs of ex­press­ing an idea are part of our so­cial fab­ric. If I pro­mote cruel prac­tices to an­i­mals, there will be a so­cial cost that may con­strain me. If peo­ple per­son­ally at­tack peo­ple who ex­press a view they do not agree with, such as hap­pened to Ab­del-Magied, I ab­hor it and take less no­tice of their opin­ion. Our so­ci­ety of com­pet­ing ideas should only have the so­cial con­straints on it and lit­tle con­trol from the state. That is free, but not cost­less, speech.

– Reg Lawler, Da­gun, Qld

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