User:Leucosticte/Illegal but ethically acceptable speech

From Mises Wiki, the global repository of classical-liberal thought
Jump to: navigation, search
Essay.svg This essay contains the opinions of one or more authors and does not necessarily represent the views of Mises Wiki or the Mises Institute. Mises Wiki essays may sometimes contain opinions that are not widely accepted by Austrian school thinkers, but nonetheless reside on the site to help stimulate critical thinking, constructive dialog, and an open-minded process of creative problem-solving furthering the growth of the body of Austrian school thought.

Sometimes it seems like people's attitude these days, when they hear someone got busted for illegal (but ethical) speech, is "Well, he should have been less reckless and not stuck his head in the lion's mouth" rather than "This is an outrage that the government would punish him for that." At best, they don't want to get involved; they figure "We should invest our resources in defending people who get arrested by accident rather than for purposefully trying to piss off the government."

Is that how we should live our lives — keep our heads down and encourage them to do the same, and quietly explain to our fellow citizens why we should have permission to exercise our rights, rather than insisting upon it and bringing about confrontation? Might as well put away the "Live free or die" banners, then. Or did you mean that you would only want to die if they took away some right more fundamental than the right to free speech? Or that you would only care if they took away the right to the kind of speech that YOU particularly like to engage in?

I guess sometimes the most you can hope for is that your friends won't succumb to pressure to join the ostracism. I had a friend who quit hanging around one of his buddies after he got busted for weed because he was worried that the cops might be watching him. I'm sure the state loves when we respond to oppression by withdrawing friendship from the oppressed, whether out of fear or for some other reason.

It teaches people, "Obey the law or it's going to be just you, standing alone, exposed to all the fury of the state, without anyone to help you pick up the pieces or even comfort you." It drives a wedge between people and shows them that the relationships we have outside the framework of the state really aren't all that durable; they can't withstand the trials of life, so we better put our faith in something we can rely on, like the state. If you switch allegiance to the state, then you have an ally that won't be intimidated as easily as your friends, and leading an easy life is just a matter of staying on the state's good side.

So, when people don't withdraw all forms of association, I guess that sort of counts as support for freedom, although the friends could plausibly deny it by saying that they don't necessarily support what the person did; they just didn't want to write the person off that easily. It would be the same way if a friend did something unethical, rather than ethical but illegal. E.g., if I had a friend who got busted for stealing, I wouldn't necessarily write him off as a friend because of one incident, even though I don't believe in stealing. I could defend my still remaining friends with him by saying that we all do unethical stuff from time to time. I guess to hang around someone who steals all the time, though, would be a form of condonation or support for it.

We're going to continue seeing activists get busted for thumbing their nose at the state, and there will continue to be debate about whether the person was stupid and someone we shouldn't help, or whether we should stand behind him. I don't know why people don't want to get behind those guys and use those incidents as opportunities to teach the public. If the person's message is something we disagree with, that makes it an even better teaching opportunity because we're showing how we oppose unethical suppressions of free speech regardless of what we think about the content of the speech.