Tag Archives: rights

Freedom of Speech

The idea of free speech is used to defend all kinds of unpleasantness. I think it’s important to talk about what free speech means, and also what it doesn’t mean. It is vitally important to uphold the idea that no-one should be assaulted, tortured or killed for anything they have said. That’s what the right to free speech really means – that and not being locked up for holding a different opinion to your government.

Freedom of speech does not entitle a person to cause harm. In much the same way that you aren’t entitled to use freedom of speech to lie about products, commit fraud against people, pretend to have qualifications you don’t have, or sell snake oil, freedom of speech is limited by certain responsibilities. Inciting violence and threatening others isn’t covered by the right to free speech. Conspiracy theories can fall into a bit of a grey area here – people are entitled to question mainstream and government narratives. However, when lines are crossed that put lives in danger – as with the anti-mask brigade, we shouldn’t let the idea of free speech detract from the way this is basically selling us snake oil.

Freedom of speech does not entitle you to a platform. No one is obliged to give you a space, invite you to their event, listen to you or read your stuff. No one owes you a hearing. We all have the right not to listen or engage, not to support things. Any business or organisation that feels it may be harmed by association with your message is entitled to remove you from its platform. Freedom of speech does not entitle you to be part of any particular conversation, or to be engaged in debate.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. If people don’t like what you say, they are entitled to act in any way that is legal. This can include not buying your stuff, not inviting you to things, blocking, banning and counter arguing. It is not an attack on freedom of speech for someone else to use their freedom of speech to say something isn’t acceptable and should be shut down.

It’s not even an attack on freedom of speech to say that you should be stopped from speaking at events, online and the such. You can still speak. It’s just that no one may want to hear you. You may have to find somewhere more sympathetic to your cause, to express your free speech, but you still have the freedom to say whatever you like, within certain parameters.

We are not obliged to listen, to host or to accept people we disagree with. That’s not an attack on their right to free speech. There is no right to inclusion in debate. There is no right to be given a platform. There is no right to make people listen to you.

For anyone whose politics is rooted in kindness and inclusion, the way free speech is often misrepresented can become deeply uncomfortable – feeling that you have to allow and include things you consider to be full of hate and harm. So, it’s important to keep saying this stuff – a person is entitled to safely air their opinions. They are not entitled to have anyone stay around to listen and the right to free speech includes the right to say that what someone else is saying isn’t acceptable.

Where do we stop?

Sometimes it is important to ask where something is going and where it will stop. Politicians tend to erode rights rather than taking them away in massive, easily spotted slashes. Selling off our assets bit by bit. Where will we stop when profit is more important than planet? Where will we stop with pollution? When there’s an obvious trajectory and a run of small moves along it, asking about when we stop is a very good idea.

However, where does this stop can also be a derailment tactic. I’ve seen it used repeatedly in this way. What happens is that the trajectory imagined is not a logical one – take Jeremy Irons’ bloody stupid suggestion that allowing gay marriage would mean fathers could marry their sons. This is ‘where will it end?’ logic. Pick a ridiculous outcome that will make people feel uncomfortable and pronounce it as the logical conclusion of letting the thing happen.

Then, rather than talking about the real issue, you have to deal with the derailment. You have to explain that this is not a logical progression. Further, these derailments often have a sting in them – note how the Irons unpleasantness creates a link between being gay, and incest. The derailer will often have a go at invalidating the centre of the argument by such associations. What next, giving the same rights to animals? (Because this lot are so close to animals that I see it as a logical progression…)

The other thing the derailer may do is to make some issue of theirs centre stage, or some imagined fear. This distracts from the actual issues. Take for example, the suggestion that we should be licensing acid to make it harder to buy. This is because throwing acid in the faces of people has happened a lot in London this year. Response: Where will it stop? Are we going to ban all dangerous chemicals? What about my drain cleaner? (I paraphrase). Now, to my mind, the right not to have acid thrown in your face should quite obviously be more important than the right to pour dangerous chemicals into the water system. The freedom of the person who is not directly affected by anything at this stage should not be more important than the wellbeing of people who have already been hurt, and the people who realistically will be hurt in the future. How much are we inconvenienced if buying chemicals for home use requires jumping through a hoop or two? Far less than we are by having those same chemicals used as weapons.

Of course what complicates things is that oppressive governments play with this in sinister ways. Fear of terrorism is a popular way of getting a population to accept monitoring, loss of privacy, restriction of rights and so forth. There’s never going to be a tidy answer here.

On the other hand, are we looking at a restriction of personal freedom that represents social progress? The loss of freedom to privately assault one’s spouse is a loss I think we should all feel good about. The loss of the right to keep our data private is an example in the other direction. Very little good can come from it, and in the wrong hands it can do considerable damage. I think the only answer is to look hard at what’s at truly stake, and pick your fights carefully.

Enemies of the druids

Roman imperialisms pushed historical Druidry underground a few thousand years ago, and changed it at the very least, perhaps destroyed it. I’m no historian. Modern druids do not find themselves battling the armed forced of an expansionist state. We belong to no specific country, and can find ourselves on both sides, and none, in all manner of political arguments. It doesn’t look like anyone will be marching on us any time soon. When enmity is that clear cut, working out how to respond may be easier. Fight or acquiesce. You also know who to fight, and to whom you might surrender. These days we’re not in the same fights and there is much less clarity.

Modern Druids do not tend to fight such battles. Our enmity may be private. We may have taken up pens, rather than swords, to fight human rights abuses, animal cruelty, environmental vandalism or any one of the many issues besetting modern culture. When we do this, in practice what it means is that we are fighting a lot of the people around us. I talk about television dependence, battery raised children, car impact, consumerism. I’m not talking about a distant foe, I’m talking about the people in my village. These are not people I want to start a fight with. They are often people I like.

And then other times I’m talking about banks, politicians, corporations, government bodies, laws, habits of culture and systems. Trying to fight that is not unlike trying to fight fog. It’s there, I can see it, but it offers me very few actual targets I can hit. And again, all these things are made up of people, and many of them are going to be basically decent people who are only doing their job, or who have a different value system to me, or who have just never considered the consequences.

Now and then there’s a genuine nasty, some individual whose behaviour, actions, words make it clear they aren’t basically a nice person with whom I might not see eye to eye. Those who use and abuse, those who are deliberately cruel for their own amusement or gain and who do not care who they trample on during their struggle for success.

Even if I could go out with a sword and twat them, I wouldn’t, because that’s a response that reinforces the idea that might is right, and that’s not the culture I want to live in. I find myself banging my head against unfair systems, closed minded officials, and the general apathy of people who don’t want to know, on quite a regular basis. Truth be told, I anticipate this will be the way of it for the rest of my life, because it’s something I’m choosing to do.

There are times when offering a different example, responding with compassion and patience, or just working it through logically will shift something that had been a problem into something that can be worked with. It’s great when that happens, and if there’s just the faintest suggestion it can, then I don’t mind putting in the time. But there are plenty of people and structures that refuse to listen, much less see. There are places where the ‘norm’ is unassailable, to deviate is to be wrong, and there is no room for discussion. There are minds where only one explanation can exist, and there is no room to consider others. This is where the biggest, and the most interesting challenges lie. The measure of our Druidry is not what we do on the good days when all is happy and straightforward. The true measure of our ethics, our values, or characters even, is what we do when we’re up to the eyeballs in crap, with nowhere to go, no one who will listen, no obvious way to fight… then you see what a person is made of.

I’ve met some immovable objects in my time. Some instances that sounded a lot like ‘you can’t get there from here.’ I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is totally refuse to accept this. There is always another way, so long as you’re breathing. Always another button to push, ear to bend, letter to write. Always a way to protest and raise awareness. And it is possible to go after the wrong without trying to destroy the people involved in it. That’s a tricky one, and there are going to be exceptions (I think I’ve found one, but, who knows?) It’s not what we achieve that defines us as Druids, it’s how we go about it. Doing the right things, for the right reasons. Not the expedient things. Not the things that serve us, but the things that need doing. All of us, in our lives, will find battles we can’t win, enemies we cannot talk round. But merely the trying can create change, and the more people are out there living their druidry, and trying, the more difference it’s going to make.


One of the things that has most brought me into conflict with other people, is their sense of entitlement. I can say with absolute confidence that I do not feel personally entitled to anything; life experience has taught me that I cannot assume I am going to get even basic levels of decent treatment, much less anything beyond that. I consciously practice gratitude for the good things, I am very grateful for anything good that comes my way.

I ran a moot for years – voluntarily, giving a lot of time and energy to support pagans in my area. I did it because I felt the work was inherently rewarding – and mostly, it was. But some years in, a couple started telling me what I was obliged to do for them, what I owed them, what they expected of me. I had given freely and they responded with a sense of entitlement to far more of my time and energy than I had to spare. I could offer other examples of situations where, having given, I’ve found that it wasn’t appreciated, but taken as evidence that I would, could, should even be giving far more to people who had no intention of offering anything in return. They just saw it as my duty, and their right.

My druidry inclines me to take duty very seriously. Service is part of my spirituality, but other people’s sense of entitlement isn’t. Now, there are things I would like everyone to feel entitled to – peace, safety, basic levels of decency, opportunities, justice. We all of us ought to have those, but plenty of people don’t. Looking around I see a lot of evidence for people who feel entitled to far more than their fair share of everything. To far more than they have worked for, or legitimately earned. I don’t hear anything about politicians taking pay cuts as part of austerity measures. Bankers still get their bonuses while the poor are pushed every closer to the edge of viability.

Entitlement. It’s a dangerous thing. This is the belief that tells us that yes, we should have that fast car and drive it over short distances. We should have that shiny thing and never mind if we have to go into debt, and then decide not to pay the debt. We deserve it. We should have it. Never mind that our lifestyles aren’t sustainable and future generations will pay. This is our turn and we should take whatever we can.

Culturally, we are far too prone to mistaking privileges for rights while not doing anything like enough to ensure that the basic things, the things that really should be rights, are there by default for all people. We might not be able to do over the system, but we can make a start. So many of the ‘take over’ protestors are talking about making changes within ourselves, and that’s a fine place to start.

So I float these questions out onto the ether (answer in the comments if you feel so inclined). What are we entitled to? In our personal lives, in our relationship with the state, in our work, our spirituality. How do we construct our sense of entitlement? I think on a personal note that I should be able to feel entitled to certain things, it’s something I’m trying to consciously develop, so I’m open to suggestions here.