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Trevor Blake: My Crowded Fist Theater Shouting Fire at the End of Your Nose

The egoist edict on freedom of speech.

A corrected and expanded version of this essay appears in Confessions of a Failed Egoist (Baltimore: Underworld Amusements 2014).

Roll up, roll up, freedom of speech is a big circus tent. All the freaks are alive, alive, alive on the inside. We’ve got speech and the press, association and behavior, drug use and faith healing, an orgy of opinion and a panoply of perspectives. See with your own eyes the Egoist as he bends facts and morals with his bare hands (step away from the cage, son). Property begins with ownership of self, and what is done with the self is freedom of speech. I’ll tell you again that there are no natural rights, but standing in for that phantom are my free speech, social convention and good old Johnny Law. Ten minutes of your time to read, a lifetime to wash the taste out of your mouth, hurry, hurry, hurry, step right up! The free speech freak show escaped the midway more than a century ago when readymades and collage crashed the gate. Everything is art is what you can get away with. Roll up! Roll up!

My preference is toward civility, and I’m the arbitrator of what is civil. Let’s keep it simple, no need to get the law involved just yet. Police are just one more not-me. Civility in free speech won’t go overly against the consent of the speaker or the audience. Publishing a private diary found at a bus stop goes against the consent of the speaker. Showing naked pictures of yourself to children goes against the consent of the audience. Most of the planet boycotts my writing and that suits me fine. Boycotts are so civil they make your head swivel and tyrants shrivel. Workers are free to express themselves by quitting if the freedom of speech of the boss in workplace rules don’t suit them. Disinclination to self-incriminate or sign a loyalty oath, to tattle or to babble when a simple “I don’t know” would do are all marks of civility. Drawings and stories aren’t a bother to civilized me. How I wish I could draw something or tell a story and have it be true. I’d show you a thing or two, I would. In this world imaginary things that never happened do not have magic powers. On CivilityBook, Mr. Free Speech is BFF with Mr. Blasphemy while Mr. Obscenity gets the occasional like. Call me old fashioned (no, really) but I’d rather you not swear around my grandma. She wouldn’t like to hear you be mean about Jesus either but I won’t get between you two about it.

My mom taught me long ago that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. She spoke the gospel truth. Having a discriminating taste sometimes means developing a taste for discrimination. I divested when diversity donned dull conformity. What was to be an opening of the prison became a changing of the guard. Yessir, there are some mean spirited jokes out there. I’ve heard them and I’ve even said a few. The civil response curiously includes both silently walking away and giving the speaker an oil-drum full of his own medicine. Free speech is worth every penny. I’ve heard and seen things that hurt my widdle feewings, but after a while I’m the Ego making my Self still feel bad. Rub some dirt on it. Opinions are like cliches, everybody has one and they all stink. It’s alright by me if you’re wrong about history or science. Is asking questions ever vervotten? Are you kidding? Turns out crime is already criminal. Hate crime laws exist only to make voters feel good about politicians who look good. Female genital mutilation, setting girls on fire for going to school, chopping women’s head’s off for being too Western – you might not want to call that Islam, but let’s agree to call it sexism. It’s right wrong a rude rib scores the same sexist status as mad Muslims on the diversity discriminometer. I’m doing what I can to change that, sugar tits. Everything is connected but not everything is equally connected. Let’s get your priorities in order. Mine, to be specific.

I have revealed my whim as the solvent of reason. No need to look outside my dictates for delineating freedom of speech from something even worse. I know it when I see it. Government whistle-blowing, treason, defamation, public sex, killing animals, bad art, outing, IP expropriation, paparazzi, parenting, fighting words, graffiti, squatting, protest, vandalism, one more bothersome young person with a clipboard asking me if I’ve registered to vote… I’ll be the judge of which of these are freedom of speech. Ask and I’ll tell you what it smells like.

You want to start something, tough guy? There’s what I say about freedom of speech, then there’s what the law says. I’m not your lawyer but I’ll tell you a thing or two. Physical violence is usually the end of your performance art instillation. The point where incivility becomes illegality is when a body goes against the consent of their audience and their property (self). If it’s all for a good cause, I say have at it. And I’m the guy who knows what a good cause is. Don’t you? But ixnay to the whining or exhibition of surprise when you get busted. Speak your mind and take your lumps. Other people’s hypocrisy bugs me.

The world ends when I die but you might still be shambling around in the ruins. As appreciative as I am to those who suffered greatly for my freedom of speech, given time most of these squabbles do look silly. Men and women around the world are in prison for writing the wrong poem or doubting the wrong holocaust. I care about my freedom of speech and one expression of it, at times, is your freedom of speech. The freedom of speech fun fair is an ugly affair and this kuffar knows we have to keep it that way. If you don’t like what I have to say about freedom of speech, you go be me next time.