Would it be going too far to interpret the quote to mean that it is a combination of speech and what it incites?
I think that’s part of what Holmes was getting at. A reasonable person understands that shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater will likely cause a panic. In a sense, the person shouting “fire!” is taking responsibility for that panic. If there’s really a fire, then the effect of the panic in getting people out of the theater is desirable, and he shouldn’t be punished, even if someone should happen to be injured in the press. If there’s no fire then clearing the theater isn’t justified and the injuries are his fault and he should be punished.
I ask to expound on my previous statement that it’s dangerous to assert it should be ok to say anything you want. As an example… verbal abuse (cyber or personal) that leads to suicide. Should there be punitive results to such speech?
That’s an interesting scenario. My suspicion is that verbal abuse that leads to suicide is almost certainly likely to enter into the area of defamation, leaving it unprotected.
There are probably a few cases — like the recent attention given to gay teen suicides — that may not. A teen getting “outed” can face a hard life in quite a few parts of the country. Still, I have a hard time putting the blame for the suicide on the individual speaker — the real cause of the suicide is the intolerance in the larger culture. One bully doesn’t make a suicide, it’s the entire town sticking up for the bully instead of the victim that does.
Were I was personally going is that I think this is more of a cultural concern that a legislative one. I think that although it may be true doesn’t always make it right to say it. Should we not teach ourselves constraint?
I think that goes without saying — sensible, civilized people exercise that restraint unless they’re given legitimate cause to do otherwise. But that “legitimate cause” is the key thing. What seems legitimate to me may not to you, so you might not see my breaking the taboo as legitimate.
For example, I think religion is a significant cause of problems in the world and that it’s not just harmless nonsense, and most definitely not beneficial in any way. This leads me to say things that many deeply religious folks find offensive. I think they need to be said, precisely because talking about religion in a negative light is a cultural taboo.
And on the same token learn to not overly react when constraint is not practiced?
This is where I think we fail most often.
I’ve said this before — the Constitution outlines a set of cultural choices that go a lot deeper than just the surface interpretation, and I think all Americans ought to feel themselves bound by them: innocent until proven guilty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, due process, and so on. To me, that means it’s a personal failing to think OJ or Casey Anthony is really guilty — we gave it our best shot at proving they did it and we couldn’t. You should be angry when someone defaces a “controversial” billboard, regardless of whether you agree with it. You should be offended by the fact that only Protestant Christians can get elected to be President. “Extraordinary rendition” and the military detentions in Guantanamo Bay are shameful.
So, yes — when we shouldn’t overreact when someone says something we don’t like. It’s the “American way” in the truest sense of the word to recognize that people must be free to speak their minds, no matter how unpopular their words may be. If we don’t have that freedom, we can’t ensure the others.
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