[-empyre-] VII: free speech and its ends

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Thu Oct 11 11:32:29 EST 2012


Again a focus on pain, is not to say that pain is everything, it is following the program

Absolute free speech, which was a claim at the basis of Cybermind’s myth/charter of being, failed fairly quickly. Lines had to be inserted in the manifesto about the compulsory absence of hate speech. This group, it seemed, could not survive those who wished to destroy them (even unintentionally) from the inside. Yet the boundaries between active hostility, stupidity, and use of speech for repression are not easy to ‘police’ or to negotiate (which was the preferred method), and indeed, attempts to remove people could further disrupt the list as people struggled over the exiling and the politics and worldviews that were present in such discussions. To be alert for those who could destroy, might itself destroy.

Again I think the viscerality of the reactions and people’s struggle to deal with breaks between their ideals and the realities of those ideals need to be emphasised, as does the relationality they grew out of, and traumatised (if you will allow the word in this context) those relationships.  I should emphasise the struggles that were made to keep people on the list, despite the antagonism they raised. Perhaps nowadays we are used to people talking about wanting free speech, but seemingly only wanting free speech for themselves; then the failure of freedom seemed truly undermining, a negation, for many, of valued ideals.

One problem was that dealing with disruption threw responsibility onto the one or the few who could exile others from the list by unsubscribe. So they bore the blame (and the praise) that would erupt, which was not in any sense fair, and may (in concept) have opened them to attack offlist.

These arguments and questions were not abstract intellectual engagements, they were divergent and embodied ‘irrationalities’, feelings, torn-ness (again) and they could not be solved in pure discourse, or in pure harmony of being, there was no space online beyond being human, beyond suffering, beyond violence, beyond disappointment, although these again were not all. Being with others always has the potential to open old (and perhaps unknown) wounds, just as it has the potential of salving those wounds. Words label and categorise, and they make how others behave towards you. Perhaps in daily life, one might have to keep swallowing to survive, in a voluntary life online, it seemed to many that they did not, even if it ended everything for all involved.

There was a theory in those days (and I have heard it again in the last month) that social control could work by ignoring those you did not like, by not being hurt by words. But it did not work, and could not appear to work if you had any idea of what words do (again words are not virtual but embodied in effects). If you ignored those you did not like, then whole threads might become incomprehensible, whole parts of list life become out of your ken, or those people could be quoted by those you did like and read and get to you anyway. The supposed remedy of growing a thick skin, would mean, on occasions, devoting your life to combat, or suffering from misrepresentation when representation is all you have: text was presence, and others readings of your texts also makes your presence, and always risks distortion. The reality is that some do have the time to devote themselves to combat and thus win by default - who normally can answer every mail they might receive?

The theory is a libertarianism, that insists the most powerful and influential and privileged should remain powerful, influential and privileged and the others should suffer because that is right and natural.

The real  point (yet again) is that online life is complex and emotional and yes much pain is political and grows out of power and politics, and that solutions are not always simple and without repercussions.


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