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The Gauntlet

Idiots shame Voltaire’s assertion

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It was the wise and seasoned French phil-osopher Henri Voltaire who said "I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The premise behind ole' Henri's words now form the premise of one of our most beloved and cited fundamental human rights, the right to freedom of speech. Good ole' Henri cemented in his profound statement the importance of diversity of opinion and the protection of dissenting voices. Good ole' Henri should have shut his pie hole.

I'm quite certain Voltaire never meant to provide the idiots of villages far and wide with a blanket mechanism of absolution for every absurdity that entered their minds and crossed their lips. I certainly hope that Voltaire didn't mean to imply to every halfwit cavorting through the streets that every word they uttered was worth dying for.

I am also certain that the wizened Voltaire put too much faith in humanity when he uttered his timeless words. Perhaps he hoped that village idiots, halfwits and slack-jawed yokels the world over would never find out he said it. Perhaps he believed that every man who heard and understood would recognize that it applied to him as well as the man next to him, slack-jawed or otherwise. Perhaps he sincerely believed that man would recognize the right of expression is a double-edged sword and comes with a few strings attached.

Free speech is not an absolute.

There, I said it. It's not guaranteed, it's not protected regardless of what travesties or diatribes may cross one's lips. Free speech is a privilege, a luxury, a construct. It's a responsibility and I for one am heartily sick of every glassy-eyed mutton chops ham-handedly manipulating Voltaire, the Canadian Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Dead Sea Scrolls-if it suits their purpose-to elude being held accountable for their words.

Free speech is not an absolute.

If it were, we wouldn't have slander laws, libel laws, movie rating systems and any other form of censorship you care to think of. I love a good argument as much as the next person, but Voltaire's words need to be treated with a higher standard of integrity. They should not be invoked at will to protect oneself even when exercising blind negligence or propagating intolerance. Drunk driving, unprotected sex, credit card fraud-we don't stand for these abuses of privilege. So why, when it comes to a privilege of such magnitude, do we fight so fiercely against reprimand or consequence of its abuse?

I do not advocate thought police nor do I advocate the blind support of freedom of expression. If I did, I'd believe in leaving the Ku Klux Klan to get on with their business. What I believe is that we have a moral obligation to exercise our "fundamental" freedoms with a tad more respect. I believe that if one cannot be proactive in thinking before opening one's trap, one should not reactively fall back on a luxury not afforded to half the human population of the earth to save one's ass.

If you can't figure out that other people have other fundamental rights that you may infringe on with your free speech, if you don't understand that the freedom which affords you the opportunity to shoot your mouth off affords everyone else the right to respond in kind, if you aren't prepared to be held accountable for the things you say, then keep it to yourself.

Voltaire's dead and no one today will do more than jump up and down to see your right to freedom of expression protected. And if no one will do even that, consider the possibility-the very distinct possibility-that what you should have done is just shut your pie hole.

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The problem here is that there is no concrete evidence to show Voltaire did say this.