Freedom of speech applies to idiots, too, sadly

I believe in free speech. I believe in it a lot. It’s something that still exists to a large degree in my home country (the United States of America), although there are times when I get really worried about it, like whenever anyone makes the dishonest argument that censorship (real censorship – using governmental force to stifle free speech) is necessary “for the children!”

Neil Gaiman had an excellent essay outlining why he believes it’s necessary to defend speech that he, personally, considers “icky”. It’s obviously worth a read, but if I could condense the argument down to just a paragraph or two it would be the following:

“The Law is a blunt instrument. It’s not a scalpel. It’s a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible.”

Mr. Gaiman also explains that there is a difference between making lines on paper, and taking actions that actually cause harm to children, and that is indeed a huge difference. He’s making the above argument in the context of defending comic book writers and artists to depict things on paper that would, if they involved actual living humans, be clearly pornography – and if adults were participating or recording said acts, would clearly be abuse. But drawings? Words on a page? To Mr. Gaiman, the drawings and words may make him, personally, uncomfortable, but he would defend the right of the artist or writer to make them, because if those are forbidden, then who knows what future art Mr. Gaiman wants to make would be forbidden?

To be clear, I agree with Mr. Gaiman. I am, personally, loathe to put any restrictions on speech and art at all, even art depicting things I do not agree with. I mean, obviously I do: The Old and New Testament depict such horrors as selling one’s daughter into slavery or giving her up for rape, wholesale religiously-motivated destruction of entire towns and nations, intense torture, bigotry and racism, even strict prohibitions against eating delicious lobster or barbecued pork ribs… Mmmmmm. And yet, despite these barbaric stories, there are people out there who would look you in the eye and, un-ironically, call the collection “The Good Book”.

Ugh. I disagree, but I will defend the right of that book to exist and for adults to read it.*

But bringing it back to speech, and whether or not humans are free to engage in it, in my wanderings on the internets I came across this story of a couple in Holland Township, New Jersey who have given their children… unusual names:

“JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell and Adolf Hitler Campbell.

Good names for a trio of toddlers? Heath and Deborah Campbell think so. The Holland Township couple has picked those names and the oldest child, Adolf Hitler Campbell, turns 3 today.”


Seriously? The youngest is named Adolph Hitler Campbell?

How’s that for a not-very-subtle act of rebellion against the dominant paradigm? Are they exercising their right of free speech, or are they taking an action that will result in the abuse of a child?

Johnny Cash had a song about a boy named “Sue” by an absent father, who had good intentions, twisted though they were. Once the parent’s point of view was explained, everyone had a good laugh and agreed the outcome justified the pain. Makes for a nice song.

The above linked article coyly does not delve into the motivations that the Campbells had for choosing their children’s names, but instead posts a question about it for the readers, and links to a gallery of images from the Campbell’s home – including swastika tattoos, Nazi flags and decorations, and an adorable picture of the little towheaded boy.

I think the reporters (the byline is credited to “Express-Times staff” – no one reporter is willing to take credit for this) are hoping readers will draw their own conclusions.

The problem, the conflict in the article, is that the Campbells have been turned down by a local bakery to make a cake with the 3-year-old’s name on it, and the Campbells claim to be confused by this.

I’m unsettled by this, to say the least. Clearly, the Campbells have the right to name their children anything they want. Clearly, they have the right to celebrate whatever culture they wish – even a culture that has become synonymous with evil. They have broken no law, and I wouldn’t even go as far as to say that they’re unethical or immoral in their own, personal, adult choices. Except that anyone with a brain and a thimbleful of understanding of human nature would see that they are inflicting social and psychological abuse on their children.

And in that exception, by taking that step of naming their children, the Campbells are very, very wrong indeed.

* Carrying out its bizarre proscriptions and forcing them on others, especially children too young to know any better… well, that’s where I draw the line, at least in the context of public discourse. I know I’m the minority opinion here but there’s a growing number of folks who agree.