We see these rights as absolute—
No state would dare restrict ‘em—
We have not broken any law…
Until there is a victim.
We’re free to speak of fantasies
Of murder, rage, or hate—
We haven’t crossed the line, of course,
Until… it is too late.
Our whispered, dark conspiracies
Are safely out of reach—
Until you find a body,
Hey, you can’t restrict free speech!
In the New York Times today, a troubling story of the cop on trial for conspiring to kill and eat a number of women, including his wife. She’s the one who accidentally stumbled across the evidence on a home computer. Her husband had been chatting on some fetish sites online, and she found detailed descriptions of how she and some of her friends were to be tortured, killed, and cannibalized.
Or… the officer was merely engaging in fantasy writing, with no plans to actually do anything he described. Torture porn has a market, after all, and the first amendment is there to protect the speech we detest. I have, in satirical verses, linked to a cannibalism site (one I sincerely believe is itself satire). These were only words, after all, and no one is harmed by mere words.
No one harmed. Imagine finding such writing, naming you (some people don’t have to stretch much to imagine such a thing). In this case, the woman moved from New York to Nevada, and contacted the FBI, understandably frightened for her life. No one harmed.
It will be interesting to watch this one play out. Words have consequences, and free speech is not absolute. And while this case is obviously an extreme, we can see the roles in this case reflected in so many other places. To what extent can you say, even to yourself, that hurting someone is any more acceptable because it is just with words?
There is one aspect to this case that sets it aside from the others that spring to mind–the officer clearly never intended his writing to be discovered by his wife. If it was mere fantasy (as the defense claims), any harm it did (and it did do real harm, unquestionably) was unintentional. There are others waving the free speech banner who are quite intentionally attacking others.
In a way, that makes them worse than this guy.