As we all know, this issue has been front of many minds in recent weeks, from the great minds of the Blogosphere to the lesser ones of the Government and BBC and, of course, the tiny ones of the BNP and UAF. All have their own view on what constitutes freedom of speech, and where the 'limits' on such a freedom should be. What's interesting is how many of those involved are completely unable to see the irony inherent in their own positions.
The UAF, for example, throw tantrums, scream and smash things up, calling that the BNP should not have a platform, should be banned, should not be able to speak or debate their (stupid, bigoted and abhorrent) position. They say 'freedom of speech should be denied to Nazis'. The BNP and others rail against the (vile) speeches of Islamic fundamentalists. They say, "freedom of speech should be denied to religious extremists". The Guardianistas fall over in a swoon at Jimmy Carr's (tasteless) 'joke', and say, "he should not be allowed to say such things!".
Yet what they actually mean - and what all those who claim that there are things you cannot say actually mean - is this:
"Freedom of Speech should be denied to those who disagree with us".
It used to be that the limit on Freedom of Speech was the incitement of violence. That was quickly superseded by the somewhat more nebulous concept of 'inciting hatred'. Now it seems that has morphed again into a call for capital punishment against all those who cause offence.
The problem is, though, that almost everyone offends someone. Whatever your theory, whatever your position, however you say it, you'll offend someone. Gordon Brown, for example, offends me. I have managed to offend the BNP, the UAF, the Government and Islam in the space of just four days.
Jeremy Clarkson offends lorry drivers, prostitutes, feminists and eco-warriors. These same Greenies offend anyone who believes in proper scientific methods, who in turn offend Creationists, who in their turn offend the sane. Jan Moir offends homosexuals, who offend Christians, who offend Muslims, who offend the BNP, who offend the UAF. Jimmy Carr offends the Olympic Committee and, probably, the legless. Simon Cowell offends everyone.
It's never-ending - an eternal, unbroken circle of pissed-offedness. The only person who never offends anyone is Nick Clegg, and that's because he never says or does anything and nobody knows who he is.** It's clear to me now that with hard work, determination and creativity absolutely anyone can be offended by absolutely anything.
There is, quite clearly, only one solution. Ban speech.
Ban expression in all forms and formats.*** It is only by breaking the continual cycle of communication with others that we will reach the Nirvana of nobody ever being offended by anyone ever again, and we will all live happily ever after. Or something.
Politics and religion will never again be able to sully your ears and divide your communities. People would no longer be polarised by opinion, nothing divisive would ever be said, written or printed. Disagreement and argument would simply disappear. Mankind would live together as one, united in silence, never offending another soul.
Of course - you would lose the ability to love or to express joy. Laughter would be a thing of the past too, because the subject of your laughter may be someone else's misfortune. Forget controlling your children, or having a voice in the running of your country, or taking part in events that shape your life. But that's a small price to pay, really. After all, it's worth it if nobody is ever offended, ever again.
Sorry if that caused offence.
* I am using the term 'speech' to encompass all forms of communication, written or spoken - just in case anyone is offended by my apparent discrimination against the spoken word.
**Now I think of it, that offends me.
***I would have suggested limiting human interaction to conversations about the weather, but my research indicates that most of Southern England was offended by Michael Fish's weather forecast in 1987, so that's out too.