“Where there is a great deal of free speech, there is always a certain amount of foolish speech.” Winston Churchill
“If freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” George Washington
“Speak up. Speak out. Chance foolish, but free. Freedom over silence.” Jackie Allison
I placed a 9×12 inch envelope on the counter at the post office. The postal worker immediately jumped into a spiel about hazardous materials, alcohol, explosives, perfume, and a bunch of other stuff. You’d have thought I was a criminal mailing an atom bomb instead of a patron exercising freedom of speech by corresponding with an aunt and mailing her a newspaper.
The first thing my brain latched onto was what’s wrong with perfume? Did perfume cause severe allergic reactions among postal workers if the bottle broke? Was perfume flammable? You put perfume on your skin. Did perfume explode? Again, you put perfume on your skin.
The second thing that came to mind, it was a flat envelope. Did it look like the envelope contained a bottle of Jack Daniels?
The sarcastic side of me really wanted to reply, “Yes, I am shipping something hazardous in this nearly flat envelope. There’s a pound of gun powder surrounding three kilos of cocaine and a dragon egg on the verge of hatching. Oh, I almost forgot, there’s also nail polish remover, the kind with acetate, an ounce of Channel #5, wrapped in government secrets, and a live kitten. But there’s not a jar of moonshine. I drank that on the way here. If the package becomes wet, it’s probably the kitten. You might want to wash your hands after handling the package, but not because of neurotoxins, more likely because of cat pee.”
I could’ve exercised freedom of speech and blurted out the first thing that came into my head. The postal worker could’ve had a laugh with me while thinking, what a nut job.
In the zeitgeist of our times, freedom of speech had come to mean sensationalism and bluntness beyond anything polite, but I wasn’t sure that just anyone could still get away with it. Despite the obviously flat package, I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t have been arrested for making false statements to a government employee.
“Sorry, just kidding. What I meant was that the newspaper in the envelope might have stories about guns, drugs, espionage, and a picture of a kitten,” probably wouldn’t have been accepted as an apology for words taken as a security threat instead of sarcasm.
Our founding fathers faced a dilemma when considering freedom of speech. Should freedom of speech be limited when it came to speaking against the government because this could create contempt for a government? But the only way to keep a government in check was with free communication even if it created contempt. Our founding fathers would’ve probably canned the entire idea of freedom of speech if they’d have had to deal with Twitter and Facebook.
A person who tweeted; “You see the bazongas on that babe? Me neither. What a loser to womanhood,” had more than a few people wanting to bring back the brank. The brank was a medieval, locking iron device that prevented a person from speaking. The device was used on a person who caused discord, disrupted public peace, or who was a nuisance.
Luckily, our founding fathers possessed not only true intelligence, but also insightfulness and saw fit to grant freedom of speech. When speech lacked discretion, tact, or a filter to keep stupid stuff from being said, the public gained a clearer picture of the speaker. A person who was careless with their speech often revealed prejudice, deep seated issues, and general assholishness. In this light, freedom of speech was a damn good idea. We should always make sure everyone had a voice and that they weren’t kept from using it no matter how much of a nuisance they chose to be.
In my Webster’s Compact Desk Dictionary, there were a limited amount of nouns separating idiot from intelligence. Instead of being annoyed at a person doing their job, I chose illumination without being an ignoramus in my answer to the postal worker’s question. “No, nothing just a newspaper.” I said.
My aunt received the paper, law enforcement pursued real threats to national security, and the postal worker had a good day. I didn’t end up looking like an idiot, but I still liked the idea that I could have if I wanted to.
Published in Funny Times-April 2017