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Renegade

Free Speech

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I support free speech.  I believe that free speech is a core value for liberals.  I believe in the principles of John Stuart Mill (free discourse is a necessary condition for intellectual and social progress) and Voltaire (I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.)  

 

Since I'm writing this in the Liberals Only room of the Liberal Forum, I expect that most of the people reading this are in general agreement on the value of free speech.  If that's the case, I don't want to bore you with a lengthy and unnecessary argument in its favor.  

 

Yet, I feel the need to start this thread just to gain some reassurance for myself that this is in fact the case.  Free speech is under assault around the world, and not just in places like China, Russia, and the Middle East.  Free speech is under attack in democracies like Hungary, Israel, India, and others.  It's even in retreat on university campuses in England and the USA.

 

There's an excellent article in the 'International' section of The Economist (Aug 17-23):  The New Censors; In both democracies and dictatorships, the global gag is tightening.  As much as I respect The Economist, I wouldn't be this concerned by a single article in one magazine.  In fact, I've noticed this trend for years, and it's gotten worse.

 

It's a fairly long article, so I'm not going to cut & paste the whole thing here.  For now, I'll leave out the parts about other countries where the issues mostly involve government influence and suppression.  I want to share a few passages that are especially critical of the United States.

 

Quote

Meanwhile, in mature democracies, support for free speech is ebbing, especially among the young, and outright hostility to it is growing. Nowhere is this more striking than in universities in the United States. In a Gallup poll published last year, 61% of American students said that their campus climate prevented people from saying what they believe, up from 54% the previous year. Other data from the same poll may explain why. Fully 37% said it was “acceptable” to shout down speakers they disapproved of to prevent them from being heard, and an incredible 10% approved of using violence to silence them.

 

I'm not sure I fully comprehend what it would be like to attend college in that environment.  It's hard for me to imagine what it would be like in an environment where 10% of my peers would approve of physical violence against me if I said the wrong thing.  How did we raise children like this?

 

Quote

Many students justify this by arguing that some speakers are racist, homophobic or hostile to other disadvantaged groups. This is sometimes true. But the targets of campus outrage have often been reputable, serious thinkers. Heather Mac Donald, for example, who argues that “Black Lives Matter” protests prompted police to pull back from high-crime neighbourhoods, and that this allowed the murder rate to spike, had to be evacuated from Claremont McKenna College in California in a police car. Furious protesters argued that letting her speak was an act of “violence” that denied “the right of black people to exist”.

 

Such verbal contortions have become common on the left. Many radicals argue that words are “violence” if they denigrate disadvantaged groups. Some add that anyone who allows offensive speakers a platform is condoning their wicked ideas. Furthermore, as America has polarised politically, many people have started to divide the world simplistically into “good” people (who agree with them) and “evil” people (who don’t). This has led to bizarre altercations. At Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Lucia Martinez Valdivia, a gay, mixed-race lecturer with post-traumatic stress disorder, was accused of being “anti-black” because she complained about the aggressive students who stood next to her shouting down her lectures on ancient Greek lesbian poetry (to which the hecklers objected because the poet Sappho would today be considered white). As Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argue in “The coddling of the American mind”:

 

“If some students now think it’s OK to punch a fascist or white supremacist, and if anyone who disagrees with them can be labelled a fascist or a white supremacist, well, you can see how this rhetorical move might make people hesitant to voice dissenting views on campus.”

 

As I said in the beginning, I support people's right to speak freely, even when I disagree with what they have to say.  Of course there are limits, so please don't try to make me out as an extremist.  I'm not in favor of libel, child pornography, or similar.  I'm talking about something like the Heather Mac Donald example above.

 

I never read much philosophy or political theory (I studied computer science and business).  I'm only today discovering John Stuart Mill.  So, I'm fascinated by his writing.  Here's a condensed version: All Minus One

 

Quote

Mill’s main concern was not government censorship.  It was the stultifying consequences of social conformity, of a culture where deviation from a prescribed set of opinions is punished through peer pressure and fear of ostracism.  “Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough,” he wrote.  “There needs to be protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling”.  Mill saw people even as brilliant as Charles Darwin living in fear of the response their views would provoke. 

 

Of course, Mill was writing in Victorian England.  The "social conformity" he faced was from...well, Victorian attitudes.  But, I believe the principle of free speech is true and applicable in our current circumstances as well.  

 

I apologize for boring those of you who are already familiar with this work, but here's why the piece is called "All Minus One":  

 

Quote

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."

 

I'm sure the Victorians were absolutely positive that they knew what was right for the world.  They held deep convictions that everyone would be better off if only their views were heard.  But, they were wrong.  

 

Anyway, this is way longer than intended.  I encourage you to read Mill and Voltaire and The Economist if you have time and tell me what you think.

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I agree with your thoughts on Free Speech. I think that part of the problem we face today is the division that's played out in media of all kinds. We all know there are a lot of crazies out there who are somehow very popular because they ignite not a real discussion about racism, but one instead of revisionist bigotry. But this isn't something new. A lot of us on this board are old enough to know  far-right thinking along with a white nationalism has been around a long long time. Yet - we must allow free speech, and at least try to encourage some dialogue. 

 

I believe that you can't stop racism or bigotry by showing up to protest against the protesters who spout the hate and xenophobia. What you can do is promote teaching the truth about history, and stand up for the rights of all people. 

 

A discussion on economics in a college setting makes great sense. Bring in the Milton Friedman's of the economic profession and let them debate against the Dean Baker type. 

Do we need a government that keeps it's hands off financial regulation, or do we need to take a more honest look at what policies have caused an inequality similar to what we had in the Gilded age.

 

Now wouldn't that be great?

Peace!

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14 hours ago, TheOldBarn said:

A discussion on economics in a college setting makes great sense. Bring in the Milton Friedman's of the economic profession and let them debate against the Dean Baker type. 

 

Absolutely.  College should be a place where students are exposed to the most diverse thoughts and opinions possible.  Whether it's economics, politics, social issues, or even climate science, bring in the best available speakers and let the students create informed opinions.  If we allow them to just shout down or physically intimidate anyone who disagrees...what sort of future leaders will they become?  Authoritarians, I fear.

 

Just had another thought along the same lines...  What if we put representatives from Antifa and the KKK (or whatever the white nationalist groups are called these days) on stage at the same time and made them have a civil debate.  Now that sounds like it could be interesting!   I'm chuckling as I think about it.  And, the students could see a better way to resolve differences as opposed to meeting in the street with clubs.

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