Pavlos (pavlos) wrote,

Freedom of speech

What does it mean to have freedom of speech? Well, we know what it means literally, but what does it mean to be in favour of freedom of speech? It means that you're in favour of letting all ideas be expressed, including ones that you find morally disgusting or specifically dangerous. Like the idea that it would be good to use bombs and blow up some category of people, that sort of thing.

Naturally, no-one, or at least very few people are in favour of everyone else's radical and dangerous ideas taking root and driving actions. So, in practice, being in favour of freedom of speech means having faith in one or another means of ensuring safety, in the presence of freedom of speech. What are those?

  • Trust. Believing that your fellow human beings, no matter what they read or hear, will not be moved to doing bad things to you. Trust tends to require two things: Empathy, in other words the condition that humans see each other as close and interdependent rather than distant and disconnected, and education in extending trust to each other.
  • Control. The existence of security measures, economic and work dependencies, and the law generally as a means to limit people to benign actions, whatever their beliefs. Note that this thought pre-supposes and permits a very high internal conflict, and the existence of hard boundaries within the individual.
  • Argument. Feeling confident that, if all ideas are free to fight it out, those that you consider good will either prevail, or will hold sufficient ground in people's minds for tolerance and goodwill to remain alive. This is a very optimistic view, and it requires a strong form of freedom of speech. It requires that you should be able to project our message to people who are initially hostile to it, in the way that protesters but also missionaries and advertisers do.
  • Dilution. A collection of techniques, mostly employed by the establishment, to make free speech ineffective. For example the promotion of emotionally charged but fundamentally safe or meaningless ideas, the promotion of diversionary debate, and at the same time the suppression of any particularly radical speech. Generally the propagation of an attitude that the individual ought to be grateful and "responsible" about all this free speech that they enjoy.

So, you may want to take a moment to ponder which free speech safety measure you are personally in favour of (I've listed them in my order of preference, and I only really have faith in the first), and which ones are employed by the culture you find yourself in. Were you in a different culture before, or do you know of another today, whose free speech safety measures are closer to your preference?


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