The Ineffable Importance of Free Speech

16 Apr

[I wrote this before the Hugo/Vox Day controversy exploded, but it is pretty important for that, IMHO. YMMV, of course.]

Ok, this is a short essay – but, I feel, an important one. Let’s start with a simple exercise.

Take the single most racist/sexist/homophobic/etc argument you can think of. Think it through, piece by piece. Consider all the implications of each and every word.

And then dismantle it. Prove to yourself, if no one else, that the argument is false.

Ok, you may ask, what was the point of that?

There are people who believe the most stupid and absurd things about their fellow men and women. You don’t have to go prowling around in the darkest depths of the internet to hear people cheerfully sprouting off shocking, indeed horrific pieces of crap about [insert racial, ethnic, sexual, etc group here]. The internet confers anonymity on most people and the absence of any form of social control allows our darkest impulses to take flight. Things people would never dream of saying in public are said online, things that many people (and not just those on the Left) would consider Hate Speech.

But Hate Speech is, in itself, a slippery concept. What is Hate Speech? Answer – it’s whatever the listener wants it to be. You can outline a whole series of facts – not opinions, facts – and someone will probably accuse you of committing the dread sin of Hate Speech. It is starting to reach the point where people are censoring themselves because they are scared of being accused of Hate Speech, Wrong Think, etc. A decent idea – you shouldn’t call people racial slurs to their faces – has become a tool for restricting free speech.

Earlier, I blogged about the free marketplace of ideas. Free speech is a key part of that market place, if only because it allows each and every idea to be tested, retested and then kept or discarded as necessary. Most racist/sexist/homophobic/etc arguments simply do not hold water when actually tested. However, classing all such arguments as Hate Speech and sealing them away, without actually debating the matter, really doesn’t help. Indeed, it lends credence to ideas that are often stupid, if not downright malicious.

The human mind does not like being dictated to, even when the dictators are correct. Telling someone ‘BAD THINK, BAD THINK, BAD THINK’ doesn’t really help; proving, using common sense if nothing else, that the arguments are actually poor ones works to disarm them. Nor does the human mind appreciate the double-standard of ‘hate speech for me, but not for thee’ put forward (openly or not) by far too many so-called liberals. Hypocrisy is easy to spot and always hated.

Yes, you may find yourself dismantling the argument time and time again. It’s much better than burying a festering sore by declaring all open discussions of the matter verboten.

And it will teach people to think. Believe me, there is nothing more important in this day and age.

One Response to “The Ineffable Importance of Free Speech”

  1. Dennis the Menace April 16, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

    Or, you can just do things the Carol Peletier Way from The Walking Dead:

    Carol: Just tell them a story. It’s what I’ve been doing since I got here.

    Michonne: Why?

    Carol: Because these people are children, and children like stories.

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