[x]Blackmoor Vituperative

Monday, 2017-05-15

The problem of “free speech”

Filed under: Civil Rights,Philosophy — bblackmoor @ 09:13

For most of my life, I have been a steadfast supporter of “free speech” — the principle that anyone should be allowed to say anything, as long as they do not cause physical harm to another person. By “allowed”, I mean legally allowed, which is not the same thing as being socially acceptable. I have opposed laws against “hate speech”, for example, even though I think that in everyday conversation, such remarks should be condemned by others who hear them.

The problem is that we have somehow become a society that does not recognize the vast gulf between “socially acceptable” behaviour and “legally permitted behaviour“. Americans have accepted the premise that anything legally permissible is also acceptable.

I’m not sure how this happened. I suspect that it is a result of our attempts to legislate against things which have been considered socially unacceptable (the American war against drug users being the most obvious example). If socially unacceptable behaviour is against the law, but ruthlessly harassing someone for being female isn’t against the law, it must be okay, yes?

Whenever challenged on their obnoxious behaviour, the worst examples of human garbage proclaim they are simply exercising their right to “free speech”. The cry of “free speech” has accompanied the rise of “talk radio” in the 1980s (which is little more than Nazi propaganda masquerading as news), the spread of white male supremacist asshat movements like “gamerhate” and “sad/rabid puppies“, culminating with the election of a vulgar narcissist as President of the United States.

How have Americans come to value vulgarity above civility and factuality? I think it is because we have placed too much emphasis on our “right to free speech”, regardless of context, content, or factual basis. It has become a sort of idol, which we worship by saying — and defending the right to say — the most egregiously offensive things possible. That is bad enough. What concerns me more is that we have entire media empires spreading fiction as though it’s news, and huge portions of the population are rejecting facts and embracing the most ludicrous of falsehoods.

Frankly, I think it’s too late to fix it. The avalanche of lies has started, and it’s too late to stop it. We elevated “free speech” to a religion, and we are paying the price.

But I have a suggestion for the survivors of the next revolution, when they begin writing the next set of sacrosanct documents by which they will chart their destinies:

Limit “freedom of speech”. Prohibit the promotion of discredited scientific theories and outright falsehoods, and give serious thought to prohibiting language that encourages the victimization of any category of people. Somehow, make it clear that there is no need to “tolerate intolerance”. Tolerance is not a moral absolute: it is a peace treaty.

Maybe if the next civilization extols civility, factual accuracy, and scientific inquiry, rather than “free speech” and “freedom of religion”, they can avoid our mistakes.

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