Let the People Speak

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Free Speech (1)

The first step in political maturity is the understanding that not everybody who disagrees with you is motivated by malice. A lot of people just disagree based on their different value systems. Yes, there are many people out there who are selfish, and their views are motivated by self-interest, but values exist.

Those who are anti-abortion, or pro-life, are not necessarily motivated by misogyny. I see no reason not to take the argument on merit: they believe that abortion represents the killing of an unborn child and is akin to murder. You can accept this argument or not, but it’s unfair to argue that everyone who puts forward this view is simply masking their sexism.

For the majority of Christians and other pro-lifers, it would be no different if it were men who gave birth. Yet the mainstream left don’t call them pro lifers. They call them anti-choice. To the liberal who impugns all pro-lifers as misogynists, why is it that the argument is acceptable, but not the argument that’s put against them which says that the only reason they favor the welfare state is that they’re lazy? I have an inkling the liberal would feel they were unjustly smeared.

If any hope of having a productive discussion is to be had, our first step is to genuinely attempt to understand our opponent’s arguments. That way we can approach it on their own merits, and analyze whether it is logically consistent. If instead we attack them personally, by ascribing immoral motivations, the discussion is shut down and we are no closer to the truth.

Free Speech (4)

Arguing that all left-wingers are hedonistic, work-shy and cowardly is easy. What’s difficult is really trying to empathize with the point in making, and appreciating the roots of the arguments in the backgrounds, cultures, and upbringing. On the other hand, it’s easy to argue that the right wing is simply motivated by greed and power, and their ideology is merely a convoluted justification for bigotry. What’s harder is to talk to them openly human to human to try and see where they’re coming from.

This is not to say that we should not have any values. I’m not arguing for moral subjectivism. What I am advocating for is discussion and discourse of ideas, so we can figure out who is right and who is wrong. If one side is really correct, we can find out through discussion. There is no way to find out if we simply attack the other side.

This view of dismissing somebody else’s opinions has its extreme application of shutting them down with violence. Some people seem to think that there are certain views that are just so disgusting, that they really ought not to be heard at all. This is disastrous.

If an idea really is so terrible, it’s imperative that we find out. The only way that we can find out if an idea is terrible is by letting the person who advocates of you to speak that for you. From there we can analyze the arguments, bring up appropriate reason and evidence, and draw a conclusion. If the idea is unacceptable, by letting them speak, they will debunk themselves.

Free Speech (2)

Free speech is a mechanism by which we figure out which ideas are good and which ideas are not.

Another convincing argument against shutting down speech is that the likelihood that you are in a position to know which are appropriate ideas and which are not is extremely low. We don’t know what we don’t know. What are the chances really that 17-year-old middle-class communist has figured out all the answers in the world and is therefore entitled to an advance on those with whom he disagrees? It’s debatable that even the wisest person on earth does not have the right to use aggression against others, even those who have reprehensible opinions.

Then there’s the question of hate speech. But talking purely from a utilitarian point of view, hate speech is very useful. Once a person uses hate speech, they have revealed to everyone their true motives, and all peaceful people can wisely avoid them. If they have not been permitted to speak, we do not have the requisite information to make that decision.

Every individual on earth has a right to voice their opinion. Of course, nobody has the obligation to listen. What this means is that if you have a particular something against someone’s views, then you must make efforts to avoid them yourself. It is not your right to call upon others to silence them by force. And of course, if you have your own property, you have the right to discriminate against those who may disagree.

Others might respond to this by saying the people that have these views would use violence if they could, and they advocating violence, so violence is just in the fight against them. I don’t think this works either. Unless it is a direct incredible threat to someone’s life, it cannot be considered coercion. And I cannot be considered a call to violence unless it’s a specific instruction to a specific person or group. Somebody delivering a speech against a certain race or gender does not qualify.

Free Speech (3)

It is true that words can motivate someone to do violence. But let’s not assume that we really know how to stop people from being violent. This is after all the whole point of the libertarian project: reducing aggression in society, if not eliminating it. We should be skeptical that shutting down speech has any hope of preventing people from doing violence. On the other hand, there is some chance we can reduce violence by combating hate speech with reason and evidence. It is for this reason that the principle of free speech must be protected.

You can read more by James Smith on Think Liberty here.

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