Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Free Speech for Me. For You, Not So Much

I read a fascinating article yesterday on - The Culture of Shut Up, by Jon Lovett.

In the article, Mr Lovett discusses how our tendency to shout down or shut out people with opinions other than our own, to vilify those who think differently rather than we do, is killing our entire concept of free speech. Here's what I thought was the best quote out of the article:

"The right to free speech may begin and end with the First Amendment, but there is a vast middle where our freedom of speech is protected by us - by our capacity to listen and accept that people disagree, often strongly, that there are fools, some of them columnists and elected officials and, yes, even reality-show patriarchs, that there are people who believe stupid, irrational, hateful things about other people and it's okay to let those words in our ears sometimes without rolling out the guillotines."

We live in a time when we don't have to listen to speech we don't want to hear. If you're a hard right conservative and you're offended by the very existence of a liberal mouthpiece like MSNBC, you can listen to Fox News all day. If you're a hard left liberal and you can't believe anyone would listen to the bilge masquerading as fair and balanced news on Fox, you can listen to MSNBC. Neither one of you ever has to listen to the opinions of the other and weigh those opinions in your own mind, without the filtering of your chosen media outlets.

What this means is that all too many of us live in self-reinforcing echo chambers where we hear only what we want to hear, and wonder not only why anyone would want to listen to that other junk, but why anyone should be allowed to utter that other junk.

This is what I find particularly evil - the idea that people with wrong ideas shouldn't be allowed to express them. Some people, particularly on the left, believe that some ideas aren't just wrong and offensive, but are so wrong and offensive that they shouldn't be allowed to be expressed at all. Speakers are shouted down or find their invitations cancelled for fear of controversy or - worse - violence. People who advocate ideas that most people consider offensive are stifled ... victims of Mr Lovett's culture of shut up (read his article for a lengthy list of people who've been told to shut up because their opinions ran contrary to popular opinion).

There are a lot of people out there I think are stupid, with whose positions I strongly disagree. But is either of us well served when we prevent the free exchange of ideas? I've always believed that the cure for really stupid ideas is to force them to compete in the give and take of the intellectual marketplace, where their stupidity can be exposed for everyone to see. Sadly, we don't do that. We decide that we need ... and everyone else needs ... to be protected from those ideas, and we make rules to prevent them from being expressed ... even though that convinces those whose speech is stifled that they're really right, because we're afraid to listen to their version of the truth. Here's another quote from Mr Lovett's article:

"We need to learn to live with the noise and tolerate the noise even when the noise is stupid, even when the noise is offensive, even when the noise is at times dangerous. Because no matter how noble the intent, it’s a demand for conformity that encourages people on all sides of a debate to police each other instead of argue and convince each other. And, ultimately, the cycle of attack and apology, of disagreement and boycott, will leave us with fewer and fewer people talking more and more about less and less."

It's frustrating, but we need to listen to the people we think are hopeless dumbasses.

After all, we may end up having to vote for them.

Have a good day. Listen to all sides of the argument, then make up your mind. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

It's unfortunate how so many people seem to go out of their way to avoid their way of thinking from being challenged.

Duckbutt said...

Who should get to decide which ideas are wrong and shouldn't be expressed?

Mike said...

"live in self-reinforcing echo chambers"


Big Sky Heidi said...

When did we become so enamored of ideological tight compartments? There seems to be a fear of the different.

Hell, we're Americans! We can take differences in opinions.

I enjoy different points of view. Sometimes they make sense. But all of us need to be open!

KathyA said...

Yes, and I'm working on this. And as soon as I can staunch the bleeding from biting my tongue, I will continue to work on my tolerance.