Freedom of speech is a topic and a philosophy that benefits everyone (at least in the West). But it is also a philosophy that is often times misunderstood, or just accepted at face value with no critical evaluation. The 3 most common misunderstandings of the philosophy tend to be:
A.) The All or nothing false dichotomy
B.) The offence based exceptions (“I am all for freedom of speech, BUT . . .)
C.) Misunderstanding of the exemptions granted by private property (namely privately owned corporate internet portals)
The first thing I want to go into (because it seems to be the most common), is the private property exemptions. This one is important, because even I used to misunderstand it. And have reacted badly in some situations due to this misunderstanding.
Most people know about their Right to free speech. Whether or not they ever choose to exercise it is another story, but they know that they have it.
And technology has marched forward, allowing even more ways to use these rights for the good of our causes. But while technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last 10 to 15 years, it has also presented a new issue for free speech (at least in its interpretation). That issue is, personalized information and conversations on privately owned servers.
This problem lies partially in the wholly absorbing nature of the technology itself. Many everyday communications that were once primarily done face to face, are switching to social media and other digital platforms. As such, many people begin to treat these profiles, groups, pages and other areas like the digital equivalent to the bedroom or living room in their home (you feel more secure to open up about things in an environment that you persieve as private).
One problem with this false sense of security that has begun to become persistent, is people of all ages posting and acting inappropriately online.
Again, I cite the Dalhousie dentistry gentalmans club scandal. A situation that many were rightfully outraged about. Yet, a situation that I cant help but think, has always happened. Though recent changes in technology have replaced the locker room and the frat house as the main places of discussion.
The same sense of false security that leads to these type of postings online, also often leads people into thinking that various digital profiles in their life are theirs and theirs only to control and\or censor. Forgetting that these profiles are located on private servers, possibly even in foreign nations.
Its an easy error to make really. The company that hosts this blog is located in San Francisco, California, USA. But its not something I think about often, since interaction with its servers is almost instantaneous. The 1000+ mile\kilometer journey this text makes from my device over to their server is hardly noticeable (even at 3G speeds, which is slower than unthrottled LTE or home broadband).
Being that our interaction with this technology is such an embedded part of life that most of us do not even think about it, its also easy to thoughtlessly assign our personal home rules and regulations to these spaces. For the vast majority that live non-threatening and otherwise politically correct existences (neutral existences may be a better description), this is not a problem. But for people that like to live outside of the typical PC mould of existence, these platforms are not always as friendly.
Freedom of speech laws and rights only go as far as protecting you from the judicial system. Though freedom of speech is not equal in all nations (many have hate crime exceptions), they all protect you from judicial reprisal for holding unpopular or controversial views. Meaning that if you say something critical about the government or some other person or entity, no one is going to kick down your door and throw you in prison.
Though you are protected as a citizen by law, this does not mean that property owners can not make decisions about what they deem appropriate on their property.
One example that occurs to me, would be in the context of a busy restaurant or other establishment. While most conversations that are at a reasonable volume will be overlooked, someone that is being overly loud with racist, sexist or other material that could be deemed as offensive may well run into problems. Yes, they technically by law have a right to free speech. BUT the establishment also has a vested interest in ensuring that all of its guests have a positive experience. And as such, they can rightfully ask you to tone the volume down a bit. And if that is not honored, then they can ask you to leave. This is not censorship.
Those that are free speech purist’s and that believe in the all or nothing philosophy may disagree. But the fact is, the business is not telling you to STOP vocalizing your views full stop. They are saying, be reasonable. And if you don’t want to be reasonable, get out.
An unrelated (but similar) situation, would be businesses declaring their property(ies) gun free zones.
A fairly common news story these days is businesses of all sizes declaring their locations as gun free zones (even in places where open carry is permitted).
I suspect that this is becoming an ever more popular trend due to:
A.) the epidemic of random gun violence all over the US, particularly in impoverished areas (mass shootings are not even half the story!)
B.) all the dumbfucks walking into businesses open carrying semi and automatic machine guns as a way of declaring their right to bear arms.
Now, I have stated my opinions on this before. Im afraid of a shootout if someone else with a gun (a good guy with a gun!) happens to be in one of these places when one of these open carry morons shows up.
The BEST scenario one could hope for, is that the open carry idiot is the one that’s neutralized (with no one else hurt in the crossfire).
But either way, what is more important is the perceived notion of some that these gun free businesses are infringing on their right to bear arms and open carry.
Again, this right to open carry only guarantees that the police can not arrest you for it. Business and property owners however, can mandate guns out of their environment if they see fit.
I use the gun analogy because it illustrates well the situation with social media (and other platforms) and free speech.
People tend to think of these profiles as, a part of their home. And as such, they govern by the rules of their home.
But in reality, since these profiles sit on servers owned by private interests, these profiles are more like an apartment. You should be fine for the most part. But if your rental agreement forbids parties and loud noises after 11pm, chances are breaking this will result in a set of warnings, then eviction. Same goes for online TOS agreements.
Another thing that has to be noted here, are false flagging campaigns. This is something I dealt with back in my days as a Facebook Atheist keyboard warrior/openly admitted Troll and shit disturber. Actions made against me were partly due to my own a actions against others.
When a mass of people or bots all report or flag a given piece of content with the intent of removal, that is indeed a form of censorship. Same goes for DDOSing the internet connections of people you don’t like (I’ve seen such tactics used against live broadcasting podcasts before).
Its true that the people behind such acts don’t understand (or care about) free speech. But it is not the same as being censored from above (the government). True censorship.
When it comes to social media reporting systems, a lot is left to be desired. For one thing, automatic repercussions (based on the number of reports) with little recourse to fight it, is asking for trouble. As is not punishing individuals for making false reports. This should be a priority, because it not only harasses people, but it also ties up resources needlessly.
Is it that difficult to design and enact a system that allows a given post to be reviewed, and if deemed harmless, flagged so the system either disregards (or punishes) people making reports on it?
Some will look for (and find) ways around this. But this will stop those that falsely report people just because they can.
Another example comes with personal spaces and privately controlled group settings online (facebook pages or groups, comment sections etc). People calling it censorship to be stifled by whatever admins are in charge of the given area.
In all honesty, I used to be one of these people back in my days as a trolling shit disturber. I used to go into places with differing viewpoints (facebook groups, typically bigoted fundamentalist christian ones) and bring some reality. And if I was removed or otherwise silenced, lets just say . . . they didn’t forget for awhile. When it came to making the fundies close up into their lairs with their tails between their legs, I was very efficient.
Looking back, though I still enjoy the company of some of those I came across in those journeys, I acknowledge the error of my ways. There are better ways of getting points across than to do what I now actively caution others against . . . confirming a false persecution complex. And there are some people that you are not likely to ever reach. So rather than putting religous organisations in the right by confirming their delusions, focus on pushing this old guard aside. As we have been seeing more of in the past 3 years or so. After all, bias may be unacceptable over all, but a bias is only as harmful as the amount of power its proponents hold.
Being silenced or removed from a group or other setting may be unfair, but its still not really censorship. Again, if you do not control the space your currently in, they can control the feedback however they please. Whether discussion is open, topic centralized or non-existant (no outside input) is up to the administration of that space.
For example, on this blog I authorize pretty much everything that is posted in the comment area. Most is criticsm of various pieces I’ve authored in my time here, varying from constructive to ad hominem (this being a typical reaction from an ideologue viewing my post as incorrect due to being written from outside of their given box). The only comments I delete are spam and personal pingbacks. That is to say, MY pingbacks.
If someone links one of my pieces and WordPress puts a pingback in, I leave it for people to explore. But I dont need my own anytime I cross reference to one of my own pieces.
As explained, I run a fairly open comment section. And I (for the most part) respond to anyone that comments. Unless I either forget or deem it unnecessary. Wrestling with pigs, as a friend put it (arguing with people that will never change their minds anyway). But by no means do I HAVE to be this way. Its my blog. I can do whatever the hell I want. Well, within WordPress guidelines.
Same goes with my home. On my property, I can enforce whatever I want (well, within my rental agreement and of course, the law). Im not likely to tell someone to get the hell out, just because. But I can if I want to 🙂 .
A reoccurring theme that many are guilty of (me included at times) is a misuse of the term censorship.
Since censorship typically comes from the official level, the Florida government banning the term climate change from use by government officials, is censorship. Post secondary institution’s banning certain trigger words or phrases, is censorship.
However, “He\She banned me because we are not in total agreement!”?
Not so much.
I will now move into another area of misunderstanding, when it comes to free speech. The exemption argument.
This one is yet another product of the misunderstanding of the free speech philosophy. But I think its fairly easily corrected, since many do not realize the barriers they may have until they are pointed out.
Were dealing primarily in the realm of the offensive here. Which can be tricky, since what offends one person may not bother 10 others in the slightest. The idea that there are some topics and subjects that should always be respected (translation: not mocked). Though the subject matter is differing to each person (for the most part), many people have one topic that they deem as off limits.
I personally am not easy to offend. Most of the time, I am the one offending other people. The most fun instances are not the people that you already know will be put off by something you share. Its more, the people that you unexpectedly strike a nerve with.
My favorite example happened when the CEO of Korean Air caused a ruckus on a KAL flight to Seoul, over macadamia nuts not being served on a plate (known as The Nut Incident). When I shared that out of amusement, a Korean guy I know was offended and wanted it removed. He’s a nice guy but . . . HELL NO!
Though I am not easily offended, I to have a bit of a list. The one that jumps to mind right away, is rape jokes. They are not something I find funny usually. Though that’s the only one that occurs to me now, other “Oh know they DIDN’T!” topics will likely be discovered later. Just like any other person.
But one thing I do not say, is that everyone should avoid using rape jokes (just because its offensive to me or others). I just do not pursue the media of Daniel Tosh or anyone else that has no issue with utilizing such humor. Though in all honesty, I would not be pursuing the humor of comedians like Daniel Tosh anyway (I cant take the whole offend for the sole sake of offending thing seriously). Its easy and low hanging fruit that even I could pick, if I so desired (anything that I could duplicate with relative ease, is not worth spending attention or money on).
Another area of offense to me, are people vocalizing (sometimes with pride) extremely racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise bigoted opinions, as though it’s still 1955.
Coming across these viewpoints is a fairly common occurrence where I live, the Canadian Prairies. As a friend once told me, the only places less progressive than the Canadian Prairies in terms of the gay community (and really, most any other community aside from the status quo), is the deep south of the US and some areas of Africa.
I have said before that I do not feel overtly persecuted for being a freethinker within this bubble of intellectual abyss. And really, I do not (though not much better than some areas of the Southern US, even marginal differences are differences).
That said, it does not take much to find the bias in many cases. Be it just below the surface, or in your face.
I have people all over this spectrum in my social group. The ones that offend me the most, are those with the most stupidly uninformed yet regimented views. But as annoyingly stupid and antithetical as these views are to where the species has progressed intellectually (well, a small part of it), I do not demand that they shut up. This does not mean that I won’t call out a view that I deem to be REALLY stupid. There are just, better ways to deal with the situation.
And besides, as the recent progression in Ottawa illustrates, these views are becoming marginalized anyway. So even if these people can not (or WILL not) be educated, they are losing power anyway.
I do not have to go much further in terms of the exceptions of free speech. Other than otherwise dictated by law, what is sacred and/or over the line for an individual is not (and SHOULD NOT) be an influencer on their free speech understanding. Simply because, your likely to find an exception with almost anyone, in almost any topic. If you start making alterations for everyone’s lines, whats left?
Rather than expecting the world to conform to the specifications of your safe space, do what the rest of society does. Tune out. Ignore. Change the channel. Grow a thicker skin.
Because frankly, the world is a diverse and hostile place. You can accept that and move on. Or you can deny it, and have reality bite you in the ass sometime down the road when you least expect it.
The choice is yours.
I want to next move into, the free speech dichotomy. This is common in the marketplace of ideas (particularly online, where dichotomies often reign in the vacuums absent of true intellectual feedback).
The most common perception and representation of this is the All or nothing philosophy. You can not have exemptions for anything. Either nothing is sacred and off the table, or its not truly Free Speech. Sometimes accompanied by “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
Charlie Hebdo comes to mind. I would be very curious how many of the westerners that went to bat for the paper after its attack (and who have spoken those words), would put their money where their mouth is. Actually get between Islamic militant, and newspaper staff.
But I suppose that is a question that will never be answered, unless the situation presents itself. Which one can only hope never happens (even of it would put many people in their place).
Either way, this section’s purpose is to question the free speech dichotomy. Or false dichotomy, as it could be seen. Is absolute freedom of speech really necessary in the marketplace of ideas?
Most of the time, the answer to this question is a flat out “Yes!”, with any criticism of such a view interpreted as a misunderstanding of what free speech represents. The all or nothing dichotomy.
But, is it a false dichotomy?
One thing that many (most?) of these free speech dichotomy proclaimers often fail to consider, are the potential side effects of speech, particularly speech from a public pulpit (such as radio or television). Or simply, what one may be fostering in allowing free reign of any ideology.
First of all, I am not aligning myself with any agenda promoting extremes on either side of the political spectrum. Neither the squeaky clean inoffensive speech promoting right, nor the regressive and often sex and race baiting progressive left. What follows is an exploration of ideas, a thought experiment. Not a pointed argument prompting an ideology.
When it comes to repercussions of absolute free speech, as previously eluded, I am speaking beyond feelings and emotions (triggers if you will). Though this has become a common argument of the progressive left lately, I do not consider most of their arguments for free speech alterations, because they range from silly to totally unhelpful. This whole business of having everyone avoid this word or that because someone of some group may take offense. Or providing a safe space to shelter ones self from an offensive argument (sometimes an argument from a self proclaimed feminist!). Its utter stupidity that serves no other purpose than to further regress many of the groups that they claim to be helping.
Like many of the feel good self esteem boosting programs in schools and all over social media, sheltering yourself from the realities of the world only delays having to deal with them, and impairs your abilities to be ready to deal with them.
Another issue primarily with the self esteem stuff, is self delusion (that is, is it a factor?).
An example that I can think of, is with overweight people (the whole “big is beautiful” thing). I agree that promoting people to have a healthy self image is a good thing. Embrace yourself as you are, and fuck everyone else.
However, it is indisputable that being overweight even to a slight degree, can (and often) comes with consequences. If your a person that fully realizes this and does not care, fine. Its your life.
But do not attempt to fool ANYONE (yourself included) by thinking that your choices are healthy choices just because they promote a healthy frame of mind.
But moving on, we will now explore, free speech ramifications. These are an indirect result of either common inflammatory speech, or inflammatory speech from a public pulpit of some sort.
One instance that comes to mind, is the murder of Dr Tiller. Murdered by Scott Roeder in 2009, he is thought to have been heavily influenced by right wing and fundamentalist Christian media sources that either actively justified the murder of abortion providers, or did not condemn the possible outcome.
And speaking of abortion, a more recent example of this would be the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs. After the fraudulent right wing organisation put out a skewed picture of Planned Parenthoods practices, and the right wing media (along with some GOP presidential contenders!) whipped the righteous right into a frenzy of irrational anger, Robert Lewis Dear was the first to take things into his own hands.
Then you have Donald Trump and his types. Due to both a strong media presence of immigration and Donalds lack of a filter, the issue has been whipped up to such extremes that crime against (primarily) Muslims is up in the US, and likely elsewhere to. There is also a rise in crimes against those of the Sikh faith, being that racially motivated idiots often only see a turban, and fail to interpret an entirely separate religion.
But to be fair, I can not entirely put this on Donald Trump. Though he is hitting the right notes to get on the side of the scourge of modern day America, he is only kindling a flame that was already there to begin with. Most of us likely know who these people are in our circle of friends due to social media memes.
Though the last 2 examples were from the right side of the spectrum, the left is not immune to this sort of thing.
One example comes with the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement since the death of Trayvon Martin. Though the Zimmerman debacle kicked off the whole situation, it was a decades old powder keg that was bound to go sooner or later. And modern day social media turned out to be the fuse needed to kick off the movement.
Now, where the movement ended up going (off the rails), is unfortunate. But that tends to be the nature of headless social movements. You do not need correct ideals to hijack the limelight, you just need strong ideals. Then before you know it, your cause is a joke and is soon a distant memory of dissent gone awry (Idle no more? Feminism?).
But where the cause is now is a different matter to what was happening within it a year or so ago. Like any other cause like this, the banner served as universal to anyone that wanted to align with it.
And some unfortunately were stirring up a whole lot of rhetoric (some bordering on hate) towards the police.
It was another dangerous powder keg.
One that went off with the shooting of Brooklyn NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Behind the gun, was Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley. Allegedly outraged over the conclusions of both the Eric Garner and Micheal Brown trial conclusions, he took vigilante action.
When it comes to all of the incidents listed above, there are likely other factors to consider as well (one of them being mental health). But you could say that they all come back to, inflammatory speech.
To the free speech purest, having all of these ideas out and in the open is important. Ideas without merit, they say, are easily discarded from the free marketplace of ideas.
I agree with the logical reasoning of this. Those ideas of utter ridiculousness will likely fall, while good ones stay afloat.
But while this is a good assumption in theory, we have to take into consideration, the real world. In order for this to work best in reality, you need a populace with at least a basic underpinning of education and logical reasoning. In order to be able to spot and shout down a bad idea, you must first be able to recognize it as such.
Short of this, you get . . . current day reality. Situations like, the one that underpins both the Bernie Sanders AND the Donald Trump campaigns. Supporters see the same reality. They were downsized and fucked over in life. Though a reality on the ground level since as far back as the early to mid nineties (as portrayed by many of Micheal Moore’s works over the years, starting with Roger and Me), this did not catch up to the upper reaches of Wall Street until 2008. And that was only because the glorified ponzi scheme that resulted from banking deregulation collapsed under its own weight. A system run and shaped by psychopaths by design, ended up eating itself alive. Because though the designers seen the benefits of psychopathy and hiring people with such traits for their businesses, they never took into consideration that they may sacrifice their own institution in the process.
A calculated risk that nearly tanked the world economy.
Either way, everyone that is a victim of the psychopathic action of day to day corporate business decisions (pre AND post 2008) knew that they were fucked over from above. However, vulnerability to manipulation on account to ignorance ended in part of this group having a different focus for their anger.
Many that were wise enough to see though the bullshit, support Bernie. Many that unfortunately do not, support Trump.
Another example of a flaw in the free marketplace of ideas, is in areas that require some expertise to understand.
For this, I will reference a fellow named Gad Saad.
He is familiar to the secular community for taking on SJW’s, but he also does work in the field of evolutionary psychology. He has been doing many interviews and secular podcasts, so he is getting himself (and his ideas) a lot of exposure.
My first exposure to him, was his interview on the Drunken Peasants (a podcast I no longer follow).
When I heard this, to my ears, many of his ideas as presented (pertaining to his work in evolutionary psychology) made a lot of sense. I could follow it in my mind.
But because I am me (wanting a second, more educated opinion), I reached out to someone much more educated in such things than myself for feedback. As it turns out (I quote), “Gad Saad is an idiot”.
Though it sounded to ME to be a perfectly plausible and logical theory, it has been long ago debunked and dismissed by many intellectuals. Though I do not have the knowledge to follow in detail, its all I needed to know. And it also brought to light an interesting problem.
My reaction to hearing the theories as presented will not be all that different to anyone else listening to the DP podcast, or any in which its mentioned really. If most of the hosts are not educated enough to spot the problems, and most of the listeners either do not look it up (difficult) or have intellectuals to run these things by, they will be none the wiser.
An example that is less tied down into a small population segment, would be conspiracy theories. There are many of these, of all different kinds. The open marketplace of ideas dictates that they all be open to criticsm. Okay.
Let’s take an example. 9/11. The controlled demolition theory.
Many people view this theory, and conclude favorably to it based on “evidence”. Often, this amounts to pseudo-experts laying out their perfectly plausible case, sometimes backed by out of context media reports or quotes. Though the trained eye sees a string of bullshit, the untrained eye sees a framework assembled in their mind.
To really be able to consider ideas like the controlled demolition theory, the most important factor is even a layman understanding of physics.
The width of the buildings. The width of the 767s that hit both towers, both wingspan and fuselage. The airspeed, but most importantly, weight of both aircraft (both were designated “heavy”, thus were over 136 tonnes or 300,000 pounds. Much of that in fuel for the 6 hour flight to LA). The damage done within the structures on impact. The effects of the heat from the burning jet fuel and building contents on the structural load limits of the building . . .
Though I have never really taken this on in depth, having taken this all into consideration, the outcome matches the series of events as presented. Steel weakens after direct and prolonged exposure to searing heat. The exposed steel of each tower was holding up 10 and 25 floors worth of weight above the point of impact. So it makes perfect sense that the tower with the most load over the point of impact, was also the first to fall.
The above is not as much an issue of free speech, as it is with open marketplace of ideas. While its a good system in terms of allowing everyone to have a say, requirements for it to work properly are:
A.) The people participating within the marketplace need a minimum of education
B.) The people participating in the marketplace need to be accepting of their limits of knowledge, and others strengths of knowledge
Without these 2 factors, the ability for the bad ideas to be weeded out, is weakened or eliminated. Until you arrive where we are today . . . a world where bad ideas now are almost equally weighted to factually backed ideas.
But while bad ideas and theories are annoying, I would not say that they are usually harmful. Indeed, one that falls for many bad ideas is obviously vulnerable to scams or manipulation. But normally being a 9/11 truther (for example) does not lead to drastic consequences. As such, there is no use (or need) for speech restrictions therein.
But racial/gender/other forms of hate speech (or other inflammatory speech directed at anyone) is another matter.
Free speech purists like to say “I may not agree with what you say, but I would defend to the death, your right to say it“. The marketplace of free ideas will take care of it, etc.
We already know that inflammatory speech based on race, gender etc are bad, beyond where we are as a species. We already know that nothing good can come of such speech. And we know that negative consequences can arise out of these inflammatory bad ideas. Given this, why is it so important that these ideas are to be given equal footing?
It has already been established that they are NOT equal. And by having them up for debate, they only get more exposure. So if we have already finished the debate (racism = BAD!), why is it so important to protect this viewpoint? Its stupid, and can lead in some very dangerous directions.
No one is going to stop racism, sexism etc. These are going to be a part of the species until we draw our last breath. And I don’t think its right to mandate this stuff out by law either. In the same way that using the justice system is a risky way to deal with schoolyard bullying, your asking for problems in prosecuting individuals for biases.
However, why do these dangerous ideas need megaphones? Its one thing to have the internet, and all the coalitions it forms. But prominent and nationally syndicated radio personalities? Dedicated pseudo-news channels?
Freedom of speech is important. But the absolutest and purist mentality that many surround around the philosophy, should be examined beyond the proverbial slippery slope argument.