Some time ago, probably somewhere in the middle of a rant, I mentioned something about making things better.
It’s one thing to opine, to criticize, to get down to some serious spittle-flecked raving, but it’s another thing altogether to suggest some ways that we might, collectively or as individuals, make things a little less bile-inducing.
In that spirit, and when my lazy, badly in need of lubrication brain thinks of them, I will try to post some suggestions.
Today’s inaugural topic is: Free Speech.
A lot of people talk a lot of shit regarding the subject, especially online.
Please allow me to offer some thoughts, and maybe – if it seems reasonable to you, dear reader – a way to proceed.
First, we need to make a necessary distinction to avoid confusion.
There are two types of Free Speech.
One type of freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution. It protects one from having one’s speech curtailed by the government.
Dig that, it’s important. The first type of free speech protects the right to say what you will from being censored, shut down, imprisoned or otherwise retaliated against by your government.
That’s important because the second type of Freedom of Speech follows from that legal protection. It is an assumptive ideal within our social discourse.
It is assumed, based on our legal rights that I, or anyone else for that matter, can not stop you from saying whatever the hell you want to say in public.
(Yes, I know there are certain reasonable legal limits concerning libel laws, slander statutes, and crowded theaters. Lets leave those aside for the purposes of this discussion.)
I feel the urge to illuminate this subject because lately, and not for the first time in America, certain groups – both Left and Right – have decided that they need to shut down speech they disagree with.
I didn’t think I needed to point this out, but apparently I do:
Trying to shut down speech you don’t like is patently Un-American.
It goes against one of our foundational ideals.
Now, I’m not going to get into the various name-calling that this subject inevitably brings up.
(Recall, if you will, The Only Rule that Matters: Don’t be a Dick.)
What I want to point out is the utter foolishness of censoring speech of any kind.
There is one way, and one way only to deal with speech you disagree with: Argue against it’s point. Present better ideas. Be persuasive.
(I know that being persuasive and making good arguments require a modicum of skill. Take the time to learn. Your life will improve because of it. Promise.)
Here’s why trying to censor unpopular speech is foolish. It does two things:
1) It sends the speech underground, creating a sub-culture. This gives the idea more weight and energy than it otherwise would have warranted in open discussion.
2) It makes you blind to the types of ideas and notions swirling around in your opponent’s head(s).
You should always know your enemy.
Knowing what makes your perceived opponent tick allows you to engineer around it. Dig under it. Crawl over it. Overcome it with better ideas, and show people the better ideas so they have a legitimate choice.
I think that censoring language is, essentially, a move from a position of fear.
People, as individuals, are fairly ok. They can pick a good idea from a bad one if the sides are presented clearly. To want to stop anyone from hearing an idea is to be afraid that one’s own idea is inferior.
Then it becomes a game of control, not enlightenment.
Ideas can be terrible things.
But they can also be great, and wonderful, and liberating.
We should, at least as Americans, never be afraid of ideas, even ones that make us uncomfortable.
Especially the ideas that make us uncomfortable.
That’s how we grow. That’s how we learn more about ourselves. That is how we find common ground.
That is how we fix things.
Does this mean we have to listen to everybody?
There are some reasonable limits to engagement. If a party does not respect the dialogue or the people trying to have it, then they can be excluded from said dialogue. We should still keep an ear out for what they’re spewing, because, again: know your enemy. But on the whole those types of troublemakers can be disregarded, in a given conversation. This especially includes fucking internet trolls. (FITs, for short).
Notice that I mentioned dialogue/ discussion. That’s important too. It’s important because nothing and no one can be ruled out of dialogue/ discussion in general , (Except, maybe FITs, maybe). One must exercise judgment, in the moment, and with regard to the participants of the discussion and the subject matter being discussed.
I know, I know, no one likes to use their judgment anymore.
What if I’m wrong? What if I look bad?
What about it?
Be wrong occasionally. Look bad.
You learn more being wrong than being right.
(Of that, I speak from copious personal experience.)
But that’s the short and sweet of it:
Listen, argue, exclude when warranted and necessary.
Listen and argue some more.
Repeat, ad infinitum.
We keep that up and things might, by tiny increments and agonizingly slowly, get better.
We have a better shot at it that way than any other.
And it has the benefit, when done correctly, of no one getting hurt.
That’s a plus in my book.
Anyways, now you know.