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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Free speech as diversion?

And this is where the arguments about the freedom of speech become most tone deaf. The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered.

Here is the problem with this: freedom of speech has to be content neutral or it is nothing at all. Speech that you disagree with, or that targets "the relatively disempowered," is equally protected. If you believe otherwise, then you don't really believe in free speech at all. It might seem that that's a good move in the short term, but once you undermine the core principle then you can turn around and censor the disempowered voices very easily.

Of course, the language here is loaded: we can only "offend" the powerful," but we "bully" the disenfranchised.


Thomas said...

I agree. This demand that speakers must now have some sort of "ear" for what's appropriate in a given context is frightening. In an important sense, arguments for free speech have to be "tone deaf". After all, it's a principle that is best articulated from behind a Rawlsian "veil of ignorance" where you literally don't know who you're talking to (or even who you are to talk).

Jonathan said...

These same people claim that calls for "civility" or "tone" are unwarranted infringements on free speech.

And they are right.

You can't use tone as an excuse to condemn someone's speech, but that is applicable either way.

I've often thought that Rawlsian ignorance was a good test of judging nationalisms. In other words, you could describe a nationalist position without saying what people it represents, then have others judge it without preconception. Then you take away the veil and voila, maybe you''re political position has been reversed.