“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” — George Orwell
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — By Evelyn Beatrice Hall, but often attributed to Voltaire
“The belief that one’s own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions.” — Paul Watzlawick
Free speech is under attack in America. Censorship of even popular ideas and deplatforming are now common, we’re regularly seeing people threatened with losing their jobs for expressing views much of the country agrees with and free speech polling numbers are grim among young Americans. In a poll done by the Campaign for Free Speech, 50% of Americans 18-34 thought “hate speech” shouldn’t be allowed. Another 70% of people in that age range thought some groups they disagreed with should have their speech restricted by the government. Sadly, even many conservatives don’t take this issue as seriously as they should because many of us incorrectly believe that government is the only danger to free speech. Unfortunately, that is not true. If people believe they have to risk their jobs, doxxing, or even potentially being the target of violence to publicly state an opinion, then those people are not truly free to speak. Unbelievable as it may seem, even here in America, we need to explain why free speech is important.
1) Beliefs change over time: At one time or another in various cultures, everything from slavery to human sacrifice to burning women alive on their husband’s funeral pyres were considered to be mainstream beliefs. With that in mind, the level of arrogance it takes to think that everything you believe will stand the test of time is staggering. Furthermore, if speech that challenged the way the mainstream thought or upset various groups had simply been banned, 95% of the advances we’ve seen in civilization would have never happened. We need free speech to tear down bad ideas and lift-up good ones. That’s why the free and open exchange of ideas inevitably produces better outcomes than sticking to dogma.
2) The forbidden is naturally appealing: Human beings are naturally drawn to the forbidden, so what happens when you make certain ideas forbidden? Well, large numbers of people are going to be interested in them for exactly that reason. Moreover, when they seek those ideas out from fringe sources, they’re going to get one side of the story and even the most ridiculous of ideas (a plane didn’t hit the Pentagon on 9/11) can start to seem like a “hidden truth” with no counter-points available.
3) We should be careful about allowing fringe groups to become the spokesmen for popular ideas: If the only fringe groups that are responding to attacks on white people, speaking out against immigration, or questioning the threat of radical Islam, we risk turning those groups mainstream as they articulate relatively popular ideas that “mainstream” groups refuse to touch. In fact, this is how radical political parties keep gaining steam in Europe. It will happen here as well if we’re not careful.
4) Free speech is an important alternative to violence: When you take away people’s ability to convince others that they’re right through peaceful means, the only choices left to them are to give up or engage in violence. Letting people test what they believe in the marketplace of ideas is always preferable to making them feel that it’s impossible for them to be heard without a gun or a Molotov cocktail in their hands.
5) The best way to combat bad speech is with good speech: Censorship and deplatforming make people mentally soft because they don’t have to logically refute bad ideas. After all, if someone claims the earth is flat, children shouldn’t be vaccinated, or that Bush was behind 9/11, what does it say about YOU if you’re incapable of refuting those ideas? We need to be careful not to create a society full of soft minds that are incapable of thinking logically or countering bad arguments because they’re never asked to do it. Show me someone who touts censorship or says that they don’t need to refute ideas because of the motivations of the people holding them and I’ll inevitably show you a poor thinker that can’t make a logical case for what they believe.
This originally appeared on The Dan Bongino Show.