Monday, August 31, 2009

Conversation Topic 04: Freedom of Speech

I am away from my blog for a couple of weeks. This is an experiment in posting some conversation topics while I am gone.

The two questions to answer relevant to the statement below is are:

• Is it true?

• Is it important?

(4) One of the great absurdities of our age is the self-contradictory nonsense of claiming that the right to freedom of speech implies the right to silence one's critics.


Anonymous said...

No doubt many think this is true, but I'm not sure it is axiomatic - considered true so widely as to it becoming a principle of our society. Certainly our legal system doesn't think it's true. Unless you're talking about religious belief, and the critic is an atheist :-) I enjoy the blog, keep it up! - but please remember brevity is the soul of wit...

Anonymous said...

If I speak of my American relatives I find that if I suggest that something is true that goes against what their particular sect of Christianity holds to be true then not only is my statement false, and I am wrong, but there is no possible evidence (including Biblical quotation)that I can bring that could possibly convince them otherwise.

Luke said...


How could (4) be axiomatic? It's an empirical claim. Not only that, it's relative to a particular time.

I believe (4) is true and important, though I'm too lazy to argue for it right now.

Emu Sam said...

I'd like to be able to silence critics sometimes - such as at bedtime, when I want even those who agree with me to silence.

Or in a shouting match, when you can't understand either side.

Or in an organized debate when one side isn't following the rules of letting their opposition have a turn.

In the comments section of a blog, I understand that the original poster or whoever controls the (private) forum may prevent the opposition from having their say, since presumably the opposition can also create blogs.

But you shouldn't be able to prevent them from creating a blog, and no one who would try to would get an honest lawyer to do more than explain why it's illegal and unethical.

I'm trying to remember some common forms of this claim, such as "I have a right to free speech, so shut up." Most people I interact with would be aware of the irony when phrased like that, but there are more insidious ways it can be used, where it might sneak under the radar of even a usually intelligent person who's not looking out for it.

Part of the problem may be a misunderstanding of what freedom of speech means. It's there primarily to protect those who have unpopular opinions, since people holding popular ones are unlikely to be silenced. Many people don't think it out. They encounter "freedom of speech" and never follow it to conclusions about how they interact with others.

Whateverman said...

Doesn't seem "true" to me. I don't find many people who confuse the freedom of speech with the freedom to suppress opposing opinion.

However, I *do* think it's important, in a sense, because the two notions conflict with each other. You can actually find people who advocate both simultaneously.

If I was going to change your statement, I would do so as follows:

One of the great absurdities of our age is Cognitive Dissonance

Eneasz said...

One of the great facts of every age is Cognitive Dissonance. In face of the facts, one must alter their strategies, and not merely bemoan that the facts are what they are.

(and for the record, I consider the topic to be true, but easily defeated by pointing out it's absurdities and thus not terribly important. I may be wrong on the second part tho.)

Dan Doel said...

I'm not sure if this is what Alonzo meant, but it isn't uncommon to see people invoking "freedom of speech" as a defense against any criticism of something they've said.

You might see it in the comment section of a high-traffic blog, or forums, for instance. Someone new will post something the residents think is silly, and will be met with mocking and harsh criticism of their points. In response, they'll claim that the everyone else is trying to stifle their speech.

So there do seem to be a fair amount of people out there who take "freedom of speech" to mean "I have a right to say whatever I want, and others' criticism is discouraging that, and impinging on my right." That of course is rather inconsistent, as it denies everyone else a similar right to say whatever they want. It's confusing censorship through force with one's self-censoring their dumb ideas out of a desire to not be mocked/criticized.

I don't have any idea how common this conception of free speech is, but I've definitely seen it before.