07 April 2015

The benefits of free speech exceeds the costs

Two Bangladeshi bloggers have been murdered in the past month by "defenders of Islam" who think critics should be killed.

This New Yorker post recounts their plight in context:
In Putin’s Russia, as in Narendra Modi’s India and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, majorities are on the side of silent conformity, and respect for dissent is disappearing under waves of nationalism. In India, books are frequently withdrawn after publication because of dubious legal cases brought on behalf of supposedly aggrieved groups...

The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception.
The whole point of free speech is NOT that people will not say stupid things, but that all people should say what they want in the course of learning, forming opinions and interacting. The fact that some speech will always offend somebody does not imply that it is good or agreeable but the alternative -- say nothing that might offend someone -- is far worse.

Governments, religions and businesses that want to shut down free speech in favor of censored thought are not interested in what's right for society but in maintaining their power in an atmosphere of ignorance, fear and paranoia. Free speech threatens them, just as it serves the people -- by bringing important matters up for discussion.

Sadly, it is hard for those who speak out for all of us because they are targeted. That's why the US government has imprisoned Chelsea Manning, why Edward Snowden is stuck in a Moscow airport, why Putin keeps murdering critics, and why China, Iran, Eritrea and other countries have imprisoned hundreds of journalists in record numbers. Those journalists (but also bloggers, comedians and others) are working for us, and we should support them. The easiest way to do so is to strengthen their voices by also speaking out.

1 comment:

  1. However, it would be really challenging for the government to truly protect those who make bold statements, especially in cases like Charlie Hebdo. At LUC I feel like I always carry self censorship with myself because to me it is such a politically correct place to have diverse opinions. I appreciate the advocation for freedom of speech, but I just don't think it is achievable.

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