Friday, May 22, 2009

Controversy: Part 1

I'd like to start some discussions, if I can, and I think the best way to start a discussion is to voice an opinion that might be controversial and then step back and let others react to it.

To that end, this is the first of a short series of posts where I'll do exactly that. I intend to release the posts daily, and I think I'm only going to do three or four for now.

Please feel free to discuss, argue, agree and disagree in the comments section. All I ask is that everyone to be polite and respectful to everyone else.


Should Freedom of Speech Have Limits?

As a tween-ager, I decided you should read/listen to everyone's point of view, then make up your own mind. Censorship, i.e. obliterating the words of dissenters, struck me as a bully's tactic, even at that age, although I probably couldn't have put that concept into very eloquent words then.

But here's the ugliest wart on the backside of freedom of speech. Hate-speech.

Hate-speech is at the heart of a contradiction that has always unsettled me. On one hand, I do believe in legally limiting people's ability to disseminate hate-speech. On the other, isn't it hypocritical for me to promote freedom of speech, then turn around and say, "but only up to this point"?

It's something I've long been uncomfortable with, and I only recently sorted out a rationalization that satisfies me. It runs something like this:

Freedom of speech exists to champion and glorify communication. Throughout history, humans have dealt with their differences in many brutal ways, but in our best moments, we deal with them by talking it out. When we speak to one another, we gain understanding, we gain knowledge, we gain tolerance, and sometimes, we even fix our problems. In short, when humans beings talk to one another, we become a society instead of a war-zone. I think that's worth glorifying.

Hate-speech, on the other hand, encourages people to stop talking and start hitting. It seeks to halt communication and prevent understanding. It undermines that which freedom of speech exists in order to promote. Thus, I don't believe hate-speech deserves to be protected under freedom of speech; City Hall should not issue digging permits to people who intend to remove the foundations of the city.

I'll defend someone's right to speak about even abhorrent beliefs, so long as they don't advocate silencing anyone else, including those who disagree with them.


What do you think? What limits should freedom of speech have, if any? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: