One Less Myth

Limiting Free Speech

We shouldn't limit free speech!
Of course we should!
As a society we have a concept that a person should not be allowed to yell fire in a crowded theater for fun
Obviously, because it creates a serious threat of harm
But it's a slippery slope that ends in people with different views being repressed
There is always a risk of going too far with restricting speech. It's an important right, and we must guard it
In order to claim the slippery slope argument though, we must be able to back it up
Simply because we adjust the line of what is allowed, it does not mean we're sliding into a world without free speech
When we limit the free exchange of ideas, we create a repressive society, where those in power control what ideas are acceptable
That already happens far too often. McCarthyism is a great example. Banning Critical Race Theory is another
The purpose of a free exchange of ideas is to create a society with a brighter, less harmful future. Putting safeguards around the spread of harmful speech is also an important part of getting to that less harmful future
We should be able to challenge ideas, even when it's unpopular
Of course! And we should recognize that ideas can have serious impacts on others lives
We should not expect that advocating for harmful ideas should be devoid of consequences.
Well not all ideas are harmful. There are schools that refuse to teach controversial ideas like evolution
Not all ideas are equal. Some ideas are useless or unprovable, such as the notion of flying unicorns.
Useless ideas might be fun to debate in casual settings, but have no place in education. Just because some folks want to discuss them doesn't mean the institution is acting in bad faith
Education should be about exploring what we know, and robust debate on the things at the limits of our knowledge. Debating the existence of flying unicorns in biology, for instance, wouldn't further that goal.
But we have a right to free speech!
Every right we have comes with limitations
I have the right to carry a gun, but not the right to use it to kill my neighbor
I have the right to drive a vehicle down the road, but only under specific conditions and regulations
Our rights always end when they represent significant harm to others
Ok sure, but I think a certain regulation goes too far. I still have the right to say something that other's don't agree with
Yes you do, in a public space at least. It's important though to recognize that speech cannot be divorced from power and consequences
The harm in hate speech is not the words themselves, but that when they come from a position of power, those words are too often accompanied by physical force, or the threat thereof
When we allow threats and intimidation without consequences, it leads to increased violence against those marginalized groups
It is not enough to consider whether we have the right to say something harmful. We must also consider whether we ought to have the decency not to