2012-10-04

Speech and its freedoms

Freedom of speech is interesting. Everyone is throwing it around in every conceivable context. I has always been interested in principled constructs like these. Like most people I tend to get more outraged over hypocrisy than murder, and this attention to principles and adhering to them or not, led me down the round the road to thinking about the principles themselves, their definition and consequences.

Freedom of speech is a tricky one. It's deceptively simple: anyone's got the right to speak his or her mind.

Very fair!

Let's presume for arguments sake that no one ever is persecuted by the government for political views, etc. As far as the law is concerned, let's say we live in a perfect world. Even though we don't it's quite easy to spot when the government is infringing. I am interested contexts where people are obstructing each other's right, and more precisely, I am curious about how this shit actually works.

I read somewhere that implicit in freedom of speech is the freedom to listen/read/ingest. It makes sense that if speech is free it would be kind of silly to say you can't listen.

So, say your university invited someone to speak, someone with unpopular views, say a holocaust denier. Everyone, or a loud rawdy bunch at least, on campus are up in arms. On the date and time in question the bunch, righteous, angry and loud file into the auditorium. It maintains such a volume that it's impossible for the speaker to make himself heard. Eventually he gives up and walks off the stage.

What happened? Did the righteous win a glorious victory?
Did the rowdy crowd exercise its freedom of speech? What about the speaker who was drowned out? And what about those who wanted to listen to the speaker?

Do views that are unpopular carry with them the need for an excellent sound system? How can you guarantee freedom of speech if your ability to speak and listen is determined by outside variables, such as in this instance the benevolence of the crowd or the means to outshout it?

I wrote a while back about a context where I found myself considering if all speech is worth protecting. In this instance it's so easy, unless you're an aniti-semite, because they bad guy got booed out. The good guys won!

But it could just as easily have been a Darwinian booed out of a Christian university.

Then there is the twist! Recently there had been a lot of articles about how global warning is represented in media. Studies have shown that in attempts to provide "the whole picture" media has given much(!!!) more room to climate change deniers than they should have. The general consensus seems to be that 97% of scientists agree that global warming is man made. Writing a balanced article, that presents both sides, tend to be 50/50, which inflates the importance and strength of the deniers.

Is it worth protecting the voice of the minority if its importance is questionable and if it risks lending credence to that voice?

It seems so simple and so right to say yes, absolutely! But it's so easy to see the individual's position with regards to a group's as needing protection. We have come full circle now, and we're back at the righteous shouting crowd.

I'd have to say that, because the crowd, regardless of how enlightened it is, is in a position of power, the speaker and listeners need to be protected. The crowd looses nothing from being quiet and listening and then speaking. The only possible justification for its behavior is that the speaker is so controversial that he'll have better reach than any of the people representing the bunch.

But that's one of the privileges of holding the popular opinion, everyone already agrees with you.

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