Free Speech and the Marketplace of Ideas

A defence of free speech for a free society and it's importance in the marketplace of ideas.

4/1/20246 min read

a man in a suit and tie is standing in front of a room full of
a man in a suit and tie is standing in front of a room full of

Hello fellow readers. Welcome to the blog, today we are going to discuss free speech and its importance in any free society. One of, if not the most critical reason for freedom of speech, in my perspective, is to enable citizens to criticise authorities and question their decisions, and especially so in cases of abuse and corruption. It's not just a privilege but a responsibility to challenge those in positions of power if we are to uphold a truly free society.

That guarantees also the ability to formulate your thoughts and ideas in public and to be able to communicate with people who are willing to hear you speak and speak to you. When we delegate to those same authorities the limits of that right, of free speech, you have in effect eliminated such a right. When we push laws that more and more curtail this right and duty even with the intent of protecting vulnerable people or minorities, we destroy free speech and welcome tyranny. So, to say that one cannot offend is to prevent any sort of meaningful serious conversation from happening and that is very dangerous.

Let me be clear: I'm not advocating for the right to deliberately offend others. However, I firmly believe that offense, while uncomfortable, is an unavoidable aspect of engaging in meaningful discourse. It should not be shied away from. Whether we embrace it or not, the ability to challenge and criticize someone's views, especially if they wield public authority, is essential for accountability and progress. In the realm of public office, where power dynamics are at play, it becomes even more crucial to speak "truth to power", even if it means causing offense.

Offense, when rooted in genuine critique and aimed at promoting positive change, can serve as a catalyst for growth and improvement. It challenges entrenched beliefs and encourages individuals to reevaluate their perspectives. While we should strive to express ourselves respectfully and empathetically, we must also recognize that discomfort and offense are sometimes necessary byproducts of meaningful dialogue and progress.

When government is allowed to dictate or restrict when that right can be exercised and who cannot be criticized or offended, specially when it depends on the interpretation of the hearer and not on the content, context or intent of the one who speaks, there is in effect no such thing as freedom of speech. George Orwell once said:

“'If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.'”

In civil society there needs to be a better way to solve conflicts, to allow public disagreements, even serious ones, that does not involve civil or criminal courts, deplatforming or outright censorship. One that does not leverage the force of the government, who in liberal democracies possess the monopoly of violence.

When we outsource these conflicts of opinion and interest to the government, we do not reach a compromise or mutual understanding. All we accomplish is further division and enmity. We enforce our views. We pushed to the side sections of the population, we make them not a part of the discussion, we ostracized them. Many people I know and talk to, do not feel comfortable in expressing their own opinion on religion, sex, gender, racism etc due to their own race, sex, or sexual orientation. White people don't feel comfortable talking about their own experiences with racism for example.

One of F. A. Hayek’s ideas was that the central problem in social and economic theory is that knowledge is unevenly dispersed across members of society. Everyone knows something you don’t. When we leverage a feeling of offence and the power of government to effectively silence people we disagree with, we telegraph that our ideas are not better than theirs, that our ideas would not survive the challenge, that we are afraid and that we cannot combat their speech with better speech. We protect our ideas from other competing ideas, and ultimately, we protect ourselves from correction and understanding and personal growth. Growing up is not comfortable, nor should it be.

The ability to engage in public discussions about serious issues, to voice your opinion, to formulate your thoughts and ideas is paramount to a healthy community, society and a free country. And if we are to have these much needed honest conversations, they are going to offend someone, they are going to hurt someone, and that should not be a reason not to have those conversations. You should want the voices with the most egregious, hateful speech to be listened to by everyone, so they have an opportunity to reject it! And the speaker to have the opportunity to be challenged and corrected!

In fact have you ever had a serious conversation where there was no chance of one of you feeling uncomfortable or hurt, or offended? Free speech is a fundamental tool in this marketplace of ideas, where people can freely communicate, specially with people who possess the opposite opinion. One of the negative effects of social media is that people, naturally, have a tendency to get together in groups where they are all in agreement in terms of politics, hobbies, sex, religion, sports etc… They seldom wilfully engage with groups or other people, whether online or offline, with which they fundamentally disagree and seek some sort of understanding of their position.

One of the many benefits of these exchange of ideas, of civil discourse is that many people whether on the right or left who have never been exposed to certain ideas or to counter-arguments to their position are confronted with opposite point of views that challenge and often free them from extreme point of views.

That used to be Universities and colleges!

Just to give you a real life point of contact. There is a man by the name of Daryl Davis, born in Chicago in 1958, a professional musician, who first by happenstance and later as a calling began to pursue opportunities to talk to KKK members. One of Davis’s first and most notorious encounters was with KKK member and Grand Dragon Robert Kelly, who eventually became the Imperial Wizard of Maryland.

After a series of discussions, Kelly began inviting Davis to his home and eventually to Klan rallies. During these interactions, Kelly openly expressed his beliefs about the perceived inferiority of black people, beliefs that are foundational to the Klan's ideology. Davis however listened, took notes and one by one addressed and counter each of Kelly’s views on race. These two men developed an unlikely friendship. Eventually Kelly quit the Klan, shut down his entire chapter and, gave his robe to Davis. If you google the name of this man Daryl Davis, you’ll realize something very significant.

Daryl Davis is a black man.

Many of the challenges we face today cannot be solved by relying on government intervention. Instead, it's imperative that we actively engage with our neighbors and even strangers in constructive dialogues, even when they may lead to confrontations. Through peaceful and respectful arguments and discussions, where we allow ourselves to be challenged and challenge others in return, we can foster understanding and empathy.

Fear and division only serve to weaken us, leaving us vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. It's far more productive to engage in ideological debates than to descend into civil unrest. Unfortunately, tyranny persists in many parts of the world, we see this in the imprisonment, torture, and even murder of dissenters who dare to speak out against corrupt authorities.

Censorship further exacerbates these issues, stifling dissenting voices and preventing access to unbiased information. Consider the plight of those in North Korea, where citizens are deprived of the truth and have limited access to outside perspectives. This lack of information perpetuates the power of tyrants over their people.

However, amidst these challenges, we must remember the power of free speech. It serves as a beacon of hope, offering the potential to address societal issues at their core. By championing free speech and fostering open dialogue, we can break down barriers, challenge oppressive systems, and ultimately strive towards a more just society.

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a lego - man holding a map and a map