Philosophy and Free Speech

Censorship is not alien to Philosophy

Many philosophers have suffered actual censorship in their time, because of controversial ideas. Sometimes, this censorship was self-imposed, other times it was imposed by the governing body. Socrates was tolerated, until he began to direct people away from the dogmatic sophists. Spinoza was ostracized for his views that did not always go hand-in-hand with that of the Church. Voltaire was put to prison, as was his close friend Diderot.

Karl Marx had to escape most of the countries in which he resided because of his writings. Michael Bakunin was imprisoned repeatedly and even got sick to the point of losing his teeth, in prison, all for his ideas. Bertrand Russell was put in prison because of his pacifist doctrine. Philosophers that were sympathetic to communists were made as enemies of the American people, during McCarthyism and the Red Scare.

So, if there are people in this world that know how it feels to be censored, it is the philosophers. Most of those that have had some kind of impact have had to censor themselves or had their work censored at one point or another. Other times, philosophers were behind the censoring of other philosophers. Marx, for exemple, did try to sully Bakunin’s reputation, to keep him from gaining the popularity he was enjoying. Bakunin himself, in the end, admitted that Marx’s ideas had a practical usage that his did not.

Yet, Bakunin himself has known but a fraction of the popularity that Marx did. Martin Heidegger, to whom we owe the groundbreaking “Being and Time”, was a nazi supporter. Therefore, it remains to be said whether philosophers are impervious to the evils they denounce. History seems to clearly indicate that they are not, and that alone should serve as a humbling realization for any one person looking to become a philosopher.

True wisdom is never attained, it is merely sought out.

The Limits of Free Speech

Philosophers have almost always proclaimed that ideas should be free to be expressed, whatever they may be. It was their opponents who typically professed otherwise. Yet, as I have explained above, they themselves were not immune from the desire to see certain speeches censored to their own profit. With that being said, is Free Speech absolute, in all ways? There seems to be a sacrosanct idea of Free Speech, that makes it untouchable. As if God’s word itself, to a religious zealot, proponents of Free Speech will demand that any opinion, no matter how vile and destructive, should be given its space to express itself.

I should ask the person who has such considerations whether they believe it is useful to behave this way. Of course, philosopher Normand Baillargeon in an interview for Radio-Canada said: “If you do not let your opponent speak, you may not know his arguments and it is only in knowing them that you may be able to defeat them on their own terms.” That is absolutely true, and I find no objection to it aside from one little thing, which I cannot address to Baillargeon himself but to those who profess, like himself, the sacrosanct idea of Free Speech.

Immediately, when one demands: “Is everything englobed by Free Speech?” the response is a resounding protest of accusations of fascism, before the question can even be investigated. One should conclude, if one is not too hypocritical, that Free Speech does not appear to allow discussion about itself. It is thus denied to any one person, to question “what” is Free Speech, other than the unalienable right to speak your mind on any subject, the way you wish.

We come upon a paradox that shows that Free Speech has a nasty underside: It is defenseless against scrutiny. It requires the people to uphold it, else it becomes the tool one can utilize to censor speech that does not favour them. That is a problem in itself, simply because there are types of speech that can harm and harm deeply. To the point of death.

Hate Speech

Hate speech is not protected by Free Speech clauses. “What is hate speech?” one may ask. Hate speech is spoken word with the intention to promote the destruction either material or immaterial of a person or ideas. That is not enough, now is it? That leaves things far too open to interpretation.

Let’s take this to the dictionary.com website.

speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color,religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

Let’s look at the first three words. What speech consists as an “attack” on another group? One could say that it is speech that says, for exemple: “Muslims are always around when we talk about “terrorism”. Coincidence? I think not!”

This speech may seem innocuous and even comical at best, in a sadistic kind of way. Yet, there is intend behind this phrase. The amalgamation is made to extend an entire category of people as being part of another category of people of whom we think are horrible and unworthy of consideration. It ceases all rational discussion and shifts it into the realm of justifying a specific group’s continued existence in our society.

Now, if we use critical thought to inspect “muslims”, is it likely that some of them do wish to kill all unbelievers? Yes, but do all of them wish to do so? No. How can we resolve this? That’s a question that should be asked before one proclaims that all muslims are terrorists.

Were I to take a group who has in its very doctrine the elimination of all those who are not of them and their only reason to be in power is to do so, I might have a bit more trouble with their statement. Especially if they were the ones who had made that phrasing in the first place. One could easily move in time back during Nazi Germany and find commentators saying that Jews were in general the cause of economic duress for the German people. Nazis, unlike Muslims, are politically motivated, whereas Muslims are religious people with a variety of beliefs. Nazis seek the systematic destruction of all those who oppose them, not so for Muslims.

That speech led to genocide, but it was allowed. It was even promoted! That leads us to the next part of our analysis of Free Speech’s limits.

Reach

Combine hate speech with the reach it has, and you can find that it is quite easy to use Free Speech to fit one’s needs of propaganda. A paper like Breitbart is certainly using its powerful media platform and Presidential support as a way to push forth ideas of non-inclusion and if need be, of White Supremacy. Those ideas used to be marginalized, and people fought against them, but right now, in America, people aren’t fighting against them as much. The need for cultural unity has made White Supremacy not such an alien concept from National Pride. That is what happened with the Nazis, who were called the “National Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany”. The belonging to Germany was in the title. What has led many people to think “socialism” is the same as “nazism” is because the word exists in the party’s name. Yet, one has to take the entire title into account.

“National” – means pride of country.

“Socialist” – means collectivist.

“Workers” – means a specific class of people.

“Party” – a political organization.

“of Germany” – belonging, intrinsic to Germany.

Beyond the word “socialist”, the rest of the party’s identification is crystal clear: It is a party which intends to restore pride to the collective, starting by the working people, who are considered to be the true Germans. Now, considering Germany was undergoing significant economic trauma, and this economic trauma mostly affected German workers, who were non-jews in majority… The picture starts to draw itself.

When hate speech begins to have reach as significant as the Nazi Party did, it is no longer stoppable, and the first thing hate speech does when it receives political power, is to restrain the speech of others. Donald Trump, the President of America is currently going through the same motions to impede on Free Speech, as the Nazi Party did in Nazi Germany. Only, thankfully, the Americans are protected by a constitution that some still wish to uphold, even in the face of a tyrannical President and his administration of bullies and liars.

Clearly, I am not objective when it comes to Trump, and I do think it is important not to be, because if there is one thing tyrants prevail with, it is people who remain on the sidelines and watch as they destroy everything around them. The tactic of “wait and see” does not apply, when hate speech begets such enormous reach. Ethically speaking, I cannot find myself capable of admitting speech that would destroy the idea of Free Speech itself.

Parsimony

And here comes the third problem with Free Speech, it is that it has as many interpretations of itself as there are peoples and everyone believes they have the best interpretation of it. It is impossible for any one person to find the perfect balance, but that begins with lining the Free Speech idea with a specific end-goal. We intend to have an open society, but what serves an open society if that openness is used against itself?

We reproach of anarchists the very same thing about their ideas of self-management, yet the same people who do so, then decry any attempts to impede upon free speech. There appears to be a disconnect between reason and speech. In comes the fallacy of compromise, which permeates free speech. What use is there for someone to listen to both sides of a discussion, where one is obviously false?

There is no debate that should be had about whether the Earth is flat. It is not. This would not be considered censorship but rather a refusal to entertain ideas maintained by utter falsehoods. The same would have to apply to ludicrous ideas on both ends of the spectrum, whereof in the end, only a search for truth would be worth speaking about, based on the subject.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will realize there is a hypocrisy in deeming Free Speech off limits to any authority, but then to refuse the existence of an anarchist society, due to the risk of people seizing power for themselves. That is the exact same problem that has always plagued Free Speech, yet it has never held the same kind of scorn that Anarchism has.

In conclusion

There is no ideal way to model Free Speech, but there is no way to ensure that Free Speech is maintained if there are no safeguards for it. Anarchists would ensure that consensus is reached by all before changing things in society, and we are doing the same thing with Free Speech: It is in itself an anarchist concept, where no authority unworthy of the name can modify it. Yet it requires modification or else it will be easily molded to fit any one political ideologue’s agenda.

Right now, its future is in the hands of fascists. I will let you consider what needs to be done.

 

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