Defending the Right to Shout Back

Terrorists kill people. They do this because they disagree with a point of view and retort with violence, sometimes after posting a video blog. While we know violence is not a solution, sometimes it is the answer required.

Freedom of speech has been highlighted recently. There have been articles and discussions in favour of allowing all points to be listened to without censorship. It has been argued that blocking any voice is harmful, and that the freedom to say things should come with a freedom of not being persecuted and even killed for any viewpoint. That’s almost true.

What is wrong with this is that some people think the freedom of speech means that every view should be tolerated carte blanche, and that would fundamentally counter progress and education.

The intention of debate is to come to an agreement on a topic. The freedom to raise any viewpoint helps achieve a conscientious, perhaps with compromise. Without raising every viewpoint a topic can not be rigorously challenged. Without testing an idea in every way it can not be considered pure enough to be worth adopting.

The challenging of ideas is essentially an opinion promoted by Plato. The theory is that life is about finding truth, and that this is done by finding a doctrine that is the hardest to disprove. Free speech allows us to constantly test and also remind us of what our beliefs in life are. It is important to continually challenge ideas, otherwise society would never change laws such as those pertaining to women’s rights, racial discrimination, religious virtue or sexual equality.

The point is, that while it is important to challenge the values we have by listening to opposing views, it is not good to accept or tolerate contrary views if the argument is easily disproved. The volume of proof highlighting that immunisation is good suggests those who oppose this are harming public health, the volume of proof highlighting the negative impacts of excessive waste generation suggests that those who oppose this are harming the planet, and the volume of conciousness that terrorism is not a solution suggests that those who commit these crimes are harming society.

It is not good to limit speech, but when the only impact of the speech is known to be purely negative it should therefore be permissible to shout it down and limit its exposure, but not to silence it. Those with opposing views should be engaged, but freedom of speech is not an excuse for having a solitary opinion. An opinion should be open to debate, otherwise it will never arrive at a doctrine of truth that is hardest to disprove. It should be engaged and when it wavers it is seen as lacking credibility.

People support their common opinions by rallying or voting to give it validation. These people might not be the greatest at debating topics, which itself is a unique skill and thus can augment the results, but by showing popularity in numbers a shared belief can be established. Should this be viewed as the public conciousness then governments have a duty to support that view.

The process of education is to listen to speech and point out the flaws in the concept. This means challenging those who have the equal right to free speech. The rigour of discussion can fail to meet a solution when one party does not accept base facts, such as accepting rights of gender and racial equality. It is in these situations that lasting disagreements can occur that splinter society, though in most cases these arguments are solved by the adage “agreed to disagree”. This would be ok and satisfies the need to challenge one another’s free speech, but we have to go further.

It is unfortunate but some people only listen to violence, it is held in their physiology and aided by other validation. Pushed to the boundaries of society counter views survive in small groups, which in media are called communes or cells. The validation of their beliefs becomes their uniting factor, and with this strength comes confidence (itself a needed emotion), and thus stubbornness, resilience, and righteousness.

The problem here is war can result. To prevent this governments intervene with such things as passport control, laws on association, and even international incursions. This is evidence of how a speech of dissidence is prevented the same public platform as those of acceptance or popular belief. It is a difficult balancing act of government policy on how to limit discussion and the rise of views that enrage society, and this is currently being tested in Australia. The goal is that government and security action is to be reserved only for unique issues of great derision. But what are these?

If we accept that very few issues should require government assistance to ensure peace, that all issues are open to debate with free speech allowing all sides to be voiced, and that education and advancement requires some beliefs to be held as true, then the question becomes: What are the base beliefs we should hold? This is a different question and one society knows itself.

One aid for identifying the mood of the people is comedy. If something is not funny it is not a fair, unthreatening and reasonable thing, such as rape jokes are not humorous to many – despite still being attempted, under this view, by those who would accept a society with rape as common. So while comedy is a good medium to allow all views to be voiced, it is not perfect and perhaps is only a starting point for discussion of alternative ideas.

Remember, without having challenged religious viewpoints the age of enlightenment and growth of science could never have occurred, and yet the challenging of religion is still a contentious issue. It is for this reason that we allow Nazis to rally, and homophobes to write articles, and masochists to enter politics, because one day, however unlikely given the proven history of faults in those doctrines, it might come to light that there is sense in their viewpoint. This does not mean that we have to listen or encourage them if we don’t agree.

We should, and do, shout back at vile concepts. We need to so that social evolution can continue. Society, globally, has to arrive at a better place than were it started, and by freedom of speech we must allow for debate, if only to firm our beliefs. We also must accept the right of other people not to listen if debate comes to an impasse, even if that will exclude them from your society, and to never to be satisfied to resolve the impasse through violence.


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