Friday, July 31, 2009

Free Speech

What is free speech? I suppose some would think that free speech is the right to freely voice our thoughts, to speak our twopence. However, that is not all. We often neglect the second, and more important element, which is the reciprocal duty to have others, even those who hold opinions most contrary and repulsive to that of our own, voice their own views. That is free speech, for there is no right that does not come with a reciprocal duty.

If it were an ideal world, free speech would allow a dialogue between conflicting views, where listeners and debaters alike would calmly and amicably hear the arguments, and by the process of reason, arrive at their conclusions. But it is not an ideal world; it is a world where we often suppress the views of others.

There are occasions where a party seems to hold views so obviously abhorrent and grievously wrong, and yet vehemently continues to air these poisoned views to the public. And sometimes, we rise up and forcefully quieten these parties. Is this right, I would ask. Perhaps we have given in to fear, a fear that the naive or easily impassioned would fall for these venomous words.

If it were a perfect world, our forceful silencing would be immoral and wrong, for we have made meaningful dialogue impossible, hence doing disservice to our own beliefs and views, for those that believe themselves to be in the right ought to have no fear of having their views tested. But it is not a perfect world, nor are we by any means perfect. We are too foolish, and too easily impassioned. Perhaps only by preventing the extreme voice can we maintain our fragile peace. It is a difficult calculation nonetheless.

It is my hope that in the near future, humans might not be as easily deceived, or as easily moved to arms, as we are now. Perhaps then can we all enjoy the rights of free speech without destroying our peace.

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