Freedom of speech

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Tony Williams
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Freedom of speech

Post by Tony Williams » Mon Jan 11, 2016 12:49 pm

I spotted a conversation in the SF novel Omega (by Jack McDevitt) which struck a chord with me, so I thought I'd post it here. Two human characters are debating the merits of an alien society:
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'How could they have more freedom than we do?' Digger demanded. 'We don't have thought police running around.'

'Sure we do,' Whit said.

'Whit.' Digger raised his eyes to the overhead. 'What kind of speech is prohibited? Other than yelling fire in a crowded place?'

Whit smiled. 'Almost everything,' he said.

He was baffled. 'Whit, that's crazy. When's the last time anybody was jailed for speaking out on something?'

'You don't get jailed. But you have to be careful nonetheless not to offend people. We're programmed, all of us, to take offense. Who can go in front of a mixed audience and say what he truly believes without concern that he will offend someone's heritage, someone's religion, someone's politics. We are always on guard.'

'Well,' said Digger, 'that's different.'

'No it isn't, said Whit, 'it's different only in degree. At my prep school, it was drilled into us that good manners required we avoid talking politics or religion. Since almost everything in the domain of human behaviour falls within one or the other of those two categories, we would seem to be left with the weather.' He looked momentarily bleak. 'We have too much respect for unsubstantiated opinion. We enshrine it, we tiptoe cautiously around it, and we avoid challenging it. To our shame.

'Somewhere we taught ourselves that our opinions are mnore significant than the facts. And somehow we got our egos and our opinions and Truth all mixed up in a single package, so that when something does challenge one of the notions to which we subscribe, we react as if it challenges us.'
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Daniel Patrick Moynihan came up with briefer way of putting this: 'You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.'

The aspect of this self-censorship in the interests of political correctness which bothers me the most is that it seems to be at its worst in universities. These should be places of unrestricted enquiry, where any existing beliefs should be open to reasoned challenge and debated openly. Yet student bodies increasingly reject anything they don't like, refuse to hear opposing viewpoints, and try to ban speakers who hold views which don't match whatever their current PC concerns might be. That is both pathetic and shameful!

Darklord
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Re: Freedom of speech

Post by Darklord » Tue Jan 12, 2016 11:21 am

Good find :thumb: Just about sums things up really. Though as I travel through different countries I've noticed that they don't all have these thoughts.
Is it peculiar to us British?

Tony Williams
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Re: Freedom of speech

Post by Tony Williams » Tue Jan 12, 2016 1:00 pm

I fear that it might be a generational thing as much as anything. It is students and other young adults (plus members of certain oversensitive religions) who tend to believe that the right to freedom of speech is less important than the right not to be offended.

DrS
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Re: Freedom of speech

Post by DrS » Tue Jan 12, 2016 2:21 pm

I remember 15 years ago being told that my concern - and complaint - was "inappropriate" when a poster on Manchester University Arts Fac notice board was advertising a talk by someone who would now unequivocally be called a "hate preacher".

And yet the PC liberal ... what? brigade? lot? left? ... I lose my vocabulary in the mire ... whatever they were, there were those who tried to silence Germaine Greer from expressing her opinion that transwomen aren't actually "women", biologically or psychologially. And given Caitlyn Jenner's definition of the hardest thing a woman faces as "deciding what to wear", who's to say that Greer is not at least entitled to her opinion?!

Seems it all goes one way. We must not attack cultural-relativity, or increasingly self-reflexive and overly sensitive to offence liberal norms ... unless the attack comes from what ... a "different culture". Again I lose my vocabulary.

We don't need censorship, and we're not even corralled into self-censorship mode. I just don't seem to have the words any more for any of it.

Tony Williams
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Re: Freedom of speech

Post by Tony Williams » Tue Jan 12, 2016 3:14 pm

DrS, I can see that it must be a difficult line to draw between the right of free speech and importance of stopping people like hate preachers from performing. It's one of those things where we can probably all see the difference, but coming up with a legal definition is presumably not so easy. I expect that most cases might be straightforward but there will always be some marginal examples, especially with the more cunning and subtle performers.

On the subject of gender, I was a bit startled the other day to read an item on the BBC news website about a man who wished to be known as a woman even though he had had no surgery or hormonal treatment; the item thereafter referred to him as "she". So all that matters, I presume, is your own wishes on the matter. So I could claim to be a woman even if I kept my beard and continued to wear mens' clothes, and this would have to be respected? Bonkers.

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chaggle
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Re: Freedom of speech

Post by chaggle » Tue Jan 12, 2016 3:49 pm

Tony Williams wrote:DrS, I can see that it must be a difficult line to draw between the right of free speech and importance of stopping people like hate preachers from performing. It's one of those things where we can probably all see the difference, but coming up with a legal definition is presumably not so easy. I expect that most cases might be straightforward but there will always be some marginal examples, especially with the more cunning and subtle performers.

On the subject of gender, I was a bit startled the other day to read an item on the BBC news website about a man who wished to be known as a woman even though he had had no surgery or hormonal treatment; the item thereafter referred to him as "she". So all that matters, I presume, is your own wishes on the matter. So I could claim to be a woman even if I kept my beard and continued to wear mens' clothes, and this would have to be respected? Bonkers.
... and maybe use the women's changing rooms and showers at the gym?

As I get older I find I am less able to get bothered about such things. I'm just glad I'm not among those who have to sort through the minefield of different angles and sensitivities to make up the rules.
Don't blame me - I voted remain :con

Tony Williams
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Re: Freedom of speech

Post by Tony Williams » Tue Jan 12, 2016 3:57 pm

chaggle wrote: ... and maybe use the women's changing rooms and showers at the gym?

As I get older I find I am less able to get bothered about such things. I'm just glad I'm not among those who have to sort through the minefield of different angles and sensitivities to make up the rules.
Like this, you mean... http://skepsforum.prophpbb.com/topic1953.html

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