Is free expression always worth it? The creators of South Park ridiculed the censorship of the prophet Muhammad (of Islam) by Comedy Central. But there's a cultural impact from any comedy—and the creators of South Park have arguably changed attitudes on minority religious groups, racial stereotypes, and disabled people. Who takes responsibility for it: just us? Debatably, yes—and we should hold ourselves to account by taking the time to decipher humour from hate. Then again, we're not perfect creatures; where do we draw the line? (CBS Television Distribution)
The downsides to freedom are often left unheard. The standard free-speech debate … Zzz. Ricky Gervais, Jordan Peterson, Stephen Fry, Ben Shapiro, Douglas Murray, Count Dankula, Katy Hopkins … These people—let’s call them the ‘Free Speech Brigade’—seem to think that free speech is an automatic right. But, for their claim to hold water, they have to assume that freedom is fundamental to a fair and just society; else they don’t truly believe in it.
We should think carefully about what total freedom means. Not all freedoms are good. Indeed, at a societal level, censorship is already deployed in law because there are real-world consequences to words (e.g. in hate crime). Free speech, then, should, perhaps, be treated as an action with effect, not a free right.
While taking offence is subjective and shouldn’t quell authentic debate and expression, nor should free speech be set in stone as an unmovable premise. So when engaging in debate with the Free Speech Brigade ask them to acknowledge freedom’s downsides and watch their arguments come apart.
If you don’t question them on this point and allow them to hold fixed freedom’s essential value, they will quell an otherwise-good debate (quite ironically) and you will allow them to fly off with lousy argument after lousy argument.
What do you think?