Why we Defend Free Speech

Voltaire: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. (Source: Cornell University)

Speech, written and spoken, is an integral part of human life. It is the most universal way that humans learn to communicate, and a way of communication entrenched in our society. It is the way humans convey themselves on a daily basis and spread information. It is because of this that speech is among the most valuable commodities humans have to offer, and the reason that it should be unrestricted and enshrined, except for the most untenable situations such as calling for violence. Even then, the restriction of speech should be done with a modicum of humility and understanding. Unfortunately, the gift of speech is recently being censored more and more under the pretence of political correctness and “hate speech.” Well-intentioned they may be, these extremely broad labels are now a scourge to the vanguard of people protecting of free speech. Unfortunately, it is not just because the government wants it, but also numerous college millennials across the West, in the US and in the UK. This is a serious threat to the culture that really does not seem to have any outstanding fixes. It is due to that, that the problems of shutting free speech down are so exacerbated.

Free speech being shut down, especially by the government is a serious problem. The government having the power to control speech is not only condescending to the sensibilities of the general, who I’m sure are perfectly fine with censoring what speech they consume themselves, but also inherently a way to control the masses. The government being able to control speech means that they can control information. By being able to filter what information gets through to the public is more or less a form of propaganda. The government can essentially control what you think through the information you consume. For a modern-day example of this, we need not look further than parts of the Far East, like China and North Korea, where censoring speech and spreading propaganda are virtually indistinguishable. And look at the state of those countries. That government is at its most sinister when it tries to modify the human mind.

Of course, this problem gets a little bit trickier when the institution that is restricting free speech is a private one. Still, the government still should not have a part to play in using its hand to control these private institutions. This is, of course, the case in our current society, and we see this often. Private universities, especially in the United States have, almost in uniform, protested or stopped any public speaker id they show any conservative trend in their thought process. It has gotten so bad, that even President Obama has come out to condemn the universities that do this. This issue is not restricted to just conservatives, as even liberals at places like Liberty University are censored. That private institutions are on mass starting to crack down on free speech is not really statement on the freedoms of the private sector, but on the general populous who push for these private institutions to restrict speech.

Now, there are a few different reasons why people would want to restrict speech, but the arguments that have at least a modicum of legitimacy are the ones that base their logic around hate speech. Hate is an extremely broad word that can be something different for anyone, hence the problem with defining hate speech, there is not one. Hate is subjective, and because of that, putting the ban of hate speech down on paper as law, or even as a pretense to stop speech can allow the perpetrators of banning speech to have almost complete freedom in banning anyone they want to speak. The only true form of hate that can be cracked down upon is speech advocating for violence. Unfortunately, most people, especially young millennials, seem to conflate speech and violence. To them, speech is a weapon that can hurt people, and therefore should be treated as such, a weapon. However, the byproduct of this, is that given the broad definition of hate speech, this allows those who advocate banning such speech, to ban speech of those they do not like should be encouraged not impeded. All they have to do is prove that it “hurts” them. In this day and age though, that burden of proof is much lower than it should be.

Today, the advocates of banning free speech are mostly found on college campuses, which makes sense. College campuses are generally hotbeds for political thought, and especially because the students are in their early to mid-twenties, that can cause a lot of stress for the students. So, the natural reaction for these students is to ban people from speaking if they have opposing opinions, which creates a culture of intolerance. This is of course, applicable to the larger society, but college campuses are probably the best examples of this. The banning of free speech has happened all too often at major universities such as at UC Berkeley or at Stanford. This truly is a shame. By not exposing people to different points of view, not only will they never understand the opposing point of view, we simply build up a sheltered society. A society that shelters its youth from different opinions is not only harmful to the pursuit of truth on a macro scale but also damaging to the psyche on a micro-scale. If people constantly feel that opposing speech is can be construed as violence, then it creates a culture of defensiveness, and of weak minds. This all comes back to the culture of intolerance now, where cancel culture is rampant. Discussions are becoming less about ideas, and more ad hominem, as people start to view the speech as a weapon. “We should ban this person, because they said something hateful,” is what is being said now, instead of, “I do not agree with your stance on this topic, and perhaps we can have a polite discussion about it.” When you ban speech, you take away the meaning of that speech. And ultimately, you take away the meaning of freedom in the first place.

To have the preconceived notion of being able to ban those you dislike, you must first have lost faith in the institution of freedom. That banning hate speech is a fad now, means that people have lost the ability to view other humans as rational, thinking beings. To be an advocate of banning speech ultimately reveals a flaw within yourself. That you are scared that the opposing viewpoint must convince others. And if you truly are scared, then the way to fight is not by banning speech, but instead, by engaging in polite discussion. That is what leads to the finding of truth. The fundamental truth that we have lost is that freedom does not come free, and neither does its friend, free speech. But the perceived cost associated with it, having others do things you disagree with, should not be looked at as a cost, but as a feature.

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Aditya Khan

Aditya Khan

First year university student. Sometimes likes to write stuff.