Sunday, July 29, 2012


A couple of months ago I wrote about different categories I fit in, ideologically and politically. I was tempted to expand on it earlier this month when PZ Myers wrote a post asking people what kind of atheist they are-- scientific, philosophical, political, or humanist. I understood what he was getting at, but my first impulse was to ask "Why is the 'atheism' part the constant? The most important thing?" Because when it comes to politics and ideology I am, first and foremost, a free-speechist.

If you're not a free-speechist, whatever else you believe and whatever priorities you give those beliefs, you're not on my side. That seems harsh, maybe, but I'll explain why that is, and what a free-speechist is.

A free-speechist is a person who believes that a free market of ideas is absolutely critical to the maintenance of an educated and moral society, and as such the only real justifications for government censorship of speech are those related to safety and property rights-- e.g. you can't shout 'fire' falsely in a crowded theater, and you can't make money off of someone else's creative work by representing it as your own. I value private forums which cherish a relative freedom of expression also, but a) as private forums they don't have an obligation to allow anyone at all to speak, let alone everyone, and b) an "anything goes" atmosphere is not conducive to ideas being exchanged freely and productively, so some amount of moderation in order to eliminate abusive content and commenters is arguably not just permissible but necessary. So if you're one of those people who whines that any sort of moderation whatsoever on an internet chat site, blog, or forum is wrong because it violates commenters' freedom of speech, you're not only wrong (since the First Amendment does not apply to private fora, and couldn't since that would violate the owner's right to freedom of association) but probably a troll.

Briefly put, trying to defeat an idea by either silencing the person voicing it or causing damage to their person or property is the coward's way out. It's an act of aggression against a person because you dislike the content of their ideas; it does not refute the ideas.

And no, a boycott isn't a form of that. A boycott is an individual refusal to contribute to someone's livelihood because doing so amounts to contributing indirectly to something you wouldn't support directly. Similarly to a private forum, not being allowed to boycott would mean abdicating your own freedom of speech by being made to support ideas you don't agree with whether you like it or not.

This might seem like a rather long-winded way to get to the point that I'm livid about hearing that yet another government official has seen fit to wield unique power to prevent someone from doing business because he objects to the content of that person's ideas:
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray says he won't support an expanded presence for Chick-fil-A in the district because the president of the fast-food chain is opposed to gay marriage. 
Gray, a Democrat, referred to the company's product as "hate chicken" in a tweet on Friday. His statement referenced his "long-standing strong support for LGBT rights and marriage equality" and followed similar statements by mayors in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco that the company was not welcome.
You know what's depressing? It's depressing that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, of all people, are pursuing the correct course of action with regard to freedom of expression by encouraging people who agree with their opposition to gay marriage to vote with their wallets and support Chick-fil-A. Of course, neither of them is actually in office and therefore in a position to use legal power to promote or inhibit a view by damaging the business of the person espousing it, so let's not give them too much credit. Let's not give them any credit, for that matter, except to note that what they're doing does not violate anyone's freedom of speech whereas blocking someone's business simply because you don't like the views they support absolutely does.

And I say this as a passionate advocate of LGBT equality since 1993. There is a right way and a wrong way to fight for these things. Silencing and intimidation are the wrong way.

That's why I'm a free-speechist.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.