May 16, 2013

The Public Forum

The "free speech zone" at the 2004 D...
The "free speech zone" at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've always operated from the perspective that we all benefit from a public forum where free speech is protected. In such a forum, the assumption is that good ideas will rise to the surface while bad ideas will sink to the bottom. The problem with this is that it doesn't always work. That is, some truly bad ideas never seem to sink into obscurity and some good ones never gain traction.

Take Fox "News" as an example of what I'm talking about. It seems to have been created, at least in part, to preserve bad ideas by insulating them from criticism. This keeps discredited ideas (e.g., "trickle-down" economics) relevant long after they should have disappeared.

Organized religion is perhaps the best example of all, as it has managed to convince many people that their claims should be exempt from criticism. Those who dare to criticize religious claims are viewed as insensitive or intolerant, and the discussion quickly shifts from the content of the criticism to the act of criticizing. Far too many bad ideas have been preserved in this manner.

As we have all observed, my quaint idea of the public forum may not reflect the modern reality of "he who yells the loudest wins." Perhaps the public forum only works when all parties are willing to participate "in good faith." If not, the process can be manipulated to the point where it ceases to function for the public good. Maybe the public forum is merely a convenient fiction, one that must be maintained because we lack a viable alternative.

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