January 6, 2015

The Importance of Free Speech in 2015

SHOOTING OFF YOUR FACE WON'T HELP FREE SPEECH - NARA - 515409 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am forgoing any New Year's resolutions this year because I plan to continue with the three I had for 2014. All three worked out reasonably well for me during 2014, and I think they are worth continuing through 2015. I recognize that I can do better with all of them, and that's what I plan to do this year.

What I'd like to mention here instead is a deliberate addition to the topics I regularly address here at Atheist Revolution. Okay, it isn't a new topic so much as it is me finally giving recognition to a topic that has been on my mind quite a bit lately: free speech and its role in freethought, secularism, skepticism, and atheism. I am increasingly viewing free speech as a vital human rights issue, and I plan to continue writing about it in 2015. I've added a "Free Speech" label to the topic cloud in the right sidebar to make it easier for readers to find posts on the subject.

Here are some preliminary thoughts that I plan to explore and spell out more clearly in the months ahead:
  1. I believe that we secularists, freethinkers, skeptics, and atheists need to take the lead on defending free speech from those who attack it from both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. We've been fairly good in opposing threats from the right and rather poor when it comes to threats from the left. This needs to change. 
  2. I believe that the answer to bad ideas (e.g., sexism, racism, creationism, faith) is not to suppress them through the use of legislation and/or social coercion against those who hold them; the way to answer bad ideas is to reveal their shortcomings in the public forum and provide reasonable alternatives. 
  3. I believe that we can be content to deal with bad ideas as ideas and not as inherent flaws of the individuals who hold them. Moreover, I believe that if we are truly committed to reason and value any sort of community, we must learn to deal with ideas in this way.
Please don't interpret any of this as me suggesting that my mind is made up on these issues or that I am sure I am right about any of them. Interpret it as me indicating that I plan to struggle with some of this as I seek greater clarity. My mind has changed before, and I suspect it will change again.

I'd also like to suggest that while there are many ways to exercise one's free speech, we could all probably make more of an effort to do so reasonably. I'm not terribly impressed with those whose idea of free speech seems to involve little more than firing juvenile insults at others on Twitter or seeing how many times they can work "cunt" into their latest YouTube video. I'll continue to defend their right to express themselves in these ways and other ways I don't personally like. At the same time, I think they are missing some great opportunities to model reason, skepticism, and critical thinking to an audience that would benefit from having access to more reasonable models.

Here's to a productive and reasonable 2015!

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