Monday, September 18, 2017

The Responsibility of Free Speech

Person 1: Hello everyone and thank you for agreeing to meet and discuss the issues at hand. We've got some huge problems to solve, so let's get at it.

[general discussion of possible solutions]

P2: How about we just eradicate the Elves?

P1: What? What did you just say?

P2: The Elves. I mean, they are the real problem and they cause all the issues. It's a known fact. If we just band together, we could just eradicate the Elvish problem and everything else would take care of itself.

P1: Get out. You are no longer welcome at this table.

P2: Now hang on just a minute. I have Freedom of Speech and Thought in this country! You cannot prevent me from speaking my mind! It's my right.

P1: Actually, as much as I would like to, I cannot toss your racist ass in jail for expressing your deplorable ideas. However, sitting at this table is a privilege, not a right, and you have failed to meet the standards that allow for that privilege.

P2: No! No! I have the right to speak my mind and you MUST allow me to express it.

P1: You're wrong. You can sit at home and be racist all you like. You can sit in your own space and think all the murderous thoughts you want to. But the moment you attempt to express or broadcast those violent, oppressive, destructive thoughts in a public square, this is where the line is crossed. In a public square, everyone should be able to expect a minimum standard of safety and security to be met. In a public setting, you have a responsibility to the public to be honest and factual in the ideas you share. To express ideas that are designed to incite people to actively place others in harm's way violates that expectation.

P2: You have no right to curb my right to personal expression, nor can you oppress me because of my values. That is a slippery slope to fascism!

P1: While it is true that taken to an extreme, attempting to too-tightly control the personal expression of people can lead to oppressive regimes, holding the public good in higher regard can provide better guidelines about what is acceptable or unacceptable. Each case must be examined carefully.

P2: But... but...

P1: However, in this case, this is my table and I get to set the minimum standard. For the expression of that racist view, you have violated the standards of this gathering and now you are no longer welcome here. Not now, not ever. You still have freedom of thought, you have freedom of movement, but your access to this table and this discussion is officially revoked. Get out.