While crypto-adventuring in South Africa, an interesting fact was brought to me by a team member: free speech has its origins not in individual expression, but in the ability of others to hear those thoughts. Let’s consider the example of an individual waiting to be executed, but the executioner allowing final words that could change his mind or the minds of the crowd.
In that moment there is an opportunity for affirmation or questioning to occur based on the receipt of stale or novel information, respectively. Let’s consider another example. Generally, when children are being educated, the mind has not been formed through testing and evaluation of the world around them through honest analysis, but through the acceptance of established mores.
That honest analysis can never occur and a mind can never correct or strengthen a position if an opposing opinion is never heard. When it comes to problem-solving, including the contentious subjects that our world has to grapple with, eliminating voices rather than reasoning with them impedes thorough analysis, including problem identification and generation of strategies and solutions.
Free speech is usually expressed within the context of an individual’s right to share his or her voice. But it can also be framed as the right of others to hear those thoughts. I am not referencing the United States’ First Amendment to its constitution, but the concept of free speech that supports the amendment. We are not used to thinking of free speech as a right from the perspective of the receiver because much of its historical context has been lost.
Here are some modern definitions of free speech:
- Wikipedia defines freedom of speech as “a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship or legal sanction.”
- Dictionary.com defines freedom of speech as “the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc.”
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights retains the reference to the hearing aspect of free speech in Article 19, that was established in 1949, which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
But free speech was first advocated for from the perspective of the listener, by western thinkers such as Thomas Paine in the Age of Reason and John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, starting in the Enlightenment period. These origins are explored in an article by Geoff Greer called “Freedom of Speech Isn’t About Speech,” himself influenced by Christopher Hitchens’ thoughts on the topic. Paine in 1794, and Mill in 1859 spoke of the loss to the listener when speech was not allowed to be spoken.
This loss was greater than that of the person being silenced, for the listener could not get the chance to exchange error for truth. Mill points out that silencing speech is in fact robbing from the human race and future generations, as humankind would remain stagnant in its opinions.
This is not to say that these individuals created the concept of free speech, but they may have been among the first to articulate its importance in society. Jordan Peterson goes into a more ethics-based identification of the primordial origins of free speech, which you may find interesting, and which I won’t go into. So, the modern discourse surrounding free speech frames it as an individual’s right to expression, which is astute. But free speech can and should also be framed as important for everyone in society to establish the boundaries of their own beliefs and thinking, and to advance society in a practical way.
So when we see things like this happening:
- The legacy press desiring support for the “free press,” but only referring to themselves.
- The push to remove feedback metrics such as likes or like-to-dislike ratios.
- Leaders of influential social media companies vowing to take an active stance on what content its users are either allowed to see or what content is allowed to be recommended, favoring ‘safety and civility’ over free speech.
- Individuals such as @keikoinboston being shadow banned from Twitter for a thread detailing Patreon’s selective banning. Popular thinker and Youtuber, Carl Benjamin (Sargon of Akkad) being banned from Patreon for saying the “n word” with little acknowledgment of context, or the selectivity of the banning, or that it happened outside of the platform’s actual and stated domain of concern.
- Free speech focused platforms being vilified after users are forced out of other arenas with no where else to go, and then those platforms being banned, with domain, hosting, and payment services being denied.
- A very long list of individuals being de-platformed from publishing or financial services such as Tommy Robinson, Lauren Southern, Alex Jones, Robert Spencer, myself. Nick Monroe does a great job of compiling lists of those affected by these companies on Twitter.
- The growing definition of “alt-right” to include anyone who thinks beyond the standard narrative held by mainstream media outlets, left and right, particularly concerning volatile topics such as race, gender and culture, topics that everyone has the right to speak on, since they are intimately influenced by default.
Recognize that it is not simply about silencing a voice; it is about ensuring that no one else hears it. It’s not simply that these companies want to establish family-friendly spaces; they don’t want offensive ideas to exist. That is why they overreach beyond their spheres of influence, as in the case of Carl Benjamin being kicked off from Patreon for things that were said elsewhere, a long time ago. And this is also the case when they try to prohibit users from finding another space separate from their domains.
These actions belie a desire for power over the speaker, certainly. But they also demonstrate a desire to have power over the listeners, to the level of wanting to control the minds of others who might be influenced by a roaming offensive thought. I consider this to be sinister. The minds of others don’t belong to Jack Dorsey, Susan Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Jacqueline Hart, Visa and MasterCard owners, or their employees and diversity departments.
It is about power over others. It’s not about the principles of inclusion or condemning immoral behavior of the past, which is the surface argument. It’s about using control rather than negotiation or persuasion to shape the world in the image that they desire. It is not dissimilar from the isms and obias they claim to condemn with their actions, such as islamophobia, racism, and sexism, which generally lead to the exclusion of people because they do not fit or do not have a right to the liberties given to others, based on the intolerant person’s mental landscape.
In other words, it is a form of tyranny. They would rather have the solutions to a problem be achieved through mandate than through the use of reason, never mind the disgruntlement of their opponents who they will coexist with as coworkers, friends, and family, even as they try to cut these ties. And never mind the effect this approach will have on the overall mental stability of society.
The tactics of censorship, such as requesting de platforming, resorting to violence, advocating for punching a “nazi” or hitting someone with a bike lock, are the same as having a fight on the schoolyard playground and calling on the teacher to end it. This can cause polarization in society where people appear more extreme in their opinions because they are forced to defend their right to express them.
This shifts their energy to focus on topics they have to fight to talk about, still with little time given to actually debating them. These tactics teach others that negotiation is not the answer; termination of the source of an opposing idea is. It is also a warning sign to others of what is appropriate and inappropriate to talk about. Bending to it will only create more of it.
This approach to problem-solving in a society also prevents critical thinking, a necessity for individuation. Individuation is something that the proponents of intersectionality and its related ideologies seem intent on crushing. This is the same source of the reasoning behind silencing offensive speech and concluding that a lack of offense is more valuable than the framework for peaceful negotiation in a society (speech).
To be able to generate opposing thought is necessary to differentiate, mentally, from the whole. It is okay to think differently from others, or to explore and then come back to your starting point, or at least it used to be. Those who fear this exploratory process want their ideas to be accepted rather than rationally settled. It reminds me of a teacher giving equations without the mathematical proofs, because they have been established and are not necessary to understand the concepts. But this isn’t about passing an exam or grasping the basics of a subject.
This is about moral decisions on how we develop our societies, and about changing long-held axioms developed in the west, such as the protection of individual rights before those of “protected groups.” Proof is absolutely required. If you want to influence legislation, but you would rather muzzle your opponent than debate them, then you should sit down. As many are learning these days, and a personal lesson for me, free speech can be suppressed through financial and platform censorship.
The element of power when it comes to upholding values such as free speech must be fully acknowledged. A can be said to have power over B if A has something that B wants. If we want to reduce the impact of platform censorship, we have to focus on power first. We must make it so that we, as B, no longer want or need what A has. Then we no longer have to be subject to their capriciousness.
For this I am a crypto advocate, and look to the long term potential of trustless systems of communication and finance. Financial behemoths such as PayPal and MasterCard are the silent actors behind many companies’ de-platforming of users. That is where the focus should be for the defenders of free speech.
But alternative financial payment systems won’t be created without the thinking that generates them, and they won’t be supported or maintained, or developed to the convenience level that we desire, without the necessary mental inclinations that value them. We should also remember that the roles can reverse, as we also have the data, the dollars, and the numbers that these companies desire.
My content, which some find offensive, is me defining parts of myself, defining and thinking through my identity as I go through the world, or thinking through my values as they play out in the political sphere. I began to question dominant ideas mostly because I moved from a different background from the one I am in, and so gave others the opportunity to hear a different perspective, through my personal confrontation.
This is useful information for people to have as they can see the effect of their society through my eyes and others who also choose to share their experiences. In thinking about why there is suffering in the world, or why there is inequality, we create and ponder suggestions about what is working, what is not working, and why. I am a source of feedback to our society, and I want your feedback too.
Should I not be able to share that with people because it is a difficult conversation? Should others not be able to think about their own values while hearing my own? There are some who watch or listen to my content, specifically to hear a perspective they disagree with, a source to consider opposing thoughts when it is spoken in a palatable fashion.
Of utmost revelatory importance to everyone in society today, is that it is not just the suppression of the thoughts of the individual being censored that is occurring, but also the suppression of the minds of those who never hear their thoughts, and are never able to explore and establish their own mental solutions or boundaries.