Intellectual Freedom: Supporting the Right to Support the Unsupportable
If somebody wears a shirt with a racially offensive graphic or slogan on it, is it anti-free speech to ridicule him or her for it? Or, if an authority attempts to forcibly remove the shirt, is it pro-racism to support the person’s right to wear the shirt? For many libertarians, “freedom” is a principle that holds intrinsic value, similar to how “equality” or “diversity” is treated by the modern left. However, what is it that makes freedom reasonable political bedrock?
Fundamentally, politics strives to find structures that are sustainably the most conducive to well-being for as many of a society’s inhabitants as possible. Freedom of expression is an often misunderstood, but indispensable element of any society. For this reason, it will be the focus of this article, and will be used to illustrate the underlying logic behind all freedoms and their importance. So, what are the positive consequences of freedom? Including, specifically, freedom of expression?
The common reason given in support of freedom of expression is just that: freedom. However, for many people, the ultimate goal of eliminating intolerance and falsehoods is of higher importance. Furthermore, another subset of these people finds freedom of expression to be at direct odds with this goal. Surely, if one wishes to eliminate any given opinion from a society, and one’s wish is credible – the opinion in question being truly despicable – then the root that needs to be pulled from the equation is their right to say it in the first place. That has to be the most efficient way of doing things, right? Putting a large swath of other issues this sentiment has aside, and the goal being assumed to be even possible, the supposed conflict between free speech and anti-X opinion is a complete myth. In fact, the desire to eliminate views one disagrees with is the most compelling reason to support the right for those views to be shared.
The true benefit of intellectual freedom is not that no ideas are guaranteed to be killed, but that no ideas are even possible of being protected. Ideas are constantly and continuously accountable, none are safe from competition, and are thereby pushed forward by the same principles of selection that produced biological life on Earth. When censorship is used, there is one judge, and one judgement; bad ideas are proven bad and then they are jailed, good ideas are proven good and then they are crowned. In a world of constantly shifting levels of understanding new information, different circumstances, and different motivations, it is imperative that everything – even the most fundamental beliefs and opinions – always have the possibility to succeed and fail. It is for this reason that opinions one finds most offensive and false should be the opinions one most supports the right for others to have, so that it can be criticized, ridiculed, and fought until its death. Freedom of expression functions like a light switch, whereas censorship functions like a lantern. In a room of diverse gifts and dangers, ever changing in its architecture, the most effective way to both fight the rodents in the corners, and find the jewelry in the drawer, is to cast as much light on as much of the room as possible.
Only that which cannot stand on its own merits desires an authority’s intervention and suppression of competition, and that which can stand on its own merits would never trust an authority’s protection. Whether it is in the case of an idea, or a product, service, or institution, freedom is always the most efficient tool for finding the best, and losing the worst – something that we can surely all agree on as a valuable consequence.
* Lucas Stoten is a young philosophy and science enthusiast with a political leaning towards smaller governments and autarkical economies, for their practicality and theoretical moral superiority. He is specifically interested in finding rational bedrock and the fundamental logic behind beliefs and systems.