A typical defense of freedom of expression centers on the central importance of free exchange of ideas in the pursuit and acquisition of truth. We need other people to tell us when we are wrong by criticizing our ideas as the search for the truth is a self correcting process based on learning from trial and gradually eliminating mistakes, a process of the collective Discovery based on the recognition of the individual’s fallibility – something that is impossible when there is no freedom of expression. Intolerance and the silence of unorthodox perspectives often lead to the loss of the opportunity to get rid of wrong ideas – as great innovators such as Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno, Ignaz Semmelweis and a host of others show.
These are just a few of the many ways that free and open intellectual research can help you understand reality. However, what is often ignored is the role of free speech in preventing our definition of truth from shifting in the wrong direction. Protecting the law of even the most radical, pseudoscientific, and irrational ideas that need to be heard is necessary to prevent the distortion of the truth. Since, by definition, there can be no truth without flaws, we end up losing, as John Stuart Mill put it in On Liberty, “which is almost when we restrict freedom of expression and forbid opinions that the majority perceive to be completely wrong. An equally great benefit is the clearer perception and the more vivid impression of the truth produced by the collision with the error. “
Knowledge comes through comparison. We can only fully understand the properties of a subject if we compare and contrast it with its opposite. A comparison is important for a proper understanding of reality. We can never know what is good without knowing what is bad, light without darkness, virtue without vice, truth without falsehood, order without chaos, happiness without misery, pleasure without suffering. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in the Gulag archipelago, “the line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” and we are naturally able to experience both.
Consider Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people live in a state of “happy ignorance”: “They get what they want and they never want what they cannot get.” Their happiness is superficial and childish, a product of the psychological Conditioning and the lust-increasing drug “Soma”. In Brave New World, people do not experience true happiness because they do not experience strong passions or terrible heartaches. Order and constant pleasure without uncertainty have made them little more than biological machines. Living in the brave new world lacks the vitality and tension of the mind that result from the complementarity of happiness and unhappiness.
The inability to understand the truth without confronting it with the evil leads us to the following phenomenon. Western society set out to eliminate the misery and suffering in the world. As a result, any remaining evils in our minds get bigger. This is because of our innate tendency to divide the world into dualistic black and white categories, good and bad. Because of this lack of historical perspective when it comes to progress, we often overestimate and overreact remaining problems while ignoring others.
Look at the problem of inequality and poverty. Since 1979, the poorest 20% of Americans have seen their incomes grow by 80%, while the proportion of households with incomes above $ 100,000 rose from just 8% half a century ago to nearly 30% in 2017. As poverty decreases, so does it.As an issue sidelined and drawn citizens’ attention to economic inequality: 61 percent of Americans agree that there are too many economic inequalities in the US, for example.
There is a widespread opinion, especially among self-described progressives, that by suppressing radical, irrational, and pseudoscientific views, we get a better political discourse, a more reasonable, rational and balanced one. However, this is not the case. When ideas that seem unacceptable are weeded out, this narrowing of the spectrum of “politically correct” opinions sets us on the path to gradually overcoming the previously permissible beliefs. What was previously not considered an extreme opinion will become so. Erasing radical perspectives changes our perception of what is right and what is wrong. The truth is not as valuable and not as clear and obvious as it is in contrast to error.
Any restriction of freedom of expression and the exclusion of opinions perceived as “radical” can therefore lead to the definition of an “acceptable” opinion being changed. This explains why all over the United States (especially in academia) people are claiming America has systemic racism and activists overturning monuments to historical figures like Ulysses Grant for their alleged links to slavery or racism – without knowing that moral values are dynamic and change over time. Erasing history from public memory, removing unpleasant clues, skews our understanding of what is right and what is wrong – as the return of racial segregation and racial admission guidelines at some universities show.
There is a widespread opinion, especially among self-described progressives, that by suppressing radical, irrational, and pseudoscientific views, we get a better political discourse, a more reasonable, rational and balanced one.
Undoubtedly, racism is still widespread today – in domestic police surveillance, for example – and it is a serious problem to be resolved, but contemporary racism cannot be compared to pre-civil rights racism in America. Progressive activists, however, continue to insist that we live in a systemically racist society – ironically, such an attitude implies that all attempts at progress, past, present and future, do not advance the cause of progressivism at all. The fixation on remaining injustices, while forcing us to overcome them, ignores how far we have come. When we perceive our society as a den of injustice, the appetite for revolutionary rather than incremental change increases.
Freedom of expression applies to all facts, however uncomfortable they may be for some people. The lack of addressing different perspectives, even the most radical and wrong, blinds us to reality. The failure of the mainstream media to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election is evidence that it is detaching itself from the lives of most Americans. As New York Times columnist David Brooks noted, the intellectual separation of opposing viewpoints has created “an island. Progressives are often blind to reality – blind that Trump won the presidency; blind that Joe Biden won the Democratic President nomination. “
Importantly, open intellectual inquiry and an unconstrained marketplace for ideas are also the best means of getting rid of bad ideas. The best ideas win, while irrational ideas eventually die, promoting the spread of the truth – a process of collective discovery based on the recognition of individual fallibility. However, the imposition of constraints on the market of ideas – which advocates of social justice advocate – can support rather than overcome seemingly irrational perspectives. As John Stuart Mill put it in On Liberty, when some opinions are suppressed and there is “never a fair and thorough discussion of heretical opinions … those that cannot withstand such discussion, although they may be prevented from spreading, they don’t go away. “Attempts to ban something usually make it even more popular. Similarly, suppressing certain ideas is likely to attract more attention, artificially increase their popularity, and help them find new followers. The lack of free Competition in the ideas market prevents bad ideas from quickly dying away.
Problems are inevitable, but also solvable. Making progress and recognizing the objective truth in politics remains possible, even if it does not appear to be the case in the short term. Open societies are fundamentally truth-seeking systems that, in the long term, reach a consensus on what is right and what is wrong, and thereby converge on objective truths. What is taken for granted today would have been a highly controversial issue not so long ago, such as the right of women to vote.
Human fallibility implies that we can never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one because we will never have complete knowledge of reality. In a free and open society there will always be injustices, injustices and problems – otherwise we would lose a source of meaning and what makes our society dynamic and alive. Only by taking into account our past progress can we approach our current problems rationally. Because as the philosopher of science Karl Popper wrote: “A lot is wrong [with Western society] is due to his ruling religion … the belief that the social world we live in is a kind of hell. “