Monday, April 25, 2011

Privledged ideas are a bad thing.

Freedom of speech, is not what a lot of people appear to think it is. The bloggers at Skepchick  often posts on the anti/vaccination kerfluffle. Recently they started a petition to attempt to get a CBS to remove an advertisement playing on a large video screen in Times Square. One of their commenter's suggested that by opposing the anti vaccinationist's PR, that they were proposing that the AV's freedom of speech should be curtailed. As best I can tell, it appears that some people either they haven't really thought about what they are demanding or they believe that freedom of speech privileges whatever they want to say over other ideas in the marketplace.

It should be noted that not all speech is protected. Good luck yelling fire in a movie theatre when there isn't one and then try and find a court that won't convict you of something. By the same token, if the information you are distributing is both provably wrong and dangerous, a case can be made for it to be removed for public safety reasons. Invoking freedom of speech does not mean that your opponents are not allowed to point out the flaws in your argument. Your opponents also have the right of free speech. And your ability to speak freely neither guarantees you to the right to an audience nor does it mean that what you say is not open to being critiqued. Last year, Paul Henry got kicked off NZ breakfast television, essentially for being racist. People claimed that his freedom of speech was being impinged. It wasn't. No one stopped him from saying anything. All that happened was he was no longer provided with an audience. If that is censorship, then TVNZ is censoring any cab driver who thinks people should hear his opinion by not giving them a nationwide platform from which to spout them.

Similarly, I often read criticisms of stridency and aggression leveled against people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. They are criticized when they attack the positions of the faithful, of specific religions and religion in general. I have not yet seen however, a satisfactory justification for the ideas of religion to be exempt from critical analysis, indeed, I've seen at least one good justification as to why they shouldn't be exempted. In this case, the issue is not freedom of speech but the privileging of certain ideas in the public sphere. Some ideas may be sacred to certain groups of people, but if they are put into the public sphere, they are fair game. It's the only way we as a race can advance, if we open every idea about what we are and what we think to scrutiny. As Richard Feynman (the Dude of Science) said:
Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled. - Richard Feynman.

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