Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Free Speech or Coercion?

Lately my attention has been turned to free speech and whether it is wrong to express your beliefs, and/or make them freely available to those who wish to know.

I have had both theists and atheists (presumably all statists to some degree) express to me variations of these two related arguments:

1) You can speak your mind, but not if it offends someone. Your beliefs offend me and I wish you didn't express it.

2) It is acceptable to express your beliefs, but if and only if those beliefs are correct. Otherwise it's wrong.

Both of these arguments are, in fact, incorrect. Why? Because both of these arguments use a form of coercion: forced suppression of free communication. In fact, there is no scenario possible where it is permissible to prevent someone from expressing their beliefs, either by posting them on the internet, or telling a curious inquisitor about them, or any other method of belief expression.

In the first argument I provided, the reason why it's wrong is fairly obvious. Nobody has the right to not be offended, especially when they are the ones who are seeking information and come across some offensive variety of it. For example, I have had theists who found my blog Kill The Afterlife and have given me the first argument. I didn't force them to find or even read my blog. I didn't force them to accept by beliefs as true either. I merely made my beliefs available to those who wanted to read about them. If the theist doesn't want to get offended, then he should close his Internet browser the minute he sees "Kill The Afterlife" as the blog title. If he gets offended by a TV show, he should change the channel.

For a somewhat crude example, allow me to invoke homosexual porn. I do not find homosexual porn arousing. In fact, I think its gross to watch. Actually, I think male-to-male porn is gross, but I love girl-to-girl porn. It’s merely my taste or opinion. Does that mean I have a problem with homosexual porn producers? No! Do I think gay porn should be banned? No! But if I did in fact think gay porn should be banned, then who is immoral? The porn producers, or me, the proponent of coercion? Myself, of course! The porn producers didn't force me to watch it, so what justification do I have to force them to stop it? The fact that I don't like gay porn is no justification at all.

Argument #1 also gives us a slippery slope. What if I don't like chocolate ice cream? Should I ban Baskin Robins from producing it? You can apply this argument to any specific scenario and quickly realize its absurdity.

Argument #2 is a little bit more difficult to pin down. At first glace, it appears like a valid argument to the average Joe (although the errors are probably blatantly obvious to many readers of this blog). But when we dissect it, we can eventually find its error. So let's start with the dissection!

Argument #2 has two distinct components:

1) A belief.

2) A desire to express said belief.

And now to elaborate on these two distinct components and how they are properly acted upon:

1) Use your perception to the best of your ability to (hopefully) arrive at the correct belief.

2) Stand up for your beliefs.

Now both a theist and atheist, both a statist and anarchist, believe that their beliefs are correct. How is one to follow the creed in argument #2 that says "It is acceptable to express your beliefs, but if and only if those beliefs are correct," when the person in question does not know if he/she is incorrect? They think they are correct, so they could never knowingly break this rule even if they attempted to abide by it!

In addition, there is still a coercive, anti-free-market element within argument #2. It’s analogous to saying "The inferior product should be banned from store shelves!" In fact, I recently put together a Coke vs. Pepsi example to expose the coercive and unfair nature of the argument:

Lets say Coke is the best tasting and best priced, and that Pepsi tastes like shit and costs more. Should the Pepsi be banned from the market? No! It should still be available for consumption/evaluation, and should only disappear from the market through natural lack of consumer demand. Only then can you say that the Coke survived cause it was better and that Pepsi disappeared because it sucked. If you forcibly remove the Pepsi from the market, you can never honestly say that the Coke was honestly superior based on evaluation of both products.

Whether its a marketplace of soda products, or a marketplace of beliefs, the marketplace needs to be free.
Only through a free market can these products (or beliefs) succeed or fail on their own merits, because only then will these products be subject to natural selection (consumer demand).

We can now see that argument #2 fails on multiple levels. It fails because proponents of given beliefs always think their beliefs are correct (otherwise they wouldn't believe them), and it also fails because it employs coercion and denies the free market principle.

If an incorrect belief is coercively silenced, then it illegitimizes the correct belief. Even if Coke is truly and objectively better than Pepsi, it will not help the Coke company's image/legitimacy if some Government or Church or terrorist blew up the Pepsi factory, would it?

The free market is the only tool with which we can find out which products or beliefs are truly good or right, and which are truly bad or wrong.

Either you support free speech for everyone, or you don't support free speech at all. If you support free speech, then you want beliefs to succeed or fail based on their own merits. But if you don't support free speech, then you want beliefs to be forcibly silenced - or even eliminated - based on your own taste or whim.


Delta said...

I do not find homosexual porn arousing. In fact, I think its gross to watch. Actually, I think male-to-male porn is gross

Who you trying to convince AK? ;)

Aaron Kinney said...

Myself, thats who! Im not gay! Im not Im not Im not!!!!!

Seriously though, I chose the gay porn issue because Its an extreme and crude example of taste that will likely inspire strong reactions from the reader.

I think girl-on-girl gay porn is hot as hell though ;)

Delta said...

This kind of reminds me of a comedian I saw on Comedy Central once. He was saying that we're all a little gay and justifies it with a conversation with his friend.

Him:Hey bud, do you like porn?
Friend:Hell yeah I like porn! Just no gay stuff.
Him: Well, do you like it when the guy in the porno has a small limp penis?
Friend: Ahh hell no, I want him to have a huge, stiff cock....ummmm...I see your point.

Aaron Kinney said...

LMAO! You know I once did a psychological experiment on myself. I got ahold of lots of porn, with both girl on girl and boy-girl stuff.

The girl-on-girl stuff turned me on, but I actually enjoyed watching the boy-girl sex more. Maybe because I imagine myself doing the penetrating? I dunno...

But Im still not gay, I swear! :P

Delta said...

Maybe because I imagine myself doing the penetrating?

Yeah, that's probably the case. I feel the same way in that I prefer guy-girl over girl-girl. Plus the girl on girl stuff sometimes seems really unrealistic, at least to me, because I don't know any hot lesbians.

Well this is a good discussion. I'm glad we've cleared all this important stuff up =)