Free Speech is Hard

The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception.

George Packer, The Free-Speech Crisis – The New Yorker

2 thoughts on “Free Speech is Hard

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  1. Internal free speech is “hard”, certainly. The Athenians killed Socrates for, essentially, making them think uncomfortable thoughts.

    Harder is — apropos of your recent post, David — accepting that free speech doesn’t mean consequence free speech. Free always to voice one’s challenging and unwelcome thoughts doesn’t mean free from criticism or the loud response of those to whom the ideas are, indeed, challenging and unwelcome.

  2. Criticism and loud response to unwelcome thoughts are the price of those thoughts, or, in the minds of those who enjoy rocking the boat, they are the payoff itself.

    But when that response goes beyond responding to the argument and it strays into the ad hominem, into personal attacks, into demands that the individual or his medium be somehow constrained from giving voice to those thoughts, or indeed into violence agains that individual or medium, the response is at best inappropriate and must itself be checked, ere it grow and become something more nefarious.

    To that point, Athens was wrong to kill Socrates, and a case can be made that in killing the effective leader of its loyal opposition, Athens hastened its own decline and the rise of more repressive forms of government. No cause, however just, is served when it seeks to silence even its most detestable critics.

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