Saturday, March 13, 2021

Protecting Dissent

The consequences of freedom of speech when a global platform is within the reach of just about anyone seem to have gotten a little overwhelming lately. On the one hand, it's true that freedom of speech is a political right, and therefore is not intrinsically infringed by the choices of a private entity. On the other hand, it's equally true that political rights do not thrive when they cease to represent the values of a society. 

And it is difficult to remember just how unnatural the concept of freedom of speech is. The natural human instinct is for consensus, for harmony, and for shunning if not blotting out people who disagree, a practice that was undoubtedly in place long before the Pharaohs started scratching out engravings to their disfavored predecessors. 

Even though it's my job to have people disagree with me, I still hate it every time. Still get sick to my stomach when I see that new round of pleadings come in, still get annoyed when a malicious tenant has managed to cajole a public interest attorney to dragging out an eviction to the damage of everyone around them.

At the same time, I know that this is absolutely necessary. That without that adverse position, I would get sloppy and cut corners, no matter how much I tried not to. There's no substitute for someone actually getting in the ring against you to keep you honest and careful.

And dissent in every setting has that same function. A recent book by Charlan Nemeth, In Defense of Troublemakers, points out that dissent improves thought processes and decision making--even when it is 100% wrong. It's not just that dissent is valuable because it might be right--it's because even when it's wrong, facing up to it causes us to dig deeper, consider more angles, probe underlying reasons and causes, and ultimately come to a better decision. It's because welcoming even stupid dissenters makes it more likely we'll get to hear from wise ones.

So while I certainly understand the difference between government censorship and the content choices of a private organization, I also think it's worth speaking up and fighting for freedom of speech as a social value, not just a constitutional right. That it's worth preserving the voice of the cranks, the ignorant, the prejudiced, and that one guy who has questions about line 48 in the budget just as the meeting was about to adjourn for doughnuts. Because freedom of speech is hard. It's not natural. It takes practice. And it's how we keep learning. 

5 comments:

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

As I do not know of the happenings behind this blog post - it leaves me totally mystified. I just want to say two things:
- Yes freedom of speech is an acquired virtue.
- It's so good to hear from you again!

Unknown said...

I am also glad to hear from you again.
Specifically, I am glad to hear your comments on your recent book.
And yes, I have found dissent to be valuable whether I like the opposing argument or not.

Unknown said...

oops! I thought my name would be posted.
This is Mom R

Eva Wilson said...

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Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Hello Queen of Carrots. I hope everything is OK in the Duchy. You are missing in the blogosphere.