Free Speech (Sometimes) Cures Hate Speech

Those of us who put our faith in reason do not mind listening to speakers who are wrong.

  1. We enjoy hearing alternate points of view, even if we don’t get a chance to voice our disagreement. Just listening and digesting it on our own or with friends keeps us mentally fit.
  2. We enjoy disagreeing with error, finding a flaw in the argument or exposing the lack of argument. We trust that the errant can be corrected rationality and that our own humble efforts can actually help good-willed people to correct themselves. (As teachers, we do this every day with students. As friends or enemies, we do this occasionally with peers.)
  3. We also trust reason to lead the errant back to the right way, even without our help, so long as that thinker is truly committed to truth, facts, reason, evidence, logic, and argument. If the errant are not committed to truth, then nothing can help them, so we do not bother ourselves further.
  4. Finally, we trust that error, while pernicious, is not mighty to overcome normal people’s common sense. We are not so afraid of brainwashing that the mere possibility of listening to a Speaker Who is Wrong and Bad will lead the lemmings off a cliff. Rather, we trust that most people are more or less reasonable who can reliably “gut check” a bad speaker, if not out-argue them.

For some reason, many on the political left do not share this faith in reason. They think the purveyers of errant Badthink needs to be bullied, browbeaten, or shamed into believing the Right Beliefs. The stubborn who refuse to be cajoled must be Silenced. Those who listen to the Bad Speaker are in danger of… I don’t know, spontaneous combustion?

Jonathan Haidt gets it right again: free speech can help hate speech. In this case, it’s the alt-right.

Now, Richard Spenser is wrong. And not just because he hates Star Wars. He is wrong that “whiteness” defines America. He is wrong that skin color has a native land. He is wrong that a diversity of cultures always destroy the host.

Fair enough. What is the best response to his error? To no platform him? Create a fuss? Protest? Demonize? No, the right response is to hear him out, disagree, point out his errors, and if he will not change, (especially) to reason with those who might be persuaded by his views. For example, if someone I know disputed the paragraph above – I would not try to shame them into silence; I talk with them about it.

Haidt points out four truths about trying to Silence or Shut Up Badthink.

  1. Censoring a speaker may increase some people’s desire to hear that speaker’s message, particularly those who perceive the speaker as similar to them in some way.
  2. Censoring a speaker may be perceived as threatening to people who perceive the speaker as similar to them.
  3. The perception of threat is likely to increase identification with a salient ingroup.
  4. Increased ingroup identification in response to threat may result in anger, hostility, and aggression towards outgroups.

Read the rest here.