Freedom From Speech

Posted here (week 2356).

Growing up under the virtually immutable US constitution, it’s easy to conflate freedom with the rights it enshrines. Only with a broader perspective did I find that the freedom from fear is more meaningful than the freedom to use weapons, and that our right to privacy should be more broad than protecting our property.

Most recently, living in the Netherlands and watching the US from afar has shown me that the freedom of speech should have limits. The Second Amendment makes sense only in the context of citizens criticizing their state.

I don’t refer only to the ridiculous cries of “free speech” to rationalize intimidation and general incivility in commercial channels. Even Big Internet is waking up to assert that keeping peace in their domain and social responsibility mandates some limits.

The likes of Fred Phelps, Alex Jones, and Andrew Anglin push well past any reasonable limits to speech in a civil society. Inasmuch as the government has a responsibility to protect all citizens from harm, it ought to limit their incendiary calls for violence. American culture is uncomfortable with this, though, living with the MandevillianBernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees was an 18th century precursor to today’s Randian promise that aggregated selfishness naturally results in progress. delusion that protecting individual freedoms is sufficient.

So, there, we tolerated hateful speech. Because it seems ridiculous to apply intolerance to intolerance before any direct harm has been done.

Now I’ve moved to a society that feels stronger and more resilient than the one I grew up in. That strength is built on norms that all stakeholders should be heard and decisions made only with broad consensus. These norms require respectful tolerance and even admiration for diversity.

Here, the resulting paradox of tolerance is easily resolved.As Karl Popper would have it. All people and their perspectives should be tolerated, but intolerant actions and speech are met with corresponding intolerance.

So I’ve come to agree with the European approach on hate speech now that I’ve lived with the results of both apoproaches. So it pleases me greatly that our mayor and others were successful in denying Steven Anderson entry to the Netherlands.