Here’s a post by our pal Jeffery Hodges in which he excerpts some remarks by Salman Rushdie on the subject of free speech. There is also a comment, by someone called “Crude”, that triggered a knee-jerk reaction on my part — but which, as I began to respond, I realized deserved more careful consideration. I’m still thinking about it. Here it is:
Rushdie only supports freedom of speech insofar as he thinks that freedom advances his social and political aims. If you ask him, what if a real freedom of speech would undermine liberal values, make the world more religious and conservative, he wouldn’t be able to process it. To him, you can tell if you have those freedoms properly by whether the very thing he wants to see happen, happens more often.
Even you are similar. You say, “Better to have the bad ideas out in the sunlight where they can be attacked”. But what happens if Freedom of Speech doesn’t make the bad ideas wither and die? What if the “bad ideas” – I wonder what they are – thrive in a Free Speech environment, and the “good ideas” die? Will it be time to call the project a failed experiment?
Anyone can support a supposedly precious freedom when they think it will lead to a world they personally prefer.
The question the comment aroused in me is: are there memes that are so virulent, so dangerous, that they outcompete more virtuous and desirable memes in the arena of free expression?
This has of course been the motivation, throughout history, for the suppression of heresies. But is it still something we should be worried about? Think carefully before you answer.
What does it take for a “bad idea” to defeat a “good idea” in the open market? Highly successful memes, for example the world’s more durable and infectious religions, have been tuned by a long-term selective process to be tremendously contagious, and impressively resistant to attack.
Is free-speech absolutism more dangerous than it seems?