There are a number of beliefs held by figureheads of the Free-Speech Warrior (FSW) movement that appear to be widely held throughout their community. In this entry I wish to examine three. They can be summarised as follows:
(1) There are no conditions in which free speech should be censored, limited, or even curtailed.
(2) Truth is the only necessary (and thus sufficient) condition, thus the only justification for holding a belief.
(3) Emotions, or feelings, should never be an input into our reasoning about (1) or (2).
These three beliefs are so intuitively obvious and fundamental to the FSW movement, that they almost provide no serious argument for them. For that reason, I think we can refer to these 3 beliefs as core tenets of the SFW movement.
But I don’t think they are as obvious as SFWs take them to be, nor do I think they are wholly compatible tenets in their most naive forms. So in the next series of entries, I want to consider what those tensions are, how they cause problems, and how an SFW might attempt to resolve them. But for this entry, I just want to consider what it is that makes these core tenets so attractive.
Now, (1) appears to be a product of our time, (2) looks to be common sense, and (3) appears to be a natural consequent of (1) and (2). After all, (1) allows for no conditions at all to intervene while (2) only allows for one – truth. And while (3) appears to fall out of (1) and (2), FSWs feel a strong inclination to explicitly state it, for they reason that their ideological opponents – the “regressive left” – predominately use their feelings as a way of manipulating an audience, as opposed to appealing to the “light of Reason”.
First, freedom of expression, as part of the political-philosophy experiment known as the “American Project”, has proven to be effective in improving our moral progress. Freedom of expression has given marginalised groups protection from the state to dissent and question society, the status-quo, and even the state itself. Such questioning and criticism has allowed for more peaceful (though clearly not fully peaceful) reformation of law and social ethics. So effective has the free speech idea been, that even people of other nations have latched onto it, even when it is not given or protected by their own states.
But more intuitive is (2), which I think is widely held amongst humans, regardless of culture, gender, etc. So intuitive, in fact, that asking for a normative argument for why truth should be the only justifier for a belief strikes most as absurd. Not only that, but it seems psychologically impossible to continue holding a belief once we know it to be false. Note I am not saying that when someone is shown evidence for why a belief is false they will either immediately, or eventually, drop that belief. What I am saying here is that when a person truly realises a belief is false, they can no longer hold onto it, no matter how hard they try.
As for (3) – that feelings should never be an input into our reasoning – it seems to be more a reaction (whether warranted or not) to the left and social justice warriors (SJWs), who, it is asserted by the reactionaries, use emotions and feelings to bully and impose their views upon others. Many FSWs and ‘skeptics’ seem to think that (3) is either a recent notion, or is at least recent in the history of ideas, pointing to the Enlightenment as having discovered and developed the idea. But, of course, the idea that Reason should trump all emotive appeals has a much longer history than that, as even pre-socratics argued, or already employed, such a belief.
But how compatible are these beliefs? In the next few entries I will argue the following.
First, there is tension between (1) and (2) because truth is intuitively a condition that does, and perhaps should, limit what one can say, and therefore restricts speech. Second, a false dilemma is set up between (2) and (3), as the truth of some proposition is only predicated by our feelings. Third, there is tension between (1) and (3), because there are cases in which our emotive responses are considered adequate grounds to limiting what others should say. And, finally, there is a tension between (1), (2) and (3), because the belief in (1) and (2) are often based upon axiomatic intuitions, and thus can be interpreted as a type of feeling, thus both (1) and (2) are self defeating.