Interesting Debate: “The State of Free Speech in America”

What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to.
Hansell B. Duckett

I just watched an interesting debate on YouTube titled “The State of Free Speech in America” hosted by the National Constitution Center.

Some interesting arguments on an issue many people would say they “mostly” agree upon.

As written elsewhere, I strongly believe in freedom of speech — although I sure have my … spots where I’d say “enough is enough”. But yup, a great discussion. I think that they could have this discussion in this civilized manner also serves as a good argument for free speech. And yup, one the one hand Academia is pretty exclusive. But not sure how much online media has changed this. And I couldn’t help but stare increduously at the screen when someone praised Europe for laws preventing politicians from smear campaigns, so they could pursue a political career without fear. Another participant called it out as “Europe worship” — yup, sounds about right. Because as a European … really? Perhaps the Bild-Zeitung (I don’t link to it) should bring out an English edition and disspell that myth. Or better not, it’s bad enough. If you want to know how bad the German press can be (and the Bild is, in my opinion), have a look at (that’s not the Bild, but a watchblog that has a look at the Bild-Zeitung and other German news media).

BTW, the mentioned article by Ryan Holiday about “Outrage Porn” is also well worth the read. I am critical of Academia, but I see some signs of “outrage pornography” in some … let’s say what appears to me as pissed off bloggers, who criticize Academia in a state of perpetual outrage. It’s a nice reminder to (try to) remain constructive.

I haven’t read “Kindly Inquisitors” yet, but it’s on my list.


  1. I love that “more free speech worth listening to.” It’s an excellent statement of why we put up with so much foul and stupid speech–so we can be sure of hearing what needs to be heard.
    And the first free speech to go is almost always seditious libel, defined as: “Written or spoken words, pictures, signs, or other forms of communication that tend to defame, discredit, criticize, impugn, embarrass, challenge, or question the government, its policies, or its officials; speech that advocates the overthrow of the government by force or violence or that incites people to change the government by unlawful means.”
    In other words, speech that’s like our Declaration of Independence.
    Keep in mind that in our large, modern, complex, technologically advanced society, one doesn’t need a Gestapo to censor critics. Setting the IRS on dissident groups will serve as well or better.

  2. Yup, that’s the nice thing of collecting a couple of thousand quotes and selecting suiting ones for eMail signatures to summarize their content for a few years. No matter what I write, it’s easy to remember (parts of) good quotations. The search function does the rest. More frequently the question is which to chose.

    Regarding that particular quotation, I think today one danger is missing the free speech worth listening to. Summaries of commentaries are often biased (or could win an award for creative writing, even in hell), filter bubbles screening us from conflicting but powerful arguments, and the sheer volume makes it just so hard to find. A needle in a haystack is nothing against it, even with search engines that put electromagnets to shame (okay, I botched that metaphor ;-)). But yup, the problem remains — much is easy to find online when you know about it, but you have to know about it. Hopefully the interesting bits rise to the top, although I think outrage porn is a realistic issue.

    Hmm, I didn’t write it, but I would distinguish between free speech and defamation/libel in the sense of “communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation”. I think it should always be possible to question any person and to express any opinion. And of course, to use satire (yup, even those cartoons). Defamation/libel on the other hand — in the sense of knowingly false accusations/asserting false statements — that is something different. Especially if it’s about criminal activity, in which case I would expect a police investigation and — sometimes life-destroying — social consequences even if innocent (which might have been the whole point). As usual, there are areas where it’s difficult to distinguish the two, e.g., in some comedy routines, but still, rather err on the side of free expression. And yup, like (I think) in the discussion: There’s a difference between “I think/am of the opinion that x is …” and “x is …”. Perhaps there’s too much influence from a skeptical mindset: If a person makes an assertion of fact, I expect proof.

    And yup, totally agree. What worked for Capone works for other, non-criminal “undesirables” as well. Although I think that the Gestapo has been outsourced to Twitter-storms that Hitchcock’s birds to shame. Although perhaps a strong but not devastating wind at sea is more appropriate analogy. Yup, your ship might be knocked down, but once it’s past you do some cleaning up and repairs and that it. Twitter-storms can produce some immediate devastating effects (including getting you fired for telling a joke), but I am not sure that they come back if you weathered the first assault. By which I mean some woman complaining about a joke and many others reacting in outrage, not a boss panicking and firing the person. Hmm, perhaps one good reaction to Twitter storms would be “We are looking into it, but we will do it diligently and inform you about the results (in a couple of months)”. Might escalate the issue or it might drive it below the virtual fold. In any case, I think it’s best not giving digital lynch mobs what they want until some time has passed (unless immediate danger) and the issue has been critically assessed (e.g., demand proof, do a reality test, etc.). Even if they have a point the judgment will likely be emotionally colored and too harsh. How was this — “apply light, not heat”.

    Hmm, in a way an interesting time to live in … and thank you for the comment, made me think 🙂

    [Note: Did a couple of edits after posting.]

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