Friday, 18 August 2017

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Warning: This post is adversarial and angry. On re-reading, I realize it is going to feel like I'm accusing you of something personally.

I've made a few posts saying free speech is not as great as we think it is and it doesn't accomplish what we think it does. I don't know if I've mentioned my alternative. Here it is: "We shouldn't make bad laws."

That sounds awfully childish and ridiculous. Today I was discussing the issue with someone who pulled out "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

First, I'd like to say that if you feel you can use a latin phrase to argue for your position with the expectation that the other person will know what the latin phrase means, that means that the other person is already aware of that argument. I get it, most people haven't necessarily thought through an argument just because they are aware of it. I have.

People want to say, "If the government can regulate speech, who gets to say what speech they regulate?" I've got an answer for this: "Someone - more likely a group of someones - gets to say, and they might be morally wrong when they do so."

If that answer seems unacceptable, I'd like to ask for an alternative. Either you are taking the position that somehow "free speech" can give a free pass to moral outcomes or you are accepting that we might be making a mistake. I mean, you are being confronted with someone right this very moment who thinks that holding up free speech as a special right - beyond the general right to do whatever you feel like doing - is a bad idea at this point in history. If you are a free speech advocate then one of us is right and one of us is wrong. You think you can tell the difference. You don't, however, think someone else would be able to tell the difference between harmful speech and non-harmful speech.

If you are tempted to answer, "Yes, but I support your right to argue against free speech" that isn't an answer to the problem I'm posing at all. It's once against assuming the conclusion that free speech is always going to make things okay. All that would be saying is that you don't think the government should make it illegal for me to speak against free speech. I honestly don't care if you think the government should make it illegal for me to speak against free speech or not.
They aren't going to

Here are two separate public policy ideas:

We should always protect free speech.
We should make denying the holocaust illegal as they have in some

You are telling me you know which one of those is right. I am telling you I am pretty sure you are wrong about which one of those is right. History - assuming history has any future - is going to judge one of us wrong. There was never any possibility of taking a position that couldn't end up being just as wrong as whatever
terrible historical event you think free speech will keep us from repeating

"Who watches the watchers?" My answer is "We all have to whether we like it or not." The free speech answer is, "We've set up a system where there are no watchers, trust us!" Maybe my answer isn't so childish compared to the alternative.

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