We know what we mean when we say something. However, language is an ambiguous beast and meaning doesn’t always accompany words . It is my impression that many disagreements are rooted, at least partially, in different definitions and understanding of words and concepts.
Anyone who has been in a heated argument knows that people seldom change their minds. Indeed, politics sometimes seems to be reduced to appeals to our baser emotions of either nurturing or fearing. While emotions are essential motivators to start thinking about a topic, I will try to make the case that when evaluating proposition we should aim for cold rationality, the live-long-and-prosper kind. As a die-hard liberal I will propose classical liberalism as a framework for rational evaluation.
Why is free speech important? There are many areas for which it is important, such as political discourse, but here I would like to focus on one specific aspect: knowing and the need for constant challenges to our knowledge. There are many ways in which we can end up holding a mistaken belief and one does not have to look far into the past to find examples. As orthodoxies get established quickly, the freedom to question and hold (perceived) wrong views is essential for advancing the state of knowledge. To illustrate this point, let us consider the difficulties of knowing.
When one engages in a discussions of free speech and censorship, it is inevitable that someone will bring up the idea of free speech as an absolute right. There are many variations on the theme, be it that academic freedom is absolute or that free speech is a human right. These profession of belief are taken as conclusive argument, often in an angry voice.
As it is common at the societies weekly meetings, a good natured argument raged recently on whether voluntary gender segregation is good or not. In a first installement, John and Paul laid out their taken on the situation. This is the respons of Paul to John’s opening statment. Naturally, the Free Speech and Secular Society …
On Monday evening, Akif Pirinçci, a Turkish born German author and professional Provocateur, took to the stage in front of a Pediga demonstration. Pediga, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, is a German protest movement somewhere between UKIP and Britain First depending on whom you ask. Pirinçci, known for his vulgar language full of hyperbolic comparisons, did what he did best, reportedly shocking even some of the Pediga demonstrators.
What is incitement to violence? This might appear to be an easy enough question but a recent new article illustrates some of the intricacies of such a judgement. A German newspaper ran a story on on group “enough is enough” that tries to combat homophobia on Facebook and the difficulties that this entails.
The government is brandishing its illiberal credentials with the announcement of the so called snoopers charter, the Investigatory Powers Bill. This bill would force providers of instant-messaging services to give the government access to communications between people. Thankfully, end-to-end encryption is becoming the standard for instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp. This means not even the company can read the messages. Under the proposed legislation, the government could ban these services that are unable to provide the messages.
On July 6th, a man, with a small child on his shoulders also holding a flag, walked passed Houses of Parliament while draped in the flag of IS. A discussion ensued asking why the man was not arrested for carrying the flag. As John has aptly pointed out, it is an illiberal move to punish someone for an act of free expression that causes no harm. Boris Johnson has made a similar argument.
A lot of political discourse is centred around the idea of bad or downright evil people. Be it the bourgeoisie or benefit cheats, immigrants or even the heartless Tories and the stupid Socialists. For me this points to a deeper problem in politics.