Freedom of Speech More Critical Than Ever

Without freedom of speech that protects even ideas we abhor, we lose the opportunity to become our greatest selves. As November approaches, I suspect many of us will be tempted to seek bans on certain types of political speech, particularly if the U.S. general election is as vulgar as the Republican primary. The answer is not institutional control, but speaking out on our own.

Growing numbers advocate to criminalize disagreement with the general consensus on climate change. Many are actively working to make any speech criminal if someone takes offense or if the speech challenges a particular religion’s view of what is acceptable. It’s not safe space that protects us from the worst of tragedies. It is limiting institutional, bureaucratic control of our thoughts and speech that protects us. In the short term, it’s more difficult to deal with someone who sounds to us like a raging lunatic, but debate is more likely to force us to think deeply and resolve our differences than breaking into our segregated corners until we see each other as less than human.

Even as I work to design a voting booth vomit bag, knowing I will be disgusted with myself regardless of which of the likely nominees ends up getting my vote, I will fully defend the rights of my friends to support Trump, Clinton or any other candidate. I will assume you are doing so with the best of motivations unless your actions or remarks belie an alternative explanation. And if that happens, I hope you will respect my right to consider your views, take a deep breath and share my disagreement.

Democracy is not built around the presumption than any one of us knows all the right answers. It is built on the assumption that collective and even contentious debate will lead us to better answers.