On Free Speech

2022 Year of Aesthetics Series №9

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. -The First Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

I agree fully with this most fundamental formulation of speech principle. I have found almost no restriction on my speech within the borders of this nation.

What do I think speech is:

1 Spoken words and their recording free of compulsion.

2 Written words and the distribution of those words on platforms free of compulsion.

3 Silence or right to withhold an opinion, outside of trials where rules of juris prudence applies.

4 Voting with ones feet, wallet, stock, portfolio. leave subscriptions to publication or platforms, call for boycotts, participating in boycotts.

5 Assembling to speak or protest without breaking laws. (If you break laws you have to be willing to suffer consequence of arrest and prosecution and you are guaranteed a defense in court)

6 & what ever is a sensible form of speech I have missed.

Threat to speech include the conflation of private speech with government control of speech. If I oppose someone's opinion and I take any of the actions above with excluding slander or libel. I can do it on platforms available to me, but I am not guaranteed access to private platforms unless some contractual agreement ensures such access. I expect others to be free to agree or disagree with me.

Recently there has been a call to cancel speech and also cancel people negating there livelihoods and their speech on private platforms. Sometime this is an uniformed or politically motivated attaches. We should be cautious with what we want to negate, but we cannot be uncritical.

My first heuristic on speech is to ask is this a deep seated concern that I need to respond to or is it just a momentary flash of emotion driving the response. It is often worth not engaging based on the triviality of the point of contention. Responding to a person with a limited reach or impact also is often a waste of time. Also engagement most to the time is for low stakes so discussion with those in good faith often are the best.

Speech can escalate and should based on the cost of the error. So escalation may be unnecessary just to call someone you don’t know with an unimportant opinion an idiot. Or it could be more significant call for action when the speech you are contending with has large reach (audience quality or quantity) or the error implies a meaningful threat. I tend to go with minimum required severity of speech when I get in a contentious issue. An example may be where I stop doing business with a bad actor or make a throated defense of my position. But I think overall boycotts or attacking peoples employment severe and only for cases where the reach of the actor is far and the error grave. There should be no risking peoples privacy or threat of physical harm as a proper form of speech.

I also argue falsifiable ideas in a very scientific manner, and try to keep an open mind to human error (on both sides) and also try to keep intent of the parties out of the scientific discussion. If parties don’t argue in this frame and the scale of the argument is small stakes then it may be best to just leave. I rarely block or mute on twitter, but those who just keep arguing after a pretty robust discussion need to be filtered out, and on a private level I think this is fine. I have been blocked usually best for both parties involved.

For non-scientific arguments I tend to consider a wide range of opinions even those with those who disagree with me quite valid. Also these discussions are great places to learn. I am often swayed by good arguments or synthesize part of opposition arguments. I don’t think every frame work has equal validity and often I am not swayed. I find people who can part disagreeing and without excessive ire the most interesting.

I also make little effort to argue about things that are fashionable or fad like. It is hard to win in these spaces and it is a lot of really silly topics de jour that I just skip.

Now to the final thought, if one chooses to enter the fray , one can use all the forms of speech above, and also one can feel the social consequences of the forms above. One can attack with speech and disinvest platforms or people if they have a large public influence or do a great deal of harm. Most speech situation are not this. And most speech is just talk , trivial and transitory thoughts. As long as both sides have a voice they should be able to use it.

PS The first amendment protections and calls for government censorship are an extreme non-of us should call for.

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