Rethinking Free Speech

I’m rethinking my stance on “free speech.” What does that term mean?

In libertarian theory, it means you get to say whatever you want, on your property or property where the owner permits you to speak as you please. In the real world, the push for free speech concerns either public spaces, the ability to say things without losing your job and livelihood, or opposition to censorship on social media platforms.

I appreciate the right of people to speak their mind. But do you really want to be in an environment where anyone can say anything? I’m not talking about prohibiting those spaces. I’m talking about whether you would choose to spend your time there.

If any kind of talk is allowed, it resorts to the lowest common denominator. The worst, most vile things are said. Think of the dumbest, ignorant, and uncouth humans on the planet. Do you want to be around them? To you want to listen to them or talk to them?

Private clubs are not just for smoking cigars. They’re for people to gather amongst like-minded individuals and have conversations suited for their status, intelligence, class, and education. It is a form of peaceful segregation regarding who you want to speak with and listen to.

If you think about it, free speech becomes a problem the same way open borders become a problem. Should a homeless person be able to say vile stuff in front of a family with toddlers because they’re in a public park? Is that an accurate reflection of the private sector?


I don’t have an entire philosophy or ideology around this yet, but it would seem that whoever owns the property needs to have clear, unambiguous rules about what is allowed. Those rules ideally will be tailored to attract the kind of people they want frequenting it. I concede that this means social media platforms can ban people for political or religious reasons, but I would say that they need to be specific and consistent about it.

I guess that’s the thing. I don’t think people should be able to run roughshod over someone else’s property, but don’t lie about the rules you set for the kind of speech you allow and don’t allow on your property, either. If Twitter and Facebook want to censor right-wingers and religious views they don’t like, then they need to state it clearly. And if they’re going to discriminate on the speech they allow based on the demographic of the person who said it, then so be it.

But don’t claim you’re being objective and consistent about it. You don’t get to be arbitrary and capricious about who you censor (unless you state so to anyone who enters your property), because you’re engaging in fraud.

Free speech is almost a form of multiculturalism in which everyone is forced to compete for which culture will be the most dominant. There should be opportunity for everyone to be able to speak their mind, but that doesn’t mean they need to share the same space or venue to do it, and people should be free to form spaces that restrict what can be said in order to maintain true freedom of association.

(h/t to Davis Aurini and Matt Forney for their prior commentary on the issue that inspired this post).

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One Response to Rethinking Free Speech

  1. Gunner Q says:

    “I appreciate the right of people to speak their mind. But do you really want to be in an environment where anyone can say anything?”

    These two aren’t necessarily the same thing. Free speech as intended by the Founders was the freedom to express dissent. Not the freedom to insult, lie or curse.

    Allowing crude language but not dissent is not freedom of speech. Banning crude language but allowing dissent is.

    I suppose social media can thought-police its members because allowing someone to speak isn’t the same thing as publishing & distributing what they say. There, the problem is one of honesty not civil rights. If Zuckerberg simply announced what beliefs he intended to silence on Facebook then all would be well… and his competitors was cheerfully accept his dissatisfied customers. (They still are but at a much lower rate.)


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