Wednesday, January 13, 2021

๐Ÿ”Š KC5. The Tyranny of Ideology: Why Free-Speech Has Its Limits

Below is a Script for my Kilroy Cafe Podcast, Episode #5, released on 13 Jan 2021. It may differ slightly from the final broadcast.

This episode is available on major podcast platforms, including Podbean and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there.

I'm Glenn Campbell, and my Tweet of the Day is this: 

There is no ideology that won't eventually lead to tyranny.

This tweet that I just posted was inspired by events of recent days. This is January 13, 2021. On January 6, a week ago, President Donald Trump incited a riot at the US Capitol. You know about it. It's in all the history books.

In the ensuing days, Trump, with only a few days left in his term, was banned from Twitter and virtually all other mainstream social media—along with many of the groups that were touting his claims. I think even PornHub banned him, theatrically at least. This has raised concerns among free speech advocates that this sets a dangerous precedent. You can't ban speech just because it is distasteful. All opinions deserve a platform.

And my position is, No, not all positions deserve a platform. Everyone has the right to free speech but not the right to be heard or broadcast. If Trump had been banned back in 2015, the country might have avoided the four disastrous years of his reign.

But I can also see the free-speech position. Once you start censoring people, where do you stop? When a government or a giant social media company censors information in the name of "safety", there's a huge potential for abuse. 

For example, in another news story today, the government of Uganda has blocked all social media in the run-up to their elections. I haven't looked into this in detail, but I'm pretty sure the government has some kind of self-serving motive for this, and I'm also pretty sure that they're using Trump's Twitter ban to bolster their position. The free-speech advocates will say, "You see, this precedent is already having a chilling effect around the world," but I suspect that the Uganda government was already prepared to censor social media. Trump's Twitter ban just gave them a new excuse.

My higher-level take on this is that there's no ideology that won't eventually lead you into trouble, be it free speech or free markets or globalization or any other theory that people get hooked into. There's always a point where you've gone too far and you have to pull back.

There has to be a good term for this, and I don't really have a good one yet. It's related to the Cobra Effect: No matter what your theoretical framework is, there's a good chance it is going to go bad when it's put into practice, because the real world is complex and can easily subvert you intentions.

In the case of free speech, it works pretty well among intelligent people, who should be able to evaluate ideas on their own and choose the one that works best for their. They naturally want an open marketplace of ideas, with none of them excluded.

But then you have the non-intelligent people who believe everything they're told. Instead of evaluating information on its own merits, they evaluate the person providing the information. If the person is perceived as part of their tribe, they're going to believe everything that comes out of that person's mouth. That's why some people believe Trump no matter what he says. He's perceived as part of their tribe.

And you can see the evolutionary value in this. early humans survived because they pulled together with tribe. They defended their tribal leader, whether he was right or wrong, and this may have given you an advantage in passing on your own genes to the next generation.

So any modern society has to accommodate not only for the intelligent people who can evaluate information and the idiots who can't, and that's why free speech can never be absolute. At a certain point, those who control social media have to say, "That's enough. You can't say that here." 

Frankly, I think it should have been done long ago, back in 2015, because we came perilously close to the abyss this time. Joe Biden won the 2020 election by only a very thin margin, and if only a few votes had changed, our country would have been in a terrible place.

Free speech is important but its not worth losing your life or country for.


Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.

{This post backed up to email: 1/16/21