Free Speech

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Protesters of the Free Speech Movement, at Sather Gate, University of California, Berkeley campus.
Protesters of the Free Speech Movement, at Sather Gate, University of California, Berkeley campus.

Free speech is the right of an individual or community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. And it's under threat; the Internet is leading to mistrust in 20th century's institutions, with free speech being one of the casualties.

I used to write political commentary on Twitter. But we should stop doing that. Tweets are like farts in an elevator full of people. They relieve the stress, but you’re ruining everyone’s day, and just like farts gone in the wind, tweets have no lasting value. Quite the contrary, out-of-context tweets will be used in the court of public opinion, if you’re ever found guilty of blasphemy.

Politics has a way of finding us, we all have an ideology, and if we’d like to share it, it’s best if we articulate it, to explain the reasoning behind it. Which is why, occasionally, I’ll write political commentary on this blog.

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By writing this, I know that I won’t change minds, not immediately anyway. And I also know that I’m exposing myself, as I am a privileged, middle-class, white and straight man with a mind full of blasphemy. But I can pull out my born-mostly-poor-in-comunism card, and the West’s phobia against my nationality was used for Brexit 🤷‍♂️

Rights #

By “rights”, we mean freedoms that humans are born with and that the state protects. Conservatives are fond of saying that access to public healthcare, for example, is only a privilege, and it can never be a “right”, because in order to have access to healthcare, someone else has to give it to you, either by free labor or taxes. You can also argue that protections for rights, like free speech, also costs money. After all, you need a functional justice system paid out of taxes. But a justice system is the state’s primary justification for existence, and without the freedoms that people are naturally born with, society is just another tyranny, with people wishing for a regression to city states or anarchy. The state exists primarily to protect the natural rights that free men are born with, with freedom of speech being one of those rights, and perhaps the most important right of them all.

In Western democracies, one of our shared values is individualism. This means that the rights of the individual are placed over those of the community. If you don’t protect the individual, you can’t protect minorities, and your so-called democracy is just a tyranny of the majority. It is only the liberal values that keep our democracies from devolving into tyrannies. Given that the modern state has a monopoly on violence, free speech is the right of the individual to speak his/her mind without fearing retaliation from the state.

Compared to 19th and 20th century, nowadays, the public square moved from multiple physical locations to the Internet, to social media networks that would become an oligopoly, affecting freedom of speech. We should also take into account that back then, information moved more slowly and was more filtered by mass-media, giving people more time to digest it. So I won’t deny that we are faced with unique challenges.

Nowadays, the Internet is changing everything. Just like the invention of the printing press, the Internet may lead to more educated people, to more democratic societies, but in the meantime we are looking at years of political unrest unfolding before our eyes. Every major protest you’ve seen, from “Occupy Wall Street” from 2011, to “Black Lives Matter” from 2020, or the 2021 storming of the US Capitol, is a protest of the counterculture fighting the establishment, and these protests are happening due to people losing faith in institutions, in liberal values, in modernity.

From the liberal point of view, it’s not hard to see why faith in institutions is dropping … for instance, in recent years the governments of the world have adopted the tools of autocracy, of dictatorships, for dealing with the crises that we are facing, and I can only point at how we’ve dealt with the pandemic — indefinite lockdowns, bad medical advice in the beginning (e.g. masks don’t work, but force children to wear masks anyway), censorship of the lab-leak theory, loss of privacy, indirect discrimination against the poor, inflation due to relief funds (aka printing money), or weaponizing the financial system in order to squash dissent. I can also point to how we’ve dealt with global warming, which led to the closing of nuclear power plants, externalizing energy production to Russia and fueling the war machine of a 21st century dictator, which is now killing innocents, while energy prices have been soaring, leading to more inflation and a serious drop in well-being. It’s no wonder that the far-right has been on the rise in the Western world, and it’s only a matter of time before radicals such as Marine Le Pen are in charge.

I’m a child of communism, I’m an Eastern European. And even after the Soviets invaded us, forcing us to be part of the Warsaw Pact, we’ve always looked towards the West, dreaming that one day we’ll adopt the Western values. It pains me to see the most sacred of all Western values, freedom of speech, being sacrificed on the progressive altar in order to “save democracy”. When politicians ask social networks to apply censorship, what they fail to mention is that democracy is on a decline, not because of fake news, or of hate speech, but rather because state institutions have been completely incompetent in the last decade or so, driving people to seek an alternative authority. And now we have progressives making a plea to Big Tech for more censorship because the state is inconvenienced by that pesky law.

If people want to save democracy via censorship, I’m afraid we won’t be left with a democracy that’s worth saving.

Unrestricted speech? #

“Free speech” isn’t “unrestricted” speech. This is usually a straw man argument.

Anti-defamation laws exist. For example in the US, incitement to violence isn’t allowed, although incitement to violence can be abused too, and personally I don’t think that shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater should be punishable by law, but that’s not what I’d like to talk about.

The difference between many European countries and the US, is that in Europe, “hate speech” is not protected speech. And this is where I have a problem, which is made worse by Big Tech companies going above and beyond the law in applying censorship and banning people for wrongthink.

I believe that as governments and social media networks are rushing to criminalize or censor “hate speech”, “fake news” or what have you, then free speech is dying, and democracy and secularism cannot survive without it.

Words #

Many people want to keep the bigots or the fascists out of our communities. Noble goals, with which I wholeheartedly agreed. All I wanted was for us to have friendly and inclusive communities, so like many people, I adopted “bigot” to describe the baddies we’re fearing. Being a non-native English speaker, it always made me uncomfortable, as it wasn’t clear what I accused people of, so in my communications I alternated between bigots and assholes, but they mean different things entirely.

What does “bigotry” mean? In a US context, “bigot” seems to mean racist or hateful, but in Romanian or French I see it refers to someone who is very religious, that practices religious rituals with zeal and rigidity. When used by progressives, “bigotry” describes intolerance or prejudices based on religion.

As examples, “bigotry” is when someone is pro-life, thinking that abortion is murder. Or when someone advocates against contraceptives, thinking that it reduces sex to a pleasureful and sinful activity. Or when someone advocates against women having jobs, thinking that the wives need to stay home to give birth and then take care of children. You can see how we can go in our samples from mild to extreme reactionism.

Is all bigotry bad, though? Tough question. I am radically pro-choice, given the horrors that happened in communist Romania, but in this matter it is women that have to decide, their body, their choice. And pro-life advocates do have a point in saying that abortion can be a crime, and if not, that’s nihilism and one has to wonder when is the right age at which fetuses become full humans such that killing them becomes unacceptable, or why is killing humans unacceptable anyway? This is a classic issue that needs debate, such that compromises can be made, compromises that will not make all activists happy, but that saves lives, and prevents society from tearing itself apart.

Does bigotry mean hatred? Hard question; it seems that it does from how it’s getting used, but things aren’t clear once you get to the nitty-gritty. I see people in Romania, that are pro-life, claiming that they are survivors of failed abortions, claiming that they wouldn’t exist if abortions were legal (back in the 80s). Such people can very well claim that, if you’re pro-choice, then you hate them, being against their very existence. They may claim that you’re a murderer, that you’ve got blood on your hands, in their eyes that’s hatred, and at that point all potential for compromise with them is gone. This happens when people don’t acknowledge the concerns of the other side.

In Romania, about 89% of the population is religious, being in the top 10 most religious countries in the world. Quite literally, I’ve got bigots among my friends and family. I would estimate a vast majority of Romanians are bigots, while only a small minority of us can be classified as assholes. I can’t tolerate people that advocate for violence, I can’t tolerate assholes, but if I were to start labeling the people I interact with as bigots, I’d soon be left without friends, family or job opportunities.

If “bigotry” simply means ethics driven by religion, then we are screwed, because you can’t separate Christianity from its ethics, it has thousands of years of tradition, billions of followers, and a cultural war against Christian ethics is a societal A-bomb. You may feel safe in your bubble, but it’s much better to appeal to the better angels of human nature, as our progressive bubble is actually a minority. One of the greatest gifts for social progress that happened was secularism. Imagine a society in which being pro-choice or being gay are considered hateful blasphemies that need to be punished. We don’t need much imagination, this has happened not long ago, and Western society has been regressing in that direction anyway.

What does “fascism” mean nowadays? AFAIK its primary traits are extreme statism, aka authoritarianism, forcible suppression of opposition, strong regulation of the economy, nostalgia for a glorious past, opposition to (classic) liberalism. And I know that the US and other countries still have (literal) fascists in their society, but either I must be going out of my mind, or “fascism” must have lost all meaning, given its widening umbrella, or given that many of the people using it tend to be pretty anti-liberal. It’s dumbfounding for me to see Antifa (aka anti-fascists) advocating for censorship, in order to prevent fascism.

Leftist radicals labeling anything they don’t like with “fascism” isn’t new, the Soviet Union has a long history of doing it:

“Fascism is not only a military-technical category. Fascism is the bourgeoisie’s fighting organization that relies on the active support of social democracy. Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism.” — Joseph Stalin

I feel bad for the US progressives that are now labeled as “groomers”, they don’t deserve it, however it’s what you get when you weaponize labels, playing the outrage game, shutting down all dialog with accusations of “bigotry”, “fascism”, or “hate speech”. I don’t fear “hate speech” at all, what I fear is society tearing itself apart, because the silent majority doesn’t tweet, doesn’t have time for this crap, but eventually gets tired, irritated, worried, and starts to practice revenge-voting, or abstinence from voting, so that’s how you get Trump, or Brexit, or the far-right rising in polls all throughout Europe.

Words have power, labels sometimes being used to make someone or something sound bad, without the listener making an effort to understand the context. For a criticism of how we use words, I recommend Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense. Note, Nietzsche was accused of fascism too.

The tool of dictators #

The logo of the former Communist Party of Romania. The hammer and sickle is a symbol meant to represent proletarian solidarity.

The first thing that communists or fascists did, when taking power, was to ban free speech. Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4700 newspapers, when Hitler took power in 1933. All the press freedom soon ended, with the people accepting their new reality due to gradual habituation. The government was acting for their own good, after all; being led by a group of wise men being a dream come true for statists everywhere.

In communism, too, people were “protected” from toxic “imperialist” or capitalist values. People supposedly had “free speech” guaranteed by the Constitution, but it was all lip service, the ban on free speech being absolute.

As a case study, the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Romania from 1965 had this to say:

  • Art.28: The citizens of the Socialist Republic of Romania are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of meetings, of rallies and of demonstrations;
  • Art.29: The freedom of speech, of the press, of meetings, rallies and demonstrations may not be used for purposes contrary to the socialist order and the interests of those who work; Any fascist or anti-democratic association is forbidden. Participation in such fascist or anti-democratic associations and propaganda is punishable by law;

Asking US progressives in earnest — would you like your First Amendment to say that? This is like an Antifa dream come true, is it not?

But you have to take into account that:

  • Everything can be labeled as “fascist”, or being contrary to the socialist order, or the interests of the working class, which is precisely what communists did;
  • This was a genuine police state, we had the legendary Securitate, which was our own Stasi;
  • 1 in 3 citizens were informants to Securitate, with the whole society living in paranoia, or in other words, the Romanians themselves were participating in squashing all dissent, and they did this in order to gain special privilege; Orwell’s 1984 novel was actually unimaginative for what happened behind the Iron Curtain;

And there’s more — the Constitution guaranteed “freedom of religion” (aka freedom of conscience, or of thought), however, being true to Marxist values, religion was considered the “opium of the masses”, old churches being demolished, and priests oppressed to the point that they were either jailed in “re-education” camps, or they became informants for the Securitate. Religious holidays were banned too. We did not officially celebrate Easter or Christmas, what we had was Grandfather Frost. There was celebration of Christian holidays, but people were doing it in silence.

Our Constitution was effectively a piece of paper to wipe your ass with. It had no value, and note that our communist leadership was proudly proclaiming that the communist rule was a “democracy”. Oh, the extreme cringeworthy irony 😬

In communist Romania, being gay was also punishable by prison. The infamous article 200 was introduced in 1968, sexual minorities being “offenders against the person”, with gay people being deviant, not corresponding to official morality. AKA a blasphemy. This wasn’t unlike what happened in the West. Alan Turing was chemically castrated in the UK for being gay, after pleading guilty in 1952 to the crime of “gross indecency”. Those were some dark times for sexual minorities.

During communism, at least the Romanians could alleviate their suffering by telling jokes, ridiculizing the elite. People were transmitting their frustration with the ruling class by making jokes, some of which even escaped the censorship filters in state-sanctioned media, becoming legend. This happened in a system that practiced a total ban on freedom of speech. Contemporary radicals know a thing or two about the power of jokes in shaping culture. Watch out for the attempted cancelation of comedians — such attempts may be justifiable in context, but it sure sends shivers down my spine.

Two men holding a sign saying "our children will be free", from the Romanian revolution of 1989.

For Romanians at least, there is no greater freedom than was gained at our revolution in 1989. We can talk about free trade, capitalism, property, and others, but everything pales in comparison with freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.

Hate speech #

If what happened in communist Romania sounds familiar, it should — what is “hate speech” anyway? Can you define it in a way that doesn’t nullify freedom of speech in a court of law?

Let’s consider the following, how many of these items can represent hate speech?

  • Criticism of Christianity;
  • Criticism of Islamism;
  • Criticism of Scientology;
  • Criticism of “white people”;
  • Criticism of veganism;
  • Criticism of vaxxers or of anti-vaxxers;
  • Criticism of US republicans;
  • Criticism of cops;
  • Criticism of “white supremacists”;
  • Criticism of gender ideology;
  • Criticism of “gender critical” feminists;
  • Criticism of men and masculinity;
  • Criticism of the cultures practicing female genital mutilation;
  • Criticism of “baby boomers”;
  • Criticism of “Black Lives Matter” movement;
  • Support for slavery;
  • Support for race science;
  • Anti-Zionism;

These point to groups of people. Not all the groups have to do with sex, ethnicity, or religion (although it can be argued, an ideology is a religion). They are all groups of people, nonetheless. And for example, as any vegan will tell you, being vegan becomes part of one’s identity. Criticism of these groups can offend, it may even incite violence against these groups. If you think that a slogan such as “all cops are bastards” isn’t hate speech, it shows your political bias. If you haven’t ticked all the boxes, it shows your political bias.

In Romania, our parliament just voted a law that criminalizes “hate speech” targeted based on political affiliation. They can do this because the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech only as long as it isn’t “hate speech”. And the law is meant to favor Romania’s largest party. I don’t know what happened to it, I no longer follow the news, I hope it will get struck down as being unconstitutional, due to common sense, but I can certainly see why a law like this is possible, and I’m not holding my breath.

Who decides what “hate speech” is? Who gives them the power to decide? There is no way to define it without shooting democracy in the foot. There is no way to define it, without giving your government enough power to censor anything and everything.

Is hate speech really responsible for violence? I’ve read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, it’s a despicable work, filled with logical fallacies, errors, hatred, and is clearly written by a sick mind. It didn’t turn me into an anti-Semite or a Nazi, quite the contrary. And even if I became that, we have personal responsibility, people are responsible for their own actions, you can’t just blame it on a book. Who knows, maybe exposure to such books kept me sane. How could we tell?

Do we have any data at all showing some causality between hate speech and violence? And I’m not talking of direct incitement to violence (which is disallowed by law), or of weak correlations. Do we have any data that shows the banning of hate speech from Europe actually works, compared with the US?

I’m genuinely curious, at least if we have data, we can make a case for banning hate speech. But knowing the situation with the rise of the far-right in Europe, I sincerely doubt that any claims we have can stand up to scientific scrutiny. It’s most likely just a regressive ideology.

I recommend this talk, in support of free speech, by Rowan Atkinson:

Rowan Atkinson on free speech (open on YouTube.com)

The right to offend #

An infamous example is that of Brigitte Bardot. Dedicating her life to animal activism, in 1999 she criticized the ritual slaughter of sheep by Muslims, asking for, at the very least, slaughtering those animals in a more humane way (a clash of ideologies, yikes!). She also wrote that “my country, France, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners, especially Muslims”. For this, she was fined by a French court for “community indictment”.

Finding examples of wrongful court ruling is easy. I'm picking a hardcore example, precisely because it's hard to defend.

You may agree with this, we can certainly see in her writing a concrete example of speech that may be used to incite racial hatred. Her writing seems to be xenophobic, or Islamophobic. Yes, this can be seen as “hate speech”. She did offend, and if you’re against “hate speech”, her condemnation seems justified.

However, her criticism was primarily against a religious dogma that was (arguably) going against the shared values of the French society. A society without shared values is at risk of tearing itself apart. For example, the Western society is based on individualism and secularism. Conservatives point out that in 2020 a study revealed that about 74% of Muslim youth placed Islam above secular justice — whether that is true or not, I wouldn’t know, although we can point at events such as the “Charlie Hebdo shooting” from 2015, terrible events “caused” by a publication’s satirical drawings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. YES, not all Muslims. I remember one of the cops, that heroically died to save lives in that shooting, was Muslim. And YES, they are a vulnerable minority in Europe. YES, the French society may have a problem with racism. Yet, we can certainly see how criticism of (any) religion is needed, and not allowing criticism hurts the law-abiding minorities, because then the far-right happens.

You, my dear reader, are quick at directing your criticism at Christian bigotry, because you can. In the case of Brigitte Bardot, what the court rule essentially said was that criticism of any religious dogma is a punishable blasphemy, a trend in French society that has only gotten worse. Imagine living in a country in which you can’t criticize Christian religious dogma. You don’t need much imagination.

Blasphemy laws are still in place, in spite of our secularism. Blasphemy is what “hate speech” is. Criminalizing hate speech is criminalizing blasphemy, and we should know from history how well that went. You don’t have to imagine a country in which being gay, or other Christian sins, is a punishable crime. If you’re a Westerner, you may already live in a country in which similar offenses are punishable.

And blasphemy laws are wrong, because:

  • The law must not legislate emotions;
  • If the law legislates emotions, secular justice stops being secular, as all arguments based on emotions are arguments based on religion;
  • “Blasphemy laws” favor the powerful and religious organizations are the most powerful;

You may hate the late Christopher Hitchens. Nowadays, he would definitely be classified as alt-right, fascist, or a bigot. He would definitely be canceled. But he said it much better than I can:

Christopher Hitchens - Free Speech (open on YouTube.com)

He asks a great question: Who decides what you can say, hear or see? Whom can you trust?

Public humiliation #

When we speak of free speech, we refer to freedom from government sanctions. But societal norms are just as important.

Progressives, nowadays, hide behind legislation. Private property, freedom of association, or freedom of speech itself, are used as the weapons of choice to justify Internet mobs that deliver justice. They call it “consequences”. And the problem with Internet mobs is that their effect is tremendously amplified by the sheer number of participants, coupled with archival of everything online, which means that one’s actions are never forgotten.

For serious blasphemies, the offender’s employer gets contacted, and thus the offender can lose their job. Death threats happen online too, with “TERFs” being regular targets. Sometimes it’s just polite disagreement, but the effect gets amplified exponentially due to the many people engaging in the conversation. There are background effects, too — the offender’s colleagues could reach the conclusion that the offender is associated with certain groups, such as the alt-right, and they may not get fired, but there are many ways to punish your colleagues, like denying them a promotion via bad reviews.

Note that anti-defamation laws don’t help. Do you think you’d have the resources to sue hundreds of participants in a mob, many of which are overseas? And this is assuming that actual defamation happened, because usually the claims being made are just opinions. You can’t sue someone for having opinions. Or, do you think you can delete resources off the internet? Good luck with that.

People can be hurt more by public humiliation, than they are by losing part of their fortune, or by corporal punishment.

Whipping of an incarcerated delinquent, Germany 17th century.

Mobs want revenge, not justice, and mobs aren’t easily satisfied. Back in the day, public whipping was common, and it may have been more humane than today’s cancel culture, because after the judicial punishment is served, the offender is redeemed, as people’s appetite for revenge is satisfied. Internet mobs aren’t so easily satisfied — and unlike Abrahamic religion, they don’t offer a redemption path. Note that if you are famous or rich, having f-you money, you can be uncancelable. But everyone else can be screwed.

In this climate, self-censorship is inevitable, and so are its consequences.

For more on this topic, I recommend the book: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. See an introduction:

How one tweet can ruin your life | Jon Ronson (open on YouTube.com)

I also recommend the following from the ever insightful Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints):

Canceling | ContraPoints (open on YouTube.com)

The paradox of tolerance #

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.” — Karl Popper, 1945

This is used as the excuse of Internet mobs everywhere, and yet:

  • This is a self-defeating argument;
  • Paradoxes imply axioms, and in the real-world we don’t have any, this is just rationalist bullshit; we only have shared values (aka tradition) that withstood the test of time;
  • This is just mental gymnastics, being a carte blanche for censorship and if we are to err, we should err on the side of tolerance;

Karl Popper was inspired by Plato. It isn’t based on any empirical evidence, being just armchair philosophy. Plato came up with it to justify autocracy, possibly while on drugs.

The hard questions #

Do you feel comfortable about sharing political opinions that aren’t popular in your tribe?

Do you feel free to state your opinions without risking being kicked out of that community, or even left without a job? Can you be a contrarian for a day without putting your life’s work in jeopardy?

Can you afford to withhold opinion about the ‘current thing’, without being accused of not engaging in virtue signaling?

Are you so confident that your political opinions will always match those of your tribe? Are you so confident that your tribe is always right?

What online mobs don’t understand is that it’s far easier to criticize your perceived enemies, especially since online platforms make us forget about the humans behind the keyboards. It’s much, much harder to criticize your online friends and allies, risking being ousted from the group, and seeing your life in ruin. And the Internet is amplifying everything, exponentially. People are self-censoring themselves in a way that has never happened before.

OH: “Before social media, it was only your family that knew how stupid you are.”

On the Internet, we can’t afford to be stupid.

Pro-censorship arguments #

For fairness, I will present some of the best arguments I’ve heard in support of online censorship, alongside my disagreement.

1) Science depends on consensus #

With no process for consensus, we have no science, which means that when 99% of scientists in a field tell you that you’re drunk, you should probably go to bed.

But that consensus needs to be an organic process, and not decided by a committee. Instead, science is increasingly politicized, the scientific process being under threat from politicians and activists, especially from academia, that want to forward their own agenda, because we can all see that scientific arguments have power of persuasion, even if the science is weak. There is truth in the claim that fraudsters are cherry-picking or faking data, abusing scientific claims, to forward their own agenda. We all fell for spurious correlations, or for studies that don’t take into account confounding variables, at least once. And the field is full of fraud, such as claims that autism is caused by vaccines.

That’s still not a reason for censorship, for one because censorship increases mistrust in science, but also because every once in a blue moon the contrarians are right. There are plenty of low-hanging fruits to fix first with the scientific process, or in academia, solutions that are more obvious than censorship.

2) Democracy depends on shared values #

We’ll have no democracy without those shared values.

Those shared values are crumbling, YES, I agree, except that those shared values don’t get decided by a committee, or an algorithm. Those shared values get decided by the population, a population in which every vote or opinion should count, a population that isn’t made of sheep that need shepherding.

Controlling people’s thoughts via censorship is the opposite of democracy, and there’s no amount of mental gymnastics that can fix this idea.

3) Polarization is a threat to democracy #

Our society is increasingly polarized, which makes consensus in society harder to achieve.

But polarization doesn’t happen due to fake news, or conspiracies. As examples … polarization happens when governments of the world deploy coercive measures to combat the pandemic, with the privileged applauding because they can afford to work from home, and when inflation hits, it doesn’t hit them. It happens when natural gas extraction, in the name of climate change, is in fact outsourced to Russia, fueling its war machine, or when energy prices soar. It happens when people are shamed out of their jobs for wrongthink, as an ever-increasing trend. Polarization happens when stories, such as the lab-leak theory, get censored, but then resurface in the mainstream media. Polarization happens when doomsday preppers continually predict the world ending, since many decades ago, forcing for ineffective policies that make life harder, and yet the world is still here, doing just fine. It happens when the state takes more and more rights away from parents. Or when the cost of living goes up for whatever reason.

Whenever things go bad in society, the left blames it on the rich, inequality, and capitalism, while the right is blaming other countries, immigrants and socialism. It doesn’t matter what a government chooses to censor, as it’s not treating the underlying cause for the social unrest.

Before blaming fake news for polarization, maybe we should look in the mirror first, because in our quest to “save the world”, we’ve been contributing.

4) Conspiracy theories are inciting violence #

Some people believe the moon landing was a hoax, or that the Earth is flat, pointing to a total mistrust in institutions that provide indirect evidence. These are seemingly benign beliefs, but then we have QAnon, or the storming of the US Capitol based on the belief that the election was stolen, and these aren’t so benign.

But we need to zoom out a little. These are manifestations of the counterculture fighting the establishment. Personally, I see no difference between the storming of the US Capitol and the “Black Lives Matter” or the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, except for their duration. I also believe communism is more toxic for society than QAnon, because it fools more people, we know it has led to unspeakable violence, and that failure to universally condemn it can be the cause for WW3 — yet I’m not preaching for the censoring of Marx and Hegel’s bullshit, because education is always the better choice.

Education is always the answer, so we need more speech, not less.

Speech is not violence; silence is not violence; violence is violence.

5) Social media is private property #

Twitter/Facebook are private property, and as companies, can do whatever they want. If they say “we don’t do that here” (aka a code of conduct), then everyone should abide by the rules.

YES, communities need moderation and codes of conduct!

Except Twitter/Facebook aren’t a community, but represent an oligopoly encompassing the whole world. If you’re guilty of wrongthink, there’s nowhere you can move to. You can no longer rely on the free market to provide competition, with such an oligopoly, and these companies want to have their cake and eat it too.

This is why progressives are fond of saying that “deplatforming” works for limiting the reach of hateful individuals. Once deplatformed from these big platforms, they can’t recover their audience elsewhere. But I believe that this doesn’t solve the problem of hate speech in society, quite the contrary. By moving them to fringe communities, their hateful ideas are left unchallenged. I also don’t believe that deplatforming people works for limiting hate speech at a society level, because nobody has the power to change mentalities overnight, those hateful mentalities already exist, and are then left unchallenged, only to manifest at the next protest or elections.

In such a case, for me, it’s simple — either the companies are broken into multiple smaller companies, or they get regulated to no longer go above and beyond the law in their censorship. These social media companies need more transparency too, in order to avoid suspicion of favoring candidates in elections. And in the meantime I’m not going to give them a pass for being private companies.

Twitter/Facebook should provide the tools to keep communities and people safe, if they don’t want to get exposed to hateful speech, but otherwise should not disallow communities with topics that aren’t illegal or directly inciting to violence. Both Twitter and Facebook have the problem of the algorithmic timeline, which auto-suggests posts that people might get interested in. If they want to ban hate speech, that’s because hate speech yields maximum engagement, which then attracts criticism. But that’s not our problem — the clear answer for me is for them to stop using those creepy algorithms maximizing for attention, especially because hate speech isn’t the only problem, yellow journalism and doomsday news pieces about the current thing are problematic too.

Reddit had the right approach, communities being silos in which you participated only if you wanted to. But unfortunately they too started a massive banning campaign, having banned thousands of communities after updating their content policies to forbid content that promotes hate based on identity or vulnerability. And don’t get me wrong, some communities were abhorrent, which makes a principled stand for freedom of speech hard to swallow, but we can also say that Reddit no longer is what it used to be, which for me makes it much less appealing.

I recommend “Free Speech: Because We Can” (archive) by the late Aaron Swartz.

6) Democracy needs a shared notion of truth #

Here we’re seriously getting into the metaphysical weeds 😅

Absolute truth exists, however, as humans, we are often incapable of finding it due our limited resources or understanding of the universe.

Democracy does not depend on finding truth. What we need is to live with each other, as neighbors, colleagues, or countrymen. Therefore, we need agreement, but not agreement on what is true, but rather agreement on what we can live with.

Democracy is a political system and a process that manages the eternal conflict between equality and freedom. Absolute freedom leads to inequality, whereas absolute equality leads to servitude. In other words, democracy is a process that acknowledges that people have their own personal truths, values, needs, and desires, being meant to create a compromise in society, such that the needs of everyone is taken into account … and here we must also mention the liberal values, which prevents democracy from devolving into a tyranny of the majority. Democracy is a process for compromise.

If you believe that we need a shared notion of truth, then censorship becomes attractive, in spite of this idea being not even wrong. If you believe that democracy is a process for compromise, such that we can leave with each other, it’s becoming clear that censorship may be the last thing we want.


For many of these pro-censorship arguments, see the following talk, which presents these pro-censorship arguments well, with Sacha Baron Cohen being a talented actor and individual, delivering a powerful speech.

ADL International Leadership Award Presented to Sacha Baron Cohen (open on YouTube.com)

All throughout his talk, you should keep asking yourself “Who decides?” — it makes for a more interesting viewing. And no, I disagree with him that social media is like a newspaper, that should have journalistic integrity. I find his views on this matter naive, but an explanation would take a lot more effort.

Progressive nonsense #

Did you know free speech used to be a virtue of the left-wing parties in the West? The truth is, free speech is only a virtue of the underdogs. The establishment never wants free speech, political colors don’t matter.

Given current events, here are some interesting quotes highlighting the insanity:

“This future in which there would actually be more abundant and equitable speech terrifies the crap out of people like Elon Musk” — Anand Giridharadas

“Abundant and equitable speech” is a euphemism for censorship of opposing views, such that your preferred side can be heard more. Free speech has no substitute and “equity” is invoked by all tyrants as the reason for why freedom needs to be suppressed.

“… For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.” — Max Boot

This man says that democracy needs more censorship. Interesting notion.

“An ‘uncontrolled’ Internet is … the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth.” — The Guardian

Dictators want free speech now? OMFG 🤦‍♂️

Epilogue #

Being a child of communism, to me the phenomenon is horrifying and disappointing, as I expected more from the West. People are forgetting what freedom of speech is, or why we need it. Yet I have faith that the democracy of the West will prevail. And when I say democracy, I’m not talking of the corrupt notion from communism, but rather the Anglo-Saxon version that focuses on liberal values and freedom.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” — Edmund Burke

Truer words may have never been spoken.

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