Free speech is a wonderful thing. While there are frequent arguments about what constitutes “free speech”, almost everyone can agree that it’s great to have.
Of course, free speech means people can say things you disagree with, even to an extreme degree. Sometimes, though, even that can be a good thing.
An episode of the How Stuff Works podcast covered this (“How Free Speech Works“) and they laid out a pretty simple formula for why hate speech can help move society forward.
- If you suppress speech, you’re still not suppressing thoughts.
- If you allow the hate speech, it can be refuted loudly and publicly.
- In recent years, much of this has come out regarding sexual orientation and racial conversations.
Jonathan Rauch dug a little deeper in an article for The Atlantic titled “The Case for Hate Speech“. He said, in part:
Gay people have been coming out for years, but that has been a gradual process, while recent changes in public attitude have been dizzyingly fast. Something else, I believe, was decisive: we won in the realm of ideas. And our antagonists—people who spouted speech we believed was deeply offensive, from Anita Bryant to Jerry Falwell to, yes, Orson Scott Card—helped us win.
Our great blessing was to live in a society that understands where knowledge comes from: not from political authority or personal revelation, but from a public process of open-ended debate and discussion, in which every day millions of people venture and test billions of hypotheses. All but a few of those theories are found wanting, but some survive and flourish over time, and those comprise our knowledge.
To be clear, I’m not defending the words of people that speak this vile garbage, but I will defend their right to say it. The cool thing is that while I’ll defend their right to say it, it can also be used for good. It’s similar to seeing “friends” of mine that just post inciteful muck all day long; they have every right to do so, and I have every right to adjust my view of them accordingly.
The sharing of different viewpoints is what leads to increased knowledge and change, and sometimes it takes a bit of hate speech to help get that conversation going.