Freedom of Speech in the Free Market

Although many Americans don’t understand where it applies, almost every American cherishes the ideal of “freedom of speech.” The Supreme Court has heard many cases concerning what is protected speech and what isn’t–as in the famous Schenck v. United States case in which a ruling was made that decided that “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” is not constitutionally protected speech. More recently Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission had the court contemplating what “speech” even really is.

Controversy over freedom of speech sparked anew earlier this month when Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram banned such people as Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, Paul Nehlen, and Milo Yiannopoulos from their platforms. While a Facebook spokesperson told news outlets that “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” questions remain. Questions such as “where the line is drawn for banning?” as well as “were the moves made due to a social obligation to clean up the platforms, fear of lawsuit, or just as a public relations reaction?” Being publicly traded companies, it seems most likely that these decisions are based in a responsibility to shareholders rather than the common person. Then perhaps in this case, the two parties share in the benefits of these bannings, or are they beneficial?

There are still platforms where these people’s content can be accessed e.g. their private websites and 8chan, but they are clearly on the “shoulder” of the information highway. Tech giants like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all banned users and organizations from their platforms. What is these tech companies’ role when it comes to hate speech and incitement of violence on their platforms? Are they public forums or publishers? Publishers mediate and edit content. By censoring otherwise legal content, these companies are saying “we are publishers,” and therefore taking on the responsibility of trying to eliminate hate speech and incitement of violence on their platforms. They are already forced to uphold, yes even 8chan, copyright and child pornography laws. But by taking the moral step of trying to eliminate pornography and revenge porn, these companies thereby acknowledge a responsibility to the user of the platform. This responsibility seems to be to provide a less disturbing or agitating experience. Perhaps one of the most interesting questions is “are these companies censoring for their own benefit or for the common good?” The follow-up, “does it matter?” is an ethical question that I won’t address here.

The most prominent question, without a doubt is “should these platforms have banned these people and organizations?” While some are prone to believe the slippery slope fallacy when it comes to censorship, others would prefer a sterilized, if meaningless conversation. The question isn’t so much what do we want to hear, but what do we need to hear? Should we ignore people’s beliefs because they make us uncomfortable? Yes, hate speech is ugly, but knowing who is “drinking that Kool-Aid” is indispensable. Those erroneous and evil beliefs must be addressed, not pretended away. It is painful to be the subject of such speech, but in terms of survival, it is critical to know exactly what some people think about you. Life can often be disturbing and agitating, but we cannot punish everyone who offends us or, more importantly, ignore threats. There is a terrible consequence to not shouting “fire” in the theater when one is starting, as Holocaust survivors could tell you. Those who ally with the people being persecuted will also generate noise. Shouldn’t the good voices be given a chance to drown out the bad? There is a powerful message to be sent to the hateful people by letting that happen instead of banning them.

However, it could also easily turn into a shouting match and result in more physical violence from holders of each perspective. It is hard to say if internet disagreements often yield tangible violence or not. Those who do commit hate-crime violence also typically share what they are planning with other like-minded individuals before the fact. Law enforcement seems to already have access to this, as they have connected manifestos to shooters which were “published” on 8chan–a platform designed above all else to protect the users’ anonymity. This is a tough balance to find as well–when should law enforcement intervene, and at what point does it become more like Big Brother looking over everyone’s shoulders? Right now, it seems the interventions hit and miss as some terrorists have been prosecuted for their plans while others have successfully realized theirs. Though it must be a trying process to determine real threats from “mouth-running,” use of specific details in the manifestos and plans are damning. If only these shooters were prosecuted before they got the chance to carry out their heinous plans, the world would be a better place. However, In the many years since Schenck… the first amendment has been re-interpreted yet again, giving prosecutors new angles to work.

The “clear and present danger” test of Schenck… has since been replaced with the “imminent lawless action test” of Brandenburg v. Ohio. How would today’s Supreme Court handle the Schenck… case in which a man was prosecuted for handing out anti-draft posters in wartime, given the precedent of Brandenburg…? How would they handle the hypothetical case if, God forbid, the FCC or FBI took down infowars.com? Hopefully, the Court would preserve freedom of speech in these cases so long as the organizations’ speech did not cross the “imminent lawless action test.” One form of speech I haven’t addressed is the conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories may be horribly disturbing, as was the one that the Sandy Hook shooting was fake. But not knowing the extent of those who believe that is perhaps more dangerous than allowing the lie to be spoken. Conspiracy theories present another balance to find–does it legitimize or give credence to them when they are denied by the mainstream media, does working to disprove them actually work, or should they be gagged to prevent them from spreading? If one has any faith in people’s ability to be rational, they would err on the side of letting the facts convince the skeptics.

Again, the truth has the power to drown out the false, but instead of directly addressing the lie, silencing the “speaker” almost gives the lie more power and adds to the conspiracy mystique. This further alienates a subculture–a dangerous move. Communication is the key to educating and changing beliefs, however this key works on both the doors of truth and bullshit. People who believe conspiracy theories are thinking with their emotions rather than their rational mind. As the rise of the Trump regime has proven, the masses’ emotions are easily swayed and used to manipulate them. We cannot omit the lies no matter how hard we try. Our only logical recourse is to drown out the hate with compassion and the lies with truth. If truth and compassion, by their own virtues cannot win over the hateful and the ignorant, there is no hope for humanity. Truth and love do and can win, when they are allowed to compete with hate and lies.

Nearly all of humanity’s institutions and communities regard truth and love as essential. People go online to find community. Ultimately, no matter how much influence one allows others to hold over their beliefs, people can only decide for themselves what the truth is. The Supreme Court seeks to find the truths embedded in the United States Constitution, and as a national community, we agree to abide by the truths it determines. The Supreme Court’s rulings on this matter of freedom of speech are sage ones–and ones that the tech companies, though not legally bound to, should implement on their platforms, rather than banning bad actors.

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Why I Refuse to Believe in God

I know this is a taboo subject, but I’ll engage it anyway. I intend this to be an explanation of my thinking, not something designed to persuade anyone else to believe the same.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

My reason for choosing not to believe in God is rooted in this morsel of knowledge from intro philosophy. If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, then why is there evil in the world? Is it some sort of sick experiment in which some are controls and others are tested by horrible experiences or just plain wiped out? No. I refuse to believe that life is any type of test. If it were, it would beg the question, a test towards what end? Deciding the fate of one’s afterlife?

THE VANITY OF THE CONCEPT OF THE AFTERLIFE

Look, I would love to play a harp on a cushy cloud with beautiful angels and kids playing and laughing once I’ve expired, or really have almost any experience at all–Hell notwithstanding. I would love for my consciousness to continue, however there is no reason for me to believe that it will, in fact all evidence points to the contrary. Some people will wonder what happens to the electricity in one’s heart and brain once they die, but this is no mystery. The energy simply dissipates as there is nothing to maintain it in the place of the body anymore. That’s not metaphysical, it’s physics.

PRIVILEGED OR PRIMAL SUPERSTITION

Of course believing in something more powerful than what people generally conceive of is totally rational. Believing in gravity is a very practical mindset. However, to believe that an intelligent being or sentient entity dictates the way certain things go is ridiculous. It all sounds rather like the tale of the Tooth Fairy when you think about it, doesn’t it? There is no Tooth Fairy, but there are loving parents and guardians, and there is love and generosity for that matter. These forces are quite powerful in themselves, and require no explanation for existing–this is another crucial tenant of my beliefs–nothing needs a reason to exist, it simply does or does not. No purpose? Sounds disturbing and existentialist, huh? The cool thing about rejecting the idea of one purpose for humanity is that each individual is then allowed to decide what their purpose and what they think the purpose of life is for themselves. Also, I do not believe that people are inherently good or bad, they have experiences, genes, and choices which impact their decisions and actions.

RELIGION IS NOT WORTHLESS TO ME, JUST A BIT MISGUIDED

I went to church this Sunday and the preacher said, “What we do reveals what we believe is true.” I loved this. It is a profound and concise statement–the best kind of statement. Religion does have a lot of beneficial philosophy to offer, love thy neighbor for instance. But here’s the thing. People go through things and need help coping. I believe that psychotherapy is better suited to help people cope with problems and losses than religion, because it’s real. Real changes to one’s behavior helps change their thinking to be more positive and more useful to themselves and others. Me, I’ll pass on the opiate of the idea that the most powerful being imaginable cares about me–especially in light of what this supposed being, if it were to exist, has put people through–and good and innocent people at that. That God is not worth worshipping, even if it were to exist–no thank you. Another boon of religion is the way it brings people together to form communities. Communities are magical things, forgive the pun, and leave everyone better off so long as they don’t decide to hate, damage or destroy another community or individual for that matter. A problem with religion is its focus on faith. Faith in goodness is not unimportant, but acting through that faith is infinitely more so. Acting through faith is being of service to others. This is what religious institutions need to focus on. I’m not saying they completely neglect this duty, but that it needs to be the focus and not the secondary duty it seems to be in most religious institutions that I’m familiar with. The focus on faith in a too-good-to-be-true being minimizes human love and goodness that is seen as cooperation and philanthropy and service.

FAITH AND MISCONCEPTIONS OF ATHEISM

Faith in the human spirit is the only faith I need. It is a tangible, beneficent thing. I don’t need to be intellectually lazy and give up on rational and scientific thought as to why things occur in order to have a working faith. I don’t need the threat of Hell or the reward of Heaven to know to try to do the morally right thing. Atheists don’t necessarily just do what they want when no one is looking, most people are instilled with moral values from their life experiences derived from living in society. To think of an insecure God that needs people to believe in it for it to help them is another absurd thought. Even if there were a God, if it were worthy of belief or worship, it would not care whether a person believed in it or not. Atheists are not faithless people, they just put their faith in more tangible things–atheists are practical people. Also not all atheists scoff at others’ beliefs, they simply choose not to share them. Love thy neighbor, be of service, and don’t worry so much about what a hypothetical being may want from you. Worry about what you want from you and ensuring that what that is is humble and reasonable.