Freedom of Speech in America
Scott Adams of the Dilbert Blog wonders about this “alleged freedom”.
“In the United States, we have freedom of speech, in the sense that the government won’t arrest you for speaking your mind. Yay for freedom!
But your fellow citizens will happily ruin your economic life if you say something unpopular in public. Some might say that has nothing to do with the right of free speech. It’s an example of free people acting in a free way. But to me, it looks like cutting out the middle man. There’s no point in electing a government to punish unpopular speakers when the citizens can do it themselves, and cheaper. It might look we have freedom of speech to you, but to me it looks like we just found the most efficient system for limiting it.
[Interesting side note: For this post I made a list of opinions you are not allowed to express in this country, and realized I can’t even publish the list without a social and economic penalty that wouldn’t be worth the benefit.]”
I myself have long though that restrictions on the freedom of speech only “count” if they are imposed by the government.
But some life experience and some exposure to such radical thinkers as Alexis de Tocqueville (who noted how Americans treated those with differing opinions in Democracy in America) has made me more sympathetic to Scott’s point of view.
As someone with no job to lose and little fear of social penalty (mostly because no one reads this), I thought it would be interesting to compile the list Scott could not- what are the opinions you just can’t hold without risking your job and/or access to public debate.
1) Outsourcing is good for the American economy
It’s the orthodoxy among economists, but death in the political arena as Greg Mankiw found out when he went from harmless Harvard professor to Bush economic advisor… and back again.
2) There are non-physical, non-trivial differences between men and women
Rather the inverse of the outsourcing question; this is the orthodoxy, I think, among ordinary men and women in everyday life; but its the kiss of death in the academy. Just ask Larry Summers, former Harvard president, now demoted back to Harvard professor after suggesting that men and women have differing abilities in math and science.
(maybe the real lesson here is to not be a professor at Harvard)
3) Genetic variation in intelligence is not distributed randomly
Ie, intelligence may correlate with other factors like (oh no!) race. This is the worst of all, as it brings out the hate from scientists, politicians, journalists, and ordinary people. Just ask James Watson, one of the men who first identified DNA. One response of his to the controversy made it into the Daily Mail:
“Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so,” he says.
One of the sad truths of life is that wanting something good and beautiful to be true is not enough to make it so. (Exceptions to this are really cool and rare as unicorns)
I think that most people fail to realize this or choose to ignore it. Certainly I struggle against it. But if anyone should base their views on what they can prove to be true, rather than what they want to be true, it must be the scientific community. There are other issues where scientists appear fairly dogmatic; global warming is a mild case, evolution a stronger one. But Watson seems to have revealed some of the strongest scientific dogma of all.
That was kind of a tangent… anyway, I’d like to see your own ideas in the comments about what you can’t say in America.
Final quiz prep, in case anyone surprising is among my normally intelligent and educated audience: for those who missed Civics 101, protecting someone’s freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with them; in fact the whole point is to tolerate dissent. For those who missed Logic 101, the truth of an idea not dependent on those who believe it, or even those who put it forward; ie, just because scientists largely believe in evolution or the equality of intelligence across races for unscientific reasons doesn’t mean they aren’t true.