"Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!"
-Homer J. Simpson

Monday, April 16, 2007

Defend the right to be offended

Recently there have been a number of posts in the political blogosphere that have "offended" some people and have led to calls for removal from lists or bannings or what-not.

This is a reminder that freedom of speech comes with a price. No surprise, but Salman Rushdie says it better then I ever could.

The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other’s positions. (But they don’t shoot.)

At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalise, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: people must be protected from discrimination by virtue of their race, but you cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.