Free speech is essential for protecting one's ability in society to question beliefs and to advance social progress. Freedom of speech for the sake of freedom of speech allows people to rigidly keep dearly held beliefs and ends up preventing social progress.

Free of speech is meaningless unless it is used within its proper historical context and its intended purpose. That context is tied to values derived from the Age of Enlightenment, where reason, justified beliefs, and scientific progress were valued over faith, dogma, and religion, and such values are key to social progress.

Freedom itself is often used out of context in contemporary society. Where it once meant to be free from superstition, faith, religious dogma, and governments derived from these, it has now devolved into the right to do as one pleases, to live a life unperturbed by others. This mindset also prevents social progress if it it becomes the dominant view and prevents the flourishing of a rational society.

Freedom of speech and freedom should be interpreted in their correct intended context, which is to dispel the infusion of irrationality, dogma, and the supernatural from our lives, and to let us debate with reason and evidence. Those are the terms and lead to a particular type of freedom and freedom of speech, where reason and science prevail, and a particular type of society flourishes.

Freedom of speech, which was originally based on the valuing of rationality, should not be misused to make the irrational submissive to the rational.

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Very nicely stated, Joan. I agree - essentially we're a nation run by opinion polls taken from people who haven't developed beyond the egocentric stage.

"Freedom of speech and freedom should be interpreted in their correct intended context, which is to dispel the infusion of irrationality, dogma, and the supernatural from our lives,"

Free speech is necessarily open. The moment you start requiring a 'context', you have a basis for censorship. The truth is, what is 'rationa', varies from one generation to the next, and is primarily influenced by whomever is in power at the time. The people who would restrict speech ALWAYS believe they are right to do so.

Speech must NOT be restricted

Hi Daniel. I am currently still employed in academia on a midsize regional university campus. I have to report from the inside that you are unfortunately correct about campus atmospheres. While I am located in a traditionally very conservative area, my colleagues across the country and across all scales of university sizes report the same. Currently , campuses are no longer bastions of open intellectualism and discourse. There is a mindset that predominates(and dominates) on american campuses that equates politically correct thinking with intellectualism and "proper education" . This mindset manifests itself in just about all aspects of daily activities shouting down and shaming any dissenting voice, be that voice faculty or student. It demands conformity and 'correct" thinking and speech from all. Perhaps most dangerously of all it seeks to instill the same unquestioning mindset in the student body. Witness the current tendency of students to protest and threaten events and speakers which they feel may "offend them".

Under the guise of beneficent Liberalism, these people dominate and censor university speech and behavior to the point that free speech becomes meaningless. The consequences can be down right punitive, especially for new, nontenured faculty. You have no idea how many I have heard say they were afraid to take a stance on issues lest it endanger their very livelihood. On an American campus? You bet, and over topics ranging from the trivial to the international. Over opinions and over facts. 

As for the purveyors of evil non-sense that you mentioned, over 30 years of academia as a scientist I can tell you that you would simply be amazed at how many of these types also thrive in academia today. And, they feel no shame in using the podium to promulgate their drivel in the next generation of students. I know of 2 professors on my campus who claim to be "white witches", I know of one who firmly believes in the new age power of crystals, I know one who has repeatedly claimed that they have witnessed a martial artist use "chi" to move a tree at will from a distance, I know of one president who opened a convocation by yielding  the podium to a rabid, hell fire and brimstone baptist minister who was all too happy to violate the separation of church and state clause by telling all the students they were hell bound if the took too many new fangled lessons seriously. In all fairness however , I have to defend the uni president since he was as mortified as anyone by that act. I constantly hear drivel about "different ways of knowing" among colleagues which is anathema to a scientist, as you might imagine.

To date, my favorite example of PC thought combined with purveyance of intellectual crap and ignorance in academia stems from an argument I had with a colleague over constitutional 2nd amendment gun rights. (And before anyone jumps at the PC trigger phrase, please know I am not a gun crazed nut case. I own no assault weapons, hand grenades, anti tank rockets or the like. Politically I also favor regulation of weapons of war among the citizenry.) Some back ground is unfortunately necessary here:

Anyway, the argument was over the first iteration of the so called "campus carry" bill that was  before the GA legislature at the time. The colleague had found his rapture in opposing this bill and , frankly, was being a bit of a public crusading political ass over the issue.

I thought the whole concept was quite insane and so spent some time actually bothering to read the bill. There was nothing in it about "campus carry". The bill did ease restrictions on where guns might be carried (Churches, bars, highways near schools), but its sole reference to university campuses was to say that individual university presidents would have the authority to declare their campus gun free or to allow fire arms on campus in cases where university had shooting teams for sports, like biathalon, target teams, etc. Moreover, it actually gave a president's decision protection under force of law. Prior to this bill all campuses were required to be gun free even for such regulated sporting purposes. No reasonable person would ever expect a president to open a campus to open carry practice. Notice the word reasonable. At the time hysteria over universities becoming OK Coral shoot out sites was running rampart.

OK, back to the argument. This fellow came after me when I spoke up and said there was no provision for "campus carry" in this highly visible and controversial bill during one of his rants. Before the argument was over he had to admit that he had never actually read the bill, but based his comments on what others had told him about it and (Please, please get this!) "his constitutional right to feel secure which trumped the 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms". Ready for the punch line? This fellow was a history professor specializing in a modern  genre. Wouldn't you expect such an academician to read the bill before ranting? Certainly, of all people, one specializing in African American history should be expected to be familiar the constitution shouldn't they? He has yet to accept the simple fact that there is no provision, direct or implied, in the constitution for one to "feel secure".

So, after this jaunt into the surreal world of modern academia, Daniel, I couldn't agree with you more. While I firmly believe in the right to free speech,  I think one should know what they are talking about or they should simply keep their mouth shut. Unfortunately that concept has virtually vanished from university campuses and has been replaced by PC socialization and tyranny of right thinking masses.

The right to free speech does not mean that a moron's speech is right.

The right to have an opinion does not mean a moron's opinion is right.

Reality is not determined by popular opinion or majority vote.

It's time we put responsibility for rationality back into the equation.

This is a bit off topic, but it does relate to your perception of what students get for their education Daniel. And this is largely my own opinion, but it is founded in some observations of a few people I do respect tremendously.

The role of university has changed very much over the last so 50-60 years. Once American universities were indeed bastions of higher learning as well as  free and open discourse. Their original purpose was definitively NOT to produce an employable population. Rather they were intended to educate and teach higher thought processes and values.

Those foci began to change in the late 1940's with the return of so many GIs from WWII. The overall economy and culture was booming as a result of the massive industrialization of the world as a side effect of war production. Two major changes in the public arena drove the change. One was the GI bill, the other was the beginning of Social Security benefits. The GI bill provided huge numbers of young men with the opportunity to get a higher education and then move on into a newly booming job market that was ravenous for highly trained workers. Social Security benefits began to significantly support the elderly who previously had no real means of support beyond their children or extended family. With the SS benefits supporting grandparents young families were freed of the need to support their parents and were able to direct funds towards sending their children to university. These graduates were also snapped up by the booming industrial employment market of the post war prosperity. . These were the days of a college education being equated to a good, secure and usually white collar career.

By the 1970s this booming economy and job market began to contract. The realities of fuel costs , recessions and open system economic thinking in closed systems pretty much killed the notion that college education resulted in an automatic induction into successful careers.  But, university administrators had become addicted to boom time sized student bodies and the funding support they had provided. Parents had come to expect that college equated to financial success in the job market for their children.Administrators continued to sell the myth that college equaled success to the public hand over fist in order to keep enrollments high.

The group activities of student unrest in the 60s brought about many social changes. But one change such activities generated has gone relatively unnoticed. That was the demonstration that group political persuasion and modification was easily accomplished among student masses on college campuses. The politicians moved in expounding the value of higher education while also demanding certain social agendas be incorporated into university missions. They also strongly expected a college education to produce human widgets for the job market and happy voters because tax dollars has supported education for their successful graduate kids. They also expected universities to actively engage in behavior modification by adjusting curricula to include many special interest topics and  viewpoints.

While all this was going on every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a personal agenda left over from the militant 60's began to fill the modern professoriate and to use the podium to preach their individual PC agendas. Such podium as a pulpit abuse was originally a big no-no in academia. Under the umbrella of freedom of speech and right to hold an opinion they caused university atmospheres to drift far into the realms of tolerating PC thought and (someone help us) different ways of knowing.

All the while EVERY ONE ignored the fact that the boom times were largely over. At least on the scale of the post war era (1940s-1970s) the automatic economic success value of a 4 year college degree rapidly degraded. Administrators, politicians and educators have since continued to sell the college = job concept to the point that just about everyone now expects to go to university as the next step after high school. Students expect to be entertained, catered to and never offended by thoughts or expectations and they still expect a financially secure career as a result. Parents especially still hold those expectations. The problem is that those expectations haven't matched reality since the 1970s recession and fuel shortage.

Universities have gone to extravagant lengths to keep enrollments high, curricula have degraded, expectations for student performances have declined and so called "tolerance" attitudes catering to social and political pressures have replaced much of the higher content of a 4 year curriculum with socially acceptable and personal agendas and opinions.

The upshot of all this has been the erosion of the university, in all respects, by those trying to keep enrollment high and to achieve social behavior modification under a false representation of the real value of university. The expectations for politically correct conformity and socialization via behavior modification strangles higher learning  and open discourse on all but trivial topics. We are not supposed to be a training ground for worker-widgets. But all the powers and agendas that be have certainly made us so. University isn't supposed to be a tech training school and it is not supposed to be fore everyone. But, again, pressures that be........ And these things are especially galling in an atmosphere of selling a false and  archaic world and economic view.


I think we are in agreement more than may be apparent. I was speaking historically about the causes of the decline of american academia. Truth is I am concerned that we can't seem to focus on teaching competency in higher ed on academic or practical topics either! My background is also from a land grant school. Cheers- John

When Bill Maher was praising Hillary's "I believe in science" comment, Salman Rushdie reminded him that science proves things to you. You don't have to believe in it.

Free speech means one thing in a small face-to-face community, another in a virtual world of anonymity and secrecy, where trolls can get away with anything. With the ability to seek out the few among billions that happen to share one's peculiar perversions, uncensored, it's not freedom squared but freedom to the perverse degree. There's no social enforcement. That's why I participate here at AN, because we're troll free.

If "perverse" can be imagined mathematically.

You bring up a very great point. My concern I the meaning of free speech. There are often religions that champion the thought of free speech as long as it fits within their religious confines. There is irony and sociological blindness in this thinking. You can say anything you wish as long as it is acceptable. I personally wish all bigots and haters to openly say what they wish so that I can know where they stand so that I can avoid them. Watch the interviews of Shawn Hannity and john orielley with David Silverman on YouTube. They will show how normally rational people can go haywire when it comes to atheist. Their reactions to Mr. Silverman are a good example as to why freedom of speech is important. Without these interviews we would not know how hostile these people are towards atheist.

I had dinner with several of the people at the party last night, and they will be on the cruise today. They are beyond the woo-woo and silly stuff of religion. They have their heads and feet to the ground and are the type who will take action. I was apprehensive until I talked at length with several of the kids. Some still in college, some just out, and some graduates still living at home with their parents.

If that generation mobilizes quickly, we may be able to get out of the race to the tipping points of so many things. They think politically! They want the lives their parents have! They know it is up to them to make the changes needed. 

Now, it is our job to encourage and stand beside these young people. I can't do the things I did in 1968 in the Civil Rights movement, but I can help define the current problems and offer some strategies for mobilizing. 

I think the biggest threat to reason and knowledge is misinformation hiding behind the free speech banner, where uninformed opinion masquerades as an alternative, yet equally plausible fact(thinking anti-vaxers, climate change deniers, and creation "scientists" hers). Yet equally repulsive are those who are oddly anti-hate speech and anti-political correct, as if bringing personal biases into a debate are virtuous. There is nothing wrong with trying to remove subjectivity from spheres of knowledge. There is also nothing inherently wrong with the government, which is composed of human beings and not of boogeymen. In a republic, it is all about having the right public servants in office, not the office itself.



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