The Free Speech and Intellectual Tolerance Credo, Draft 1

This is a credo in defense of freedom of speech and intellectual tolerance. As a credo, anyone can endorse or sign this; please do, in whatever form you wish. Feel free to add, subtract, or respond.

It is a DRAFT statement of belief in response to certain claims sometimes made, loosely implied, or perhaps occasionally assumed by those whose main focus is social justice—people called perhaps unkindly “social justice warriors” (SJWs). (I prefer the phrase “radical social justice advocates” (RSJAs) to refer to the same people, but without the associations.) The worry is that some people seem to lack adequate respect for free speech rights in their fight for social justice. But before you call these statements “straw positions,” please bear in mind that we are not saying that any particular individual actually denies any particular statement here. I’d be happy to include some planks directed more specifically to problems with free speech that conservatives have.

I want these statements written so that they are acceptable by a wide range of people of progressive, liberal, centrist, libertarian, and conservative points of view. So please suggest edits.

1. Free speech, why important. Free speech is a deeply important right, because it enables responsible, democratic government, liberal education, more accurate journalism, conscientious religion, deep and critical philosophy, fair discourse, and through all of these, good habits of individual, rational deliberation.

2. Freedom of dissent. Free speech entails freedom to disagree, dissent, and criticize.

3. Open disagreement in forums. Simply expressing open disagreement with the tenets of—to take a few instances at random—religion, feminism, progressivism, conservatism, and government policy is and should remain free and welcome speech in most forums.

4. Free speech on campus means academic freedom. Speech and dissent should especially remain free on the university classroom and campus, in official and unofficial functions. Censorship of ideas, especially on a college campus, is wrong. Academic freedom extends not just to professors but to students as well.

5. Freedom of speech does not entail a right of respect. No matter how certain you feel about your views, you do not have a right for those views of yours to be respected.

6. Privacy of conversation. It is simply wrong to attempt to shame a person by sharing what they have stated in what they reasonably expected to be a private conversation publicly online or with their employer.

7. “Doxxing” is unacceptable. Even worse is an attempt to silence a person by sharing private information—their address, ID or credit card numbers, etc.—about them online.

8. Silencing through threats is unacceptable. Attempting to silence a person by threatening them with bodily or other harm is, obviously, completely incompatible with free speech. This must stop.

9. Offensive speech. The speech most in need of protection is offensive speech; after all, inoffensive speech is not in need of protection. If you do not support a protection for offensive speech, you do not support a right to free speech.

10. You do not have a right not to be offended. That means others have a right to say things you find offensive. This is a basic part of being an adult in a free society.

11. Offending is not harming. Words, especially about hot topics such politics, religion, race, gender, etc., can cause all manner of upset. Nobody likes that, but you aren’t being meaningfully harmed by those words in the legal sense. Society long ago agreed to set aside minor, passing emotional discomfort, such as is caused by ordinary discourse, as something you can be punished for causing—or else the government’s job becomes too big and too prone to unfairness.

12. Speech you hate is not necessarily hate speech. Speech that you hate is “hateful” (obnoxious, offensive, annoying) to you, but that does not by itself make it “hate speech” (expressing hatred of people for their, e.g., racial or ethnic identity). Careful not to mix these up.

13. Avoid false claims of triggering. Being “triggered” is something different from feeling offense or discomfort or outrage. If you don’t actually have a PTSD, you don’t deserve to be taken seriously if you claim to be triggered. In that case, you’re just expropriating the scientific language of therapy and applying it to your own feelings of discomfort.

14. Your trauma should not prevent others from learning. If a topic, book, or other media so traumatizes you that you cannot participate, you do not have the right to prevent others from learning from it.

15. Trigger warnings should not be required. Of course, polite warnings about difficult material are a fine idea. You may request that they be made, but a requirement puts pressure on instructors to avoid controversial or emotional material, which is at odds with the very purposes of education.

16. Free speech is not “unsafe.” The following things, all by themselves, do not in fact make you unsafe: someone disagrees with your opinion, your religion, your ideology, your cause; someone criticizes you; someone else is merely angry or offended; someone has an opinion that you find “hateful.”

17. Feeling unsafe is different from actually being unsafe. The circumstances matter, of course, but in general, simply claiming or even feeling that you are unsafe is not enough for you to be unsafe.

18. Avoid false claims about being “unsafe.” To state that something someone says makes you feel unsafe only because you wish to silence the person is wrong, contemptible, and a direct attack on free speech.

19. Free speech and intellectual tolerance go together. A society committed to free speech is also committed to intellectual tolerance, or tolerance of a wide variety of points of view. Societies that have many rules about what people may say are consequently strongly intolerant of the verboten points of view. A society devoted to free speech “agrees to disagree.”

20. Intellectual tolerance, what. Intellectual tolerance involves “letting” people have a different point of view from yours. You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to respect it. But you should respect the moral right of people to hold those different views.

21. Intellectual tolerance means not shutting others’ speech down. If you’re personally committed to free speech and tolerance, you won’t shout people down at speeches they’re giving.

22. Intelligent people disagree with you. Just because somebody does not immediately agree with you, that doesn’t mean that they are ignorant or unenlightened.

23. Privilege does not need to be silenced. Just because someone is a member of a “privileged” group, it doesn’t follow that he or she deserves to be silenced or shamed.

24. Fixation on “privilege” can make you a bigot. Constant attention to the identity groups of your “privileged” opponents means you’re engaging in identity-based bigotry and stereotyping—which is something social justice is supposed to be opposed to.

25. Don’t pull out the big guns so quickly. Someone is not a sexist simply because he expresses skepticism of one of the tenets of feminism. Someone is not a racist simply because does not agree with you. Someone is not a socialist just because they are a Democrat or in favor of Obamacare. Words like these tend to shut down conversation and harden positions. They should be used only with evidence.

Anything else to add? Anything directed more toward conservatives?

Once this is completed, I might seek out more attention. For now I’ve just posted it on the blog and have sought a input from a few acquaintances.

Ultimately, I’d love to see such a statement drafted and posted for many people to sign. Of course, it should only include statements that (1) we have seen radical social justice activists (RSJAs) or conservative opponents of free speech make (or which they appear to assume), (2) seem to be very implausible, and also such that (3) some contrary point of view appears to be a matter of common sense. So, no conservative talking points, of course. Just the obvious stuff that most free speech-loving liberals, libertarians, and conservatives can agree upon and on which they disagree with RSJA types.

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 163 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started Wikipedia.org, Citizendium.org, WatchKnowLearn.org, ReadingBear.org, and Infobitt. I write about education and the Internet from a broadly philosophical point of view.

One Response to "The Free Speech and Intellectual Tolerance Credo, Draft 1"
  1. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » Some unpopular opinions May 18, 2015 23:44 pm

    […] I am particularly appalled by the illiberal hostility that certain left-leaning students, and some older people as well, […]

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