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Posts Tagged ‘Free Speech’

Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where the people are themselves free.  Our Government is the servant of the people, whereas in Germany it is the master of the people.  This is because the American people are free and the German people are not free.
The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants.  He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole.  Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right.  Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.  To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.  Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else.  But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.
  —  Republican President Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt
[This is the third time I’ve posted a “version” (longer or shorter, NOT edited / modified) of this quote by President Roosevelt.  It strikes me as ironic that last time the post was titled “Unpatriotic And Servile“, but here I am again, complaining about Republicans.  One of the other two was ONLY about “Tea-Party”ers.  I guess it’s true that history repeats itself.  Particularly when the “Party” doesn’t learn – or even acknowledge – its lesson the first time around.  And, yes, the emphasis is mine and does not appear in the original.  —  KMAB]
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The freedom of speech is an important democratic value, but it’s not the only one.  In the liberal tradition, free speech is usually understood as a vehicle — a necessary condition for achieving certain other societal ideals: for creating a knowledgeable public; for engendering healthy, rational, and informed debate; for holding powerful people and institutions accountable; for keeping communities lively and vibrant.  What we are seeing now is that when free speech is treated as an end and not a means, it is all too possible to thwart and distort everything it is supposed to deliver.
Creating a knowledgeable public requires at least some workable signals that distinguish truth from falsehood.  Fostering a healthy, rational, and informed debate in a mass society requires mechanisms that elevate opposing viewpoints, preferably their best versions.  To be clear, no public sphere has ever fully achieved these ideal conditions — but at least they were ideals to fail from.  Today’s engagement algorithms, by contrast, espouse no ideals about a healthy public sphere.
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The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech.
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Some scientists predict that within the next few years, the number of children struggling with obesity will surpass the number struggling with hunger.  Why?  When the human condition was marked by hunger and famine, it made perfect sense to crave condensed calories and salt.  Now we live in a food glut environment, and we have few genetic, cultural, or psychological defenses against this novel threat to our health.  Similarly, we have few defenses against these novel and potent threats to the ideals of democratic speech, even as we drown in more speech than ever.
The stakes here are not low.  In the past, it has taken generations for humans to develop political, cultural, and institutional antibodies to the novelty and upheaval of previous information revolutions.  If The Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will came out now, they’d flop; but both debuted when film was still in its infancy, and their innovative use of the medium helped fuel the mass revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the rise of Nazism.
By this point, we’ve already seen enough to recognize that the core business model underlying the Big Tech platforms — harvesting attention with a massive surveillance infrastructure to allow for targeted, mostly automated advertising at very large scale — is far too compatible with authoritarianism, propaganda, misinformation, and polarization.  The institutional antibodies that humanity has developed to protect against censorship and propaganda thus far — laws, journalistic codes of ethics, independent watchdogs, mass education — all evolved for a world in which choking a few gatekeepers and threatening a few individuals was an effective means to block speech.  They are no longer sufficient.
   —  Zeynep Tufekci
From his article: “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech
Appearing in: Wired Magazine, dtd: February 2018
On-line at: https://www.wired.com/story/free-speech-issue-tech-turmoil-new-censorship/
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Humans are a social species, equipped with few defenses against the natural world beyond our ability to acquire knowledge and stay in groups that work together.  We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies.  These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite.  And Facebook gorges us on them — in what the company’s first president, Sean Parker, recently called “a social-­validation feedback loop.”
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Sure, it is a golden age of free speech — if you can believe your lying eyes.
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There are, moreover, no nutritional labels in this cafeteria.  For Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, all speech — whether it’s a breaking news story, a saccharine animal video, an anti-Semitic meme, or a clever advertisement for razors — is but “content,” each post just another slice of pie on the carousel.  A personal post looks almost the same as an ad, which looks very similar to a New York Times article, which has much the same visual feel as a fake newspaper created in an afternoon.
What’s more, all this online speech is no longer public in any traditional sense.  Sure, Facebook and Twitter sometimes feel like places where masses of people experience things together simultaneously.  But in reality, posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen by screen.  Today’s phantom public sphere has been fragmented and submerged into billions of individual capillaries.  Yes, mass discourse has become far easier for everyone to participate in — but it has simultaneously become a set of private conversations happening behind your back.  Behind everyone’s backs.
  —  Zeynep Tufekci
From his article: “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech
Appearing in: Wired Magazine, dtd: February 2018
On-line at: https://www.wired.com/story/free-speech-issue-tech-turmoil-new-censorship/
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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.
  —  Martin Luther King Jr.
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This University, like any great university, encourages, and indeed demands, independence of mind.  We expect you to develop the ability to articulate your views clearly and cogently, to contend with and learn from competing viewpoints, and to modify your opinions in light of new knowledge and understanding.  Your Princeton education will culminate in a senior thesis that must both present original research and also contend respectfully with counter-arguments to your position.
This emphasis on independent thinking is at the heart of liberal arts education.  It is a profoundly valuable form of education, and it can be exhilarating.  It can also at times be uncomfortable or upsetting because it requires careful and respectful engagement with views very different from your own.  I have already emphasized that we value pluralism at Princeton; we value it partly because of the vigorous disagreements that it generates.  You will meet people here who think differently than you do about politics, history, justice, race, religion, and a host of other sensitive topics.  To take full advantage of a Princeton education, you must learn and benefit from these disagreements, and to do that you must cultivate and practice the art of constructive disagreement.
Doing so is by no means easy.  Some people mistakenly think the art of disagreement is mainly about winning debates or being able to say, “I was right.”  It is much harder than that.  The art of disagreement is not only about confrontation, but also about learning.  It requires that we defend our views, as we do in debate, and, at the same time, consider whether our views might be mistaken.
It requires, too, that we cultivate the human relationships and trust that allow us to bridge differences and learn from one another.  That is one reason why I disagree with people who consider inclusivity and free speech to be competing commitments.  I believe exactly the opposite, namely, that if we are to have meaningful conversations about difficult topics on university campuses and in this country, we must care passionately both about the inclusivity that enables people to trust and respect one another and about the freedom of speech that encourages the expression of competing ideas.
Building trust depends upon empathy, patience, and sometimes forbearance.  The art of disagreement requires a practiced sense of when to listen, calm the waters, remain silent, or simply walk away.  Even in a University that thrives on disagreement, you need not rise to every provocation.  As you speak with classmates and others, you may sometimes choose to focus on developing relationships, deferring vigorous debate for another day and a more promising moment.
But you also need to find times to speak up, because otherwise you will never have the uncomfortable conversations that really matter.  You will never have a chance to test and develop your own views or to inform the views of your peers.
Speaking up is not always easy.  As a student on this campus and, indeed, throughout your life — at work, in social settings, and in civic organizations — you will encounter moments when saying what you believe requires you to say something uncomfortable or unpopular.  Learning the art of disagreement can help you to choose the moments when it makes sense to speak, and to do so in ways that are effective, constructive, and respectful of the other voices around you.  But no matter how good you become at the art of disagreement, you will also need the personal courage to say what you believe — even if it is unpopular.
“Popular” and “populism” share a common Latin root: “popularis”—meaning “of the people.”  We are back, in a way, to the question with which we began, about what it means to exercise leadership in circumstances of diversity and disagreement.  Some people think leadership depends upon popularity — that it emanates from the approval and praise of a cheering crowd.  This University is dedicated to a different view.  We are committed to leadership through the rigorous and unstinting pursuit of truth.  We believe that sometimes the greatest leadership and the most important insights come not from someone popular, famous, or acclaimed, but from a lone, brave voice insisting on a fundamental principle.
  —   Christopher L. Eisgruber
Excerpt from his speech: “Pluralism and the Art of Disagreement
Given at the Opening Exercises on September 10 to the Princeton Class of 2021
Source: http://paw.princeton.edu/article/pluralism-and-art-disagreement
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Mere unorthodoxy or dissent from the prevailing mores is not to be condemned.  The absence of such voices would be a symptom of grave illness to our society.
   —  Earl Warren
Former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court
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I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
  —  James Baldwin
From: “Notes of a Native Son
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