Freedom of Speech: Is Offensive Speech Good For Society? – Learn Liberty

Prof. Tom Bell: Why should we care about free
speech? On college campuses, students clamor for restrictions on speech that they consider
offensive, hateful or disturbing. Internationally, countries consider further limiting speech
in the wake of violence like that committed by those who object portrayals of the prophet
Muhammad. In the American media, many commentators question whether such offensive and provocative
speech should even be allowed, and why should it? What good does it do to let people offend
others’ deeply held religious beliefs? What good does it do to allow people to say racist
or bigoted things? What about homophobic slurs or remarks demeaning towards women or any
other nasty hateful comments that you can imagine? Wouldn’t our country be a better
place if we shut down that kind of speech? No. Freedom of expression matters precisely
because it allows us to voice and hear unpopular and controversial views. You don’t have to
like offensive speech. In fact, you should feel free to vigorously denounce and criticize
speech that you see is wrong, but when people resort to force to prevent or restrict expressions
that they disagree with, they undermine the very principles of freedom and tolerance that
they claim to defend. When we allow the open expression of hateful opinions, we create
opportunities to publicly refute them. The US Supreme Court has upheld the right of Neo-Nazis
to march their Jewish neighborhoods while expressing acutely offensive and distressing
views, but when such ugly demonstrations have taken place, much larger counter demonstrations
have arisen in opposition. The result, greater awareness about the importance of taking a
stand against hate. Allowing offensive speech also matters because
it promotes the progress of human understanding. Some expressions, once wildly denounced as
offensive or even dangerous, have won vindication and become received truth. Whether it was
scientists like Galileo challenging [Linda’s Dogma 01:50] about astronomy, abolitionists
calling for the end of slavery, civil rights leaders demanding an end to Jim Crow laws,
or gay magazine publishers whose work was labelled obscenity, speech that authorities
once tried to censor has instead contributed immeasurably to our culture. When authority
sees the power to silence offensive views, they also have necessity sees the power to
silence dissenting and minority views. In effect, censors pursue a policy of ignorance
by design, that’s why smart societies respect freedom of expression, even when, especially
when it causes discomfort and offense.

45 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech: Is Offensive Speech Good For Society? – Learn Liberty

  • No, this isn't déjà vu. We let an intern loose and he deleted the original video by accident.  Tom Bell is back by popular demand!

  • Ironically, capitalist businesses, and their top-down centralized authority, usually suppress decenting speech. Plutocratic capitalists don't want free speech in the workplace as it undermines profitability. Right-"libertarians" usually only go half way.

  • good video, but ugh…1:50 the Galileo affair had nothing to do with religious dogma. that part of the story is a myth.

  • Works for me as I'm able to share it twice now;)! And a serious "Bravo!" to the crew at Learn Liberty, this as your other videos are tip top. Most people aren't aware true Liberty is quite messy by many collectivist standards, and that's exactly how Liberty needs to exist. Liberty isn't an ideal, it's the freedom to be unique without judgement, and as it's been pointed out by many professors of Liberty, the key is more tolerance of alternative ideas, and even appreciation of their most important necessity to exist, so ours may exist alongside. Breadth is a beautiful word and ideal…I have a dream someday I'll get to do a piece for Learn Liberty, and who knows, anything is possible in a free society;) Maybe they'll want to do a piece on my Google #2 ranked Modern Translation of the Declaration of Independence since 2012. A guy can dream right;)

  • Your entire video is built on a strawman. Before 0:24 you did not raise a single genuine issue that people are discussing. In fact, the only people suggesting that speech being regulated might even become a thing are terrorists…and you.

  • There is a loophole in the analysis made in this video. Freedom of speech is beneficial when one is allowed to demonstrate reasons and support their views. Views that speakers cannot present how the views are derived are hardly meaningful and should not be protected under freedom of speech.

  • What's the difference between freedom of expression, and publishing a list of steps for killing a person or group of people you don't like?  Calling for new law against something hurts people too, by sending them to prison. Calling for higher taxes hurts people financially. And calling for a stronger military kills people by causing more operations to take place.  Either way, words can hurt, maim and kill, so what's the difference?

  • You forgot to mention the biggest reason to allow offensive speech:  it often helps prevent violence.  Violence usually arises when speech fails.  Sometimes because no one is listening, and often because it is banned.
    Speech can be hurtful, but it can be defended against easily by individuals, so the cost to allow it is small.  It is action that is harder to survive, so we all benefit by knowing who the racists are, who is feeling anger or hate, and who is crying out for help in a relatively socially acceptable way.  Would you ban rattles on a rattlesnake?
    I am frequently thankful to know that rappers and hard rockers and generally angry people are able to not only express themselves, but to earn a living making music that helps others express themselves.  It could be worse.
    We need to be responsible for our speech, but we can't be held responsible for speech we aren't allowed to make.

  • Maybe some day the Left, Progressives and freaking Conservatives will get it; if they grow a brain  first….

  • All anti-discrimination laws should be abolished. People should be free to discriminate however they like as long as they don't use physical or government force. Words should never be crimes. Without freedom of discrimination, there can be no freedom of property nor freedom of association. Since property by definition entails discrimination.

  • This video misses a very important thing. There i a difference betwean critizing a belief (religion, a theory, a world view) and plain offensive hatespeach towards individuals regardless of their view (racism, homophobia, sexism). The former must be at any time allowed to enable the progress of humanity. The latter is something entirey different and can be arguably banned for ethical reasons. There have been cases in hostory where the majority would actually protest for those second kind of reasons and it didnt made it right. I mean the example in this video where the protesting nazis got overwhelmed by other protesters just seems a weak argument.

  • "Je suis Charlie" (French pronunciation: ​[ʒə sɥi ʃaʁli], French for "I am Charlie") is a slogan adopted by supporters of freedom of speech and freedom of the press after the 7 January 2015 massacre in which twelve people were killed at the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France. It identifies a speaker or supporter with those who were killed at the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and by extension, a supporter of freedom of speech and resistance to armed threats. Some journalists embraced the expression as a rallying cry for the freedom of self-expression.[2]

    Fuck you for implicating that a freedom of speech movement is against the freedom of speech.

    You're out of your element Donny. You have no frame of reference, you're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know whats happening.

  • The point of this video is that if free speech is limited, who gets to decide what can be silenced? That is the most dangerous and corrupting power I can think of

  • Important video. I don't agree with Nazis, Zionists and white supremacists/Eurocentrics. I dislike them and their kind as they dislike mine, but I 100% support their right to protest and express their views and opinions, as they should mine.

  • Love it. 

    If this:

    had happened sooner, I'd have loved to hear you guys bring that up. Seriously, saying American in America is "problematic". I think there might be some problems here, it's just not the words…

    We're on the road to becoming the next Sweden… T_T

  • I'm so confused. I am not aware of a teacher at a University being arrested over speech. I'm only aware of protestors being arrested. If you say crazy shit, you will have people say crazy shit in response. That is the two way street of free speech. If students want a teacher fired, well that's just the free market mechanism at work.

  • This is basically JS Mill's On Liberty condensed into a 3 minute video lol. I'm confused though because Bell is arguing that offensive language should never be censored, but it seems more that he's just arguing against authorities having the power to censor it. He states that one reason for allowing dissenting opinions is that it can often cause other groups to rise up in protection of the group being harmed. So, is that not simply another form of one group silencing another group that's harming others? He also does not mention Mill's harm principle: all speech/action/thought should be allowed EXCEPT in cases in which it causes harm or impedes the freedom of others. The question then becomes: what kinds of harm do we think are legitimate? Is it legitimate to say that people should be discouraged from misgendering trans people (and perhaps authorities should discourage it as well) because around 40% of trans teens attempt/commit suicide often as a partial result of misgendering? Where do we draw the line?

  • Free speech is bad….still don't get it, it doesn't matter how much people bang on about it. Areas that should be fair game is religion and politics and other association to a group that is of personal choice. Leave the rest for civil discussion. Obviously civil discussion could be had on all topics as well. Freedom for some equates to bondage for others!

  • Everyone has the right to voice their opinions and speak their minds, as long as they are not meant to offend anyone. However, even when you say something which is not meant to be offensive some people still get offended. Does that mean you don't have the right to say it? No, of course not! If what you say is not meant to be offensive then you're free to say it. There is a difference between intentionally saying something offensive and making someone FEEL offended. People might feel offended for no reason and it's not your fault. We all have different views on what's offensive and what's not, but if someone calls you ''stupid'' you know damn well that there is no way it's not meant to be offensive. So yeah, no one has the right to say something which is really meant to be offensive. If you think it's right, sorry, but it's actually not. I'm just stating facts.

  • Is it wrong to be ourselfs?

    Answer: No. Absolutely not.

    No other country in the world would be this generous for its citizens to truly be themselves.

    As Americans, we are proud for who we are.

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