Creating a culture of free speech

Our free speech rights as Americans are legally secure. Government may not legally censor our speech or punish us for our speech. Illegal restrictions are quickly shut down and provoke a public outcry. So why do Americans feel less free to speak, especially over the last fifteen years? Because our culture is increasingly intolerant of opposing opinions and ready to engage in private-sector censorship at any moment. To maintain a healthy society, we need to develop a culture of free speech.

So what does that mean? It means we need to be willing to live, work and shop next to people we disagree with. We can get offended by their opinions and we can argue, but we will generally accept someone’s right to live their lives despite that disagreement. If we can adopt this mentality, it will make our society a lot less divisive and our politics a lot less nasty. So how can we build this culture?

First, do not try to get people fired from their jobs over offensive speech. No matter how much you may dislike someone’s opinion outside of work, it generally does not impact his ability to do his job. It might make you feel vindicated to get “revenge” on someone who offends you, but it does not actually change anyone’s mind. It only embitters your target and may even cause him to double down on the beliefs you despise. This is especially true if it is a random person you do not know. Are you really accomplishing anyone by destroying someone’s career? Why not engage instead?

But since some people will always engage in this behavior, it is time for corporations to grow a spine. When an online mob organizes a campaign to get someone fired, corporations usually cower before the mob and terminate the employee who said something offensive. A better reaction would be this: If someone is a good employee and the opinions he expresses on his off time do not harm his job performance, tell the mob to buzz off. If corporate America would do this, these campaigns would eventually die out as the mob realizes they will not get what they want.

This one is especially for conservatives: “Fight fire with fire” burns the whole world down. Targeting someone who has participated in cancel culture validates the very mentality that free speech oriented conservatives want to eradicate. If you “cancel” a Leftist, you encourage more attacks as retaliation and you lose credibility the next time you argue for free speech or argue against a disproportionate response.

Finally, do not refuse to be civil with people who have opinions you dislike. You can have divergent opinions and still be friends with someone. (Obviously potential spouses are different.) Even among my conservative friends, there is wide disagreement on policy, politics and ideology.

In our society, censorship is a cultural problem rather than a legal problem. Because of this, there’s no piece of legislation that can fix the problem. The only solution is cultural, and this will happen one person at a time. This means it will take years or even decades to reverse this and create a society that truly respects free speech and dissent. Basically, the Golden Rule applies: If you want others to respect your free speech rights, then you have to respect their free speech rights.