As societies became more enlightened over time, people were able to express tolerance for various ideas while admitting that no single thought process, epistemological theory, political party, spiritual guide or secular philosophy was completely correct nor completely false. This logical position regarding the nature of life and society was in fact derived from a rational understanding of personal relationships. Even among our family and friends, we do not always agree with someone 100% of the time but nor do these disagreements imply hostility let alone hatred.
One of the reasons that freedom of speech was able to flourish in the enlightened societies of the late modern era is due to the fact that as people understood ideas as talking points rather than fighting points, people became accustomed to living in harmony with those of different viewpoints, life styles, behaviours and mentalities. So long as there was a general consensus to allow freedom of thought and a diversity of peaceful behaviours, society was able to function harmoniously.
Many therefore have been surprised to see that in the 21st century, western societies are turning their backs on the enlightened traditions of peace and liberty and are instead descending to a state in which street mobs and political elites conspire to censor the freedom of speech and even the freedom of thought among individuals and groups who wish to live in a place where free speech does not carry the kinds of penalties typically associated with totalitarian societies.
Today, many find it objectionable that one should work with, speak beside or even casually associate with one who has different points of view. This idea of guilt by association was one of the ways in which fascist regimes of the 20th century persecuted free thinking people who wished to associate with any and all people due to a shared humanity. But in today’s west, so-called liberals seek to censor and “de-platform” anyone who associates with those that are disapproved of by the majority of liberals.
This is mob rule rather than democracy and when governments take the position of supporting the mob rather than the position of liberty, they are acting in a manner consistent with totalitarian regimes, including those advancing the cause of fascism.
But it is not just the radical liberals destroying traditions of freedom and multilateral thinking. In the United States, some on the right are celebrating the passage of recent state laws banning most types of abortion. Yet many of these same people would be highly upset if the same government powers used to ban abortion were used to ban the right to bear arms.
This zero-sum mentality has blinded people to the fact that it is easy to support powerful and invasive government when those in charge agree with one’s personal views. But the next day, month or year, someone else will be in charge and they will represent one’s ideological antithesis. And yet, the new regime will be stuck with the same strong powers that one allowed his or her allies to exercise as part of the old regime.
This too is part of the inherent danger of zero-sum thinking. By believing that one’s personal views represent a universal truth, one neglects to understand that others who one disagrees with think the same about their version of a “universal truth”. This makes conflict and anger inevitable because when one’s opponents are in power they’ll ban that which you enjoy and then they’ll brand your exercising of your freedom of speech to peacefully promote your ideas as “hate speech”.
The mature person is able to admit that as flawed human beings rather than deities, no one will ever agree on any one “universal truth” and as such, it is fundamentally dangerous to allow any one theory about a “universal truth” to dominate politics and society.
In a truly free society, there would be nothing classed by government officials as “hate speech” as this implies that there are universal notions of that which is hateful. History shows that such thinking is not only crude and vulgar but incredibly dangerous and ultimately intolerant. Instead, people could decide for themselves what kind of speech they find loving or hateful and react accordingly in a peaceful way.
Likewise in a truly free society, government would neither have the powers to ban abortion nor to ban guns. Both would be naturally regulated by the private sector.
Ultimately, in a free society a government would serve to protect people against private monopolies rather than against the peacefully expressed free speech of fellow human beings. Extremely powerful individuals or groups of private individuals with a great deal of power over society are just as dangerous as big government and therefore it is perfectly logical to want sensible regulations against any supreme concentration of power – whether in the public or private sectors.
Finally, while it is perfectly correct for governments to provide healthcare, basic welfare, infrastructure and security for the people, it is completely wrong for government to legislate about what people can say, think or do beyond merely enforcing the peace. Likewise, as the beneficiaries of tax revenue, governments must also ensure that private entities do not begin to act like big governments themselves as this too is a danger to a free and enlightened society.
Only someone with the mind of a child believes that there is one great truth that all of the world must submit to. Such thinking has led to every major genocide in world history from the Crusades to Pol Pot’s Killing Fields. It is time to accept that free speech is healthy, censorship is harmful and that any restrictions on public association or peaceful human behaviour in the name of “one great truth” represents the road to the worst variety of fascism – that which is cloaked in one person’s interpretation of good intentions.