By: Barbod Pournajar
We all know of the fatuous, frivolous verdict of well-overpraised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Abrams v. United States in 1919. In it, he struck down the rights of Yiddish socialists to write and distribute pamphlets, written in Yiddish, in opposition to Woodrow Wilson’s proposed intervention in the First World War.
Indeed, Abrams v. United States is a seminal case in the struggle for unrestricted and uncoerced freedom of thought, speech and expression. It highlights the depredations of those who think themselves fit to mandate whose opinions I may or may not be allowed to digest. What is more ghastly than this, the abjection of reason and dialectic? This unfortunate struggle did not end with Mr. Holmes, in fact, it is ever-present at the forefront of the global political consciousness.
For example, brave secularists in Iran and Pakistan are being brutalized every day in their struggle for a free and open civil society, while in the West, “Liberals” and self-purported allies of equality, liberty and human rights continue to wage a dogmatic campaign against the universal notion of free speech. I take comfort in this irony.
In Iran, The Guardian Council decides whoever has spoken ill of Islam, is inciting “hatred” and is subsequently put to death. While Jordan Peterson, Milo Yiannopoulos or Colin Moriarty are not being put to death for their speech, it is still an apt analogy to employ. The anti-free speech crowd view themselves as being bestowed with some right to declare what is hate and what is not. Subsequently, they harass and abuse anyone who disagrees with them. It is evident from their transgressions that they neither care for real hatred, nor do they care for civil society. The anti-free speech nihilists are content with undermining liberty and freedom if it means their feelings are protected, if it means they don’t have to argue, if it means they don’t have to engage in the dialogue, if it means they don’t have to justify their position. They think they’re right morally and philosophically, and thus have no need for any sort of dialectic.
However, they have not been bestowed with such a right, nor is the conversation over. My side of the dialectic makes this simple point: if you are against open discussion and if you protest those with whom you disagree, not only are you against human liberty, but you deny yourself your own right to listen. This line of argument can be found in the introduction to Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, his Common Sense, JohnStuart Mill’s On Liberty, and John Milton’s Areopagitica—the classical texts on this matter.
When you deny the right of Jordan Peterson, or any of the other free thinkers under attack by the nihilistic regime of social justice, you not only deny the right of the speaker to speak, but you commit an even graver crime. You deny yourself the right to listen. Who but a slave to dogma and rhetoric would want to deny themselves the right to engage in argument? Do your feelings matter that much? Allow me to explain.
I am deeply, deeply, deeply offended when a filthy mullah opens his mouth and says that I deserve to be beheaded because I am an apostate of Islam, because I chose humanism and skepticism over the dogma, faith and teachings of a seventh century merchant. I am deeply offended when the parties of God deny the possibility of civil society in Iraq. I am deeply offended when members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization say that a state of Palestine must exist with Hamas at its head, or when the opposite is said on the Zionist side.
I, however, do not claim the right to shoot up a Mosque. I do not claim the right to burn holy sites and desecrate sacred ornaments. But above all, I do not claim the right to deny myself to listen to the other side. Let me put it another way, suppose I was still a Muslim and suppose that I protest a speech given by Maajid Nawaz or Sam Harris, pulling the fire alarm and ending the event. Am I not denying myself the right to listen to an opposing viewpoint? Do I not, by my very action of protest deny the possibility of having my supposed perspective challenged? Do I not also polarize and divide even further? Do I not entrench myself in doctrine and dogma?
I think the answer is a quite resounding yes. Yes, I do deny myself the right to be challenged. I deny myself the right to perhaps be proven wrong. I deny myself the right to grow and to learn and to even respond. Now you can oppose free speech all you like and yell platitudes such as “hate speech isn’t free speech,” but you do nothing to advance your position. You do nothing but entrench yourself even further into your own dogma. Even if your position may be correct and even if you have the requisite argument with sound premises and conclusions, you cannot yet argue that position since you have removed yourself and your counterpart from the dialectic. Thus, you create no room for growth and no room for progress.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-opinion/fighting-words/.