Fighting Racism vs. Preserving Free Speech ~ Random Waves of Insight
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Friday, October 26, 2007

Fighting Racism vs. Preserving Free Speech

Is it right to fire a racist employee? Society seems to say yes, it is right. Don Imus got canned for racist remarks, and Nobel laureate James Watson, who helped discover the design of a molecule of DNA, was also forcibly retired for the same reason. Sure, Watson is 79, and even he said his retirement was overdue, but it makes me wonder if in a truly free America, firing someone for racist remarks should be allowed.

Say Imus and Watson didn't get fired. In our current situation, their coworkers would tell them, "You can't say stuff like that. It's offensive and ignorant, and just spreads the wrong ideas." Which is true. But should free speech be used as a tool to preserve racist ideas? Bad ideas should be put to rest. But we should all have the right to speak our minds. Bad ideas shouldn't be allowed to infect the next generation and spread. But is the limiting of a bad idea wrongful censorship? Who decides whether an idea is bad or good?

I've heard the argument put forth that once you say, "That's bad, and you can't talk about it," about just one thing, then someone else will limit speech on another subject, and pretty soon the dictionary is filled with omissions.

When the Constitution was created, racism and slavery did exist. Nowadays, we aspire for true equality. Limiting one freedom (speech) does seem good and necessary when that freedom is used as a tool for evil. But limiting any freedom just seems wrong. Can there be world where speech is truly free?

When you get too serious about religion, it can and often does lead to unnecessary wars and bloodshed. When you get too serious about insults and stereotypes, I believe other problems can result as well. It is nice not to have to deal with toxic speech. But wouldn't it be better to be immune to it? It's like we're fighting a disease by limiting our exposure to the disease. The virus knows it can still do damage if it gets past the "outlaw" defenses, because we can't handle it. But if we take a different approach, and rather than using the antibiotics of censorship, we instead rely on our own immune abilities, and build up our tolerance to the point where the virus no longer phases us, maybe then it will finally go away - for good. And free speech will live on.

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