Scott Tibbs

To save free speech, we must destroy the "safety" hoax

By Scott Tibbs, January 5, 2022

Free speech has always been under assault. People have always wanted to censor speech they dislike, or that they consider to be harmful. Today, however, this is reinforced by illogical appeals to emotions and fear that must be addressed and refuted. Fear, especially, is a powerful motivator and leads to tyrannical action by the state when elected officials exploit that fear to significantly expand their own power.

One of the most important fronts we have in protecting free speech is combating the hoax that free speech - words or ideas someone does not like - is a threat to that person's "safety." If we are to protect free speech in the long term, from mob violence and eventually from government censorship, we must fight and defeat this hoax. We need to do a better job explaining why free speech is not a threat to safety.

The reason this hoax is so dangerous is that it encourages and excuses mob violence. Mob violence is one of the primary threats to free speech today, especially from so-called "anti-fascist" activists. We naturally understand that if something is legitimately threatening your safety, then you have the moral right to defend yourself, including using force. Even animals, who lack the capacity to form a moral code, instinctively understand that force is a necessary response to threats against safety. Obviously, speech and ideas cannot physically harm anyone, but many people believe it anyway.

It is especially worrisome that college students believe this. College should be a time to learn more about the world, have your ideas challenged, and learn to argue. I was better at articulating my conservative beliefs after four years in college than I was before, because I had to learn how to explain those beliefs to people who were opposed to my ideas. (Listening to Rush Limbaugh helped quite a bit also.) But instead of being a place to learn and grow, college has become a place for people to be protected from ideas they dislike. We see this mentality infecting corporate America as college grads enter the workforce.

This will not be limited to the private sector. Politics is downstream of culture. We may think that because the First Amendment protects free speech and because our courts have a long tradition of ruling in favor of free speech that we are safe from government censorship. But it is the "safety" argument that ruins that. People are willing to give up a lot of liberty for "safety" against real or perceived threats, from the War on Terror and the War on Drugs to the fight against COVID-19. Can we really trust that government will not start censoring speech in the name of "safety?"

At least on policy, we need to aggressively push back in the opposite direction. Violence in response to free speech will be aggressively prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law. This must be a zero-tolerance position and we must hold elected officials and government bureaucrats accountable when they fail to protect the right to free speech against mob violence. We must not allow elected officials or bureaucrats to push the hoax that speech is a threat to "safety." They must be removed from office.

We can win the battle for free speech, but in order to do that we need to confront and refute the underlying assumption that "safety" is threatened. Until we do that, our efforts are going to be frustrated.

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