Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Three Reasons to Burn the Flag

As David Frum at AEI notes, the pursuit of political correctness can have some perverse side-effects. At San Francisco State University (SFSU), for example, the College Republicans organization is met with hostility (and possible forced disbandment) by the administration because they trampled mini flags of Hamas and Hezbollah. Frum paints a different picture for Muslim groups:
In April, 2002, Muslim students organized a pro-Palestinian rally on the SFSU campus. To advertise their event, they distributed a flyer with a picture of a dead baby alongside the words: "Canned Palestinian children meat--slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license."
They received a virtual slap on the hand.

It seems appropriate now to reiterate why a society wants free speech, beyond that it just sounds nice. As John Stewart Mill notes, there are three reasons.
1. Sometimes, you're wrong and they are right. You tell someone to shut up and you might loose a good idea.
2. Sometimes, something can be learned even if the minority opinion really is wrong. This new information can be completely unrelated to the original argument.
3. Sometimes, you need a bad idea because even if there is nothing to gain from a flawed notion, it can aid you in clarifying the truth. And the best way to expose an idea as wrong is to bring it into the light of popular discourse.

I find the last point to be the most subtle, but also the most insightful. When you tell people to shut up and not express an idea, they just become more convinced they are on to something and bitter people buy into the "conspiracy." But when you are willing to debate them and, in doing so, demonstrate why they are wrong, then you change people's minds. You might even convince your opponent.

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