Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ann Coulter vs. Human Rights

I don't know anything about Ann Coulter. I have seen her on TV for maybe 5 minutes, and I've heard of the titles of a couple of her books. Other than that, I just know of the occasional controversial quote the media pundits pick at for a few days. She seems to be a religious and political nut, but I'm in no position to make that judgment.

She should be able to say any nutty thing that she wants to: hateful, disrespectful, idiotic, etc.

Believing that you're right, and being unwilling to open the issue up to discussion is just saying "fuck off" to anyone who happens to disagree with you. How does that encourage people to open their minds, let alone change them? The way we deal with these people today is to institute oppressive laws, to vilify the individuals and to treat their ideas as taboo and "just plain wrong". When we vilify them automatically for their ideas, we're pushing them into a defensive position that causes them to strengthen their resolve on the ideas even more than if we just ignored them and let them be. When we decide an exchange of ideas is no longer necessary, we can expect good speech to be limited as well, and that only helps the spread of bad ideas.

We should be doing the opposite. We should focus on the ideas and not the individuals. The bad speech should be drowned out by good speech. The debate should be open and accessible for all, so that any listeners should never have to rely on the bad speech they hear as the only speech they hear. The answer to bad speech is more speech.

Beyond that, we should enthusiastically engage the individuals who hold these unacceptable views, and offer them the chance to share their ideas with us and to listen to ours. When we invite them into an intellectual discourse, we're inviting them to share our viewpoint and to change--or at least to be less hateful to those of us who see things differently.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant; we should be bringing bad ideas to the forefront, exposing them as flawed and offering our peers an opportunity to change their minds. Isn't that better than "fuck off"?

A little off-topic but shares my broad concept of the free market of ideas: watch Penn Says: Love of Truth and a Little Bullshit. I believe it's not only bad--intellectually bad--for people to believe in bullshit and not engage in the free market of ideas, it's also intellectually wrong to believe in something so obviously right and close the door on exchange of ideas. Al Gore likes to say, "the debate is over"; the debate should never be over.

"When you announce that you believe in something that you feel but you can't prove, you're just saying "fuck off" to everyone who doesn't happen to feel that....Questioning things that others have faith in is just another way of saying, "I'd like to share this feeling with you, give me something we can test in this world we agree to share." -Penn Jillette

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