I am a supporter of free speech.
The only way to eliminate wrong views or ideas is by allowing them to express it and defeat them.
Sometimes people express wrong ideas or messages in this forum. We should allow them to express their views and we should try to correct themselves even if it is frustrating sometimes.
What are your thoughts on this?
Free speech doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for what one says. One also has to take into consideration the context in which one is speaking.
As an example, a group of people walk into my home or place of spiritual practice and begin making declarations that range from the silly or nonsensical all the way through to the openly hostile. Why is it my resposibility to accept that type of speech, unless I wish to do so? Can I not have rules in my own home regarding acceptable ways to interact with myself and other guests?
This forum is not a public square, although the public has access. (Keeping in mind there are also rules governing behavior in the public sphere.) As I’ve said before, it really should not be difficult to abide by the rules established for this forum. If a respected friend made a reasonable request of us, would we not do our best to accommodate them? Can we not have the same regard for Bhante Sujato and the administrators of this website?
Frequently on social media I see posts by people who freely abuse others, with an intent to belittle, dismiss and destroy. The harm done by such speech cannot be reversed by subsequent speech no matter how corrective. People have lost jobs and lives because of such speech.
You have spoken for freedom. Yet freedom without heart is not right. Instead of insisting on a right to free speech, I wonder if perhaps we should speak of right freedom.
Right view gives rise to right thought. Right thought gives rise to right speech. Right speech gives rise to right action. Right action gives rise to right livelihood. Right livelihood gives rise to right effort. Right effort gives rise to right mindfulness. Right mindfulness gives rise to right immersion. Right immersion gives rise to right knowledge. Right knowledge gives rise to right freedom.
The Oxford Union is a club that was set up to train University Students in the skills of oral debate as practiced in Parliament and elsewhere. The aim in such debates is to win through clever verbal jousting. In fact, many of Britain’s politicians are ‘trained’ in this club. (See the stats for the number of Conservative Party Prime Ministers who attended Oxford University and were members of the Union.)
D&D on Sutta Central is a forum set up to discuss texts that record the teachings of the Lord Buddha. The Buddha taught us to employ Right Speech. Our Forum Guidelines encourage us to use and promote Right Speech. Buddhist communities that live in face-to-face contact develop Right Speech in a way that helps them listen compassionately and respond gently to their fellows. This includes responding generously to those who express wrong views inadvertently. It does not include encouraging the expression of wrong view just for the sake of engaging in more debate.
I don’t believe that sort of debate promotes the Dhamma in general and I don’t believe that it is encouraged by the Forum Guidelines.
In Zen there is a tradition of dhamma combat of sorts. Zen students must present their understanding daily to the Roshi during retreat. I was often defeated and learned much.
Yet unstructured wildly contentious open debate is quite different and leads to unwholesomeness. I avoid Reddit because of the toxic and irrelevant posts–they are simply exhausting. Thanks to the moderators here, this forum is a haven for those who wish to proceed on the path, not merely bicker about it.
What do you think would change about the debate in a Sinitic setting?
If anything IMO who gets no platformed there, rather than being due to perceived transphobia, racism, what-have-you, would be largely dependent on whichever party towed the position favourable to or supported by the Communist Party there.
The problem for free speech is there’s no absolute right or wrong.
For example, Japanese people eat dolphins, and Chinese people eat shark fins. ( and sharks eat people, rarely.)
Many people are against Japanese, because dolphins are people’s friend.
But if you are a Japanese who ate dolphins, you would think it in a different way:
“Eating dolphins is our tradition.
There are so many dolphins out there, eating several of them wouldn’t affect the environment.
And the cows and sheeps are also people’s friends, why are you eating them?
Why don’t you be against Chinese people who ate so many sharks fins that may affect the environment?”
Chinese people who ate shark fins would say:
“Eating sharks fins is our tradition.
If you say this could affect the environment, do you have evidence?
After homo sapiens entered Australia, they’ve killed 23 types of big animals and only kangaroos left.
Did that destroy the environment of Australia? (If it did, then why the kangaroos didn’t die out?)
And you don’t know how many sharks are down there.
In fact some sharks’ numbers are increasing these years, such as the white shark.”
Personally, I won’t eat dolphins or shark fins.
But I realize that people’s viewpoints and positions are different, so their conclusions and acts are different, too.
All the words has consequences.
If you consider some people’s points as “wrong” and tell them, they probably wouldn’t accept that from their own values, but deeming your words as insults and verbal attacks.
A mindless free speech would often become an angry debate.
So I think we all should choose our words carefully.
Don’t say the wrong words to the wrong people.
Try to make our words become an impetus to a progress, not a spark of war.
I agree with other discussants that there are no white or black answers to the issue of free speech. The issues of “rights” and “freedom” are by-products of being social animals and living with others. Such issues do not arise if the individual lives alone.
From my limited understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, the best protector against being offended is the very understanding of how conventional reality is constructed, through deconstructing it. If offense is an outcome of identification with certain beliefs or views, the best antidote would be closing the gaps in knowledge that made things appear personal in the first place.
In my opinion, if a group is formed for the purpose of gaining such knowledge, then allowing a higher margin of freedom might help achieve this purpose, pending that the individual who is making a claim is justifying it using the epistemological tools agreed upon/commonly used among human beings.
In general, taking offense is not the best way of gaining better knowledge. I tend to agree with Spinoza when he said: " Do not weep ; do not wax indignant. Understand"
In her speech at the debate, YouTube “Classic Conservative” Ann Widdecombe gives a powerful picture of the UK people, having suffered terrible casualties in World War II, having the courage to give the privilege of freedom that they had fought and died for to Nazi and other political parties. However, one is left in no doubt that she found those views completely unacceptable.
The tactic of some “modern conservatives” seems to me to be a muddling of the difference between “taking offence” and disagreeing, or expressing valid concerns (“You shouldn’t take offence at people harassing recent immigrants, and telling them to go home…”; “You shouldn’t take offence at the co-worker making advances to you…”).
Freedom of speech does not mean that that there is any obligation to take all speech seriously. I think Brian Cox sums that up well here:
“The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it.
If you take this forum as an example, people discuss and disagree over many topics, and yet, the word “offense” does not come to mind. Offense seem to happen when some issues are considered “sensitive” and one is expected to be very careful about what he/she says.
I am not in a westerner and i am not in the business of defending modern western conservatives. In general, I prefer not to associate certain views with certain groups but to focus on the issue instead. If we take the two examples you provided:
1- It is a virtue to protect immigrants from direct abuse. However, people who have legitimate concerns about immigration should be able to express their views without being demonized.
2- Women should be protected against inappropriate advances in the work place and those who misbehave should be exposed as long as this does not turn into misandry.
I agree with you that there is no obligation to take all speech seriously. Negative feedback, however, especially if done excessively, can imply that the issue in hand might have been taken more seriously than it should! More often than not, no attention can be more discouraging than constant negative attention.
Regardless if the offense is taken by a conservative or a liberal, it is difficult to see it as a healthy attitude towards things.
I think I actually agree with most of what you are saying. What I was referring to was the tactic of making deliberately provocative statements and then, when faced with disagreement, retreating behind a “you’re just getting offended” smokescreen, in an attempt to shift blame onto those who criticise them.
I didn’t see any of that sort of blaming in Ann Widdecombe’s speech, which was refreshing.
I don’t want to get too deep into a discussion of specifics, since this really isn’t the forum for it. However, would say that in that conversation I don’t see the sort of “victim blaming” that I was referring to. That would have been more along the lines of: “The fact that various peoples were enslaved/had land confiscated/ were discriminated against/etc has nothing to do with current social/wealth imbalances.”