Nigel Warburton, Transcript: John Stuart Mill and Free Speech

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Turi: [00:00:00] We’re thrilled to bring on Nigel Warburton to the Parlia Podcast. Nigel is a writer, philosopher and podcaster himself , he podcasts at Philosophy Bites. His books include A Little History of Philosophy, The Art Question. And for our purposes, Free Speech: a very short introduction. Nigel recently joined the founding faculty of the London Interdisciplinary School and is a consultant senior editor and the philosophy editor at Five Books. Nigel, thank you so much for joining us. We are here to talk about free speech, about which you’ve, literally written the book and among the hottest of hot potatoes in today’s culture was after COVID-19. The term cancelled culture must be one of 2020s, most exciting neologisms. but before we get to the politics of free speech today, I thought it would be good if we could do a sort of tour of the horizon of the philosophical underpinnings of freedom of speech. So can I start with that question? What is the premise of free speech?

Nigel: [00:01:56] Well, I don’t think there is just one premise. There are a number of different arguments that philosophers and political theorists use to defend extensive free speeches. It’s. Difficult to know where to start with that question. Let’s zoom in on free speech. , the free bit., sometimes it gets confused with unlimited the notion of freedom as being unlimited, but most people who defend free speech, almost everybody stopped short of what’s often called a license where anything goes as for then. Then just a question of where do you draw the line? How much freedom of expression do you have? There are always some things which are going to be beyond the pale, whether that is incitement to violence, words, which incite violence very specifically, or whether it’s said kinds of pornographic writing or, , visual materials, whether it’s false advertising, there are most, if not. Almost defenders of free speech defend free speech up to a point. And then the question is where that point is. That’s the first issue, really? Freedom of speech. Isn’t just, anything goes. And then the question is what are the reasons that you give for drawing the line where you want to do that? And that’s where the philosophy comes in. So, , they’re very. Common justification is, , the argument that the world will be a better place if everybody’s given a chance to express their opinions up to the point of inciting violence, , that there is something almost like a hydraulic model, you’re like a cattle coming to boil. And if you don’t get to express your opinions, you blow up., That’s a very simplistic model, but there’s a sense in which everybody psychologically feels better at being able to express their opinions. So that’s one kind of argument, consequent consequences based other ones that are about individual rights. So there might be a claim that is some kind of either a natural right. To freedom of expression or some kind of right. That is justified maybe on pragmatic grounds., there’s also a sense in which this is often tied with the freedom of belief that, In terms of human rights in terms of law, , people have a freedom to believe in whatever religion or absence of religion they want to allegedly. But then the question is, is it just enough to believe without being, being able to express it, those beliefs? So there might be a kind of a time with. Natural rights and the justification for natural rights. And is there any number of different justifications that people give for defending freedom of expression? The question is, which is the good, good, , which are the best arguments for extensive freedom of expression. And where do you want to draw the line? Those for me are the key philosophical questions.

Turi: So I wanted to pull out these sort of two strands that you described in your book. One is suppose as the instrumental approach, which is that, Freedom of speech is both better for getting to the truth and probably also better for getting to democracy. And it’s a fundamental premise of democracy and democracy itself is good. And then that other premise, which I suppose is the moral or individual one around the individual rights of the, of, of, of a person to express themselves as if freedom of speech was actually something which attached itself to the individual.

Nigel: So, so one of the most powerful. Um, set of arguments for freedom expression is found in John Stuart mills on Liberty, the little book that came out of the same year as, um, Charles Darwin’s, uh, the origin of species. And wasn’t eclipsed by that 1959. Sorry, start again, 1859. I think I’ve got that right. But, um,

Turi: [00:05:45] you have, you have, you have is 1859, indeed.

Nigel: [00:05:49] So, um, there’s a chapter of that book. The book generally is the defense of a liberal position, arguing that there should be space for individuals to, um, conduct what he calls experiments of living, choosing how they want to live without being forced into. A particular way of being as a human being, um, up to the point where they start interfering with other people. So there’s a kind of inviolable space around each individual, the freedom to experiment with what will make your life go best and the freedom to make your own mistakes. And then within that framework, um, which is driven by something that is usually known as the harm principle, though, the idea that the only justification for government. To intervene, um, or other people to intervene, to control how an adult yeah. Is his or her own life is on the grounds that they might harm other people in the process of going about life, the way they want to. It’s not sufficient justification if you’re going to harm yourself. And so, so Mel was fundamentally anti paternalist or anti maternalistic. If you like, you know, paternalism treating. Um, people as a father would a child, um, doing things for their own good. He, he really felt that adults should be free to make their own mistakes, make their own choices about life. Partly because he felt the human human beings know much more about what will make their lives go well individually than States tend to. And so that’s the context. And then in chapter two of the Liberty of thought and discussion, he presents various arguments about why within that framework, it’s important to have extensive freedom of expression.

Turi: [00:07:33] Exactly in on Liberty. And I think exactly in that chapter, he also discusses this notion of the marketplace of ideas, um, kind of a competitive space in which truth. Get hammered out by a collective effort of sorta of trial and error. Um, it’s an idea which people talk about a lot today and it’s contested both on the left and on the right, both you and I spent too much time on Twitter and that’s cool constant attacks on this, on the floors, in this idea, this notion of the marketplace of ideas. Can you help us understand what that. Well, what the core notion is, and then tell us what you think it works.

Nigel: [00:08:10] Well, Mill thought there was something very important, not just what you believe, but how you held that belief. So he was very clear that dead dogma, as he called, it was a little value to humanity. Things that you just learn because your parents have told you, they have to be so author other authorities just drum these things into you. Um, they’re not living beliefs. They’re not held in a way which will motivate you to action generally. And they typically haven’t been challenged significantly. He felt that. Living beliefs are beliefs which have survived a process of, um, testing to destruction almost by putting them out there into this forum of discussion where people are free to present the strongest possible counter arguments and give the strongest evidence against your position within this kind of ideal seminar of life as it were, um, different participants expressed different views. And allegedly, and this is not something that mill, um, believes is bound to happen. Um, we hope that truth will emerge victorious, but the point is that, um, if you want to get closer to the truth about anything, this seems pretty plausible to me, and it’s pretty much embedded in scientific method. The best thing to do is to have your idea, his challenge, preferably by people who are sincere about the challenge, and aren’t just playing devil’s advocate. They genuinely believe that you’re wrong and they want to tell you why wrong. Um, and so for mil, there’s huge value in this collision of truth with our, um, if you hold true beliefs going into this seminar of life, um, he does know his phrase, um, Better by having your views challenged and you may modify them in the light of the arguments and evidence. Ideally, you’d be the kind of person who would modify your views if you hear good counter arguments and so on. But the point is, if you are able to offer the counter arguments and, and, um, develop your ideas in contrast with people who disagree with you, those people end up doing you a big favor. Um, so in this marketplace of ideas, um, there isn’t, there shouldn’t be. A lot of restrictions on what people can contribute. We have to have a kind of fearless challenge of ideas with positions, which many people will find uncomfortable. And Mel even says it could be expressed in quite aggressive ways. Um, it’s dangerous to put too many limits of civility on how things are conducted, because you could lose an important contribution to the bait of somebody who’s not capable of suppressing their anger about the way that you’ve expressed yourself. If they can’t enter the debate, you may have lost that wonderful moment, which your idea gets challenged and maybe revise her opinion and you get closer to the truth.

Turi: [00:10:59] So sort of on the premise that if you’re asking everybody to refute your ideas in Latin, you are massively selecting the group of people who can engage with you.

Nigel: [00:11:08] Yeah, exactly. I mean, stability is a great virtue in, in debate. But if you set the level of civility too high, there’s a risk associated with that. Um, so if a male, freedom of expression was the point at which an individual or group of individuals incite violence against people, causing people a fence, it’s very different in his view from causing them harm. So he had ‘em. Some people would say quite a simple psychological account, you know, offense is when you don’t like what somebody said and harm is when you get hit basically or killed or, um, something physically is done to you is, is quite crude like that. In a sense, we, we probably want to modify that today and recognize that it’s possible to damage people psychologically with words. And that’s where we get into kind of very delicate arguments about, okay. Um, certain kinds of offense need to be tolerated for us to have any kind of discussion at all, because there’s almost no topic on which somebody is not going to be offended by something. Um, But if you allow people to say that my offense is actually a kind of psychological damage. So you can’t say that because you’re damaging me, you’re harming me. That’s the kind of violence against me. I think at that point, we have to look very closely and say, well, is that really the kind of violence that for instance, a certain kind of hate speech could do. To a child or a member of a minority group, you know, repeated viciously with the view of, with the intent of harming that person, or is it, you’ve just expressed an opinion that somebody didn’t like? Um, I think there are many occasions when people to readily talk about the violence of language without recognizing that’s a kind of metaphor or that you can do things with words, violence by words is not as common as, as some people think.

Turi: [00:13:06] Two key pieces that just to tease out a little more, yes. That question around a hate speech, which seems to be where, um, the ways in which today’s society, we think about the violence, that words can, cause that seems to be sort of the legal bracket in which we understand violence caused by words. But as you say, John Stuart mill himself sort of refuse to acknowledge the

Nigel: [00:13:28] psychological violence of a psychologically sophisticated account. What kind of damage can be done to people with words around for him. But, but, but now we can recognize that psychological damage could be far more long lasting and more fundamental to some people than, than physical damage can be. Although they’re not that easily separated because obviously there’s a psychological impact if somebody’s doing violence to you physically.

Turi: [00:13:58] Yep. Yep. Of course.

Nigel: [00:13:59] And ultimately, you know, as a materialist. I would say, well, it is a kind of physical damage, you know, it’s about neuronal pathways at some level. So it’s not, it’s not different kind. Um, when something changes as a result of words is just that I’m in these kinds of debates. We need to decide where to draw the line and we shouldn’t the, um, it shouldn’t be a knee jerk reaction that when somebody says something you just it’s like that you label it as violent. Because there’s the thing that doesn’t do justice to. I mean, if you’ve ever spoken to somebody who’s been a victim of violence, it seems like obviously there’s a spectrum or a number of spectrums, a number of different dimensions, but there are some threat that, you know, there’s some sort of threshold of damage to be done before. I would like to cause something a violent act. But other people see that, that definitely. And I’m happy to debate with them. You know, I think that’s the thing that they’re plan is when there’s no debate, that’s when there’s a proper, might people just label it violent and then shut down the debate because they disagreed with it. That’s the kind of speech that mill would want to defend. You say, look, no, that’s just causing you offense. And we should tolerate a certain amount of time. Offense, because that’s the condition of having, um, what is the benefit to society, which is a kind of public forum of a debate about what’s true and what, how we should live

Turi: [00:15:27] Another point that you flag here, , is that. Mil was talking about the value of “falsehoods sincerely expressed”. The marketplace of ideas which he was imagining was one where sincere falsehoods would interact and battle off against eventual truths, and the result would be greater good for truth itself - epistemologically. How do you deal with offense caused for offenses sake where the intent is harm in a sense it’s not actually that furtherance of inquiry does that come under a different category of thought or comment?

Nigel: [00:16:14] It’s interesting because sometimes that can be more than one intention. In somebody saying something. So if somebody is systematically abusing another person and using the justification, I’ll wipe it. It’s my freedom of expression to do that within this million framework updated to allow the possibility of psychological harm, we might say, well, at a certain point, you’ve tipped over. This is like, Um, in mills example, um, waving a Packard, saying corn diva, corn deal as a staff, as a poor outside of corn dealer’s house that he’s ever been incitement to violence. Well, it’s, you know, repeatedly being abusive to somebody in a way that uncontroversially is intended to harm them and is likely to harm them. It seems to be something that I would not want to defend on grounds of freedom of expression. I would draw the line. The other side of that, but it’s not straightforward because sometimes people are incredibly sensitive and will read, um, microaggressions, which do exist into things which are not microaggressions for instance. So there’s the sense in which. Um, somebody may feel that they are being targeted, but, um, just them feeling targeted. Isn’t sufficient grounds for saying that they have been targeted. And these things are very delicate about where you draw the line. I think it’s often on a case by case basis that the complexity of a real life case. It means you want to tease out those sorts of things and be prepared to discuss whether that is the right place to draw the line or not. I mean, within Britain, we have some laws which preclude certain kinds of incitements racial hatred, um, and religious hatred and hatred on grounds of gender or sexual orientation. And that seems to me, um, radically different from. Um, the United States first amendment position where you is toleration of extent, very extensive abusive speech. Um, when I wrote the book, I was sort of more in favor of the American approach, but I now I’ve shifted more to the sense that, um, laws, which protect people as long as they’re applied fairly and. In a sensitive way, sensitive to the particular case might be better than the kind of laws which tolerate, um, people putting up racist posters in the subway in America. What I’m trying to say is that for me, free speech is an absolute, it’s something which we need to re I think in every, almost every day in relation to every sort of case that emerges into how people actually use it, um, the freedom expression that they have and how the law works in a particular place in relation to that, because you could have what seemed like very. Um, tolerant laws, but if they’re imposed in a, in a very aggressive way or an inconsistent way, that could be, um, worse than having slightly more restrictive laws. Um, something else we haven’t talked about as well, which, um, was very important to me. It wasn’t just about a matter of where legally you draw the line between tolerable and intolerable speech also about, um, what he called the, um, uh, um, The tyranny of the majority. Um, the difficulty is placed before people who are different from the majority different in their views or different in their lifestyles. Often there’s an incredible social pressure to conform, and he felt very strongly that society is better when we tolerate. A very wide range, different ways of living, including different ways of different sets of beliefs. Um, that’s far better. I mean, he thought that whether it’s empirically true or not, and he thought that was a better, uh, breeding ground for geniuses and fidget for, Hey genius. This is what helped society progress. That is almost by definition. Somebody who’s. A real genius is very different than from those people around him or her, and will be perceived as a threat, as weird as, um, and may well be, um, have, have social pressure, not to do the kinds of things they want to do. Um, and he males saw that as a bad thing that we should, we should give people space to develop. And part of that is it’s supposed to express their views. Um, And haven’t refuted or haven’t challenged. it’s almost better to have somebody who is expressing a false opinion, but is expressing very forcefully and encourages people to think for themselves as a result than to have many thousands of people, all conforming to the kind of received opinion.

Turi: [00:21:09] I hear you. Um, one of the criticisms of the marketplace of ideas is it’s way too much like a marketplace it’s way too capitalistic. And it has a tendency towards monopoly. I think that, um, Herbert Marcuse is somebody who’s touched on the inequality of the space itself.

Nigel: [00:21:23] It’s very interesting because I think there is a, a good argument that powerful people have access to channels of expression. On the whole and in particular, in particular media moguls and people who pay them or whatever gets, um, a lot of access to the media to get their ideas promoted. And there aren’t people who are relatively powerless in these public discussions and their viewpoints and not, um, listen to. So, um, Miranda Fricker actually has written very interestingly about, um, what’d you call it epistemic injustice. The idea that some people aren’t treated seriously as sources of thought and sources of information in the world. And so even if they do get to express their views, those views are not taken with the same seriousness as. Other people. So you might say like people from certain, um, ethnic minorities or from certain who, um, don’t look the part or don’t have, haven’t had the kind of refined public school, um, education, the way they express themselves may lead to them being. Take less seriously, even if what they’re saying is very important and true than those who are suave and have had all the platforms given to them because of their position of power and in, in, in society. And in consequence, having a kind of free market of ideas is a bit like that idea, that freedom, freedom for the pike is death for the minnows, something that, um, I saw Berlin quotes in another context, the idea that it’s all very well, if you’re a pike, you know, because you’ve got big teeth and you can, you can snap up the minnows, but, um, The idea that allowing people who are relatively powerless to speak in this free market of ideas is a bit like a market trader going up against, um, a major supermarket who can, you know, to supermarket can decide the price. They buy goods from the, from the farmer was the market traded property has to pay whatever the farmer asks. but ultimately it’s all about where you draw the line and who gets to speak and who doesn’t. And for those people who find it difficult to speak or whose ideas don’t seem to be taken seriously, the idea of extensive freedom expression may seem like a different kind of song because their ideas, they express our ideas and then nobody takes any notice. They’re like, Mmm. The ideal that mil talks about is something, you know, I mentioned the idea of it being a kind of seminar. There is something of that where people get to make their points and they get listened to, and they engage with each other. The reality is people speak to different groups. We’re not all speaking to each other. Um, they cut across each other. They ignore people that don’t want to hear and seek out on the whole people who reinforce their prior beliefs. Um, we have that kind of blinkered approach to the world. Most of us where we’re very happy when we spot something that, um, is on our side, um, and where there’s an inconvenience argument on the other, we tend just not to notice it. Um, and that’s sometimes even unconsciously done, I believe, but sometimes it’s consciously done. Uh, some people have made much of how new social media. Allow us to filter out the people with whom we disagree very, very easily. I think John Stuart mill would be the kind of person who would argue for following people with whom you’ve used strongly disagree, because they’re the ones that are gonna make you think. But the temptation is always when somebody starts sounding off on Twitter or whatever is to block them or, or mute them. And then they’re not part of the debate. So, um, They may be expressing themselves, but you’re not hearing them. And I think that’s a genuine problem in a democracy. If there are important contributions that people are unwilling to listen to, I’m willing to even entertain. And, um, because they are so convinced of their own, um, Right viewpoint on the world. I think that’s a major teaching of philosophy. I think for me, the, um, the idea of philosophy is somebody like Socrates. It has a kind of unusual combination of arrogance and humility. He’s an arrogant enough to question assumptions, to question received opinion. And that’s what I think a good use of freedom of expression is surely is that we, you know, we at least raise the questions about whether the received opinion is correct. Whether the. And suggested course of action is the right one. We should have the freedom to do that. And that’s not just about me expressing myself. It’s about pragmatically getting a better solution because we’ve preempted some of the sorts of mistakes that might otherwise be made and so on. So you have that arrogance that allows you to do that, but you still have the humility to recognize the, you could be wrong. And that’s the hardest one for everybody, you know, because most of us think we can’t be wrong.

Turi: [00:26:31] Okay. So in the interest of really taking the other side here, can you help us understand what the philosophical underpinnings are of those who truly do not believe in freedom of speech? Because, um, it is by no means a fully won argument.

Nigel: [00:26:46] Um, well that, that’s a very heterogeneous group. Some people. The Torrance and I’m sure in Belarus, um, people are prevented from saying a lot of true things by somebody at the top of dictator, who knows that if those ideas get circulated too much, they might threaten his power. So that’s one motivation is simply to maintain power. So you’re not interested in truth. You’re just interested in and being the top dog. So that that’s one motivation, but that’s comparatively rare and sort of. I mean, that’s the kind of thing, presumably that Machiavelli would recommend. If you want to stay in power as a, as a Prince, you know, do the thing, which will bring about the best consequences for you, which is to keep power. Um, but most, most, um, arguments that I’ve seen on defending a kind of tyranny in that way. Um, there are arguments that there can be too much talk. And not enough action. We have to come to a decision. We need a strong leader. We need people who are not critical, but it’s supportive of ideas. Um, there’s sometimes the feeling that when you have a genuinely open discussion, there’s too much time given to the negative and not, not enough time, um, taking things forward. So that’s kind of psychological. Feeling that where we’re not being positive enough because we’re testing ideas to destruction. When we put them through this and throw them into this marketplace of ideas. Um, another motivation could be that your minority viewpoint will just get squashed in this marketplace, something we’ve already discussed. And there’s no point in pretending that it’s a genuine, um, Benefit to humanity to have this situation. What it is, is an illusion of a serious debate. When in fact it’s just another way of, um, um, Those in power, exerting their power of the people who seem to be given a voice, but actually you just ignored all the same. Um, so that’s on the left. That’s sometimes an argument that’s used that, you know, if you’re in a minority group, what’s the, let’s have an open discussion about. X and X turns out to be something that, for which they’re the powerful have already decided what the outcome is going to be. And they’re just letting you let off steam that’s that doesn’t seem to be in your interest. So that might be another reason, but there may be religious. There often are religious objections to freedom of expression with certain kinds of, um, I don’t know whether that’s the correct term fundamentalist, religion adherence are so certain of the truth. And so certainly that people who disagree with them or in error, that they see no benefit in having a discussion about this, or even in what they would see as others blessed beaming their God against that. God. Um, and you know, in some countries of the world, there are blasphemy laws which prevent certain sorts of ideas being expressed. Um, because it’s just assumed that Mmm, that, that particular religious particularly religious viewpoint is the right view. And so, you know, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s, um, it’s perceived as some kind of insult to God to give, give airtime to any, anything opposing it. So an atheist and in a religious dominated country will very quickly find that he or she can’t express their true. Take on the world without getting probably legal. And maybe violent consequences. I mean, that’s just something, yeah.

Turi: [00:30:22] On the one hand in the Lukashenko Bielorus case for political expediency on some level, in terms of getting things done, the minority perspective, which would be drowned out, even if we’re in a fully free speech environment, epistemological certainty, the fundamentalist view. Why have free speech, if you know, you’re

Nigel: [00:30:41] one, one other one that’s important. I think it’s the idea that, um, actually free expression causes more harm in the long run. That’s the kind of consequential, it’s an argument and empirical argument. That’s letting dangerous ideas out into the world is something which is a big risk. And. It’s very hard to know how to assess that in perfectly. But if you took the example of allowing, um, say in the British context, um, somebody from a racist political party had plenty to choose from these days, but let’s take an extreme one. So in my day, the national front, so we go back, the national front was overtly campaigning on a racist, um, platform. If you gave free speech to racist politicians who are, um, making offensive comments about, um, people with different skin colors from them, it’s genuinely true that there’s a risk that that could yeah. Trigger some certain kinds of violence. They’re not. In a straightforward, single cause and effect way. It might create a climate within which that’s, um, um, more, um, expected. And there’s a genuine argument there about whether that is, you know, um, the kind of view which ought to be suppressed. I mean, we now have laws which would probably prevent most of those sorts of statements being made, but, um, when Nick Griffin was, um, Invited onto the news. Was it the question time panel? Nick Griffin is the leader. That was the nature of the British national party. I think at the time, um, there’s this question about whether that’s giving him on which he didn’t deserve and with dangerous or weather people like me who tend to think that extensive, if expression is a good thing on the whole felt, this was a wonderful opportunity to. Present the counter arguments for suite to show the absurdity of some of the positions he was defending in a public forum, but others felt no. He’s still going to send out these dog whistle messages from that platform. And it was a bad thing to give him air time on, on, on a. Prime time TV. Um, and it’s debatable. I mean, there’s like in that particular case, I think what happened was there were very well prepared panelists who did take him apart and his arguments apart, but that wasn’t necessarily a forgone conclusion. Um, and he could have been that there weren’t such great panelists and they weren’t able to, to counter his arguments on the hoof as it were. And that could have been a bad consequence of freedom, especially in that particular context. So I think it is to say for sure that freedom expression, preserving extensive freedom of expression will always bring about the best consequences, because I think blatantly it won’t always, but if on the whole or in aggregate, it does. Maybe there is a strong consequentialist argument for that being the default position, and then look at particular cases on their own merits. But what I do fear is the glee with which some people shut down debate. Um, the, the it’s kind of virtue signaling. This is we can’t even. Tolerate you expressing your viewpoint. And I do think there’s a risk there that you magnify the resentment of the people who hold opposing views to an extent that does risk those views being expressed in more, in more physical ways. Um, I, I do think personally that there is something usually very different, um, between a conversation and a fight. Um, and I’m for the conversation rather than the fight, even if it’s, even if it’s a lively conversation, even if it’s a perceived as an aggressive intolerant conversation, to some extent that’s still better than the, the move to violence.

Turi: [00:34:45] So these are, these are conversations. The conversation about conversations is one which is happening across the whole political spectrum on the right. You sort of led by Trump. You have these right wing complaints against the mainstream media blocking out right-wing voices, the social media platforms censoring them. On the left. You sort of have those who talk about systemic inequality of speech. You described epistemic inequality, um, how the white, rich, and male seem to get all the column inches and even in the center represented perhaps by the signatories of the recent. Harper’s magazine letter or Yasha Mounk’s persuasion project, even in the center. There’s a sense that the right to debate is being shut down by cancel culture. Why is freedom of speech sort of become this, this cause celebre for everybody at the moment? What’s what’s happening. Yeah. Is it, is it the internet? Is it the social media platforms? Is it, um, is it something else?

Nigel: [00:35:43] I think it goes in cycles. It does come to the fore every now and then there are big issues around freedom of expression that have cropped up before, um, you know, talk about Nazis marching in near Chicago. Um, you know, I think it was in the seventies, that was a big issue. It took about freedom of expression in relation to the Vietnam war in America. You know, there are lots of, um, Occasions, these sort of flashpoints of freedom expression that occur. If you go back through history, you’ll find plenty of them. So we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s there, there is one now. Um, but obviously, um, there’s been a democratization of, um, publication through social media. So that’s everybody with a mobile phone, a smartphone. Can contribute potentially to a, a global debates. Um, so, so some people think, well, the consequences of that is, um, Minority groups, which don’t have a huge number of people in any one country. Those people can kind of find each other and become a more powerful force. So this gives new voices, more power, um, that those could be extremists they could be, or they could be just slightly weird. Eccentric. Viewpoints that find people who, I mean, if I wanted to, I’ve got red hair. If I want you to find a group of other people that have red hair and care very strongly about it online, I could do that and start contributing to debate very quickly and become part of the red hair, um, um, group who pronounced on, um, maybe, um, the kind of. Abusive language used about red hair people in, in comedy sometimes. So something like that, I can easily find my peers in that way, in a way that would have been almost impossible 20 years ago. And so that kind of magnifies things, um, I don’t know, there’ve been a number of key tipping points, I think in a numb, in several different areas. So obviously the black lives matter, um, movement. Gain so much force from video evidence shared on social media about a horrendous murder, I would say, um, debates about I’m triggered by, um, J K Rowling’s discussion of, um, transgender people. They’ve been allowed to magnify in a way that will be harder with newspapers, because there’s a much wider readership of social media. So we can read her words. We can read the words of the people that disagree strongly with her instantly. And that’s a new phenomenon. Um, I do think those things do magnify, um, polarized debate, um, and they also, it can work to our favor because they allow fights for justice. To gain momentum and to, to, to enter into the more controlled media, um, by, by force of numbers and the power of arguments. So we, we are living in really interesting times for, um, free expression. Um, although there’s a fear of cancel culture, the sense in which people can be. Their livelihoods can be damaged on the suspicion that they’ve done something which is perceived by other people to be beyond the pale, not even the actual evidence occurrence of that. It may just be the suspicion that’s sufficient for that. In fact, I think we do still have greater freedom expression. Most of us than has ever been true for humanity. I mean, it’s, it’s very odd that, you know, we can have this discussion with people in Australia can listen to it as soon as it’s released or they can listen in, um, the, obviously the parts of the world where they won’t be able to listen. I doubt if they’ll be listening to China, but, or maybe Hong Kong now, but they might be listening in, in South Korea or, you know, there are so many different places where people can interact with the things that we’re saying and can be stimulated. They may hate what I’m saying. And if they do, then, then I’ll have served a purpose too, because, um, stimulated them to, to think in opposition to me. And I think ultimately at the bottom of, for me all these questions about free speech at the bottom, it’s like, what kind of world do we want? Do we want a world of authority where people just tell you how things are? Or do we want a world where we can have vigorous debate about things that matter to us? Without fear that, because we say something, we might be mistaken, but big, because we say something that other people don’t like, we’ll get shut down and we make it prevented from. Living a flourishing life as a result. It seems to me, I want a world, which we have extensive freedom of discussion, ideally with a degree of stability and that’s about education. And, um, some controls, some limits because I don’t want a world in which, um, Peter files are allowed to express, um, their desire to have, um, sex with young children in a way that. It’s likely to bring about that actuality. I don’t want a world in which, um, um, false advertising. There’s no consequence for the false advertiser, but there are areas particularly in the areas of politics and how we should lead that. I think benefit hugely from multiple viewpoints being expressed. Sincerely in the best possible form and not just going past each other, but engaging at least to some degree with viewpoints, which are in stark opposition to them. I’m an atheist. I’ve had lots of discussions with religious believers. It’s pretty pointless in some ways, refining my atheism by chatting to an atheist. The real test is kind of, I. Respond to the kinds of criticisms that the sincere believer has of that world. Well, viewpoint seems to me

Turi: [00:41:27] it’s more fun too. Nigel - this is a great place for us to to wrap on I’m enormously grateful for the chance to talk this through with you. It’s been fascinating. We could go on. And there are lots of topics we could cover here, but I’m going to bring you back to talk, to open some of these things up again in the future. Thank you

This page was last edited on Thursday, 1 Oct 2020 at 11:53 UTC