Free speech is idealisitic
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, March 31, 2016
I view the concept of free speech as idealistic not only because of the hypocrisy behind its most common supporters, but because it is based on the idea that all forms of speech are inherent to the human condition, and should therefore be defended. This would imply that one’s thoughts and opinions are not the result of any material reality, but simply an abstract process based on the individual’s free will. Mental culture is just as much a result of a society’s productive process than anything. If we live in a society where racist and sexist thoughts are expressed at all, it is not because those individuals have decided through their own free will to have those prejudices, but because of their place in the greater whole of our stratified society. Society is a self-developing organism; the attitudes and beliefs of its members are not the result of any external inspiration, but a reflection of their material realities.
The current trend in the defense of free speech is based on a bourgeois concept of expression. As a side effect of capitalist economies, this concept is almost entirely irrelevant to the economic realities that people face. Under capitalism everything is commodified, including speech. A factory worker can say whatever they want, but their opinion will be eclipsed by billionaires who possess the capital to fund news stations and other media outlets that will effectively push out their opinions, thereby silencing them. In fact, political opinions are a business as well, and wealthy capital owners make a profit out of “selling” their political outlets (news stations, newspapers, websites, etc) to the workers. This is why false consciousness is so high among the working class but so low among the rich. Their position in capitalist society has given them a monopoly on opinions, and workers end up “buying the product.” What we’re left with is a working class that not only believes that their current place in capitalism’s social stratification is deserved, but that resisting it would be hypocritical, and that they would be “betraying” those that have exploited them for surplus value.
This is an issue that many civil rights activists and authors have been concerned with over the years. Based on the subject of the speech involved, the common fear was a state that was able to police the words and consequently thoughts of their citizens. But it does not take a government representative or a police officer to carry out this action. Whenever social stratification exists, those on its higher end are able to suppress the speech of everyone else in favor of maintaining the status quo, and whether they believe that they are doing so or not, they are supporting the state, which gives them institutional power over others.
To oppose hate speech is not to oppose freedom of expression, because the speech in question is being used to silence the expression of others. Most hate speech we’re exposed to today favors the interest of the state, rather than humanity as a whole. For free speech to become a reality, social stratification by race, class and gender would have to be nonexistent.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.