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  • MORE THAN two centuries after freedom of speech was enshrined in the First Amendment to the

  • Constitution, that right is very much in the news. Campus speech codes, disinvited commencement

  • speakers, jailed performance artists, exiled leakers, a blogger condemned to a thousand

  • lashes by one of our closest allies, and the massacre of French cartoonists have forced

  • the democratic world to examine the roots of its commitment to free speech.

  • Is free speech merely a symbolic talisman, like a national flag or motto? Is it just

  • one of many values that we trade off against each other? Was Pope Francis right when he

  • said thatyou cannot make fun of the faith of others�? May universities muzzle some

  • students to protect the sensibilities of others? Did the Charlie Hebdo cartoonistscross

  • a line that separates free speech from toxic talk,� as the dean of a school of journalism

  • recently opined? Or is free speech fundamental � a right which, if not absolute, should

  • be abrogated only in carefully circumscribed cases?

  • The answer is that free speech is indeed fundamental. It�s important to remind ourselves why,

  • and to have the reasons at our fingertips when that right is called into question.

  • The first reason is that the very thing were doing when we ask whether free speech is fundamental

  • exchanging and evaluating ideaspresupposes that we have the right to exchange and evaluate

  • ideas. In talking about free speech (or anything else) were talking. Were not settling

  • our disagreement by arm-wrestling or a beauty contest or a pistol duel. Unless youre

  • willing to discredit yourself by declaring, in the words of Nat Hentoff, �free speech

  • for me but not for thee,� then as soon as you show up to a debate to argue against free

  • speech, youve lost it.

  • Those who are unimpressed by this logical argument can turn to one based on human experience.

  • One can imagine a world in which oracles, soothsayers, prophets, popes, visionaries,

  • imams, or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which

  • the rest of us would be foolish, indeed, criminal, to question. History tells us that this is

  • not the world we live in. Self-proclaimed truthers have repeatedly been shown to be

  • mistakenoften comically soby history, science, and common sense.

  • Perhaps the greatest discovery in human historyone that is prior to every other discovery

  • is that our traditional sources of belief are in fact generators of error and should

  • be dismissed as grounds for knowledge. These include faith, revelation, dogma, authority,

  • charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and subjective certainty.

  • How, then, can we know? Other than by proving mathematical theorems, which are not about

  • the material world, the answer is the process that the philosopher Karl Popper called conjecture

  • and refutation. We come up with ideas about the nature of reality, and test them against

  • that reality, allowing the world to falsify the mistaken ones. Theconjecturepart

  • of this formula, of course, depends upon the exercise of free speech. We offer these conjectures

  • without any prior assurance they are correct. It is only by bruiting ideas and seeing which

  • ones withstand attempts to refute them that we acquire knowledge.

  • Once this realization sank in during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, the traditional

  • understanding of the world was upended. Everyone knows that the discovery that the Earth revolves

  • around the sun rather than vice-versa had to overcome fierce resistance from ecclesiastical

  • authority. But the Copernican revolution was just the first event in a cataclysm that would

  • make our current understanding of the world unrecognizable to our ancestors. Everything

  • we know about the worldthe age of our civilization, species, planet, and universe;

  • the stuff were made of; the laws that govern matter and energy; the workings of the body

  • and braincame as insults to the sacred dogma of the day. We now know that the beloved

  • convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including

  • some we hold today.

  • A third reason that free speech is foundational to human flourishing is that it is essential

  • to democracy and a bulwark against tyranny. How did the monstrous regimes of the 20th

  • century gain and hold power? The answer is that groups of armed fanatics silenced their

  • critics and adversaries. (The 1933 election that gave the Nazis a plurality was preceded

  • by years of intimidation, murder, and violent mayhem.) And once in power, the totalitarians

  • criminalized any criticism of the regime. This is also true of the less genocidal but

  • still brutal regimes of today, such as those in China, Russia, African strongman states,

  • and much of the Islamic world.

  • Why do dictators brook no dissent? One can imagine autocrats who feathered their nests

  • and jailed or killed only those who directly attempted to usurp their privileges, while

  • allowing their powerless subjects to complain all they want. There�s a good reason dictatorships

  • don�t work that way. The immiserated subjects of a tyrannical regime are not deluded that

  • they are happy, and if tens of millions of disaffected citizens act together, no regime

  • has the brute force to resist them. The reason that citizens don�t resist their overlords

  • en masse is that they lack common knowledgethe awareness that everyone shares their

  • knowledge and knows they share it. People will expose themselves to the risk of reprisal

  • by a despotic regime only if they know that others are exposing themselves to that risk

  • at the same time.

  • Common knowledge is created by public information, such as a broadcasted statement. The story

  • ofThe Emperor�s New Clothes�� illustrates the logic. When the little boy shouted that

  • the emperor was naked, he was not telling them anything they didn�t already know,

  • anything they couldn�t see with their own eyes. But he was changing their knowledge

  • nonetheless, because now everyone knew that everyone else knew that the emperor was naked.

  • And that common knowledge emboldened them to challenge the emperor�s authority with

  • their laughter.

  • The story reminds us why humor is no laughing matterwhy satire and ridicule, even when

  • puerile and tasteless, are terrifying to autocrats and protected by democracies. Satire can stealthily

  • challenge assumptions that are second nature to an audience by forcing them to see that

  • those assumptions lead to consequences that everyone recognizes are absurd.

  • That�s why humor so often serves as an accelerant to social progress. Eighteenth-century wiseguys

  • like Voltaire, Swift, and Johnson ridiculed the wars, oppressions, and cruel practices

  • of their day. In the 1960s, comedians and artists portrayed racists as thick-witted

  • Neanderthals and Vietnam hawks and nuclear cold warriors as amoral psychopaths. The Soviet

  • Union and its satellites had a rich underground current of satire, as in the common definition

  • of the two Cold War ideologies: �Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man; Communism

  • is the exact opposite.�

  • We use barbed speech to undermine not just political dictators but the petty oppressors

  • of everyday life: the tyrannical boss, the sanctimonious preacher, the blowhard at the

  • bar, the neighborhood enforcer of stifling norms.

  • It�s true that free speech has limits. We carve out exceptions for fraud, libel, extortion,

  • divulging military secrets, and incitement to imminent lawless action. But these exceptions

  • must be strictly delineated and individually justified; they are not an excuse to treat

  • speech as one fungible good among many. Despots in so-calleddemocratic republicsroutinely

  • jail their opponents on charges of treason, libel, and inciting lawlessness. Britain�s

  • lax libel laws have been used to silence critics of political figures, business oligarchs,

  • Holocaust deniers, and medical quacks. Even Oliver Wendell Holmes�s famous exception

  • to free speechfalsely shoutingFire!� in a crowded theateris easily abused,

  • not least by Holmes himself. He coined the meme in a 1919 Supreme Court case that upheld

  • the conviction of a man who distributed leaflets encouraging men to resist the draft during

  • World War I, a clear expression of opinion in a democracy.

  • And if you object to these argumentsif you want to expose a flaw in my logic or a

  • lapse in my accuracyit�s the right of free speech that allows you to do so.

MORE THAN two centuries after freedom of speech was enshrined in the First Amendment to the

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史蒂芬-平克的 "為什麼言論自由是根本" (Steven Pinker's "Why free speech is fundamental")

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    Amy.Lin 發佈於 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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