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Freedom of speech is more than just a value

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 29 December 2016



Freedom of speech is more than just a value
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 198
Posted DateThursday 29 December 2016 16:03 GMT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen

You may be familiar with the controversy going on in Canada over the views of Prof. Jordan B. Peterson at the University of Toronto. If you are not then here is an except from Wikipedia that summarises the issue.
On 27 September 2016, Peterson released the first part of a three-part lecture video series on political correctness.

In the video, he objects to the Canadian government's Bill C-16, which proposes to outlaw harassment and discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

His objection to the bill did not concern the LGBT discrimination legal debate, but rather the freedom of speech implications of C-16's other amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, regarding their accommodation language.

Furthermore, he argued that the new amendments paired with section 46.3 of the Ontario Human Rights Code would make it possible for "employers and organizations to be subject to punishment under the code if any employee or associate says anything that can be construed as 'directly or indirectly' offensive."

Peterson further argues that it is necessary for people to recognize the importance of free speech and particularly free speech on college campuses.

Go take a look at all the videos, his teaching ones, the debates, the media interviews, the protests. It makes compelling viewing, both the issue, his personality and passion and the vehemence of those ranged against him.

But regardless of your own views on the human rights issue watch this video of a debate held at the University of Toronto on Free Speech, Political Correctness and Bill C-16.

What captured my attention was his stream of consciousness description and defence of free speech (15:43 to 16:58) which I have transcribed below.
And so we need to start talking and listening.

And when you talk it doesn't mean you're right.

It doesn't mean you're correct. Right?

It means you're trying to articulate and formulate your thoughts like the boneheaded moron that you are.

And you are going to stumble around idiotically because what the hell do you know.

You are full of biases, and you're ignorant, and you can't speak very well, and you're over emotional.

And you know you've got just problems that you can hardly even imagine that are interfering with your ability to state something clear.

And so what you do is you do your best to see what you mean.

And then you listen to other people tell you why you're a blithering idiot.

And hopefully, you can correct yourself to some degree as a consequence of listening to them.

And you see that is what free speech is about.

Because it isn't just that people can organize themselves and their societies by thinking.

You can't do that because there is only one of you.

What you have to do is you have to articulate your thoughts in a public forum.

So that other people can attack you and hopefully in a corrective manner.

And then you wanna, you know, step back a little bit.

And think okay you know I was a little arrogant there, and a little over emotional there and I didn't get that quite right, and maybe I am outright biased on that front.

And you want to correct what you say because then you correct how are you are and then you can correct how you act in life.

And then you correct your society.

And the degree to which we limit freedom of expression we put all of that at risk.

Later in his introduction (17:51 to 18:24) he makes the point that freedom of speech is not just another value but the mechanism by which we keep our psyches and our societies organised.

I love the way above that he describes how free speech works - a sort of "group thinking out loud" in pursuit of a better understanding of the world and ourselves.

I can understand the need for limitations such as hate speech legislation but it is a fine balance and like Prof. Peterson, to my mind we need to be extraordinary careful not to undermine the freedom of speech. It is one of the reasons I am so passionate about the role of dialogue in our lives.

Thanks to David Creelman for pointing me to this controversy.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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