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(Photo by qisur under a Creative Commons Attribution only licence.)
An invaluable debate and web site. Let us hope that politicians throughout the world will read it regularly, for there is an inborn tendency among them to suppress information that they do not want to get out. If anyone ever has a doubt whether or not this or that item should be made public, let the doubt be resolved in favour of openness.
Du choc des opinions jaillit la lumière.
Apart from anything else, find ways in which the site – or at least sections of it, selected for accessibility – could be actively promoted in education. This whole debate goes to the heart of the kind of world that young people will live in, and so they should both be informed about the issues, and be able to contribute to the debate.
In that respect … I run a site for teachers of English in the International Baccalaureate programme (for interest – http://www.englishb-inthinking.co.uk/ ). I would like to get in touch with someone in your team so that I can find out how I could use materials from the site without infringing anyone’s rights. Links I can do, of course, but I would like to write teaching materials more directly based in actual texts.
You can contact me through the email address given in my registration.
..per quanto mi riguarda, innanzitutto da italiano mi sento un poco offeso per non ritrovarmi tra quei paesi con l’accessibilità primaria di poter leggere il tutto nella mia magnifica e più completa… lingua; la forza di certe applicazioni non dovrebbe mai esimersi dall’importanza della qualità oggettiva a discapito della più semplificativa scelta di nicchia: la “quantità” di spettatori che si raggiunge non è mai… e non dovrebbe essere, sinonimo di “qualità”.
Per quanto concerne invece il dato che in discussione, credo che o il sito o altra applicazione, se regolate a dovere alla lunga daranno i loro frutti.
Certo, tutto dipenderà dalle capacità dei partecipanti che non abbiano, necessariamente solo spunti del tipo farsi notare per essere un poco più noti !!!
Salve, sig. Carlo. Sono d’accordo con lei. Specialmente con quello che sta succedendo nel nostro paese, adesso.
Questo sito è fondamentale per diffondere la possibilità di parlare dei problemi importanti, senza urlare ne sminuire le verità.
Io sto diffondendo il vostro link con chi la pensa come me. Grazie per il servizio gratuito, come il diritto all’informazione.
Hello, Mr. Charles. I agree with you. Especially with what’s happening in our country now.
This site is crucial to spread the opportunity to talk about important issues without shouting it detract from the truth.
I am spreading your link with those who think like me. Thanks for the free service, such as the right to information.
I agree with turning the site in a more educational direction. Prior to the end of the active site, I’d recommend contacting universities and other educational institutions to promote the site being used as a forum for classes studying journalism/media/free speech, etc.
Super stvar, da projekt obstaja v širokem okvirju in omogoča debato v več jezikih. A ko na primer trenutno pišem v slovenščini, bo to razumela le peščica ljudi. Morda je prihodnost tega projekta res v čim večjem mednarodnem sodelovanju, a na žalost je nadvlada angleščine v mednarodnem prostoru tako velika, da le ta jezik omogoča konstruktivno debato. Žal.
that is true, the dominance of English is a problem. We are trying to address is by including 12 very widely spoken languages. Your post I am able to read and reply to thanks to the Translate button. While the English language can be a barrier I think it can also act as a language that many people speak no matter what their native language is.
I would love to hear how do you think language barriers can be broken best.
You are the problem, not the solution. Would you like to know why ?
Because you are promoting the establishment line by talking about freedom of speech in such naive terms, as if it were something real, when it is not. Before anyone can speak freely, they must have free access to true knowledge, agreed ? Since we all know that we do not live in a world where free speech exists, otherwise this site would be absurd, it follows that free access to true knowledge does not exist. Firstly then, you are putting the cart before the horse.
The existence of your site implies that there is a problem with regard to freedom that we can solve, thus implying that humans are in control of themselves. This is an ideal, and when you ask if anyone would like to question the whole basis of your organisation, I would say yes, I do, for as long as you pretend, along with the establishment, that all we need do is work together as individuals, you will never see the true nature of the problem where free access to knowledge, and therefore freedom of speech, is concerned. So that, as it stands your espoused objective of realising true freedom of expression, is indeed entirely impossible, precisely because it is, as you almost suggest, misconceived.
I don’t know what you mean by ‘true knowledge’ (how can anyone ever hope to know everything and if that is not what you mean then what is it?) but I think I likely disagree with you when you say “you are putting the cart before the horse” as it is pretty self evident from even a brief look at history that free speech is a necessary precursor to the sharing of knowledge (principle 5 “We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge” seems to be about this) and therefore to anyone attaining true knowledge.
Moreover surely the whole point of free speech is to call into doubt that there really is such a thing as ‘true knowledge’ as if there was there would be no need for freedom of speech – there would be one truth and little need to deviate from it as anyone voicing a different opinion would be moving away from such true knowledge not towards it.
Yes of course, I expected this response, but the format does not offer much room for extended argument so I just wanted to kick things off in the rough direction I would like to take any discussion of free speech. I have two things in mind :
Firstly, we need to be confident that the knowledge we have freely available to us in society is true in the sense of not being impeded by any human imposed restraint, by any vested interests or overwhelming authority. After all this is the condition that any call for freedom of speech is really all about. If you call for freedom of speech as a goal without making free access to true knowledge a conjoined condition of this aim, then you merely licence anyone to say anything without advancing the true issue, which concerns the overall access to freedom. An overly naive idea of what free speech is only serves to place idiocy on a par with genius, and plays to the forces of social life that benefit from denying that truth really exists, and that anyone can assert the truth. A recent Channel Four Unreported World, showed how this works in America, where free speech on the airwaves leads to the most oppressive regime imaginable, it can scarcely be any worse in North Korea. The only people who have any voice are the right wing religious lobbies with all the money.
What use is it if people have freedom of expression if they are uninformed in what they are saying. A topical example could be drawn from the Jimmy Savile affair where until recently most people would most likely of expressed indifference towards the man or a positive opinion. All of sudden, being possessed of ‘true knowledge’ everyone is now bound to be either critical, or downright angry at the man. So ‘true knowledge’ is of crucial importance to the question of freedom of speech, if freedom of speech is to mean anything worth bothering about.
Your eleventh principle should state the necessity of this condition that public knowledge must be true for free speech to be possible, since the opposite case, in which public knowledge might be false, must make free speech meaningless. This condition recognises that real authority does not rest with individuals, but with the collective body, and therefore what we are really saying is that the collective body must in effect be free and untainted by bias, before any individuals within it can say anything of additional worth. So that our concern must always be with the veracity of public knowledge first and foremost, about which individuals might express opinions, afterwards.
Secondly, and far more significantly, is the question of freedom of expression in relation to knowledge as we have it in our supposedly free society. The reason I placed a comment on your site was because I caught the contribution made to Channel Four News last week in the ‘past on trial’ slot, in which someone from your organisation rejected as dangerous any calling into question of all established authority, as voiced by the previous contributor. So your representative was standing up for the establishment, warning us not to question its integrity across the board. How wrong she was cannot be overstated.
When registering to place a comment I also offered a note within the space provided for biographical details, stating that I am an atheist philosopher with a novel take on what society is, on what humans are indeed. So I myself have a point of view which is unique to myself, which challenges the basis of our society, which transforms the whole nature of the knowledge we live by, and which carries within in it some very searing ideas that most people would regard as horrendous ; the few I have tried them on are horrified. So while I love your expression of belief in freedom of speech, I do not believe it. I do not accuse anyone of dishonesty or insincerity even, I just say you have no idea what you are talking about, which is why I say you are the problem not the solution, because you look like a solution when in reality there is no solution out there in the public domain, as such you are what I call a ‘Gatekeeper’. You are making this call for freedom of expression from a position of blissful ignorance from whence you take comfort in the knowledge you have provided to you, and you have no idea what the real, real truth is. And, lets not have any talk of there being no such thing as truth, if that is where you are at, you may as well not bother. Just because we cannot know everything, does not mean we cannot know anything.
Quite a long reply so I dont have time to get into all of it. First I still think you would be better off with a definition of ‘true knowledge’ it appears to me that you mean cold hard confirmed facts – but where does that leave a discussion where there is nothing confirmed and proven? Why should freedom of speech not apply in such cases?
I dont think your 11th principle could work (though I would encourage you to go and suggest it at http://freespeechdebate.com/en/discuss/suggest-a-principle/) simply because not all facts remain facts – probably the most obvious example is the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, it was fact and very few people would have even considered challenging it yet it turned out to be wrong. You would therefore be setting a very high bar for free speech to be considered to apply to a subject.
It is difficult to make out a distinctive argument briefly. This idea about ‘true knowledge’ has emerged from my own way of understanding the nature of our social condition in relation to my atheist philosophy. According to my reasoning there is no free access to true knowledge of reality in this society, therefore there can be no such thing as freedom of speech. True knowledge of reality equals science of course, so I am saying that there is no science in this society. I tried to illustrate this point by talking about Jimmy Savile, how people could not make meaningful statements about this celebrity without knowing important facts about him.
I can see that I am going to have address your specific points somehow, if I am to advance this argument. Let me see what I can do.
OK, lets take your example about the sun, it is a good one, I use it myself in relation to this subject. You say that “not all facts remain facts”, and this makes it impossible to make true knowledge a precondition of free speech’s existence. I do mean factual knowledge when I speak of ‘true knowledge’, but I normally say that :
Free speech is impossible without free access to true knowledge.
And this is the real point that I am trying to make, that free access to true knowledge is impeded, and removing obstacles is the first requirement of anyone who would obtain free speech. So, a religious person would claim that the right to freely disseminate their false knowledge requires freedom of speech, indeed this is where the idea of free speech really derives from, the struggle for religious freedom ; if that is not the grossest absurdity ever conceived of ! Clearly this is absurd, a right to propagate errant falsity is not a vindication of free speech, it is an abuse of it. People who are taught religion are being denied freedom of expression at the core of their being, their very essence as a person is being stolen from them by a particular social authority. This is important to all of us who love knowledge, because the propagation of false knowledge is what impedes the free expression of true knowledge that must be at the core of our concern over freedom of speech. Unless you are a slave of some religion, who seeks to protect your ‘right’ to freely propagate the misinformation you are enslaved to ? If, on the other hand, you want freedom of expression as an ideal associated with free access to true knowledge, then you must want to oppose the freedom to train people to believe false knowledge, otherwise what is your concern with freedom of speech ? If an adult Christian tells you they believe in Christ and they demand the right to profess this devotion, you cannot admit such a right, anymore than you would condone the perpetuation of any other abusive act. Yet that is what your unconstrained representation of free speech does.
How can a Christian speak freely if they have been taught falsely ? If you ask me if there is a God I will so “no”, this is the absolute truth. If a Christina answers the same question they will say “yes”, which is a total falsehood. Thus I will of spoken freely, while they would of spoken slavishly, so I will of exercised freedom of speech while they will not of done so. But ask them if this is so and they will deny it, even so we who believe in freedom of expression cannot allow their having been abused to misguide us. We cannot allow the individual to define free speech, for free speech to mean anything it must be unconstrained by any ruling or coercive authority, that is the point. It is not a question of whether ideas are factual or not, it is a question of whether the knowledge expressed is freely expressed in the true sense of the word, as illustrated by this example, or whether it is expressed through the direction of a hidden social power.
So the question of free speech revolves around where we locate the focus of free speech’s existence, in the person or in society. Free speech cannot be defined by the individual’s ability to say anything, anytime, as such a loose definition of free speech is worthless in practice because what is said only has meaning as a social phenomenon. Free speech as an ideal realised in the person is incumbent upon public knowledge being freely generated without constraint. From which condition individuals may derive freely generated knowledge, and then express it freely themselves, and reason freely in keeping with the absolute truth of what they have been programmed to believe, since no one can be an authority unto themselves in relation to knowledge. And it is only in relation to knowledge that the idea of free speech has any meaning.
I am enjoying this discussion so far and I think Howard Hill is raising an important point. As I understand it – and correct me if I’m wrong – Hill is distinguishing between free speech as a means and an end in itself; and secondly that free speech without access to the truth (“true knowledge”) is meaningless. The strength of Hill’s argument seems to me to be that free speech as an end in itself is a strange argument because if it comes alongside a monopolisation of the truth by certain parties (e.g. the state, multinationals, ideologies, political correctness) then it is about as worthwhile as someone having freedom to either “walk the plank” or shoot themselves – it is a false freedom, a kind of freedom within the “matrix”. If things are set up in a way to avoid genuine debate on the truth, the very terminology of freedom can be hijacked, just as in Communist discourse on how such countries are self-described as the only “true” democracies.
Hill’s argument is sharpened by saying “Free speech is impossible without free access to true knowledge”. Although many would be nervous about “true knowledge” as a concept, that is because it frames Hill as the arbiter of knowledge, something that I think is the exact opposite to what he is meaning. Given the sharpening of the stance, I wonder, however, if Hill would feel it to be covered by the 1st principal of the website: “We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.” If by “regardless of frontiers” we mean Hill’s “free access” then the arguments are quite similar.
Alex Helling’s point nevertheless holds: that freedom of speech is still a uniquely appropriate means to the arrival at truth. A possible stumbling point is to frame this in terms of calling “into doubt that there really is such a thing as ‘true knowledge’”. Here I agree with Hill’s criticism (which would be perhaps better articulated as a qualification), that complete relativism over the possibility of truth threatens the whole endeavour. It is more profitable to argue that free speech is an excellent means to arrive at the truth, without saying truth just doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, a very good point by Helling.
My own thoughts are to encourage Hill to read John Gaventa’s “Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley”. This may be a tall order for an athiest, but the discussion of power-play is rich and applicable to whatever ideology one feels needs to be faced up to.
Finally, I would mention that we have unfortunately not had anyone representing our website on Channel 4, so I cannot speak for the person mentioned by Hill.
With thanks, Dominic Burbidge.
1) Hill is distinguishing between free speech as a means and an end in itself.
Sort of, though I would give it a more political form than this abstraction, because the struggle over knowledge is real. Social power relies upon the control of knowledge. This involves enabling false knowledge (religion), while suppressing true knowledge (science). The age old war between religion and science continues unabated, is my point. The problem with the idea of free speech simplistically stated is that it seems to take the stance that the academic establishment presents to the world regarding science, which is that science is free to develop knowledge anyway it pleases. This is not so. And I mean this in a major sense, not a piddling little way of a minor kind. This is why I place the need for true knowledge to be linked to free speech so high on the agenda I espouse.
2) Who is the arbiter of true knowledge ?
This question obviously lies behind all such attempts to discuss this issue. I think I tackled that in my brief post last night, when I tried to make science the arbiter of personal freedom, on the basis that science made the supreme authority of nature the real arbiter of knowledge. This does not remove the problem entirely, because the establishment soon realises that it must control science, and that is exactly where we are today. If this were not so then religion could not exist.
Science and religion cannot exist in the same society at the same time. If conditions suggest otherwise, then we know that science is nonexistent, and what passes for science is a sterilised form, made safe for religion by the establishment, over time. Please do not think of a ‘conspiracy’ when you read this remark, the subject is a good deal more involved than that.
3) Does the first principle cover my point about access to true knowledge ?
I dived straight into posting comments without studying the site, so it is nice to have my remarks referred to a specific principle, and I am pleased to see the gist of my concern is found therein. This principle as it is phrased misses my point however, because it emphasises the freedom of the individual as an authority in their own right, whereas I actually deny this status altogether, and make the social entity the sole authority. This is not presented as an ideal, it is a recognition of the reality we must face, and indeed I would say that this reality is what we are actually seeking to face up to when we have a debate like this about free speech.
4) Helling’s come back.
Of course free speech is essential to freedom in general. Just because I took the site to task for being ‘misconceived’ in not putting the nature of what it is that we are free to speak of, does not mean I am denying the importance of free speech itself.
5) I appreciate this thoughtful response very much and I am pleased that my contribution has been stimulating. I will check out the title you suggest, but saying it may not suit an atheist is off-putting for sure. More than that, the use of the phrase ‘Power and Powerlessness’ again leans towards an emphasis upon the individual, whereas my atheist philosophy is actually based upon the idea that the individual is not the true object of human existence, but rather the social order is. So I would imagine this is where my difficulty would lie with such a work, as indeed it does with all works, except those of my own creation.
Finally, what can I say ? I could of sworn the lady was introduced as being from the Institute of Ideas, that is why I ran a search and found you. Not to worry, its nice to be here, whatever gust of hot air blew me to your shores.
The lady in question would almost certainly be Claire Fox http://www.instituteofideas.com/people/claire_fox.html who I assume has no affiliation with Free Speech Debate.
I dislike how black and white your view is; religion seems to be the fount of all evil (untruth) and science the opposite. Whereas of course religions in the past have as often pushed forward science as they have held it back. Many of the greatest scientists were also believers in God and did not see their advancing science as being undermining religion or their faith as preventing their ability to advance science.
I worry when there is any arbiter of true knowledge at all, even if that arbiter is science as scientists can make mistakes and is constantly being changed and updated and is only beginning to attack the core idea that there is a God (ignore that all the fluff all religions put around the idea of God for the moment the core concept is yet to be disproved no matter how unlikely it seems). The problem really is that religion does not keep up with science any more rather than that the concept of religion is fundamentally incompatible.
You say you want to “make the social entity the sole authority” since you have dismissed the state and the ‘establishment’ what is the social entity? If it is ‘us’ as in everyone in the state then surely it is as likely to be misleading as any individual? (crowds can be gullible and easily lead, yet can also be wise) On the one hand we seem to have scientists like philosopher kings and on the other some kind of authority from society which would seem to be the opposite. Both have their problems and advantages but I am not sure you can have both at the same time. A more unconstrained approach without any authority would seem to work better than either kind of authority. Whenever there is some kind of authority there is always the risk you accuse religion of that the authority will hold back progress because they have already arrived at the truth.
I wonder if I am completely misunderstanding you…
Alex, thank you for your response. You are having difficulty making sense of my arguments, all the right difficulties I might say. I know what I have in mind, but my ideas enter into areas that no one else enters, this is why you find their first indications discomforting. I could easily begin at the beginning, and you have brought me to the point where I must, so that did not take too long really. But we are talking about a full-blown philosophy here, one that would turn the world upside down, one that is there to be discovered by loose canons like myself because this knowledge has been suppressed. I condense this act of suppression into the ‘war of religion against science’, because expressed in common language this is what it is. Although in reality it is nothing of the sort, but it would take a little explaining to indicate why common understanding is blind to reality in this way.
You referred to the heliocentric versus geocentric models of the cosmos as examples of a total inversion of our view of reality. You evidently see this as an innocent historical event, but it was no such thing, and while I know some people do wish to make this ‘innocence’ argument out, it amazes me that no professional academics ever get the true significance of these histories. What we have here are two alternate pivots of observation, one false, upon which all social knowledge and all social power was based, religious knowledge that is ; and on the other hand we have the truth. The truth was suppressed in order to preserve the power base of society, which is religious, if this is not a war of religion against science then I do not know what would be !
The exact same condition prevails today. We have two alternative pivots of observation from which reality can be interpreted, they are that of the individual, the person that is, and that of the ‘social entity’, as I have called it, for now. With the advance of scientific ideas, a little over two centuries ago, this matter was coming to head. Religion ruled, it said God was the power in our lives, and the individual was made in God’s image. When science began to be applied to humans as parts of nature, there was immense resistance. Again, you think this was all sweet and innocent. It was not !!
If we want to understand humans as part of nature, then we must have a view of humans as part of nature that encompasses humans in their entirety. Conversely, if we wish to avoid such a view, then we need an idea of humans that circumscribes nature in such a way that humans can be kept separate. In order to embrace humans within a natural model, society must be included in that model, as part of the natural phenomenon of human existence. Conversely, if we want to avoid this naturalistic model we must therefore exclude society.
We live in a world ruled by so called science that excludes society, surprise surprise. Oops! How did that happen ? Never mind, guess what, stroke of luck, this means religion can go on existing. It does mean that science is powerless to explain what humans are, but hey, give it another millennia or two and it will all pan out, and who cares anyway ? Did it harm the world having the knowledge that the earth went around the sun suppressed for a couple of millennia ? Not a bit.
What is the ‘social entity’ ?
Explaining human existence in purely biological, scientific terms, is very easy. If we lived in a free world, where there was free access to true knowledge of reality, we would all know this, only it would be a very, very, different world to the one we live in. It is clear from the mere fact that humans speak, that they are evolved to form social orders, therefore the individual is evolved to be a ‘sentient brick’ unit, or a cell, of a social being. This kind of animal is normally called a ‘superorganism’, and that is what humans are. The idea of ‘God’ refers to this reality, that is where this idea gets its power from, from being true to reality, but only in a mythological, functional way, not in the scientific way of representing reality ‘as it is’.
Enough for now. I think I have answered the points you raise, and this idea that I am presenting to you, in which I say humans are mammalian superorganisms, where our true animal cousins are creatures like bees and termites, because we share a common biological nature with them, is now stated. You may wish to think about this, or not, but I am happy to elaborate upon any details that may occur to you as being in need of explanation. But in this model, which is real science, true knowledge, true to reality as it is, there is no such thing as an individual human, as in a person, existing as an end in themselves. The human animal is a superorganism, it is the true object of human evolution, and we are but cellular units of that organism. With this knowledge in hand the questions you ask about where authority lies, can be answered in a consistent manner, although perhaps not in a couple of sentences. And if that is not a more delightful image of what we are, than that provided by the religious pontificator, then I just give up, what more do you people want ?
You have condensed some very complex issues into simpler versions of themselves, (I assume this is due to limited space to type). Could you elaborate on what you describe as the “war of religion against science”? You use the phrase and then very cryptically add ” Although in reality it is nothing of the sort”.
By ‘war of religion against science’ do you mean the current status quo vs new ideas, or do you literally mean religion is inherently opposed to scientific knowledge?
He he he still unwavering i see Howard?
It’s interesting to see that for someone who rejects the notion of the “individual” as the essence of human existence, you sure do have a lot of unique ideas, you even state “this is where my difficulty would lie with such a work, as indeed it does with all works, except those of my own creation”
You are in stark contrast to your own philosophy of society being the sum of human existence because you have ignored what society has said and have pitched your own unique idea.
The result is a situation where society is saying the essence of humanity is the individual and here we have an individual saying the essence of humanity is society and the individual doesn’t matter.
Which is to be believed?
Lucas, this is a belated response, and I am not going to try and locate the post you are responding to. 24 hours later and you have offered a further reflection on my posts, and both of them are exactly to the point.
I am very reluctant to do this, but I am going to tell you where you can wallow in my ideas to your heart’s content. I have been posting material online for some years now, last time I posted was last month, the stats said I had some 30 posts, and I had had some 10,000 reads. My reluctance is due to the inappropriateness of using this free speech site as the avenue of communication, and I am not signed up to public media sites, I am in the habit of making my ideas available, and letting anyone who cares to get on with it.
My ideas are not only self conflicting, as you would have it, they are extremely challenging and provocative, not gratuitously, but inevitably, given the stance I take, that you have already had some inkling of.
Go to Scribd, look for my name, Howard Hill, or look for one of my pieces of work, ‘There is No God’ should do it. Knock yourself out mate. All your questions should be answered there, unless my powers of expression are inadequate to the task I have taken on’
Thanks for the response Howard.
I’ll be sure to have a look.
all the best
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