Jan 172014

ShulerYou know that Freedom of Speech thing we like? If there was a country in the Western Hemisphere that was jailing people for saying mean things about its politicians, which country do you think it would be? (yes, merely asking the question gives away the answer. It’s us)

Shuler’s is the only name listed from the Western Hemisphere in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ list of imprisoned news workers around the world.”

As Robin Hanson has pointed out  (and actually many people make this point, but Robin Hanson is my favorite contrarian, so I’m reference him) – speech can do far more damage than sticks and stones. Words are potent weapons, and we let these weapons run rampant with very little regulation.

Sometimes I wonder if our freedom of speech fetish goes a bit too far. Fred Phelps seems a good example of the sort of asshole who’s sadistic attacks on the grieving we shouldn’t protect. Even more potent, Tobacco companies that spread lies which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths for billions in profit drive me to moral outrage/insanity. Oil companies doing the same with global warming denial are just as bad. Millions will die, for the sake of easier profits. And on a personal level, just a few days ago I was involved in an exchange where I made it clear that I would not engage anyone who used a particularly malicious form of verbal attack.

From all accounts, it looks like Shuler is a “crazy, creepy, vexatious, hypocritical asshole”. 

However his jailing is an unabashed raw abuse of power. We in the West have decided that allowing everyone to speak is the best way to ensure that the truth eventually makes it to the surface. And that the benefits to human civilization of access to the truth outweighs the harms done to individuals. Aggregated over enough time, the benefits to everyone are so great that even those initially hurt by this rigid defense of freedom of speech would have to admit they are better off on net than if there was no such freedom. This leads to one of the fundamental rules of society. As Eliezer says:

 “There are a very few injunctions in the human art of rationality that have no ifs, ands, buts, or escape clauses. This is one of them. Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever.”

Otherwise our knowledge is limited by what those with the most guns want us to know, and not by the truth. In our society, those with the most guns are the government. Which is why this story must be spread, and this sort of thing must be stopped. Freedom of Speech isn’t just The Law, it’s also a damn good idea. Reblog either the Salon or PopeHat article (PopeHat is much more informative and simply a better article, but there are things to be said for Salon as wel), or share it on Facebook, or whatever. This abuse should not go unchallenged.

And if you have a few dollars, maybe throw them to the ACLU. They’re making moves on this, and they do good work.

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