If Hitler was alive today, would he be interviewed on TV- or Radio Talk Shows?
If he was to be interviewed and given a ‘platform’, would that have been wrong?
There is always someone who seems to offend the sensibilities of the Left, so we might as well consider the worst case scenario.
Let’s ignore for the moment the bigotry involved by the left, for if their spokespeople (senior politicians - including Hillary Clinton - and celebrities alike) call for and end of civility and the result is undeniable Antifa violence in the streets, their talk is justified because it supports the cause and come from within.
Let’s just focus on the principle, and not the politics.
Freedom of speech is the liberty to express your thoughts.
The cliched example of yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre is often trotted out as an example of how all speech is not free. It is not a good example, because that is clearly not merely an expression of thought.
I, too, don’t believe in unlimited freedom of speech. It only works in a certain context - let’s call it a certain socio-cultural environment. (More about that later.)
But freedom of speech is a core human right and any limitations put on this right is bound to have adverse ramifications. Freedom of speech is one degree removed from freedom to think; and I would argue that it is in fact inseparable because we often ‘talk through our ideas as a means of thinking.
If you are not free to speak, you are not free to think.
Unless you are free to offend, you are not really free to speak.
Unless you are free to think wrongly, you are not free.
As shocking as this may sound, it is perfectly okay to be racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic or whatever ‘wrong think’ someone might be accused of. Because unless you allow someone to think the opposite of what you think (say, anti-racist, anti-homophobic etc), why should THEY allow YOU to think the opposite of them?
And if you believe that other should not have the ability to make up their views because they happen to be contrary to yours, because they are ‘clearly wrong’, then you must surely understand that YOU are not only being a victim of an ideology, but also a bigot who denies others the freedom you claim for yourself.
Unless you can call for an overthrow of the government, you are not free.If you are not free to even incite violence, you are not free. There would have been no French Revolution if there wasn’t an incitement to violent uprising.
Ideas are expressed. When ideas are expressed as ‘speech’, they may be manifested in behaviours and practices and ultimately even law. When these ideas are adopted and become practice (or law) that is when a society is impacted and shaped in a certain way.
Racist laws may be enacted for example.
But that is only a problem if the society does not want that. Japan has pursued ethnic homogeneity for a very long time and this is embedded in their culture and their policies and their laws. One might call it racist. But it is not a problem for Japan if that is what the Japanese people want; whatever you or I may think about it.
I mentioned earlier that there is a context in which free speech is not only desirable, but necessary. A democratic society is one element of that context. Because in such a society, the best ideas will win and and will reflect the will of the people. There is no need to fear bad ideas and no need to ban them.
In the context of a democracy, freedom of speech has a natural inhibitor, the voice of the people, and it works. I have a serious problem when democratic opposition transmogrifies into boycotts, bullying and outright physical violence.
[The relatively new strategy to target people’s livelihoods and to threaten and bully anyone associated with a person you agree with is reprehensible and cowardly. Your ideas should battle against other people’s ideas.]
If one group of people reserves the right to ‘ban bad ideas’, how can we be certain that one day they won’t also ban a good idea? Because any cause, any human endeavour, no matter how noble, eventually becomes irredeemably corrupted (just ask any Church).
The only safeguard we have is to deny ANY group of people the right to ban ideas. And I don’t really care how noble you think your cause is, or how meritorious the outcomes will be for some other group of people.
We are our ideas.
If Hitler was around, I’d absolutely invite him on my podcast, talk show or whatever, because I would love to shine a light on his beliefs, because I think my ideas about the human race are more meritorious than his, and any audience who is free to listen and think for themselves will draw the same conclusion.
The Hitler-problem became a problem when he usurped the authority to oppress dissident voices, which is exactly what the Left is doing.
Message for Marketers/Brands and Organisations
Brands need to think about this clearly, and then make a firm decision that they will stick to: What is your role in socio-political issues? Should you promote ‘causes’? Should you participate in the ‘conversation’?
Socio-political issues are important. I write about it all the time on this, what is essentially a business blog. But there is a world of difference between understanding what is happening in the marketplace, and taking sides in a debate.
An organisation (brand) is nothing more than the group of people who work in it. It is, in my view, untenable for any commercial enterprise (larger than 3 people) to arrive at a position (on any social issue) that will embrace the views held by every member of that organisation fully. The economic impact of promoting inherently divisive issues is rarely quantified, but I believe it to be significant. Knowing a little bit about human psychology, it stands to reason that people will be less engaged in ‘work’ if work also involves a cause that is anathema to them.
My advice is to be socio-politically agnostic as much as practical: when pressured to adopt a cause, resist, when targeted by activists, ride it out.
If you want to stand for something, stand for great service or quality products.
I write this as a postscript so as not to muddle the key point I want to convey, but it is an important contextual consideration when we discuss freedom of speech.
There are other contextual elements that makes freedom of speech tenable; democracy being one and the other is that ideally the culture should also have a Judeo-Christian foundation. If there is a coherent set of values that unites the body politic, and such values have been shaped in pursuit of eternal, transcendent and objective truths, then the people of that culture will naturally impose limitations on their own expression of ideas, recognising that some of these may be inappropriate or sinful. Ideally we want people to police their own thoughts, and not need others to do so.
Whilst secular commentators may be too theologically- and philosophically illiterate to realise it, but the very notion of sanctity and ‘worth’ of the individual (Imago Dei) is a Judeo-Christian idea. A truly Christian culture cannot simultaneously be fascist or oppressive.