I realize this is unusual fare for a platform that’s primarily a technology blog. However, I’m going to venture outside my comfort zone a bit in this particular post. A great deal of ink has been spilled in discussions regarding censorship on tech platforms. I’ll be making an argument in favor of having reasonable limits around speech and proposing solutions to effectively manage the public square.
The Myth of Free Speech
As Americans, we grow up believing in the inviolable right of every citizen to say what they like with very few restrictions. As of late, however, we’ve become acutely aware of the damage essentially uncurtailed speech has on society.
The problem lies in that we view speech as being free in more than the permissive sense; we also have a tendency to treat speech as an ethereal thing unencumbered by the weight of the physical world. We now know that all it takes is a few individuals inventing conspiracy theories calling into question the trustworthiness of our institutions for chaos to erupt in our capitol. Whatever else you might say about about the American government and media, I think we can agree that they are broadly worthy of the high esteem we bestow on them.
I’m pleased that more people are beginning to recognize the harms of liberal speech policies and that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon Web Services are taking forceful actions to restrict certain kinds of expression. However, I don’t think we’re adopting the correct theory of how to deal with the problem. In recent years, we’ve made the proper steps towards knocking down the artificial wall between speech and matter. We’ve acknowledged that words can be so triggering as to actually cause physical trauma comparable to suffering bodily injury, i.e. that speech can be a form of violence. We now know that, in speaking, we interact with matter in the same way as if we had physically acted upon it. Speech should be treated as any other action like running or jumping.
We now have one more wall to tear down - the wall between thought and speech. Distinctions between thought, speech, and action are artificial; the division is merely a neat philosophical trick.
Removing the distinctions provides clarification as to how we should proceed. We think nothing of making laws restricting behavior. You can’t park in front of a fire hydrant. You can’t steal. You can’t commit assault, etc. All of these things begin as thoughts. It must first occur to you that you can and will park your car illegally. It must first occur to you that you can take that which is not yours. And, of course, you first have to conceive of hurting someone before you do so. Increasingly, we think little of restricting speech, as there is not much separating it from any other sort of action. The next measure is, of course, to place limits on what is now totally unregulated thought.
We don’t currently have the technology to accurately differentiate ethical thoughts from unethical ones. However, there is a treatment available that is known to reduce individuals’ capacity for thought in general.
A lobotomy is a simple surgical procedure in which the prefrontal cortex, which controls a multitude of executive functions including language, memory, impulse control, and planning for the future, is severed from the rest of the brain. Following a lobotomy, a patient’s intellectual capacity is significantly diminished. Now, obviously, we would prefer to target specific thoughts, but in the absence of the ability to do so, reducing the patient’s capacity to think at all is an acceptable stopgap solution.
It should be relatively straightforward to set up facilities far removed from occupied areas (so as to guard against memetic contamination, of course) where the ideologically compromised can receive their treatments.
Now, a lobotomy is a rather invasive procedure. We know that drugs such as mescaline and LSD make users more open to suggestion. For patients who cannot, for whatever reason, receive a lobotomy, treatment combining educative therapy and either of these medications should be helpful. Unfortunately, this treatment will likely have a higher rate of failure than lobotomy, but we can always indefinitely hold patients in the facilities mentioned previously.
Comparison to Alternative Approaches
Where my solution really shines is in its ability to curb unseemly speech in all forms. After all, one may convey ideas via writing, speaking, electronic media, etc. Each of these has typically required a solution specific to the medium. In the case of writing, we have to go through the trouble of burning the material in question. With speaking, we have to find and imprison the speaker. And in the case of, say, speech on the internet, we have to pull dangerous applications from app stores or from servers on which they are hosted, or build some kind of firewall to keep unwanted material out.
My solution, in contrast, prevents any dangerous material from being created in the first place. Furthermore, it turns the otherwise irredeemably different into cheerful and compliant, if somewhat less productive, members of society.
The Pursuit of Truth
One might contend that in restricting speech, I am engaging in a sort of “epistemic arrogance”; that I’m asserting that I have exclusive access to the Truth. I would counter with the fact that “objective truth” is a particularly white, Western idea.
I think that, instead of pursuing the “truth”, we should adopt the most effective narrative for a specific end. The “truth” is irrelevant if it is not in service to the narrative that a society has chosen for itself. If our objective is to be a completely egalitarian society, that is, one that is wholly without racism, sexism, religion, or discrimination against sexual minorities, then we must take on a narrative that makes citizens recognize the urgency with which we must work towards this end. Reality is not the benchmark for truth. Instead, our standard should be adherence to the correct narrative.
The First Amendment is a relic of a bygone era, written by slaveholding, cisgendered, straight, wealthy, white men. It has no relevance in a world in which ideas can be pointed like daggers at vulnerable groups who deserve our pity and whose protection and supervision is our responsibility. Frankly, truth is an antique. Unburdened by concerns of veracity, we can imagine a brighter future for American civilization - one in which thought is a reflection on a collective story and speech is an affirmation of what we already know.