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Context: FreedomOfSpeech, OnLiberalism

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Quora Answer : Should we shout down and censor people who have different points of view or encourage rational dialogue to understand different points of view?

Mar 24, 2018

If the people who have different points of view ALSO want to have a reasonable dialogue with you, then you should sit down and have a polite, reasonable discussion with them.

You will both benefit from it.

If they come to "debate" you with no intention of listening or learning from you, just to show off to their fans that they are cleverer and "more rational" than you by "winning" (possibly through a bunch of "debaters' tricks") then you have every right to refuse to play their game.

If the people with different points of view want to come to your community to make some kind of point : "look, we're here, you can't shut us up". Then possibly you have a right to just shout at them. Because they're basically just shouting at you.

This last is quite tricky. I'm in favour of gay pride parades, not that enthused by marching season, and believe that British Jews had every right to fight the Blackshirts at Cable Street.

It's obvious that this is partisan. And that my support for the form of expression hinges partly on the content.

Now, on the one hand, how can it not? The content of speech is exactly what distinguishes good from bad. On the other, the principle that underlies a working liberal society is that the same rule is applied to all viewpoints. That's what makes it "fair". So you kick decisions about "acceptability" up to questions about the form, not the content. Peaceful marches are OK. Aggressive marches with attacks on passers by or shop windows are policed and prohibited.

I understand that rule. And understand the virtues of it.

At the same time, it can obviously be gamed. There is an implied threat to Catholics from a large and well organized group of Protestant men marching down their streets beating drums. And vice versa for Catholic Nationalists in Protestant areas.

The threat is even more overt when a bunch of neo-Nazis descend on a liberal US college town.

I don't know how to reconcile these two positions : that we are right to challenge and shut-down "threats", and that even implied threats are threats, but that we should maintain as much open dialogue as possible, and defend the liberal principle that we treat everyone fairly by addressing the form rather than the content of expression.

My heuristic, in the meantime, is to say that the more that any kind of expression becomes a "performance", aimed less at your interlocutor and more at third party observers, the less useful and valid it is.

The best kind of rational dialogue and debate is "in private" where both sides feel able to acknowledge the validity of their opponent's position, and make what they feel are reasonable concessions, without being tempted to "play to the audience" or worry about "losing face".

That, of course, is how sensitive negotiations have always been handled.

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