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Limit Speech, Limit the Future

April 4, 2011

“No one’s perfect.”  We’ve all heard this phrase a million times, enough to the point where it has basically lost its meaning.  Assuming the phrase to be true, then speech can’t be perfect all the time either.  So why are we attempting to regulate it?  Is there ‘perfect speech’ somewhere out there?  An infallible list of words and sentences that can be used while others are considered irrelevant, even dangerous?  Absolutely not.

According to John Mill, “Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument…” (pg. 602).  Furthermore, Mill also claims “…for the majority of the eminent men of every past generation held many opinions now known to be erroneous, and did or approved numerous things which no one will now justify.” (pg. 601-602).  I couldn’t agree more.

Like Mill, I too believe that great ideas aren’t born great.  They begin as just a spark that gradually get molded and shaped into an the best possible version of the idea.  This process is so useful and intuitive because it has the ability to take into account all and any opinions voiced about it.  For example, when you work on a group project, it’s a rare occurrence that the first thing that someone awkwardly utters is going to be the perfect A+ project.  Instead, someone offers an idea and it is built upon by the opinions and experiences of the rest of the group members.  This process fosters ingenuity as well as success.  By regulating speech and opinions, who knows how many brilliant ideas could have been missed out on.  For example:

– The Airplane.  Were Wright Brothers trying to fly a wooden, non-motorized contraption that would eventually lead to people flying all over the world in a matter of hours in a Boeing 757 while being served lobster and watching live TV?  No, they were just trying to fly.

– The Computer.  Was Bill Gates attempting to revolutionize the world when he started writing his first ever computer codes?  No, he was just experimenting and learning.

– Any Object In The Room You’re Currently In.  Look around, is anything you see the original version when it was first created?  If you can answer yes to that then you must be using cave walls instead of paper, your fingers instead of a calculator, and uncleaned animal fur instead of clothing.

What I’m trying to get at is that limiting speech and opinion, even if at first it is believed to be erroneous, will severely restrict the progression of the human race.  Who’s to say you don’t possess the basics of an idea that can reinvent our way of living?  Not John Mill or me, that’s for sure.

6 Comments
  1. chrisshu permalink
    April 5, 2011 3:12 AM

    You argue many things simultaneously. Firstly, you argue speech cannot be perfect. However, I am confused by your term, “perfect speech”. Also, I don’t understand your reasoning behind jumping from “No one’s perfect” to “No speech is perfect”. Although I understand what you are attempting to state, your reasoning confuses me. Then from “perfect speech” you jump to ideas and inventions. I’m not quite sure how “speech” relates to Bill Gates’ or the Wright Brothers’ ideas. Though I agree with both of your arguments, that “speech cannot be perfect” (at least I agree with it in the way ‘I think’ you are arguing it) and that ideas are never perfect on the first try, I feel your argument doesn’t apply to your title. To be more specific, I feel your argument doesn’t explain how limiting speech will limit the future. The Wright Brothers didn’t “speak” about their airplane idea. Neither did Bill Gates. Also, if I say “You’re ugly” or “You’re a &#*@&#!” how does that progress the human race? After all that is my opinion. Yet, I think if I didn’t say it, the human race wouldn’t be much worse off.

  2. Kathaleen Kokotilo permalink
    April 5, 2011 3:13 PM

    Mill does say that freedom of speech/opinion is okay until it hurts someone else. So I don’t believe that Mill would say that saying “You’re ugly” or “you’re a &#*@&#!” is correct. He believes that the worth of an action is determined by its outcome, or by the amount of pleasure or “happiness” it brings. I think that “being perfect” (as in “no one’s perfect) has a lot more to do with than just what you say, but I do recognize that what you say reflects on what kind of person you are perceived to be, and is thus relates to “being perfect.” In my opinion, no matter what the statement be, it in some way progresses society for the sole reason that it makes people think. When someone hears something that they don’t believe in, or thinks is crazy, they are still analyzing it and thus giving it intellectual thought.

  3. Jeff DeClaire permalink
    April 5, 2011 4:05 PM

    When I read Mill, I was very intrigued by his argument on opinions and speech. I think that we all need to have the confidence and power to voice our opinions and beliefs in order for society to maximize its potential. If no ever said how they feel or think, how would we make any progress in the world? What if some of the greatest thinkers never voiced their opinion because they were afraid it was wrong? Opinions and belief are essential to the development of our society.

    I agree with you on the fact that restricting people from speech and voicing their opinions essentially limits the progress that we can make as a society. As Kathleen stated, speech and opinion is okay as long as it does not hurt someone. Everything, though, right or wrong can benefit to our society in some way. Almost everything in this world, as you provided many examples, started as something very small, negligible and maybe even foolish. Most people probably laughed at the Wright brothers when they told people that they are trying to make device that allows you to fly in the air. Now that simple idea has and continues to expands at a tremendous rate that changed the way our society works.

  4. Chris J permalink
    April 6, 2011 1:06 PM

    I am confused by your argument, who exactly is trying to limit speech and how? I agree that great ideas come from free expression and open discourse. I also agree that we should be allowed to say stupid things. What I want to know is who is against this? This is a massive part of your argument that is being neglected.

    Bring in concrete examples of times when speech that is not dangerous and has been limited. Tell us how the limitation of that speech hurt our world. Talk about political repression in nations that are now undergoing revolution: turmoil created by unjust regulation. Talk about suppression of minorities before the civil rights movement: repression and injustice at the hands of unjust regulation of speech and rights violations.

    Without concrete examples it is impossible to say that speech is being regulated or that people want to regulate it at all.

  5. Matthew Crowley permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:02 PM

    I agree with this post, free speech is what all great democracies are founded upon, the current problems around the world, especially in Egypt have taught us the importance of free speech. If we were to restrict speech we would hinder what makes America great and hinder the freedoms of all individuals. While hate speech should be stopped I like how you focused on ideas with regards new and innovative ideas, we should listen to any and all suggestions.

  6. AlexKasnetz... permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:56 PM

    I really like this post because it brings to light an overlooked way in which we progress. We might think that the path of history is set, or that it can only be manipulated by those in power. But, especially taking your examples, we come to understand that the things that most change the world are the ideas and actions of individuals. I’d never previously thought to bring freedom of speech into this, but you’re exactly right. There are many people throughout the world who possess extraordinary ideas. These ideas steer the path of history and change our daily lives. We might forget, however, that there are perhaps many of these same sorts of revolutionary ideas that were ignored or silenced by a lack of freedom. Your argument shows how silencing freedom of expression does not just hurt those who are oppressed, but may block the progression of mankind as a whole.

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