RCL #2.4: My Deliberation Experience
I, alongside my classmates, was assigned by our English professor to attend a different class’s deliberation panel before we did ours. Seeing as all of our busy schedules varied from one another, we were able to individually pick which one we could go to. Almost immediately, one event in particular caught my eye: “Using the F-Word: Should Free Speech be Limited in the U.S.?” Seeing as this topic not only tied in perfectly with my Civic Issues blog, but was one I was particularly passionate about, I knew I had to attend this deliberation. Besides, given my unabashedly anti-censorship stances on the matter, I was naturally curious to hear different points of view on the issue.
As a guest to this class’s deliberation, I was admittedly expecting to play more of an observing role, simply being there to write a blog post about it. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered a seat at the table alongside the host members. I eagerly joined the discussion, excited to share my views with the other students as well as to hear their perspectives. This deliberation contained three core approaches to the issue of free speech, them being:
- No limitations or restrictions on speech.
- Culture and society to set informal “boundaries” on speech considered threatening or hateful.
- Government intervention in what should be considered “free speech”.
As one may imagine, the first approach was my forte, and arguably the one I contributed the most talking points to overall. An interesting subtopic our group brought up here was that views that differ from the mainstream consensus can often be interpreted as “threatening”, citing the scrutiny that Nicolaus Copernicus came under when stating his then-unpopular idea that the Earth revolved around the sun. Many of us argued that the suppression of “risky” ideas can potentially hide the truth and, in turn, hold back societal progress that could be made expressing said idea, as is what could have easily happened with Copernicus.
During the middle of Approach #1, one point that I proposed is that, at least to a certain extent, speech that is considered offensive is merely subjectively so; what may be off-putting to one person may be a compliment to another. As such, I stated my belief that one should not jump to conclusions when hearing something that may at first sound controversial, seeing as not everything said in this vein is intended to be an attack. If I were to describe my position on free speech incredibly briefly and to the point, it would most likely be along the lines of the previous sentence, so I am glad that I was able to contribute my beliefs in their “purest form” to the deliberation.
In my perfect world, I feel that the first approach would be ideal. However, I would argue that, in a democratic society such as the United States, Approach #2 is the most realistic proposal. This part of the deliberation states that boundaries on free speech should be set not by laws, but more “informally” by socio-cultural norms and standards. As an aspiring economics major, I personally likened this concept to the “invisible hand” of the market, the idea that things will eventually sort themselves out when left to their own devices, free from government intervention. For the most part, I believe that this is not a bad idea when it comes to dealing with what should be protected under free speech. However, I do see the flaws that my colleagues pointed out, such as society leaning too much in favor of a majority viewpoint, stifling less popular opinions. In our incredibly divided nation, the struggle to find a common ground on many issues may also make for a slow “sorting out” process.
As I predicted, by far the most controversial approach was the third one, in which the government intervenes. True, there were positives to this ideology, such as the state having the ability to protect individuals from unfair slander, as well as stepping in when speech turns to violence. However, I recall the deliberation mostly turning against Approach #3 when someone pointed out that, in the worst-case scenario, a small elite could take advantage of the regulations and legally suppress speech that disagrees with their agenda.
All in all, I remember most of my group leaning toward Approach #2 by the end of our meeting, myself included. I will admit to being a little disappointed when seeing everyone have a similar opinion to me, but I was still satisfied when remembering how we went through the pros and cons of each individual approach. At the end of the day, I believe that just as long as I am exposed to the good and bad of each viewpoint, that is still more than enough, and in a way, I can very much respect the civil manner in which we discussed the less popular perspectives.