In the modern age, communication permeates through our entire lives. We send texts, emails, and write blog posts to share our ideas without having to leave our chairs. What if others disagree with these ideas? Should people be able to censor communications they disagree with or find unsavory? Should a select group of people simply not speak their minds? How do we deal with the spread of unintelligent or cruel ideas alongside those novel and beautiful? Communication should be open to all, regardless of intelligence, background, or previous actions.
If we were able to determine someone’s intelligence and knowledge on a subject – and, critically, were able to do this for every person in the world – then we would be able to police who was able to communicate on certain topics and who wasn’t. Closing the mouths of those less informed would stop mundane communications. Be that as it may, it is a ridiculous idea in its impracticality. Intelligence tests are already flawed, favoring the rich over the poor and those who are native to the language of the test over those who are not. Even if a test was developed to measure the intelligence and communication skills of a person, it would take an inordinate amount of time to distribute it to even a single nation, let alone the entire world. There is no way that we would be able to determine which people deserve to speak and which people don’t. We must trust that all people are deserving of the ability to share information. Certainly, the lack of intelligent and useful ideas would be more appalling than the presence of fatuous ones.
Though we find the fact unsavory, disdain is as human a characteristic as love. The high rates of racism, sexism, able-ism, and the like in the world speak for themselves. If there was an agreed-upon social ladder of sorts dictating who possessed better genetics than whom, then separating people based on their rankings would be elementary. No one, however, can agree completely on which types of people are better than others; ergo we must assume that no one is better than anyone else. Abraham Lincoln once said this: “If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B. – why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?” (Teaching American History) The same principle applies in this situation: we cannot create rules controlling which people are better than others because we don’t know all the people in the world and risk incorrectly classifying them. The eugenics movement of the 1920s has surely taught us the folly of this direction of thought.
At this point, we now assume no one is more deserving of the ability to speak than another whether due to knowledge or genetics. We open our ears to all, including those who would do us harm. In this age of worldwide communication, what should we do about people who spread hatred and falsity? Despite the fact that it would be wonderful to weed out the antagonists in society and allow only the lawful and good to speak, we cannot do that without risking further errors. Suppose we decided that all people who are currently incarcerated should be banned from speaking. What, then, would happen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” or Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience?” Using someone’s past actions or communications as a basis for deciding their right to speak assumes incorrectly that people are unable to change or are either completely evil or completely good. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in “The Gulag Archipelago” on that very problem:
If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (Solzhenitsyn)
Since even laws stating what is right and wrong differ by country and religion, we must opt for having no distinctions of that sort matter when it comes to communication of ideas.
While it does allow for the spread of cruelty, free communication also encourages the exposure of corruption. When only a select group of people can share ideas, the masses are ignorant of being mistreated or of how the situation could change. Illustrating this idea is Nixon’s great Watergate scandal. Had the two journalists, Woodward and Berstein, been unable to communicate freely, they wouldn’t have revealed the misconducts taking place. Communication is the mechanism of change, and, without it, progress cannot occur. Parents communicate truths about life to their children and change the way they see the world. Large-scale, nation-to-nation, communication changes policies, laws, and freedoms. Without communication, the world suffers.
One may protest that while free communication has some benefits, it still allows for the unworthy to speak. We must remember that many of the greatest ideas in history have come from the unworthy. Marie Curie, a physicist famous for her work in radiation, was a woman and most people at the time would have thought her unlikely to put forth anything of value, especially of scientific import. For all that, she won a Nobel Prize and her discoveries are still lauded today. Similarly, Frederick Douglass, who learned to read and write only through the kindness of someone philosophically opposed to his right to freedom, was able to bring about massive positive social change through his writings. Had these people been unable to communicate because someone else decided they weren’t good enough, humanity as a whole would have missed amazing inventions and ideas.
The expression of ideas is something innately human. We all want to matter and to make some difference in the world, and we can by sharing our thoughts and feelings with others. Free speech is a pillar of the United States’ Bill of Rights for reasons we cannot dispute. Without the ability for everyone to communicate, the world would become like the myriad of dystopian novels wherein a select group of the powerful are able to communicate while everyone else is chained to silence. Free communication is necessary for equality.
“Civil War Era.” Teaching American History, Ashland University, teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/fragments-on-slavery/.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, and H. T. Willetts. The Gulag Archipelago. Harper & Row, 1978