Do you value free speech? Here’s How We Protect It.

(I began writing this article in late December. I had no idea that the censorship debate would be thrust into the flames before this would go live. This article was intended to be a warning, and before I had a chance to publish it, we were all witnesses to the very abuses that I attempted to warn of. This is not a partisan issue, nor is this a political article. It was not written in response to recent events.

I hope that you can, for a moment, put aside the recent specific cases of censorship long enough to consider the philosophical foundation upon which this article stands.)

 

 

At first glance, the importance of free speech seems to be an ego trip:

I want to be heard.

We all want to be heard. It’s one of the key elements in any fulfilling relationship. As my wise wife pointed out in the first week of our relationship; falling in love is easy, finding someone who gets you- that’s hard!

And it’s not just romantic relationships; this is how I determine my inner circle of family and friends too. I tend to shy away from people who are “all output”, or who appear to listen but respond in ways that clearly show they’re not on the same page.

 

As we dig a little deeper, we tend to think of free speech as a guard against tyranny.

We don’t want to fall victim to propaganda while having alternatives hidden from us. Sort of a life-and-death version of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). It’s the one common trait in every future dystopian novel I’ve been exposed to; some ruling class has near-complete control of available information. Unfortunately, it’s also a real-life feature of much of our human history. There have always been gate-keepers to information. The more monolithic they’ve been, the more dangerous.

Many of our modern views of progress; in the hard sciences, in social structures, even in ethics, were born out of the dissenting minds of ancient Greece. The great philosophers were willing to ask questions, to disagree with each other, and to question authority. Some were killed or banished for questioning the status quo, but there was progress. Why then, was there a 1200 year gap between the great philosophers and the fall of Rome, and the ages of enlightenment and the Renaissance? It’s a complex topic, but surely we can point to the gatekeepers of information as partially culpable for the stagnation. If you didn’t agree with the church or governments, you’d be put to death. Challenging the narrative was forbidden. Censorship, at least in part, contributed to giving us the Dark Ages.

It’s taken centuries of challenging the narratives to get us to where we are, and we still find ourselves with gatekeepers, attempting to steer what we are allowed to say and think.

The internet was supposed to fix that. It was supposed to usher in the Information Age. At first, it seemed to be living up to its promise, but as we’ll see, it’s given rise to newer, potentially more powerful gatekeepers.

 

There is another, even deeper layer to the importance of free speech. We are, after all, social apes.

When I was around the age of five, I wanted to be a zoologist. I’m happy to say, at the age of forty-five, I’m not a zoologist. But I find evolutionary biology and sociology fascinating. Particularly when it appears to help us make better sense of ourselves. We are not alone.

The admonition to “know thyself” can only have context if we know others too. This is, perhaps, the most foundational and profound importance of free speech. In order to progress as individuals and societies, we must have exposure to others’ information. In order to get closer to an understanding of our reality, we have to take the opportunity to access a diversity of thought.

In order to improve ourselves, we need each other.

If you agree that free speech is important, then let’s consider the costs…

 

Are the prices we have to pay worth the rewards?

Are you willing to be uncomfortable? Free speech must include ideas that offend you.

When we think of the totalitarian gatekeepers described above, we might imagine a Hitler or Mussolini. We could never picture ourselves advocating for such vile control. So this might come as a shock to you… If you advocate for the censorship of ideas on the basis that you find them distasteful, dangerous[1], or false, then you are actually advocating for a single narrative, you just want to make sure it matches your preferences, i.e. you want to be the gatekeeper.

Are you willing to put in work? Free speech must include false information. It’s the listeners’ responsibility, your responsibility, to determine the better argument. If you hand off that responsibility to someone else, you’re giving up your opportunity to learn and refine your own reasoning skills. You’re essentially saying, “I don’t know how or what to think, so I want someone else to do it for me”.

I think there is an objective reality. If so, then the concepts of true and false are valid concepts. But, in order to discover our objective reality, we must be able to contrast the light of truth against the darkness of falsehoods.

Are you willing to practice humility? This is twofold: The first and obvious form of humility is in admitting that no single one of us has figured it all out. I don’t have all the answers, but you likely don’t either. Progress is halted the moment you think you’ve arrived. We can only learn when we’re humble enough to know we need to learn. But there is a second, perhaps less obvious form of humility needed, namely, trust in others.

I get the impression that most of the people who are advocating for censorship have the opinion that they are smart enough to detect “false news” when they see it, but most other people aren’t. What an ego trip! Censoring dissenting positions for the protection of other people sounds like a noble aim, but it’s really a virtue-signaling mask for; “I’m smarter than all of you idiots, so we should censor what I think is best in order to protect your dumb asses.”

Tit for tat. If you don’t want to be censored, you cannot ethically advocate for the censorship of others. Free speech for some is not free speech. All must have a voice. Even stupid people. Even offensive people. Even dangerous people. The moment you advocate for the silencing of anyone else is the moment you’re attempting to become the egomaniacal gatekeeper. If you don’t think anyone has the right to tape your mouth shut, then where did your authority come from to advocate for silencing others?

Red Flags. I obviously have opinions. I think, based on my anecdotal experience, that I disagree with most people most of the time. But the thought of trying to forcibly silence my opposition never seems to come to mind. It’s not because I’m a humble saint. Actually, my own ego stands up for my opposition, because I tend to think that if my ideas are better, then the ideas should be able to stand up to opposing viewpoints. This leads me to an inherent distrust of people who are attempting to censor others. If their ideas and information were good enough to stand up to the scrutiny of opposition, then why the need to silence dissent?

 

I can relate to the temptation to censor.

I know that the best don’t always win. Before DVDs, the battle for video format distribution was mainly between VHS and BETA. BETA was the superior product, but VHS won through superior marketing. Of course, now we have 4k downloads and streaming media.

I know that the smartest don’t always get through to people. Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that the simple act of hand-washing could reduce the common and fatal “childbed fever” down to about 1%. His observations were right, but not rigorously tested. Ignaz was rejected to the point of psychotic break, institutionalized, beaten, and died from infected wounds in a psych ward. Years later, Louis Pasteur would confirm Ignaz’s practices with a more refined and tested germ theory. Since then, hygienic methods have saved countless lives.

I know that sometimes good ideas take excruciatingly long to take hold. After all, people are still dropping bombs on each other. But progress has been substantial.

We can see overall trends in improvement over time. We’re still evolving. Evolution too requires variety and “mistakes”. We may be frustrated by the timeline of progress, but trying to silence opposition through censorship is like trying to use a gun to shoot out cancer cells from your own body. When the opposition is silenced through the use of force, they are more likely to use physical force in order to be heard.

I had a friend complaining the other day about social media platforms allowing conspiracy theories to run wild. I found this to be a bit odd because it appears that her definition of a conspiracy theory was anything that didn’t fit the corporate media narrative or, perhaps, anything that didn’t agree with her accepted views?

I find it a bit laughable (and antiquated) to think that we should all trust information only if it comes from institutionalized sources such as corporate media, academia, and government officials. Especially because I’ve long ago recognized a correlation between the size of an organization and its likelihood for corrupt and immoral practices. Individuals in large groups tend to get separated from the consequences of their individual actions. There’s always someone to pass the buck. When there’s enough distance between the actions of a person and the personal liability of that actor, (the buck stops nowhere), we see a dramatic uptick in unethical practices.[2]

This asymmetry in action and consequence feeds my distrust of corporate “news”. I have many other reasons to distrust MSM. I’ve witnessed, first-hand, them lying about objective facts, repeating the lie, and never owning up to it because the next story is in the queue- the news cycle must go on!

But, I digress.

I value free speech. I value freedom of information. In my opinion, gatekeepers of any kind are simply self-serving and illegitimate authorities in a power structure that is detrimental to everyone involved except for the gatekeepers. [3]

You get to choose. / Voluntary Association

Your right to refuse information stops with you (and perhaps your dependent children). You may choose to cut out certain voices. I recommend that you do. But you have no right to silence those voices for anyone else. In other words, you can shut off your own T.V., or discard certain books from your own home, but you have no right to forcibly ban that information from other people. This is known as freedom of association. You ought to be able to associate with anyone you like when it’s mutually consensual. On the flip side, you should not be forced into non-consensual associations.

What about private businesses?

That refusal of ideas within your own home transfers to private enterprise as well. If I own a bar and I don’t want to play sports on the screens, it’s my prerogative as the owner of that establishment. If you want to catch the big game, go somewhere else. But it’s not my place to ban sports from all of my competitors.

Because of this idea that the freedom of association extends to private business, I used to advocate for companies like Facebook and YouTube to have the right to decide what information gets distributed on their platforms. It is their house after all. You don’t own it. In fact, you’re not even the customer, you’re a user. Advertisers who pay them are their customers. You are the product they’re selling!

But there are some critical differences between my bar analogy and YouTube that change the ethics considerably.

YouTube is owned by Google. When you go to research something on the internet, do you search various sources, or do you “Google it”? Google (owns YouTube and many other subsidiaries), Facebook (owns Instagram and WhatsApp), Twitter, and Amazon, are massive corporations that have established an oligopoly of the internet. Worse, they’ve used the power of the State (a monopoly of its own) to establish this foothold. This positioning does not result from them being so much better than their competition. It’s that they have taken steps to eliminate the possibility of competition emerging with the help of government intervention. Many people assume that regulatory agencies are in place to prevent such injustices, but they are often used as tools of collusion. Billionaires buying political favors, politicians buying power.

This is not a conspiracy theory, it’s a rational view based on historical precedent and publicly available information of financial ties (follow the money). George Washington attempted to institute the first liquor tax, resulting in the historic “Whiskey Rebellion”. At the time, Washington owned the largest distillery in the nation. Taxes and regulations often affect smaller companies more than established larger companies and disincentivize new start-up competition. It’s apparent that large corporations hire lobbyists to ensure that regulations, licensing, and tax structures favor them and put their competition at a disadvantage. I’d give you more recent examples but the partisanship of most people (as I observe it) prevents them from thinking rationally. They’re too busy rooting for their party to recognize that the corruption runs deep on both sides of the aisle. It’s become so ubiquitous that it seems most people just plug their nose to the stench, look away, and vote.

These oligopolistic mega-corporations therefore, ought not to be considered as private property.

Creating this oligopoly has set these few corporations up as the new gatekeepers. Knowing that huge corporations are propped up by government interference in the market is concerning. In America, we’ve long criticized governments who have attempted total control of information such as China and North Korea. Now we (and most of the world) find ourselves with the power of information distribution in the hands of a few corporations with friends in high places.

This is not OK.

So what do we do about it?

Some would point to anti-trust laws in the USA to help break up the oligopoly. But how can we expect politicians to break up the companies that are enriching them? They may put on a good show for their voters, but if politicians were interested in reducing corporate power structures, they wouldn’t have to pursue further legislation. They could just stop accepting the money – a laughable prospect.

Even if you don’t buy-in to my assumptions that the corporate controllers and politicians are no good, the results are the same.

It’s possible that the heads of these companies are truly benevolent and altruistic. If so, then they are as well-meaning and as effective as Victor Frankenstein. They’ve created monsters and there’s no turning back for them. Their entire profit structure is based upon gathering as much data on you as possible and selling it to the highest bidders of your attention. Whether or not they mean well is beside the point. Having our access to information filtered through the hands of four or five corporations should be cause for alarm to any rational person, regardless of your opinions on the specific parties involved.

There need not be a grand conspiracy to see how destructive these platforms have become. It’s been recognizable for some time now. I’ve written about the pitfalls of Facebook for several years, and it’s only gotten worse. What’s more, many of you feel stuck.

The network effect has trapped you.

You are held in place by the network effect, aka network externalities, aka path-dependent outcomes, aka crabs in a bucket.

If you just have one crab in a bucket, it might reach the upper rim and climb out, but if you have at least two in the bucket, the second crab will pull the first down as they both attempt to climb.

I’ve done a fair amount of crabbing for Dungeness. I’ve never witnessed this phenomenon. I have however seen it play out over and over again with humans. Facebook has a network of your friends and families, your clients, and clubs. You’d like to leave, but like the other crabs in the bucket, your well-meaning peers keep pulling you back in.

So again, what do we do about it?

We can withdraw our consent. Just like the politician could help by refusing the money, we can do the same by cutting the funds to these corporations. We can support smaller start-up competitors. We can support service providers that are more decentralized in their structure, less prone to political manipulation, and operate on the basis of mutual consent instead of aggression. And in order to break the network effect, we can invite our valued relations to escape the bucket with us. Share this article with them and tell them that you’re getting out, but that you would prefer if they came with you. If you don’t like the tone that is being set on one of the free-speech platforms, then bring along your own network and change the tone.

If you value free speech and believe it to be a necessary ingredient to the betterment of our societies, please join me in withdrawing your support of these monolithic oligopolies. Below are some alternative services to the established networks. These are the ones I use:

Instead of Google Search, use:

Presearch.io is a decentralized search engine that doesn’t store your search history or any other creepy data. It is community-driven and uses blockchain technology to provide rewards for its customers. If you want to use Duckduckgo or other search engines, you can do so within the Presearch home screen. I use Presearch with Dsearch and I’m loving it! I’ve been following the project since the beginning and some of the newer and upcoming developments are really exciting! Check it out!

Instead of Gmail:

I’m switching to Protonmail which offers end-to-end encryption, but even better, they don’t track your personal data as Google does. Your email should be private. Check out protonmail and all of its features. I don’t use my primary protonmail for security, so much as just a way to withdraw my support of google. This article is discussing the break-up of existing oligopolies in order to protect the free flow of information. Security and privacy are rabbit-holes beyond the scope of this article. If you’re more interested in the security aspects, you should check out this guy.

Instead of Google Chrome (or any other big-tech browser):

I use the Brave Browser. It’s a clone of Chrome, you can even download your favorite chrome extensions for use with Brave, but without all the spyware and data tracking that gives google it’s overreaching power. Because it’s not taking the time to track your personal data, it’s actually faster and more responsive than Chrome.

I’m a writer and I’ve been using Google Docs for years:

For my blogging, I’ve begun to write directly to my WordPress blog, and I’m currently researching blockchain alternatives.

For book writing, I’ve begun to write in the Reedsy editor. This editor was absolutely critical in formatting my recent e-book. Much better than any wordprocessor as far as formatting goes.

Instead of YouTube:

LBRY I was pleasantly surprised when I began to use LBRY instead of YouTube that I was able to find several popular YouTube accounts that are now using LBRY. Minute Physics and Jordan B. Peterson, to name a couple.

Bitshute. Much like the now-infamous Parler, Bitshute has a reputation for hosting a lot of far-right political content and “conspiracy theories”. But as I said above, if you value free speech and want to help break the power of the gatekeepers, then it’s up to you and me to combat bad ideas with better ones. If you want to change the overall narrative on one of these platforms, set up your own channel and start talking.

I’m abandoning Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter:

Instead, Join Flote and find me there @Cody (It’s fun being an early adopter). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting one of the founders of this project in person and I’m wildly impressed with how this project is working and where it’s going. Good people who want good things for all of us are building something really special. I’d love to see you connect with me there.

MeWe is not a decentralized platform, so I can’t say that in the long run, they won’t be censoring just as much as Facebook. But, for now, at least, they are a much better alternative. I’m sticking with Flote, but I thought I’d mention this alternative.

Instead of Facebook Messenger:

I’ve been using Signal for some time and it works well. Telegram is another option, and Conversations is a decentralized approach that may be better security in the long run. This is an evolving category.

The Cash App is convenient for sending money (USD). Or check out the sound money revolution now, so you’re not the last to know.

I’ll be leaving Amazon Book Publishing (They sell 75% of all books in the USA, an alarming statistic highlighting their potential power as a gatekeeper of free speech):

I’m still looking for options, but there are many ways to self-publish and distribute outside of Amazon. Bookbaby and Kobo are a couple of examples. [4]

Amazon Shopping:

I live in a remote, rural community. Getting goods delivered to my house cheaper than I can drive to get them is no small thing to abandon. But instead of a rote habit of going to Amazon for everything, we can attempt to shop locally first, look for alternatives online second.

 

 

At the end of the day, I don’t think we need to use the coercive power of the State to protect free speech. We don’t need to force the break-up of the gatekeepers. All we need to do is support the alternatives to centralized power and let the current power structures become obsolete.

In the meantime, I’m holding on to the hope that good ideas eventually prevail.

“Nothing else in the world…not all the armies…is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

–Victor Hugo, The Future of Man.

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P.S.- Since I’m getting rid of the mainstream anti-social platforms, I encourage you to sign up for our once-per-week (max) email, The Lyceum Letter. There we provide exclusive content, ZERO sales, and a quick recap of all that we have going on in The Lyceum, including #hardcorehomesteading and the building of our retreat here on the ranch, all of our content, and progress with The Lyceum Community. Subscribers got my last book for free.

 

[1]

It’s often pointed out that yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater is not a form of “protected” free speech, therefore “dangerous” ideas should be censored. This red herring of an argument is often used to try to shut down opposing arguments on the basis that, “your opinions are dangerous”. There are at least two issues I have with this: 1st- The false fire alarm is an immediate threat to people’s safety. It’s akin to a direct threat of violence because you are making a claim of an imminent life-threatening situation. Although ideas that are often labeled as dangerous may in fact be a dangerous philosophy to ascribe to, they’re not always an immediate or direct threat of violence. Dangerous philosophies must have a voice. It is the listeners’ responsibility to discern good ideas from the bad. It is ethical to use force in response to a direct threat of violence. If someone threatens you with a weapon by telling you they will shoot you if you don’t comply with their demands, that is a direct initiation of physical violence. If someone says that a certain segment of the population should be locked up, that is arguably a dangerous philosophy but does not constitute a direct threat of violence unless the person saying it has the power to enforce it (a politician or a cop, for instance). Direct threats of violence can be ethically met with defensive physical force. Dangerous ideas should be met with opposing rhetoric, and perhaps voluntary disassociation from the speaker. This leads me to 2nd- Actions have consequences. Consequences are part of the price we must be willing to pay for free speech. If someone yells “fire!” when they know there is none, and people are injured as a result, the instigator should be held liable for those injuries. [Return to article]

[2]

I highly recommend Nissim Taleb’s Skin In The Game to get some insight into this.[Return to article]

[3]

I usually avoid broad claims and this is certainly a sweeping statement borne out of passion. Feel free to correct me on this by providing an alternative example.[Return to article]

[4]

Writing is my career. While I intend to fully disassociate from Amazon, I have to consider the professional implications of cutting off the largest distributor of books. My hope is for free and open markets to one day thrive on distributed networks as we are beginning to see with many of the above applications. Until then, I’m afraid I’m stuck in the network effect, another crab in the bucket of authors who has to sell where the customers are. This will not stop me from continuing to seek alternatives. [Return to article]

By Cody Limbaugh

Author of STOP SETTING GOALS! and co-founder of The Lyceum. Cody and his wife Tali Zabari both write and create at LoveAllYourLife.com, where they share their adventures in #HardcoreHomesteading and personal development. Join the discussion in The Lyceum Community at LoveAllYourLife.com

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