I consider freedom of speech to be one of the most important foundations of today’s society. However, in this post I’d like to present what I believe is the strongest argument against free speech, then follow it up with the reason I think said argument is wrong in a later post.
The groundwork for this argument (though certainly not the argument itself) is laid out in detail in Scott Alexander’s Meditations On Moloch, which I recommend you read first. The most relevant part is as follows:
The point is – imagine a country full of bioweapon labs, where people toil day and night to invent new infectious agents. The existence of these labs, and their right to throw whatever they develop in the water supply is protected by law. And the country is also linked by the world’s most perfect mass transit system that every single person uses every day, so that any new pathogen can spread to the entire country instantaneously. You’d expect things to start going bad for that city pretty quickly.
Well, we have about a zillion think tanks researching new and better forms of propaganda. And we have constitutionally protected freedom of speech. And we have the Internet. So we’re kind of screwed.
Everyone loves to hate on Comic Sans. Even those who know nothing about typography will spend the time to go on long rants about how awful it is. But the truth of the matter is entirely different from what common knowledge suggests. In reality, Comic Sans is a great font.
What makes Comic Sans so great? For one thing, it’s an easily recognizable font. It was originally released as one of five fonts supplied by Windows 95. This allowed it to spread very quickly as many personal computer users employed it in their printouts. The intense hatred that many hold for it only renders it even more recognizable. For them, Comic Sans is the enemy, and an inability to identify your enemy leads to a swift defeat. Thus, the Comic Sans haters cannot help but fuel its recognizability.
For anyone who has no idea what the title is referring to, The Game is a mental game with three simple rules.
- You are playing The Game.
- Every time you think about The Game, you lose.
- Loss of The Game must be announced.
These rules lead to a meme that propagates itself without generally providing value to the minds it inhabits. Everyone is either not thinking about The Game, in which case it has no effect on them, or thinking about The Game, in which case they are losing it. However, it is possible for some people to get utility out of this.
By spreading this meme to other minds, those that enjoy watching others lose can benefit from what is otherwise a detrimental meme. However, this is a negative-sum game, so it is still harmful to the group as a whole. This means that while it is possible for a few trolls to benefit, it would still be best if The Game didn’t exist. Unfortunately, it is intentionally designed such that it cannot be ended. Winning is simply impossible.
I recently got into an argument involving topics like whether water was wet and whether hotdogs were sandwiches. What all the topics had in common was that they were not arguments over facts but rather arguments over definitions. This means there is nothing in observable reality that can be pointed to in order to resolve them. What’s worse is that many arguments will fall into this category by default.
The problem is that until all relevant definitions are agreed upon, an argument will often not be about facts. As long as one definition isn’t agreed upon, the participants can make two different statements using the same exact words, which is terrible for communication. If “a hotdog is a sandwich” is interpreted by one person as “a hotdog is meat on bread” and by another person as “a hotdog is meat between two pieces of bread”, they may both think the other person is crazy. If they realize that the dispute is really over definitions, they may still believe that it is unreasonable to use any definition besides the one they use.
Humans are generally thought of as the most intelligent beings to exist, as we have discovered nothing that appears to be more intelligent than us. But how intelligent are we compared to the theoretically attainable maximum? I believe that we are far less intelligent than is physically possible. This is because we possess roughly the minimum level of intelligence necessary to create a technological civilization.
To understand why this is so, we must look at how we came to have this level of intelligence in the first place. Over a period of about 50 million years, the brains of rat-like creatures evolved into the brains of chimps. This was a complex process that involved major structural changes. However, going from chimp brains to human brains only took about 5 million years and required only minor changes to brain structure, suggesting a faster but more gradual process that was unlikely to end at the exact time civilization started. So if one were to ask the question of why we stopped at our current level of intelligence, I would argue that we haven’t necessarily. Instead, we’re at this level because it allowed us to begin building civilization, a process that occurs on a much faster timescale than evolution.