In this world dominated by political correctness the attitude seems to be that dangerous or offensive ideas must be repressed. We see this all the time in speech codes in universities and in Europe where simply expressing unPC ideas can easily get a large fine or even jail time. In all of this it is important to remember that unpopular ideas are the ones that need the most protection-not the least. If we suppress unpopular ideas, we are crippling a way to correct for the extremes of fashion. Humans are conformist herd like animals and once an idea become popular it often is adopted and defended all out of proportion to its merits or worth. If a trend is injected with a moral dimension it becomes especially dangerous. This is how absurd things become standard in our society.
Today we look back and laugh at the silly fashions of past times without realizing that we are currently also subject to the same kool Aid effect. We look back at the repression of Galileo or the witch hunts and realize how silly and repressive those people were, while imagining that we are much more enlightened and sensible today. But things have not really changed that much. Today in Germany, a presumably modern and democratic society, people are thrown into prison for years simply for stating a truth that the powers at be don´t want to hear. In America most people are walking on egg shells trying not to say anything that could be interpreted as unPC for fear of having their careers ruined. When everyone is running en masse to mindlessly support the latest craze, the unpopular and “dangerous” ideas often help to point out that the emperor has no clothes.
The video below by Hitchens wonderfully encapsulates the fundamental ideas of free speech. If not for any other reason asking provocative and controversial questions helps to keep us honest in our ideas. Why actually do we believe what be believe? Because everyone says so, or can we actually back up our ideas with facts and sound reason? Someone said that 99% of what we believe we take on faith. We have a tendency too often to believe implicitly, without an appropriate skepticism, what experts, authority figures and the majority claim to be true. It is time for people to think for themselves.
A further point that Hitchens makes is that when we start to criminalize “dangerous” ideas, the anti-free speech laws are almost never applied impartially or fairly. These laws provide a perfect opportunity for prosecutors, judges, and politicians to interpret these laws in a completely political and unfair manner according to the vagaries of popular hysteria and political pressure. If you can watch the entire speech on free speech by Hitchens.