Someone recently asked me why I try to defend people who I disagree with on moral issues. Their point was that ‘If someone wants to publicly deny the rights of my friends or family I am not going to debate. I am going to tell them to shut up.’ (paraphrased)
While I agree that denying rights to people is awful, I think telling others to shut up for voicing opinions is a bad idea. There are four reasons I’m against shouting down idiots.
1. I may be wrong. I have many beliefs, and I’m sure that I’m wrong about at least one of them. For me to be completely correct about everything is simply impossible. I’m probably wrong to various degrees about quite a few things. If I shout down everyone who disagrees with me, I lock in my current opinions and never have the chance to learn, grow, and modify them. I’m hurting myself by shutting down all dissenting views.
2. Shutting down dissenting views is the tactics of The Enemy. They were used to suppress every minority there is. They prolonged the Dark Ages. Not too long ago, WE were the ones that were being shut up. People who spoke for the rights of black slaves were murdered. People who spoke for the rights of gays were beaten into comas. Atheists were executed by the state. This changed slowly, and one of the biggest reasons for the change was greater respect for dissenting speech. Once people could put forward arguments without being lynched for them, the truth was able to rise to the surface. As such, I don’t believe the truth has much to fear from freedom of expression. You say you’re worried that people’s rights will be taken away if we let others speak freely. We only won those rights *because of* the ability to speak freely. If our position is so weak that the majority of people who are exposed to our argument, and the opposing argument, side with the opposing argument… perhaps we should take a second look at our argument and make sure it isn’t flawed. I’m not afraid to let the crazy homophobic uncle make a fool of himself. It strengthens our position. That there will always be a minority of hateful fanatics is unavoidable, and we won’t make anything better by resorting to their tactics.
3. An idiot who is shouted down is not persuaded, only intimidated. It will leave him feeling wronged, and justified in his anger. We have done nothing to make the situation better, we’ve only boosted our egos by delivering a smack-down to our enemy. It feels good, but it helps nothing. On the other hand, if we engage our opponents we show that we don’t dismiss them out of prejudice, we have considered their views and found them lacking. Furthermore, we can present counter evidence, or point out flaws in their reasoning. No one is ever convinced in a single debate. Heck, most people won’t even admit to being swayed slightly. But over time, usually months or years, they can be taught. If you shout them down you are robbing them of this, and denying yourself the opportunity to help them and thus make the world better.
4. It’s aggressive and rude. Being a dick isn’t just a terrible strategy at spreading your values, it’s also unpleasant. It makes the world a crappier place.