Everyone is talking about this. A lot of the discussion goes like this:
- I support free speech.
- I support free speech but I do not want you to speak.
- I support free speech but I do not want you to speak about me not wanting to speak.
- I support free speech but I do not want you to speak about me not wanting to speak about you not wanting to speak.
1. Is indiscriminate tolerance a good thing?
2. If not, what should be tolerated, and what shouldn't be?
3. Once we figure that out, what should we do with people we don't tolerate?
These may seem like matters of opinion, or moral questions without any objective answers. For example, while most people, when pressed, would agree that the answer to #1 is "no," they can agree to disagree on #2. Some think homosexuality is wrong, others think worshiping a false god is wrong, and that's just their opinion. Same with #3; acting on those opinions, is it better to stage a peaceful protest, or "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"1? Some argue that's a moral question with no precise answer.
I don't buy that. Never have.
Some actions are objectively right and other things are objectively wrong, and it doesn't take an omnipotent being writing rules on stone tablets for that to be true. When we disagree on which of two actions is best for humanity, one or both of us is wrong. An individual person is extremely unlikely to have all the answers, whether she is a priest or a physicist, but we should never deny that there are answers. And I believe that with enough time, science, and careful critical thought, many of these answers will be revealed to us.
In a recent TED talk, Sam Harris expresses a similar viewpoint (thanks Ronny for directing me to this):
The only wrinkle is defining morality to begin with. However, there is an objective answer for any given definition, and I think the one Harris provides—maximizing the well being of conscious creatures—is one that most people (and if they could be asked, animals) would agree on.
So what about Ann Coulter? Well, I believe that free speech is objectively good. History has proven that the open flow of information from all sources maximizes human well being. I fully support her right to speak, and while you won't find me out there protesting, I fully support their right to protest as well. But much of the content of her speech is objectively false. For example, should we invade countries and convert them to Christianity? No. There is no God, many Christian beliefs are harmful, and regardless, the very act of violently converting people to any belief system is repugnant.
I am open to being proven wrong about my moral stance. However, while it's nice to see people using Coulter as a staring point for discussing moral questions (even writing blog posts about it), part of me thinks her ideas are so comically evil that it would be better to just ignore her. After all, what's worse: being scared off a campus by a group of peaceful protesters, or arriving without fanfare to an empty room, then leaving without selling a single book?
Regardless of whether it's inspired by Coulter or not, we do need to keep questioning and requestioning our morals, because it is possible to find answers.
1 Coulter, 2001.
P.S. This is kinda off topic, but another thing I have a problem with is making fun of Coulter's physical appearance. Yeah she's a celebrity and thus opens herself up to it to some extent. However, pointing out her adam's apple because you disagree with her political stance is coming from the same base, ugly, immature side of human nature that her crass racial quips come from. Don't stoop to her level.
P.P.S. Try putting anncoulter.ca into your web browser.