This post is in response to the recent publication of A Letter of Intent from Publishing Professionals of the United States that has over five hundred signatories. The letter is another unfortunate example of how ideology and tribalism has afflicted the institutions of the western world. It is an example of an ideology masquerading as virtue with the direct intent of stifling the free exchange of opposing ideas.
The single most important right necessary for a functioning democratic society is free speech. It is the cornerstone of every aspect of a society comprising free citizens given the opportunity and duty to participate in the management of their country. Without free speech there can be no fair elections. Without free speech there can be no right to peaceful protest. Without free speech there can be no freedom of religion, political ideology, or sexual identity. All of the rights we hold as free citizens depend on the right to freedom of speech.
In recent years, however, confusion seems to have developed over what free speech means.
Most important and necessary to the concept of freedom of speech is in giving other people the right to say things that you may not like or agree with. In exchange, they agree that you have the right to say things they don’t like or agree with. It also means that speaking your ideas should not result in the loss of livlihood, police detainment, or public ostracization. A society that does such things has effectively revoked its citizens’ right to free speech. The only exception that can be reasonably argued is when speech crosses the line into direct, physical violence as with inciting riots or targetting individuals and their families for physical abuse or sustained harrassment.
Utility Fog Press was founded on the idea of helping people, who wouldn’t otherwise be able, to get their voice out to the wider world through their writing. We do that independently of whether we agree with the ideology or political viewpoints expressed in those books. And we do that because we believe that everyone has a right to be involved in the discussion that shapes humanity.
Does that mean we believe all ideas are equal or all ideas are reasonable? No. But we believe it is important that all ideas are addressed in the arena of debate. Good ideas will stand up to challenges based on their merits. Bad ideas will crumble under inspection. And the ideas that cross that line? Well, those we just have to keep challenging as we develop new understandings of the world.
It must be stressed then, that those individuals and organizations who feel they must silence criticism of their ideas through cencorship, name-calling, ostracization, or even incarceration, clearly do not have an opinion they can support with data and should be challenged in debate even more strongly.
Silencing the voice of people, especially for their political opinion, is dangerously wrong. It does not lead to a freer, fairer, or more equal society. Rather, it leads to authoritarian regimes, oppression, and disaster.
We here at Utility Fog Press will always stand on the side of free speech, because, as the expression goes, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.“
Utility Fog Press