S1E7 – D: Freedom of Speech dilemma.

Freedom of Speech is one of the most cherished values in Western Cultures, so how should we handle dilemmas that threaten such value in the quest to reduce injuries? this is the question we aim to solve in this section.

Freedom!! – we all want it, many of us don’t understand it and we seldomly use it for what really matters. For the final dilemma to review in this episode, I wanted to discuss the controversial yet important concept of freedom of speech. To do this ill take inspiration from a story that made the news when political commentator Ben Shapiro caused drama at Boston University with his speech on the Legacy of Slavery.

For those who are not familiar with Ben Shapiro, he is a journalist and nowadays social media celebrity, who is famous not only for his political opinions but for his outspoken, pragmatic and direct way of debating controversial topics. You can find his videos on YouTube, in which he displays his arguments against the “woke community”. Some of his video titles are “Ben Shapiro destroy pro abortion arguments”, “Ben Shapiro destroy gender pay gap” or “Ben Shapiro destroys socialism”, so you can imagine the kind of situations by the video titles. As you can see, its sharp comments

The story I took as inspiration is when Ben Shapiro was invited to give a speech on the legacy of slavery at a university. As you can imagine, the drama began even before the speech when many students protested outside, calling for the event to be cancelled. The protestors claimed that “ The nonblack people on BU’s campus have placed the black students on campus in danger and it is not okay “. They created formal petitions to stop the speech, posters that depicted Shapiro as a “racist hatemonger” and a march to display discomfort with his appearance.

This situation has so many angles to review, so it is a perfect test for the DREMSI methodology. is Ben Shapiro being unethical in his approach? are the students being unethical? how about the professors?

Should the speech be considered an injury?

Before we go through the dilemma perspectives I want to clarify one point on all this. Is a speech on the “legacy of slavery” an injury to the black community? The answer is plain and simple, No.

The reason for this, is because the University is a space where ideas are discussed and developed, is a space where freedom of speech is meant to happen. To put it in a different perspective, “a punch is not an injury when one is a boxer in the boxing ring”, in an equal stand, expressing controversial opinions within a university is by all means not an injury as this is all within expectations.

This doesn’t mean all speech is allowed, in order to maintain the essence of the space, there is an etiquette in place which for example forbids hate speech or physical aggression. Injuries happen when the actors break the expectations, but given that the space aims to promote a diversity of opinions then the space promotes ways and methods to foster such diversity of opinions. All in all, a university is a place that has as an objective the education of students and the flourishing of ideas, both of them requiring a safe space to discuss controversial and potentially hurtful perspectives.

With all this  in mind, the speech provided by Ben Shapiro was all within the common expectations of a university:

  • it was organized by a student group,
  • Ben Shapiro is well known for his speeches so one could imagine what to expect
  • The university board signed off the speech,

Given that everything happened according to the process of the University, there is no way to justify an offence towards the black community for the speech. If the speech would have been given in a church, a basketball gym or a shopping mall, maybe one could argue that this could cause trouble, but not in a university.

With this explained, let’s look into the dilemma from the respective viewpoints.

From a student perspective

In the first perspective, we have the view of Antony, a second-year university student. The University announced that Ben Shapiro is coming to give a speech about “the legacy of slavery” and several African American students feel offended by the event and are planning to protest the speech, in their eyes this is clearly an offence to them. So here comes the dilemma for Antony, should he join the protest, should he try to sabotage the speech, or should he not participate at all?

Phase 1  – Evaluation of Injuries

1.1 Introduction of standpoints:

  • Standpoint A – Sabotaging the speech, stopping the university from their plans
  • Standpoint B – Protest against the speech, but without stopping the university’s plans
  • Standpoint C – Do participate at all, letting the African American community down, suffering dignity issues.

1.2 Clarifying stakeholders:

  • Antony is a student, to the university
  • Antony is a friend to some of the students that feel offended.

1.3 Assigning expectations:

  • As a student in a University, they are expected to learn, participate and develop their ideas in accordance to the rules of the university. In this regard, they should express their opinion if they have reasons to disagree with the speech.
  • As a friend, there is the expectation to support your close ones when they are in danger.

1.4 – Estimating Injuries.

  • Standpoint A (sabotage the speech), this is a critical injury to the university from a reputational standpoint, and to an equal degree an injury towards the students that organized the event (Young Americans for freedom). This option is critically unethical
  • Standpoint B (protest the speech), so long is done within the normal process of a student protest (ex a march), then there are no injuries towards the friend or the university. However if the person doesn’t truly agree with the opinion of the protest, then it would be causing an uncomfortable issue for the university as it would be misleading the factual opinion of the speech. This option is ethical If the student truly believes this is an injury, and uncomfortably unethical if the student is just doing it for the sake of being a friend
  • Standpoint C (not doing anything at all) – failing to support them, an uncomfortable injury towards his friends. This option is uncomfortably unethical toward the friend

Phase 2  – Decision Taking

2.1 Ranking of injuries

Among all options, Standpoint B is the best one to take, the friend should join the student protest.

2.2 Legal aspect of each option

Standpoint A (Sabotaging) is illegal, while all others are legal. We wouldn’t be able to excuse sabotaging as it will generate other critical issues and it will not prevent the injuries to the black community.

2.3 Beyond expectations – juice here.

An action beyond expectation could be considered a form of sabotage to the event, where Antony decides that in order to avoid the injuries to the black community he would go beyond the expectations of a university student and sabotage the event. This however wouldn’t be permitted for one important reason, there is no injury prevention at all. As shared earlier, the event in itself is not an injury to the black community as it is done according to the space expectations and protocols within society, hence we wouldn’t be able to justify such sabotage as this will certainly cause injuries to the university and some of the students.

2.4 Conclusion and Observations

Taking everything into consideration, the best option to take would be to take Standpoint B if one is truly convinced that the speech is causing an injury

In the case Antony is not convinced that the speech is causing damage to the black community, then he has to decide between causing an injury to his friends or his university (Standpoint B vs C).

In this dilemma see two problems at hand, first that people fail to recognize that organized free speech is not an injury, and second that people join protests not in the search of truth but for being friendly with others. These kinds of problems are a big issue in the long run. The more people recognize a speech as an injury the more likely the expectations around the topic will change, making it impossible to have a conversation on certain topics.

From the professor’s perspective

Now let us take a spin on the story and look at it from the perspective of Jasmin, she is a professor at Boston University and has a strong connection with the students that are planning to protest. She understands the reasoning for the protest and is truly convinced of the cause. Hence she faces a dilemma, should she join the protest?

Instead of doing the whole analysis, I’ll try something a bit different and explain the solution in a few paragraphs, at this point I guess the structure is clear for everyone.

This scenario is similar to the one of the student, however, the main difference is that since Jasmin is a professor, she has higher social expectations towards the university compared to a student. If she were to join the protest it could be seen as a form of disloyalty or insubordination, provoking a serious or critical injury to the University.

All in all, the most important question here is: Does Jasmin truly considers the speech to be a critical injury to the black community? She cannot simply protest just because she is friends with students, that would be totally unprofessional as a professor.  

If she truly believes the speech will cause critical injuries to the black community, then she has to two options with equal damage, one towards the university and one towards the black community; she has to decide which one is more important using a tie-breaker logic. Regardless of the choice she is not excused from the consequences and will have to pay the price. This reminds me of Jean-Paul Sartre and other famous professors joining student protests, they did it with the full conviction of the trade-off they were making.

Concluding remarks

With this last statement, we close the review of the Freedom of Speech dilemma, I believe this was one of the easiest dilemmas to analyze as most of the injuries were kind of obvious if we use the DREMSI theory to review the situation. The most important challenge was to understand that freedom of action is determined by the space one is performing and that not because one is allowed to do things one can do it any way they want it, there is an etiquette and protocols in place and keeping them is the best way to avoid injuries towards others.

Throughout the whole episode, we review four dilemmas, all of them with different variables on responsibility, time perspectives, risk and types of injuries. This is a very dynamic process in which one single variable can play a determinant factor to decide the best decision to take.

I am convinced there is still much finetuning to make, some of my interpretations of social expectations remain very superficial; nevertheless, I believe the outcome of this methodology represents progress for the field of ethics as it not only works better than the other methods, it has multiple opportunities for improvement as we explore different aspects of the theory.

With this said I close the review of Individual dilemmas and now we move on to analyze an equally entertaining sector, business dilemmas

NEXT S1E8 – A: Companies Dilemmas

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