There is such a thing as a right to be wrong


The proposition that “error has no rights” was once a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.   St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that you cannot love God unless you have a correct understanding of God, and that having wrong ideas about God jeopardizes your immortal soul.  He wrote that just as counterfeiters of money should be put to death, so should people who promote counterfeit ideas about God.

Aside from the fact that I don’t believe in a merciless Deity who would condemn people to eternal torment for making a mistake, I don’t believe that there are any individuals or institutions who are infallibly right.   I am neither so arrogant that I think my opinions should be accepted without question, nor so fearful that I am afraid to submit my opinions to the test of argument and contradiction.   This applies across the board and not just to religion.

It is perfectly true that “error” has no rights.  Neither does “truth.”   Only human beings have rights.   Among those rights, under U.S. law and international human rights documents, is the right to nonviolently and lawfully advocate for their political opinions.  People in a free country ought to be able to do that safely, no matter how unpopular their opinions with the government or with the majority.

I suppose that with sufficient ingenuity, someone could think up a situation in which that principle didn’t apply.  If so, I would admit the exception only for that particular situation.  Freedom of speech, like everything else, has boundaries.  I think that people who call themselves liberals should defend and perhaps extend these boundaries, rather than look for reasons to contract them.

If you think there are opinions so hateful that anybody who holds them should be silenced or punished, who would you give the power to decide what those opinions are?   Are you absolutely sure that power would never be used against you?

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4 Responses to “There is such a thing as a right to be wrong”

  1. EthnicKonflict Says:

    People already have total freedom of expression from the government. The USG will not stop you from saying anything, no matter how many other interests might retaliate against you for saying it. Generally, people get targeted by entities besides the government. I suppose the USG might step in if you seriously threatened a politician, but that’s against the law for reasons unrelated to freedom of expression. They will also step in for cases of espionage against the government.

    Your example about the Catholic Church is spot on. Restrictions on the freedom of expression mostly have their roots in religions, such as Islam, Judaism, or even Scientology. These are brainwashing schemes that collect extensive amounts of wealth from great numbers of advocates, which the religions use to great effect on civil psychological operations such as media influence, political lobbying, educational manipulation, etc. Consider, for example, the case of the historian David Irving, who was publicly disgraced, and when abroad, physically beaten and ultimately imprisoned for his research.

    This all occurred at the behest of the Jewish religion, which achieved enough influence in the American educational system to employ a researcher in a field of study specifically created to discredit anyone challenging the religion’s official history. Unfortunately, the USG will not prevent religions from operating, since advocates willingly buy into the schemes. There is a right to believe you are correct about everything, apparently.

    Other large monied interests may also limit free expression. For instance, oil, mining, financial, or tech companies may invest in psyops to control the marketplace of ideas surrounding their enterprises. Fox News comes to mind. Generally, however, these interests do not care about public opinion at large and focus mostly on lobbying the legislature.

    This is all, of course, my opinionated perspective.


  2. philebersole Says:

    The Holocaust is a well-established historical fact. Alleged historians such as David Irving who deny this fact are unworthy of respect, but they should be refuted, not punished for their views.

    Here’s background on David Irving.


    • EthnicKonflict Says:

      My point is not to argue the existence or exact way the Holocaust occurred. I’m sorry if that was unclear or if I stimulated the propaganda that I’m talking about a little too effectively. My point is that no one has a right to be wrong about it, and apparently Emory University will sue you if you explore the issue.

      This is a religious matter, not a government one.


    • philebersole Says:

      I agree with you in opposing laws against denial that the Holocaust occurred. I also would oppose laws against denial that the world is round, or that Darwin’s theory is correct, or that vaccination is effective in preventing disease.


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