Freethought Blogs was founded by our Glorious Leader Ed Brayton on the principle that many great voices in the community (meaning, at the time, himself and PZ Myers) were being actively squelched in some fields of interest and needed a place where they could blog about atheism, skepticism, humanism, politics, et cetera, without being curtailed on one or any of these topics by their blog overlords. It has since expanded to include more, and better, writers than I, but I am privileged to also call this blog my home, and the compatriots and friends I have made here mean the world to me. Not to mention the total autonomy I have in what I get to talk about and how I get to do it — there is, basically, no hive mind, no dogmatic demand of adherence to any principles in specific. We disagree with one another quite frequently, in fact, but we are comrades where and when it counts. All in all, Freethought Blogs is generally a damn good place to be.
And then some assholes come along and demand the right to piss on your rug. All in the name of “freethought”.
There is evidently a misapprehension of the term freethought in common parlance. It is often conflated by trolls in our community with “freedom of speech” rather than “freedom from dogmas”, a strawman with which they smear anyone who dares disagree with them or call their behaviour out of line. Freethought, according to the definition helpfully provided by Wikipedia, is the philosophical framework that all truth claims should be examined and weighed on their relative merits and on the evidence provided. It is, in effect, skepticism as a starting point. It is the abstention from dogmatically held beliefs and beliefs in absence of evidence.
Freethought does not require any other set of beliefs, though adherents to freethought seem to cluster around a number of focal points and frequently find common ground in atheism (or at least agnosticism), support of science, support of humanist causes, egalitarianism, the political left, and skepticism of various bits of pseudoscience and urban myth. And yes, we also tend to cluster around feminism in this specific community.
The funny thing about this is, we also have a lot of disagreement in almost every one of those areas. We have libertarians and woo-peddlers and antifeminists who still call themselves atheists and humanists, and actively confront what they find to be contentious on our blogs. And we have a vested interest in driving discussion about each and every one of these beliefs that each individual blogger happens to have, but in many cases, a point is argued to death by abusive people who derail conversations into unrelated matters, who spam with the same nonsense over and over again, who frequently contribute nothing to the discussion but acrimony, and whose voices must be curtailed lest the signal-to-noise ratio completely bottoms out.
And yet, we at FtB tend to strongly support freedom of speech as a political right, that no government should impose laws impinging on freedom of speech or criminalizing any form of speech, even hate speech. We will defend to the death your right to believe and say utter nonsense, but there is absolutely no measure of hypocrisy in denying you the right to have that nonsense published here, in our personal community. An aspect of freethought is that we need to be free to think about whatever we want, to explore intellectually any truth claim about the universe including those about society in specific. But while this overlaps greatly with the freedom to express those thoughts, it does not mean that you are free to express those thoughts without repercussions or taking responsibility for those repercussions. You are free to THINK those thoughts without repercussions except those that happen inwardly, but while you won’t be judged for what you think, you will be judged for what you say, and rightly so.
If you’ll allow me an extended analogy, I’ll try to explain.
A blog is a lot like a pub, with robust discussion around the fire, where anyone can join in at any time but the pub owner sets the topics for discussion. She can have many discussions ongoing at a time, and people will wander from one discussion to the next weighing in. The bar for entering your opinion is really low — all you have to do is show up and you can get a turn at the mic. This pub owner has a vested interest in keeping discussion moving, not only to ensure repeat visitors who enjoy the intellectual stimulation, but to advocate for her personal beliefs as well. She makes a tiny profit on the side, but she’s selling drinks at so close to cost that she basically pays the bills for the pub and takes home so little money in actual profit that, sometimes, she thinks it’s almost not worth the effort to try to keep the riffraff out and try to keep the discussions going. And sometimes it isn’t even enough to live on, and she has to run the pub full-time while working elsewhere.
The riffraff are the people intent on transforming certain discussions entirely, because they don’t personally like where the discussion is going because it is not going their way; and they don’t want the outcome to be formed as a consensus without them. They try to get everyone in that particular discussion talking about something tangential, something that matters to the person trying to change the topic but less so to everyone else. In order to win the trust of the discussion participants, the pub owner will either demand that people get back on topic and stop talking about these side-concerns, or declare “no, let’s hash this out and get it over with” at their discretion. If the riffraff have broken any of the rules written on the back wall, or sometimes just that this person has outraged enough of the other patrons and driven enough of them from the conversation, then the blog owner will sometimes throw that person out of the conversation. Sometimes they will “moderate” that person, where anything that person says has to be cleared through the blog owner first. Some blogs have very strict rules about what’s allowed and what isn’t (e.g. some will throw you out for swearing), while others will only throw people out if they violate the “no solicitations” rule (e.g. spammers). Most of them will get upset and kick you out if all you wanted to do was walk into the discussion, drop trou, and pinch off a loaf in front of the fire. Said foulness will be removed from the vicinity generally without warning — and the poop will probably be removed too.
In any case, when a person is thrown out of this pub, that person’s right to freedom of speech is not violated in any way, because there are other pubs throughout the town, and the person is in fact free to set up their own pub. Or they can just find someplace actually public to make their claims, rather than at the pub they were just thrown out of. There are pubs throughout town to handle just about any topic of discussion, and because the government of this town (owing largely to all the pub owners’ strong commitment to freedom of speech as a political principle) is good enough that nobody’s going to get thrown in jail for talking about things, you could find any manner of pub to cater to any topic, even many very-taboo topics like drugs, pedophilia, racism, et cetera. And some pubs will even let you get into huge roiling barroom brawls, because they value freedom of speech so much that they’d prefer people leave of their own accord if they keep getting cuffed across the face or are tired of people defecating in public, and would rather have a real discussion instead.
If you’re banned from someone’s blog, it is not because you are not free to think the things you think. I’m certain that most of the participants in the conversations at my blog disagree with me on some point of my philosophy — otherwise, I’d have nothing but “yes, excellent post!” comments and absolutely no dissent. I am welcoming toward dissent. I will not tolerate “mic-hogging” or other types of proselytization, and I will not tolerate hate speech directed at any of the groups I personally identify with — these are trolling behaviours. People who violate my pub’s rules will be put into moderation, where they have free access to send me messages that I may or may not approve to get posted. I have not banned anyone outright, so anyone who is in moderation still has my ear, even if they don’t have the right to grab the mic whenever they want any more.
And through all of this, you have every right to think whatever you want. You have every right to express whatever you want, at any blog that will have that sort of sentiment and allow it free reign. And if you start your own blog, your voice can be heard, even if you’re not allowed to voice those particular opinions anywhere, without consequences.
Trust me, we visit other dissenting blogs often enough that we are not lacking your particular point of view, no matter how unique and nuanced you think your point of view might be. We are absolutely not deprived of your dissent — we bathe in it daily, in fact — and by now are totally inured to your cries of censorship or that this is in any way an insular community.
Here, at this blog, and others like it at Freethought Blogs, there are consequences. You’re free to say whatever you want, as long as you accept that your “mere words” do in fact have repercussions, often beyond your person. If those repercussions include hurting another participant, at the discretion of the blog owner, you might earn some extra repercussions. If those repercussions include being tossed out of the discussion, tough. You’ve been warned. Learn to play by the rules, and you might get somewhere in advocating for your particular cause.
Or, go voice your opinion at another blog. The bar’s so low to starting your own blog that surely even the simplest of simpletons can do it these days. I mean, I managed. Surely you can.