Censorship: Thinking you are right – even if you’re wrong

I posted this video four years ago – but repost it now because the message is still very valid (see Are you really right? and Warriors, scouts, Trump’s election and your news media). In fact, it’s more valid today than it was four years ago. Things have got worse – far worse than I expected they would.

To recap – Julia describes the two different mindsets required in fighting a war:

  • The  “Warrior mindset” – emotively based and fixated on success. Not interested in stopping to think about the real facts or rationally analyse the situation.
  • The “Scout mindset” – objective and rational, ready to consider the facts (in fact, searching them out) and logically consider possibilities.

Unfortunately the “warrior mindset” – emotively based and not considering the facts or rationally analysing the situation – may be required in war but now seems to be the standard approach in politics (maybe even in science for some people). The “scout mindset” is unfortunately rare – and actually disapproved of when it occurs. Things have got worse in that respect.

There is another unfortunate dimension to this. Just as people have become convinced that they themselves are the fountains of truth, and their opponents fountains of untruth, there is now the drive to censor. Many people are arguing that people they disagree with should be denied access to the media, especially social media. And they jump on the media when their opponents are given space.

Hell, the media itself is encouraging this. Nowadays we have silicon valley corporations, which control social media, determining who should have a voice. And some people who should know better are applauding them for this. Applauding selfishly because they want to see their discussion opponents denied a voice. This is not just cowardly but extremely short-sighted of them – what will they do when they, in turn, are denied a voice by these very same corporations?

Whatever happened to the old adage – “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It?” I grew up thinking this was a widely approved ideal but now find the people who I had considered “right-minded,” “free thinkers,” and “liberals” have almost completely abandoned it. They seem to be the first in line to impose censorship and the last to complain when censorship happens.

The folly of censorship

Censorship, the attempt to close down a rational discussion, hardly gives the impression that the supporters of censorship have truth on their side. If anything it suggests they do not have the arguments and this, in effect, hands victory to the ones censored.

It is short-sighted and cowardly and does not close down the discussion – it simply moves it elsewhere. And usually to a forum in which the instigators or supporters of the censorship have little input. 

Censorship usually hands the moral high ground to the ones being censored – and cheaply as they have gained this without even having their ideas (rational or irrational) tested in meaningful discussion.

There is a lot of truth in the old saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant – and refusal to allow this only encourages bad ideas to proliferate unchecked.

That is not to say all the ideas being censored are “bad” – many plainly aren’t. But will those who censor or support censorship (or indulge in self-censorship –  another common problem with people I used to respect) ever know? In the end, the censors and their supporters simply end up living in their own silo or bubble, seemingly oblivious to many of the ideas circulating in society or the world. Ideas they could perhaps have learned something from. Even if the ideas one wishes to censor are based on misinformation or misunderstanding the exercise of debating them can teach things to both sides. Censorship, and especially self-censorship, prevents self-development.

Arbitrary or ideologically motivated censorship?

Often censorship by social media appears arbitrary, perhaps driven by algorithms. For example, Twitter recently blocked the official account of Russian Arms Control delegation in Vienna, engaged in negotiations on the Open Skies Treaty and other important issues. It was later reinstated – without explanation or apology – but followers were lost. Arbitrary or not, should such an important body, involved in negotiations critical for the whole planet, be censored?

Are those algorithm innocent or objective? These days we see social media like Twitter and Facebook employing staff with political backgrounds. Even people who have previously worked in, or still work in, bodies like the Atlantic Council which is connected with NATO. And the revolving door by which ex-politicians and intelligence staff get employed in the mainstream media is an open secret. These people openly describe information coming from “the other side” as “disinformation,” “fake news,” or “state-supported propaganda” so have no scruples about censoring it or otherwise working to discredit it (for example labelling news media as state-controlled – but only for the “other side” – eg RT, but not the BBC or Voice of America).

Ben Nimmo, a member of the Atlantic Council, and well-known for his aggressive political views, recently announced his move to Facebook

This biased approach to information or social discussion is strongly driven by an “official” narrative. A narrative promoted by military blocks, their governments and their political leaders. But even unaffiliated persons approaching social discussion can be, and usually are, driven by a narrative. A narrative that they often strongly and emotionally adhere to. Juna Galef’s “warrior mindset.” That is only human. It’s a pity, but probably few participants in social discussions get beyond this mindset and adopt the far more useful (for obtaining objective truth) “scout mindset” which is objective and rational, ready to consider the facts (in fact, searching them out) and logically considers possibilities.

But let’s face it. If you support censorship, or even instigate censorship in social media you control, how likely is it that you can get beyond the “warrior mindset?” The “scout mindset” by necessity requires open consideration of views and facts you may initially disagree with. Censorship, especially self-censorship, prevents that. It prevents personal growth.

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6 responses to “Censorship: Thinking you are right – even if you’re wrong

  1. Hi Ken

    I find this very ironic… you stopped me from commenting on articles you wrote… and many of the sciblogs poster do likewise. Helen Petousis-Harris is one of the worst… censors even legitimate questions that might cast shadow on what’s being said.

    Anyways, I read your posts… and critically analyse them as I do with most of what I read… even the news… Foxnews/CNN… treat them the same… with scepticism and a critical mindset.


    Ron Law Risk & Policy Adviser



  2. Ken, I’m not sure if you are referring to the Twitter and FB ban of Trump, here, but if so, surely you don’t deem that to be “the attempt to close down a rational discussion” do you?

    Steven D. Slott, DDS


  3. Too, Ken, in regard to the first comment on this page….. one of the many reasons for the immense respect I have for you and your site is that you bend over backward in allowing comments that are in opposition to your own opinions, including my own on occasion. If you did indeed stop this person from commenting, there is no doubt that your reason for so doing was unequivocally rock solid.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS


  4. Yes, I cannot remember what Ron is bitching about. He may have been stopped from blatantly using this comment area to advertise a message. But I have always welcomed the opportunity for a scientific exchange even from him

    Ironically he is silent about the way the anti-fljodie movement has banned me world wide because I had a rational online exchange with Paul Connett.


  5. Steve, of course I include the silicon-valley censoring of sites like Trumps. No politician in the USA actually seems to post anything amounting to a rational discussion (just have a look at McFaul’s rubbish). But I would not support censoring any of them just because I think they are rubbish. That would be a sign of weakness on my part.

    The censoring of Trump is quite an extreme example (perhaps prompted by his personality) of the media becoming blatantly involved in politics. They have, in the process, exposed their true position – and perhaps that’s a good thing. It is good that more and more people have come to see the media as politically motivated and therefore untrustworthy. But the censorship itself is bad.

    I have never followed Trump’s posts. But I have, for example, followed Navalny’s despite disagreeing with almost everything he says. But even he disproved of the censorship of Trump because he saw that he could easily be censored the same way. (That is something I do agree with Navalny on and I would oppose any censorship of him).


  6. Ron, I cannot understand why you feel I am responsible for SciBlogs rules. In fact, I seem to have fallen foul of them and have been de-platformed (because I mildly opposed censorship in one of my blog post, Terrorism in Christchurch – some thoughts, not meant for SciBlogs at all).


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