“…The much-misconstrued statement of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that free speech does not give you the right to shout fire in a crowded theater is now being used to curtail speech that might provoke a violence-prone minority. Our entire society is being treated as a crowded theater, and talking about whole subjects is now akin to shouting fire!
It appears that the one thing modern society can no longer tolerate is intolerance.”
Free speech has come to be one of our most valued democratic ideals — a cornerstone of what Western nations call freedom. But this quaint idea, which began its rise to prominence only a few hundred years ago with inventions like the printing press and economic notions of “the marketplace of ideas”, is now pitted against the new realities of our globalized age in which every word spoken, picture drawn, video recorded, has the potential to go globally viral.
We have made the world into a crowded theater filled with 7 billion people with varied interests, values and beliefs. So how many ways can we spell “fire” in the world as it is today?
Speech is never really free. Its cost varies in direct proportion to the meanings received by those who hear our speech.