Judging Ideas as Good or Evil [Video]
Here’s a transcript of this brief dialog on the need to evaluate ideas as true or false and judge them as good or evil:
Dave Rubin: Is that the biggest problem of what’s happening on the college campuses right now, that these kids — I mean, we can make all the jokes about safe spaces and trigger warnings and all that stuff — but that they actually are stopping people from challenging their thoughts at the very place where that is exactly what it’s supposed to be about?
Steve Simpson: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a big, big problem. But the way I would put it is, they don’t want to pursue truth, they don’t want — so, I mean, one of the ways I would summarize what you just said is, you were holding truth as your standard, and, I mean, your, I would call it virtue as well, and you were pursuing the truth and so you were more concerned that you made a mistake rather than that a lot of people were criticizing you. Which is exactly the right mentality you should have: I’m pursuing truth, I’m trying to figure out the way to live my life, I’m trying to figure out how to go through life and pursue my own happiness. But that’s not the standard anymore. And it’s part of the reason that, you have to ask yourself, why did so many people criticize what Flemming did? He criticized an ideology implicitly. I mean, you can talk about whether I’m stating this the right way, but the way I would put it is, criticized a medieval ideology, a crazy ideology in my view, a totally false ideology. And by doing what? Publishing some cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. And people went berserk. That is — so we should criticize ideologies like that. We should judge people’s ideas, that’s an important part. So you said we all have limits to our free speech, and I wouldn’t quite put it that way. I would put it as, we all have to understand the world, and I think we pursue truth in our own lives, but we should be prepared to judge ideas. It’s not — so this is where the idea of diversity of thought and diversity of opinion kind of breaks down, because if I hear Robert Spencer — sorry, Richard Spencer — speaking on the street, I want to criticize the hell out of him and say, “Look, this is evil, what you stand for is evil, and we cannot abide by that.” And we should also say the same thing about, you know, radical Islam or totalitarian Islam and, I think, Christianity, and all kinds of other crazy ideas, but the bottom line is people have to be willing —
Flemming Rose: And not crazy ideas.
Steve Simpson: Yeah, and not crazy ideas too. Challenge our own ideas, but the standard ultimately has to be that we are willing to judge ideas, because ideas can be good or bad. If we take a non-judgmental position toward the goodness or badness, the good or evil, of ideas, then we essentially — it’s a moral agnosticism. And that’s what allows bad ideas to thrive. That’s why, when you get to a point of decades of doing this, there’s a reason, I think, there’s a kind of legitimacy in thinking, “Well, if we’re not going to judge any ideas, if we’re not going to go after these guys and criticize them, maybe their ideas will take off. Maybe people will end up believing in these crazy things. Is there nothing we can do?” No, you can criticize them, you can’t attack them, but criticize them. Have confidence in the fact that the truth will ultimately prevail — if you’re a reasonable, rational person. But, I mean, there’s a whole, I think, philosophical context to that. But I guess that my last comment will be: We have to have confidence in reason and the ability of individuals to arrive at the truth.
The panelists are Steve Simpson, director of Legal Studies at the Ayn Rand Institute and editor of Defending Free Speech; Flemming Rose, author of Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech, and Dave Rubin, creator and host of The Rubin Report. The event, “Free Speech Under Attack,” took place at Objectivist Summer Conference 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.