The horrible idea filter

I wrote this month’s column for the Freethinker yesterday. It’s a rather heated rejection of the “we must be responsible if we want to live in harmony with horrible ideas” approach. I don’t want to live in harmony with horrible ideas; I want to reject them, and explain my reasons for rejecting them.

It’s not always immediately clear which ideas are horrible. Sometimes it takes extended discussion and illustration and listing of examples to make the horribleness of a particular idea clear. That’s one major reason free speech is important, and why it often trumps other goods.

But some ideas we already know are horrible. We don’t need to keep reopening the question every hour, because we already know and because the ideas are so horrible that they do damage and harm. It can be worthwhile to discuss such ideas in classrooms or seminars, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be discussed in every newspaper and chat show. Should we be sitting down for a serious conversation with Boko Haram in order to come to an understanding? No. Boko Haram has murdered some 30 thousand Nigerians. There’s nothing to discuss. Its members may be rehabilitatable, but its ideas are the ideas of murderers.

But you won’t find Boko Haram in a Copenhagen coffee shop or a Paris newspaper office. It’s not Boko Haram that keeps getting threatened and killed for trying to have a conversation.


  1. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    There’s also the question of how we reject absurd or horrible ideas. This is a matter of tactics or strategy as much as principles. The beliefs put forward by Mohammed are absurd and horrible and if you don’t believe he was the last prophet of mankind, he looks mad and bad. However, pointing this out to muslims- apart from the possibly lethal effects- doesn’t do much to persuade them to abandon those beliefs. In the U.K. muslims are perfectly willing to accept that people they theoretically think should be tortured to death have the right to do as they please. Would we rather have a lot of people who call themselves muslims and have abandoned most of the principles of islam or would we rather have people who abandon all pretence of being muslims and people who stick rigidly to belief in the strict and literal truth of traditional islam?
    I don’t know…

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