“But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” – essay “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill
I have recently come to understand Mill’s point here far better than before. People often try to silence discussions and expressions of opinion for a variety of reasons. The ‘why’ is peculiar to each individual censor and not for discussion here, but the effect is ‘evil’ as Mill notes, robbing everyone of good ideas, progress, and growth. Sadly, when those being censored protest their right to speak, they are frequently assailed with accusations and character assaults.
This should never be the case in any event. But unfortunately, it is often the case in open source projects where too many people with egos far too big for their owners, think (as the Bible says), “more highly of themselves than they ought.” If any reader doubts this, you have only to read a while in the kernel developer’s mailing list archive – or the debian mailing list archive – or most any of the large (and even small) project mailing list archives out there in ‘open source land’ to see the truth of which I speak.
Now, I will be the first to admit that the clash of ideas can bring about the distilling of truth – a peculiar crucible of purification. But at the same time, I have to confess I have never been a fan of Sociology’s “Conflict Theory”. And certainly not when individuals move to berate proponents of ideas that might seem to oppose their own. Sadly, open source communities (such as the linux community) have been hotbeds of this kind of offensive and destructive mentality for a long time now. If you doubt that, just hang out in an IRC channel for an open source project for a while. You will quickly see what I mean.
In my view, it is time for all of us to grow up a bit and stop this kind of suppression of ideas and discussions. Progress comes as a result of good open discussion of ideas freely offered and welcomed by the community. These are the seedbeds of development and quality and forward movement in any project. As Mill said, all suppression of ideas accomplishes is “robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.”