Pin on Hate Speech on the Web

This past July, the Center co-hosted a conference in Rome, “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech.” The conference, which addressed the challenges that religious exemptions and hate-speech regulations pose for liberalism, was divided into three workshops, for which participants submitted short reflection papers. Professor Andrea Pin (Padua) submitted the following paper for Workshop 3, on hate speech, which we are delighted to publish here:

“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind.  On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone . . . You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve.  You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts.  Many of these problems don’t exist.  Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means.  We are forming our own Social Contract . . . We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity . . . Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.”

This is an excerpt from A Declaration of Independence of the Cyberspace.  The visionary thinker John P. Barlow proclaimed it in 1996 in Davos, Switzerland – the Sinai of globalization.  Barlow’s pride for what the cyberworld would become in the future was largely misplaced.  As many soon acknowledged, Barlow’s prophecy, that from online anarchy would almost spontaneously rise an order based on freedom, was wrong.  The cyberworld, after all, is just as much a part of our world as we are a part of it. 

Philosopher Luciano Floridi suggested we now live an onlife existence, in flux between the physical and virtual world.  Cyberspace cannot claim an independent life any more than we can claim our independence from it.  Our reputation, social relations, and political sphere take shape in an environment where cyberspace occupies a special place.  AI technologies affect how we perceive ourselves and others.

The issue is whether there is a sufficient public philosophy – or at least an intellectual framework within which our onlife sustains itself. As a recent book noted, 

“The medieval world had its imago dei, its feudal agrarian patterns, its reverence for the crown, and its orientation toward the soaring heights of the cathedral spire.  The age of reason had its cogito ergo sumand its quest for new horizons–and, with it, new assertions of agency within both individual and societal notions of destiny.  The age of AI has yet to define its organizing principles, its moral concepts, or its sense of aspirations and limitations.”[1]

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