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    Transcript for What Can We Learn From 2,500 Years of Debate Around Free Speech?

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    RACHEL BUNN: Welcome back to “Beyond the White Coat” where we convene authentic conversations between members of the academic medical community, AAMC leaders, other health professionals, and other experts on timely issues. I'm your producer, Rachel Bunn. This week, we'll be discussing one of the hottest topics of the moment, free speech. I'm joined, as always, by our host, Dr. David Skorton.

    David, you may not know this about me, but before I came to the AAMC, I was a journalist. And the topic of free speech and assembling freedom of the press is very near and dear to my heart. But I'm curious how you became interested in free speech and how this subject relates to medical education and some of the work we do here at the AAMC.

    DAVID J. SKORTON: Yeah, thanks. It's a great question and I got interested in that part of my career where I was in higher education in general as a college president a couple of times. And of course that included the medical schools at both of those institutions, but also undergraduate and other graduate and professional education, and either through meetings with representative bodies or just office hours with students or times where students protested and sat in in my office. I got a chance to gain from free speech that I think was relatively unfettered and learn about it. And so really, I had an interest from those days. And then having a chance to read the book that our guest today wrote brought me back to a lot of those original interests of mine. And then I just learned tons from reading this book. So that's really where it came from.

    BUNN: This week we are delighted to be joined by Jacob Mchangama, who is a human rights free speech historian, the CEO of the Future Free Speech Project, research professor at Vanderbilt University, senior fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, also known as Fire, and the author of Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media, which has been the book to read this fall around the AAMC. Jacob will also be a panelist for one of our plenary sessions at our annual meeting, Learn Serve Lead, in a few weeks. David, I know you'll be moderating that panel and we're really excited for you to be able to have this one-on-one discussion beforehand with Jacob. And I will officially turn it over to you to get us going.

    SKORTON:  And I'm very, very honored to have you with us today. Jacob, welcome to “Beyond the White Coat.”

    JACOB MCHANGAMA: Thank you so much, David. I'm delighted that we could find the time to do this.

    SKORTON: Yeah, me too. And let me just, without gushing too much, let me congratulate you again on the book. It was a page turner, and that's something to say for a book as long as it is. I just enjoyed and savored every page of it. It was excellently done history and a lot of good stuff. But let's jump in with the problems that remain, which are which are manifold.

    So, in your book, you took us on a trail, on a wonderful journey of the history of free speech. And because we're limited in time, I wonder if I can impose on you in one sentence — It could be a run-on sentence — to give us a quick overview of the history of free speech. Sorry to limit you to one sentence, but Jacob, I'd love to hear your summary.

    MCHANGAMA: Yeah, that's a daunting task, but I'll try to start around 2,500 years ago in the ancient Athenian democracy, where free speech was an important value both in terms of political governance — so, every freeborn male citizen had a direct voice in political affairs — but also culturally, where there was a civic commitment to the tolerance of social dissent. So that was for its time, radically egalitarian conception of free speech, which we may contrast to Roman Republican free speech, which was much more top down and elitist. And these two conceptions of free speech have been in tension ever since. And they are still with us today. Of course, you have many developments over time. You have even some positive developments in the Middle Ages, in the Islamic world. You have translation movement of a lot of philosophy in scientific books. You actually have a lot of physicians who are very prominent scholars, translators, thinkers who contribute to that. And you have the age of enlightenment, obviously, is a big is a big turning point in the history of free speech, where free speech makes its breakthrough in constitutions and in bill of rights and so on. And then you have really the great moment for free speech, which I think is the 20th century, sort of the latter half where you have free speech optimism, but which has unfortunately receded. And right now, I think in the 21st century, where we are living through a free speech recession, both in terms of a rise of authoritarian states, a lack of belief in free speech, in open democracy, and an erosion of the underlying culture of free speech. So, I don't know if that did justice to the history of free speech, but it was at least some points in a very long journey.

    SKORTON: Jacob, that was a cool run on sentence. I mean, it wasn't a Faulkner novel, but it was right up there. I really think that was fantastic. Thank you. And let me ask you, while we’re on the historical aspects. In your book, you talked about certain, how can I put it, the sort of technological advances over time. And one of the ones I found most eye opening, which I think bears some relevance to the current age, was actually the invention of the printing press. And can you comment on that just briefly?

    MCHANGAMA: Yes. So, the invention of the printing press is a huge game changer. In certain ways we're still living with the consequences of that and in many ways. So, one of the ways where the printing press really becomes what many scholars have called an agent of change is for the Reformation. So, you have initially that the Catholic Church is quite thrilled about the printing press because you can now you can maximize the output of theology, correct theology. You don't have to rely on the faulty memory of the priests. And you can spread what we might today call propaganda. But then an ornery German monk comes along and spoils the party. Martin Luther, who has, you know, second thoughts about the what the truth of Catholicism and the stance of the Catholic Church. And he is able to use the printing press to, at least from a Catholic point of view, devastating effect, because he not only writes in German rather than Latin, he also writes sort of short, punchy treatises, uses cartoons and memes and the printing press allows his word to spread high and wide. So even the you know, even if you can't read someone in your community who can read, can read it to an audience and so the Reformation goes viral as it is. And that has huge implications for religious and political authority. It basically splinters Christendom in Europe into many different sects and political authorities. And that has had a huge impact.

    But it also has — the printing press also has a huge impact on the dissemination of science. For instance, so, imagine if you are a physician and you're, you know, someone 200 years ago pioneered some surgical intervention and you know, that is written down in manuscript and that manuscript is copied over and over and over again. You know, a lot of the knowledge is going to get lost, but now suddenly you can print it. And so, you know, everything from, you know, medicine to all kinds of science suddenly becomes much more streamlined. It becomes more accurate. It becomes much easier to initiate processes that lack some of the flaws and slowness that were a feature of the age where you relied on handwritten manuscripts.

    SKORTON: So interesting. And that tension, which I guess from what you just said about the printing press and Martin Luther and the Catholic Church and so on was a little bit of tension, perhaps from elites or however you want to express that versus just plain folks who might want to hear or even read because the literacy rate went up. Is there any is there any parallel between that and the tensions that we're feeling about, for example, social media, which is also to some extent a great leveler? Is there is there a similarity?

    MCHANGAMA: Yeah, I think there are huge similarities, even if there are also obviously differences. So, any time the public sphere is expanded to provide a voice or access to information to previously marginalized groups, you will have those who are the institutional gatekeepers of the public sphere or even truth will tend to panic. Not only you know, because their privileged position has come under threat, i.e., the Catholic Church no longer being the trusted guardians of religious truth, but also because there's very often this idea that if the unwashed, uneducated mob is being — is given a voice in public affairs, if they're being given access to knowledge without it being filtered through the responsible adults, i.e., the guardians of truth, then the social coherence of society, the basic foundations will collapse. And I think that's a very clear parallel to that. And sort of panic about mis- and disinformation today, sort of, oh, we need to ensure that health misinformation is purged from online platforms or everyone will die from COVID. That's obviously an exaggeration. But some of the some of those sentiments were expressed, especially sort of three years ago. And it's, you know, elite panic may sometimes be, you know, be generated out of genuine concerns, i.e., COVID misinformation, which was a real thing. But very often they, you know, elite panic will result in proposals or actual policies where you might say that the cure is worse than the disease.

    So who do we trust to be the operators of health information at a time where, you know, you're trying to understand a new virus that has not been confronted by humanity before and where even the best experts are likely to change their position over time just because new data and new science, new knowledge becomes available. And then if you try to institutionalize sort of a council of guardians who make authoritative decisions about what can be said and even powers to purge that which is deemed to be misinformation, you actually will very often be more likely to erode trust because it quickly turns out that the council of guardians who uphold truth will also get it wrong. And then, you know, the public will lose faith in it. 
    So, for instance, in Denmark, the health authorities said at the beginning of COVID, all people who had been to Austria and Italy on vacation said, well, there's very little risk that they will return and pose any threat that that, you know, this will that this will affect the general population. Of course, that's became a superspreading event in Denmark. Then there was a time where they said, well, face masks should not be worn. They won't have any effect. And then, you know, fast-forward a few months and suddenly face masks were mandated or at least heavily encouraged. And this was obviously not because Bill Gates had imposed an agenda with George Soros through the use of 5G towers around the world. This was because genuine experts, you know, change their opinion based on new data and new signs emerging and which, again, depended on the ability of scientists around the world to contribute through open debate and open science.

    SKORTON: Well, thanks. Thanks in passing for debunking that 5G conspiracy theory. I really appreciate that. And I must tell you, it's fascinating. I struggled early in COVID just by the nature of our association, Jacob. I was one of those voices against disinformation and one of those voices to defend the fact, as you just said, that as evidence accumulates, suggestions change, recommendations change, understanding changes. But I think an underlying theme that's important, and thank you for getting us to jump in with both feet to the world of medicine — Am I detecting a preference on your part that all things being equal, the more free speech, the better, or the more free the speech is, the better?

    MCHANGAMA: You know, I think it's impossible to make sort of blanket statements like that. Free speech is an experiment. And my reading of the last 2,500 years of history is that societies where free speech is a core component tend to do a lot better on a lot of parameters that people in free societies, when it comes to equality, prosperity, and knowledge, individual freedom, tolerance, and so on, I think they're heavily correlated with free speech. But it's also true that free speech can lead to harms. I'm sure there are people who have the problem with people who have died of COVID and other diseases because they were convinced of some bogus conspiracy theory that they encountered online, the same way that there are people who become members of cults or other things and do harm to themselves or others. 

    But I think we rely on free speech to be able to counter such narratives. And I think that you need free speech, open dialog, and inquiry to foster a society where a critical mass is more resistant to conspiracy theories than people who grew up in countries where there's an official truth. And I think, again, you know, if health authorities, for instance, have the courage to admit that not only do they sometimes get it wrong, they're likely to get it wrong. And getting it wrong is an inevitable, inevitable part of science. You know, then I think they might avoid some of the backlash because I think there's a tendency, especially, you know, during crises such as COVID, to say, we're the authoritative experts, we come up with these recommendations, then we can go back and change them. So, it would be better to sort of disappear some of the criticism. 

    You know, there was just a recent decision by the 5th Circuit Court which said that the White House, the surgeon general, the CDC, had put pressure, undue pressure, on platforms to remove, among other things, health misinformation and that violated the First Amendment. And I ultimately — I think, you know, right now, those who sort of lack trust in institutions will go back and look at that decision by a federal court and say, look, you can't trust federal agencies. They're lying. And, you know, and so even though there was, you know, even though this was not sort of a big conspiracy theory to sell the American public on a big lie or to advance the agenda of big pharma, to experiment with vaccines on the population, you know, that narrative can build on little nuggets of facts do to those policies, which I think then have shown to be counterproductive.

    So I think it's incredibly important to be humble when you're an expert and sort of say, you know what? The fact that that we have incredible scientific knowledge in, you know, in health care, for instance, is due to a lot of brilliant people who were wrong — were ultimately shown to have been wrong, at least by the by the standards we have today. And very likely a lot of the things that, you know, things that we teach today might show up to be wrong or at least, you know, that they can be improved upon by future generations. And that requires openness to even, you know, when it's people who are not experts to challenge it. And that's not always comfortable when you're in an expert position. But I think that's necessary.

    SKORTON: It's such an important point about the scientific method. You didn't state it as such, but you clearly are talking about the fact that science has a certain amount of trial and error and that we want to explore all different aspects of life in health and disease. And as you put it, sometimes we're going to get it wrong, sometimes we're going to get it better. But basically, it's an incremental march, isn't it? toward better and better understanding. And so, I think it's a very, very important job. And in terms of humility, I'll be the first one to say that I and my generation could have done a much better job of trying to describe the scientific method to those who don't eat, live, and breathe it. And not in a condescending way, but in a way of saying, you know, this is our world. There's a bunch of humility and maybe it's timely that we're having this conversation in the weeks where the Nobel Prizes are being announced. And those Nobel Prizes are given to people who had the humility to think about things in a different way and to dream up new hypotheses and test them in new and different methods. So, I think that one of the ways, perhaps, is to explain and be humble and have that Zen concept, perhaps, of beginner's mind where we're all open. The old expression from Shunryu Suzuki is that in the expert’s mind, there are a few possibilities. In the beginner's mind, there are many. And perhaps if we're humble enough to see that there's many possibilities, we can get past that and perhaps even inculcate more trust. What do you think?

    MCHANGAMA: Yeah, you know, it would actually be interesting to go back and look at the, you know, the historical list of Nobel Peace Prize winners — Nobel Prize winners in the sciences over time. And, you know, how many of those from a decade ago, 20 years ago or 50 years ago, you know, how much of their work still holds up? How much of it has been has been shown to be incorrect on certain aspects by new advances in science? Which does not, of course, mean that it wasn't a cutting-edge science at the time. It just means that others used those breakthroughs to go further. 
    I think that would be an interesting project for someone. But, you know, let me give you an example from my home country, Denmark, which is often seen not unfairly as sort of a model welfare state. But into the 50s and, you know, there were these very, at the time, progressive doctors working hand in hand with politicians who said, well, we have a number of women who have children outside of wedlock, who live who lead lives that are not conducive to being good citizens. So not only do we send them away to an island, we'll actually sterilize them so that they can't reproduce. So, it was a form of eugenics that was seen as very progressive at the time, which was part of a state policy to force women into being sterilized. And these doctors involved in this, these politicians, were adamant that they were doing good. They were at the cutting edge of science, that they would improve society for future generations by restricting the ability of these women who were seen as problematic to reproduce. 

    Today, we see that as a outrageous violation of the most basic human rights. And no conscientious doctor would participate in something like that today. But these were sort of the best of the best at the time.

    SKORTON: Yes. Thank you for that. So, I'd like to change gears, Jacob, and talk a little bit about education. So, our association, as you know, represents the MD-granting medical schools, accredited medical schools in the U.S., and teaching hospitals, and academic societies. In the broad sphere of education, including but not limited to higher education or professional education, there are a lot of what I think could be characterized as free speech issues that we're dealing with, not the least of which is — you commented in your earlier comment during the session that some harms, I believe, was the phrase was the term you used, could occur from completely unfettered free speech or from speech, I think this is how you put it. 

    And so let me ask you about a couple of things related to education. For example, trigger warnings, where a speaker or an instructor is asked to warn those to whom the instruction is given that something may come up in the in the conduct of the lecture or discussion which may be upsetting and perhaps even harmful. What's your what's your take on when trigger warnings as an example of some precautions about speech.

    MCHANGAMA: I think trigger warnings become problematic when they're mandated by the institution, especially when it sort of when it mandates that specific topics are particularly worthy of critical warning. I myself have certainly, you know, at times said, you know, to the students, I'll show you something which may be disturbing. So, I think, you know, the discretion of the individual lecturer, I don't see that as necessarily a big problem. I think the problem is when they, when trigger warnings, come to entrench a particular viewpoint that the institution as such, for instance, a research university says goes against our values or whatever, and especially when it becomes sort of politicized. That's my thing. And then there's, and you know, I'm this is just my maybe faulty memory, but I think there's been research which suggests, at the very least, that trigger warnings are maybe counterproductive. You know, the stated goal of them. So, they don't have the intended effect on students and may actually make things worse. But on the other hand, I don't see it as, you know, if you know, if some time, you know, I'll say, show a slide from the Holocaust or whatever, I don't see a problem with, you know, a lecturer saying, well, you know, I'll use some imagery or wording that that might that that you might find disturbing.

    SKORTON: Let's take a different take on the educational issue or issues. And that one would be disinvitation of speakers or interruption of speakers. I'm seeing a whole variety of responses when the speakers are invited or actually come to campus, for example, not showing up for the speaker or walking out during the speech seems to me a reasonable form of protest or something where we have a proud tradition really in or around the world. But situations in which those who disagree make it impossible for the speaker to continue is more problematic in my own thinking. And I'm curious, since you're a student of it, what do you think about the whole breadth of issues and circumstances that I'm referring to?

    MCHANGAMA: Yeah. So, you know, very often the debate about cancel culture, I hear sort of the counter argument against those who worry about cancel culture is that it's, you know, consequence culture and people will say, well, those who are against cancel culture are themselves trying to stifle free speech. And you know, it might be that some are. But what I think — I think there's a huge difference between reacting to ideas and speakers you disagree with counterarguments or sort of nondisruptive protests. So, for instance, if you stand up silently with a placard in a lecture hall, you know, that might not be disruptive. I think that's fine. Or, you know, if you symbolically leave, you know, I personally prefer to stay and listen to the argument to see, you know, to find out if and I disagree, how I disagree, you know, what are the best counterarguments. But, you know, if you silently walk out, that's reasonable. If you vehemently criticize or mock a speaker, that's also fine. That's free speech. But if you persistently heckle and shout down a speaker, then you are not only — you're not only disrupting the ability of the speaker to speak, but you're actually also interfering with the audience ability to listen to that speaker and some of them might share your concerns.

    They might have say, you know what, I don't like the speaker either, but I actually want to be able to listen to what they say to see, you know, do I disagree 100%? Do I disagree 90%? Are there actually ideas worth engaging with other ideas that mean, you know, well, we could find some common ground? You know, but you need to be able to listen to people. And when you're talking about universities and colleges, you know, if those institutions shouldn't be open to various different viewpoints, then, you know, what's the what's the point?

    If you were a freshman and you had the exact same ideas about the big questions in life as, you know, when you graduated as when you enrolled, you know, why would you pay today ridiculous amounts of money to go to a college if you already were so certain about, you know, your worldview, about what's good and bad, what's right and wrong. So, I think it's, you know, it's almost a cliche, but it just seems so obvious to me that universities and colleges should be places for robust, open debate and dialog.

    SKORTON: Yeah, I personally sure agree with you. From my own experience in higher education, even from a slightly different angle and that is I learned from the learners, from the students when I used to have student office hours as president of Cornell, for example, I saw how much students learn from each other. Of course, with all deference to professors and all the incredible knowledge that we try to impart, there's a lot of learning that goes on peer to peer in any setting, including among students. And that's one of the arguments in my view, for a diverse student body is that people can really learn from each other. 

    So, along the logic that we're following in this line of discussion, what about speech that crosses the line by someone's estimation into hate speech? Should that speech, that kind of speech, be interrupted?

    MCHANGAMA:  Well, one of the problems with that is that the definition of hate speech is very subjective. And once you have speech codes in place, they tend to reflect power. So this is one of the ironies of these. Very often I hear the argument that, oh, free speech entrenches unequal power relations and they — and free speech is weaponized against minorities, which in my opinion, is a complete misreading of history.

    I think free speech is one of the greatest human — the greatest engines of human equality that our species has ever stumbled across. And I don't know any marginalized, oppressed group that has successfully managed to counter systematic discrimination, marginalization without resorting to speech, you know, through protest, through civil disobedience, through speeches, and so on. But if you have policies in place, they will need to be defined and enforced by someone, and those will be the ones in power. 

    And therefore, they're likely — so, you know, if you look at elite universities in in in the U.S., they are probably likely to be some of the least racist institutions in the U.S. and institutions whose students and faculty are the most committed to equality, racial justice, and so on. And therefore, hate speech codes at such institutions are likely to be very, very broad. And I think we we've seen that in insistences. On the other hand, you know, take — go to Florida, where you have — and a number, actually, a number of other mostly Republican states, where state governments now are adopting laws against so-called divisive concepts, teaching divisive concepts in higher education, even. And so, this can be sort of, you know, American history where you're not allowed to spend too much time on slavery and racial segregation or genocidal policies against Native Americans. And these when you look at these laws, they are actually very similar to hate speech laws in the sense that, you know, they say certain things are hurtful or harmful, but they're just the distorted mirror image of hate speech laws in a broader, you know, going outside academia, I would say that hate speech bans and restrictions on what we might call extreme speech have very often been counterproductive.

    I talk in my book about the so-called Weimar fallacy. So, the attempt by the Weimar, the fragile German Weimar Republic, to counter Nazism and Communism through evermore censorial laws to protect democracy. But these laws may make models out of monsters. So, Nazis were frequently prosecuted, put in jail, their newspapers, publications censored, confiscated, and Hitler had speaking bans, and so on. And ultimately the Nazis, they came into power, used these emergency laws adopted to defend democracy, they used them to abolish their democracy they were supposed to defend. So, that's a very dangerous thing. So, I think, you know, it's good to operate with the philosophical notion of the veil of ignorance. Like, would you support sort of from the philosopher John Rawls, sort of would you accept free speech restrictions being adopted by a majority if you did not know who would be defining and enforcing them? And I think a lot of people would say, you know, especially now, you know, in this polarized country, would you really be willing to, you know, if you're a, if you're a Democrat and suddenly there was, say, a new Trump administration and a Congress with a Republican majority, would you be willing to submit to the free speech restrictions adopted under such a government and vice versa?

    And I think that's, you know, rather than sort of leading, letting your emotions and your subjective views of right and wrong insist that they should draw the lines, then, you know, admit or acknowledge the risk that people have very different views about right and wrong than you and that, you know, they could be in power then you don't really have a very principled defense because they say, well, you were willing to censor us. Why should we be able to censor you?

    SKORTON: You bet. A very, very strong point and a very strong argument. So here we are talking about this in in the 21st century, in 2023. And your book and even the discussion today took us from the days of ancient Greece and Rome right up to the minute. And the good news about listening to you and reading your book is that it's a tremendous argument for the value of history and the humanities in our thinking — whatever our field. The difficult thing is have we really learned anything in all these years? Do you see do you see any sort of end in sight for these never ending arguments about free speech? Are we better off now than in the Middle Ages? Are we heading in the right direction? Or did we do well for a while and now we're starting to go down the other side of the hill? I'm very curious about your point of view on that.

    MCHANGAMA: Yeah, I think there are, you know, different perspectives you could adopt. You could take a long-term perspective and you could say, compared to a century or two centuries, three centuries ago, free speech obviously enjoys a much more prominent status in America and many democracies around the world. You know, free speech is a constitutionally protected right in this country. It probably enjoys the strongest legal protection of any country anywhere in human history. No country that I know of has provided a stronger legal constitutional protection to free speech than current First Amendment doctrines as upheld by the Supreme Court. And, you know, free speech is an individual human right recognized at least formally and on paper by the vast majority of states around the world. 

    And communications technology allows us to have instant, direct communications across borders that evades many forms of censorship, that is, you know, just makes free speech at scale practicable every day in ways that were unthinkable to previous generations. So that's the long-term perspective. From that point of view, free speech looks in in rude health, right? You know, but on the other hand, I think it's also true that in many democracies, the trend for the past decade or more has been an emphasis on trying to rein in free speech, more and more laws expanding banned categories of hate speech, now turning to disinformation, trying to impose top-down control of social media, and authoritarian states who at one point we thought would be unable to ever again use censorship due to the Internet, have reverse engineered the technology that was once seen as liberating and empowering. You know, China is the obvious example, but with China basically exports its surveillance and censorship technology to many other places in the world.

    And then in — and this I think is the ultimate threat — is that the culture of free speech, sort of the civic commitment to the tolerance of social dissent is also facing a crisis in open democracies. And ultimately, you know, it might be that the First Amendment today provides the strongest protection ever of at least political speech. But if generations at universities are being taught that free speech is weaponized against democracy and minorities, that, you know, the First Amendment entrenches unequal power relations and is endangering democracy, then I think it's unlikely that the First Amendment will provide the same degree of protection 30 or 20 years down the line that it does now.

    And there have certainly been many instances in American history where the First Amendment has not provided such robust protection and where inconvenient minorities, whether African Americans, socialists, religious minorities have been persecuted, even though the First Amendment on paper promised them equality and freedom. And so that's my biggest concern. I still think there's a critical mass in this country, and in many democracies, who are — who believe in free speech.

    I just think we have a real problem with the principled conception of free speech in a world where so much speech is generated and where you're confronted with so many instances of speech that you don't like. It becomes very, very challenging for the human mind to uphold a principled conception of free speech. And I think without a principled, robust conception of free speech, then its — free speech could wither away from a thousand cuts.

    SKORTON:  Well, thank you for a really terrific, robust discussion. It's wonderful that you've taken this on as a study in which you shared the things that you've learned with all of us. Jacob, I've read and heard you talk about free speech as an experiment. Can you expand on that a little bit?

    MCHANGAMA: Yeah, sure. So, you know, for a very long time of human history, you had kings and emperors who were seen as divine. You had religious authorities that could not be questioned. And so, you had a very settled social and political order that provided some degree of stability and order. Free speech throws all of that into turmoil. It gives air to disagreements — disagreements that can sometimes be ugly, that can lead to fractures. And out of that, good things have come. And, you know, at least if you believe in, you know, democracy, freedom, equality, those you know, those values and the institutions that support them would not have been possible without free speech. 

    But it's not a given. That free speech will always result in net positive outcomes. It could be that a dictator comes along who uses free speech very effectively to gain power and then subverts democracy. That is not out of the question. That that  is possible. And as I said, there are harms of free speech. In my opinion, I think human history shows that the experiment of free speech is a benign one. It is one that is likely to result in net positive outcomes. It is indispensable for a lot of the values that people in democracies tend to agree on, at least at a high level. And I think that the history also shows that when free speech is taken away, a lot of bad things follow in its wake — from, you know, a genocide to systematic oppression and a lot of other bad things that we can't really imagine would happen when we when we argue for slicing away one, taking away ,a slice of free speech, but which I think ultimately is more likely to happen if we don't have free speech than when we do have free speech, however imperfect a value.

    BUNN: I know we've had a lot of serious topics in this conversation, but we want to end on a high note and have a little fun. So now it's time for our favorite segment, Prescription for Relaxation. We all know that everyone needs to take some time to wind down and relax. So, Jacob, David, what's your prescription for us this week? What's giving you life right now?

    MCHANGAMA: Oh, right now it's — so, I recently moved to the U.S., joined by my family, and right now it's giving me a lot of joy to see my, you know, my son being successfully trying out for the varsity soccer team. But I also enjoy spending a lot of time with him playing Civilization, this epic game where you grow a band of settlers into a dominant civilization. I wouldn't necessarily say that the strategy that my son and I adopt in that game is something that should be replicated. We tend to go for domination victories, but it's fun.

    SKORTON: Does he ever let you win?

    MCHANGAMA: We actually play together. So, you know, we play sometimes as the Persians. right now, since we're in the U.S., we play as America. But it's — there's also a lot of history. And it's a good way also to sort of, you know, was this world leader, what was this civilization? So, I enjoy that very much.

    SKORTON: So, Rachel, my prescription is always related to taking up something new, a skill, a hobby, something. And I'm obsessed with my failed music career. So lately, I'm taking up learning a new instrument. It's a little old — ancient, really, Japanese flute end-blown flute called the shakuhachi. And the shaku is a length, a measure of length, about a foot. And shakuhachi means 1.8 shaks, so it's 1.8 feet, roughly. And it's extremely hard to play — for me anyway. But I'm starting lessons on it, virtual lessons, and it's very humbling and it's really fun and it takes me away somewhere and I'm able to focus on it. So that's my prescription. Try something different than your usual, what we call, 9 to 5.

    BUNN: “Beyond the White Coat” is hosted by David J. Skorton, and our producer is Zenneia McClendon. Our project manager is Britany Loca. This episode was produced by Rachel Bunn and edited and engineered by Laura Zelaya. Elena Marinaccio is our copy editor, and De'Angello Powe made all of our graphics. Our sound design is by De'Angello Powe and David J. Skorton. Aaron Dillard provided additional support for this episode.

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