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home : opinions :   April 30, 2016

1/8/2014 9:41:00 AM
Column: In defense of the marketplace of ideas

Rachel Stella
NT Reporter

In my experience with online discussions, I've encountered two extremes of people: those who are more interested in airing their opinions than in having a discussion and who put down anyone who disagrees with them, and those who are so afraid of controversy that they purposely avoid posting anything that would generate an interesting discussion and who become very perturbed when someone takes issue with one of their posts.

Both of these extremes detract from what could be a more enriching social media experience.

Sometimes I hear, "It's just a Facebook post."

No, there is no such thing as "just" a Facebook post. Words don't exist in a vacuum. Words make up ideas, and ideas have consequences. When you post an idea or multiple ideas to an audience with the option to leave a comment, you should not only expect but welcome the discussion that follows (within reason, obviously — if someone is saying truly nasty or threatening things, you don't have to accept that).

I first heard the "marketplace of ideas" metaphor when I studied media law in college, and the concept has intrigued me since then. First developed by philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill in his 1859 book "On Liberty," the principle insists that all opinions — no matter how unpopular — should have a place to sell themselves in the theoretical market.

Now, provided you have access to the Internet and accounts with global networks such as Facebook and Twitter, it is easier than ever to hawk your wares, so to speak, in this vast, diverse marketplace.

The right to participate in the marketplace of ideas is a laudable highlight of our society, and it should be neither abused nor shunned.

The marketplace should be seen not only as a place to advance your ideas, but to interact with the ideas at other sellers' booths. I do not say you should buy those ideas (very rarely will that happen), but try a quick stroll around the booth in another's shoes; look through another's eyeglasses and think about what you see; taste a free sample of another's cuisine and leave a review. At the very least, you will conquer some of your own misconceptions, and this will make your own sales presentation more winsome and respected.

When you return to your own booth in the marketplace to sell your ideas, think of each person who leaves a comment as a potential customer. This person, even if he or she seems adversarial, is someone who is interested enough and respects you enough to engage with your idea. Should he or she present a challenge, that will give you further opportunity to allow the merits of your idea to shine brighter.

To those who would rather avoid the often intense and at times vitriolic textures of the marketplace, I value your peace-seeking nature. I believe it is not only possible but necessary to delight in the rich diversity of the marketplace and at the same time to tenaciously uphold standards of civility. Those of you who are already inclined to treat others with respect and to seek harmony are in the best place to maintain this balance.

When you choose not to set up shop in the marketplace of ideas, you deprive all other buyers of your goods and sellers of your competition.

When you resist dissent instead of choosing to engage with it — only accepting obedient "likes" and retweets — you go against the fabric of what the marketplace of ideas is intended to be.

Don't be afraid to share your ideas or to examine the thoughts of others. Your world will be fuller for it.

Rachel Stella can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Article comment by: MotherEarthSpeaks

Yes, Thank you for this piece.

Words generated from the heart and mind, deeply passionate (felt in the heart) and clearly developed (mind), seed the collective consciousness with life.
Whether written or spoken, words are very powerful and form a vibration and frequency, as thoughts are transmitted and sounds are spoken.
Therein lies our creative power. Create what you want to BE. As kindness, consideration and love are expressed, those energies are there to be received by all.

The "marketplace" is a reflection of all thought, word and deed, as it is the reality of life.

As one spiritually ascends, conflict and competition subside, and the beauty of 'vive la difference' is appreciated and honored in each.


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