Debate: There’s No War On Free Speech; It’s A Silent Conflict
February 13, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Ed. Note: In light of the violence at Berkeley following the scheduled presentation by Milo Yiannopoulos, we have charged Chris Seaton and Mario Machado to debate, “Is America in the middle of a war against free speech?” This is Chris’ argument:
My colleague, Mario “The Latino Heat” Machado, seems to believe there’s a war on free speech. It’s a fair question, given people claiming to be NYU professors* are on camera telling police it’s their job to “punch Nazis” like Gavin McInnes. Violence is becoming the norm for speech with which groups disagree. But this is no “war,” and there won’t be unless we choose to make it happen.
Because it’s important to define terms, and Mario knows words mean something, let’s go with the Merriam-Webster definition of “war.”
DEFINITION OF WAR
1a (1): a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations (2): a period of such armed conflict (3): state of warb: the art or science of warfare c(1)obsolete: weapons and equipment for war (2) archaic: soldiers armed and equipped for war
2a: a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism b: a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end <a class war><a war against disease>
Well, crap. It would seem I’ve trapped myself with this definition, wouldn’t it? After all, aren’t the violent attacks at UC Berkley, the hostility at NYU, and the shooting at UW Seattle “open and declared armed hostile conflict?” At worst, are we not in a “struggle or competition between opposing forces…for a particular end?”
I would submit that if we’re in a free speech “war,” there’s no other nation or state that’s declared hostile conflict over things American citizens have said. That may change when our President twits something out that pisses off a particular nation-state, but right now those who would declare our current turmoil a “free speech war” are abusing the language in the same ways Fox News and other outlets declare a “war” on Christmas with Starbucks cups.
Now the second definition becomes a bit more problematic to refute. It seems there’s a “struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.” On one side, you have the “social justice warriors” demanding diversity and inclusion for all. The other side, well, let’s call them the “anti-pc” crowd. Both have conflicting views on free speech and how it is best utilized. Does that make it a conflict worthy of the term “war?”
My response is “no.” It’s a conflict, but “war” is a strong word. It connotes open and hard conflict between opposing sides. While we’re seeing small skirmishes break out among opposing views, this really isn’t a “war” in the sense of the term. Until there’s an all out battle “declared” by one side or another, it’s just a series of decisions whether we self-censor or we risk something by saying what we really mean.
Start with Justine Sacco and her horrendous joke about being safe from AIDS in South Africa because she was white. The Social Justice mobs landed on her in a frenzy. By the time she landed in South Africa, she had no job, no hotel room, and no way of getting back absent her own resources.
That was a sort of cultural turning point, I think, for the alleged “war” on free speech. This was the time when an ill-conceived twit could cost you a job. Now people had to set their Facebook settings to “private” so prospective employers wouldn’t find a political opinion someone found offensive. Blog posts were carefully written so as to keep the Internet Hate Machine from coming down on a person.
If there was a war on free speech, it was a bloodless war, and it ended without firing a bullet.
The violence we’re seeing right now is an extension of what happens when one side gets tired of losing battles and pushes back. Conservative and libertarian types are pushing back against the “progressive” groupthink and saying, “what you do and say doesn’t matter anymore.” What’s worse for the “average” individual now is the extremist’s use of progressive tactics against those who would silence them. Using the progressive’s playbook is causing those attacking free speech to become unhinged.
One recent example is Milo’s demands that people stop calling him a white nationalist and threatening lawsuits if publishers don’t print a retraction. This is a progressive play, taken straight from about a decade’s worth of their own tactics. Yet when a conservative speaker like Milo uses it, the progressives laugh and call him a “special snowflake” seeking a “safe space.”
None of them understand the plays being called, and they’ve used them for ages. The fact these plays are working on them now doesn’t make it any easier for them to recognize.
No outside force is causing a “war” on free speech. If anyone’s doing it, we’re doing it to ourselves out of fear of losing something important, like a job, income streams, or friends. Until we can reach a climate where everyone can listen again without needing to agree on everything. we’re going to continue this silent conflict, potentially for the rest of our days.
What we’re seeing isn’t “war.” It’s a quiet struggle poisoning all it touches.
REBUTTAL: All I have to say in regards to Mario’s comments is that if we don’t stop screaming how everyone we disagree with is a “Nazi,” that guy down the hall you hate is “literally Hitler,” and come up with more pseudo-intellectual think pieces about how it’s okay to punch Nazis, then the war he thinks has already started will ultimately begin.
*The alleged NYU professor is actually an “adult lobster performance artist.”