The individual American is so weak that the only solution one can think of is that we march in no particular direction, shouting what we are told to shout and hope the government steps in and does something based on our shouting. And the government is the only body that can do anything, and the first group Americans now turn to fight something. It’s the largest, heaviest brick we can think of and we’re trying to throw it at everything all at once. Everything needs a law now: Free speech must be curtailed for what some describe as hateful speech, which is more often a euphemism for “opposing view”, the government needs to step in and make bad people disappear, the government needs to step in and curtail this group of people or that group of people, all of this in line with what the speaker finds to be hateful, bigoted or otherwise evil.
On the issue of free speech, I need only being with Christopher Hitchens and part of his talk at the “Be It Resolved: Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate” debate at the University of Toronto, 2006
“Who is going to decide? To whom to you award the right to decide which speech is harmful or who is the harmful speaker, or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be that we know enough to prevent. To whom would you give this job. Have you heard any speaker to whom you would delegate the task of deciding for you what you can read? To whom you would give the job of deciding for you, relieve you of the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear? Do you know anyone to whom you would give this job? You mean there’s no one in Canada good enough to decide what I can read, or hear? I had no idea…”
If you think you can name someone who can create the right linguistic environment for society, you’re probably dead wrong on every level. First, as Hitch would later mention, one should always question the motives of those who work to silence others. False nobility hides the truer intention of the aggressive censor, also known as the “tyrant” before the #resistance stole the power that word once had. We see in the backlash against Jordan Peterson, Pat Condell and Sargon that what is being censored is demonstrably just a differing opinion, especially well-stated. If you read hatred into Dr. Peterson for example, you were looking for it and will create it if it isn’t there. You are one of the people “determined to be offended, who will go through a treasure trove of English in search of filthy words”. How many politicians and activists say they are fighting for peace and equality, only to loudly and aggressively treat a not-insignificant subset of America unfairly? There of course is the contemporary wisdom that anyone who says “I do not judge” is most likely the most judgmental person in the room. It does not seem that someone declaring themselves to know what the government should censor have virtuous reasons for doing so.
Additionally, force does not beget peace. It does not make the world a better place. You declare that “these words, and these opinions shall not be permitted in the public square” and anyone who doesn’t like it will just have to “deal with it”. In this, you are showing your true self. You have passed a law by which you have no need to abide, not because you will censor yourself, but because you wrote the thing, and protect yourself from punishment. Anyone on the wrong end of you must beware. It begets peace for yourself and a vaunted position of power. Censorship is often for the people, never the censor.
To the idea of throwing the government around like a brick at whatever the problem of the day is, we should be more afraid of it than we already are of the amateur censor. Those with an idealized view of government see it as a fair arbiter of the law. It’ll only go as far as we want it to into the realm of censorship but no further. One only need to look at where state governments have taken gun control. Illinois and California especially seem to just want to go one more step until the right to own a gun is practically useless. What tells the advocate that government will not one day turn against them? What is it about this monstrous brick that is so powerful it’s the first thing we choose to throw at an issue that implies control, grace and compassion? There is no evidence of this to me, but perhaps I am just one of the bigots who doesn’t understand that the problem is too great for the individual, so we need the brick of truth to dole out justice.
And herein lies the problem. The individual is seen as so insignificant that they cannot fight anything on their own, even at a community level. The individual cannot act in a way that is significant enough to contribute to the decreasing of racism or what-have-you in our society, we need the government censor instead. The individual gun owner is useless against a killer, we need the government guns instead. The individual cannot be charitable enough to make a difference, we need welfare to take care of everything. What would the world look like if the individual were more powerful? That is, I would argue, a less dangerous proposition. For as it stands, the fanatics who look to curtail free speech are fairly militant about it: doxing, shouting down, occasionally assaulting those they disagree with when they’re not accusing them of the worst crimes they can remember from their high school history class (specifically and exclusively, the accusation of being a Nazi). It almost seems preferable that the cold, unfeeling homunculus of the government step in were we not also aware of its terrible power and the fact that it does not have a moral center guiding it either. We can at least ascribe “good intentions” to the fanatic, however briefly.
And thus, we come to the ultimate conclusion. There is no one person, or one group, that can prove him/her/their selves virtuous enough to determine what the rest of us can say, hear, read or write. The individual censor is a fanatical militant who can, and has often confused “Hate speech” for “differing opinion” and the government censoring speech is a first step to dictatorship, or at the very least a system where the opposition party is functionally useless and exists only to maintain a façade. The mere fact that groups cannot agree on what is and is not hate speech, and the idea that some belief hate speech is disagreement, is the best case for utterly free speech as the best route for society. It is true that free speech means the possibility for hateful comments to be publicly aired. The alternative however can become far worse in short order. Where once it was just offensive speech that was societally looked down upon, it can, and demonstrably has become an opposing view. This is tyranny, and it must be fought. Whether the one pressing it is literally Hitler, or the moron telling you that he’s offended by your disagreement. Speak freely, embrace free speech, and live with the consequences.
And here is the only societal danger to free speech, and what makes the concept so scary to some: There is no call to converse with one another rationally in this culture. If it were natural, it’d be happening, but in most cases it is not. Why is this? Simple, because “The time for talk is over” is the cliché that drives every activist hashtag. From MeToo to Enough, there seems to be a national belief that a rational conversation on the issues has already taken place, and now is the time to just plow forward and start throwing the government brick harder, farther and more often, and anyone who disagrees with this method is happy with the status quo. I’ll close with a passage from 2 Timothy 2:24-25, a quick analysis and a question.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
Breaking down that first part: The one speaking to the unbeliever must not be quick to anger, kind to everyone, able to teach (meaning “knowledgeable”) and not resentful. Where is this in the greater culture? Where is this in activism? It doesn’t seem to exist.
Verse 25 is a particularly interesting verse in its context and in ours. Mainly because of the phrase “In the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” It is not in the changing of minds where the minister finds his identity. He serves as a conduit, a representative of God and, as both verses state, must reflect God. By the same token, should the activist claiming to fight for peace and justice not demonstrate those virtues in how he deals with others? Perhaps, but there is no call to such behavior outside of the Scripture.
Where is the secular equivalent to this and what is it’s foundation? The answer to both seems to be “there isn’t one”. Without God, 2 Timothy 2:24-25 is an example of how one “ought” to live, but is one has under no obligation to do so. To those who would respond that many Christians do not act in the way this passage would dictate, that is true. However, they are acting against what they claim to believe, the message they carry is damaged, but perhaps not invalidated. With the exception of the New Atheist strand (That of Hitch, but particularly the vitriolic burst of Dawkins and Harris), there may be other counters trying to invalidate the claim, but that’s for another day. Would Christianity not have a better reputation if more Christians were visibly living out their lives in a manner consistent with the Gospel? Perhaps it might. By the same standard, those who do not believe, or at least do not have Christianity as their guiding principle on the protest march, would also be better serve if they treated others in a way consistent with the virtues they claim to represent. The best part is that it is possible, and they do not even need the government to help them get there.