The Death of Free Speech

I used to think that everyone wanted to have a conversation. From prayer to therapy to happy hours, it seemed to me that conversation was as American as apple pie. After all, how else are free people supposed to live in a multi-cultural context without resorting to tribal conflict unless we talk about our hopes, dreams, and disagreements, especially when it comes to structural or cultural issues. The point of democratic values is that each sovereign individual citizen can exercise their “certain inalienable rights given to them by God” in “pursuit of life, liberty, and… happiness.” Enshrined as first among equals of these rights is the right to free speech. Why speech? Because how else do we plan on overcoming our differences in a multi-cultural context? It’s either violence or dialogue. I used to think that Americans chose, based on principle, the latter. A recent experience has made me question that axiom. 

Recently, inspired by a motley crew of intellectuals known tongue-in-cheek by their association as the Intellectual Dark Web, I have been trying to practice the values posited by former U.S. Supreme Court justice Louis D. Brandeis who concluded that, “It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” Given that our culture has given into a state of irrational fear and conflict, I have felt it is my duty as a free thinking man with the privilege of technological access and a certain modicum of conversational charm, to engage those topics that are causing the bondage of irrational fear. To wit, I have been hosting a podcast for the better part of a month where I talk to people that I respect about certain topics that have become taboo in mainstream discourse such as leftist dogma, abortion, and race in America. The experience had been going swimmingly until one day last week I had a friend on who refused to broach certain topics, to the point of him getting angry, yelling at me, and calling me a “douchebag” for trying to talk about these very serious issues that need to be addressed in the public discourse lest they lead to tribal violence. In short, there were some things, he posited, that could not or should not be talked about. In other words, speech must be limited, but to what and why?

This friend is not alone in his refusal to engage in civil discourse on certain issues. Funded and propagated by an unconscious consortium of mass and social media echo chambers, it seems to me that the far left, who are by and large a part of a younger generation who grew up with the infant Internet, have given over to a Marxist perspective that boils human interaction, the forum for speech, down to a set of group power dynamics. When an individual is viewed not as a unique complex individual full of incomparable experiences, but as a representative of a group that has been defined by the group-think-minded, usually based on immutable characteristics such as skin color, sexuality, or even fashion sense, then it is easy to pigeon-hole that person as representing a set of values or characteristics or personalities that might not have the slightest impression on them. However, it is easy for the group-thinker to dismiss the individuality of the person because it serves their political purpose—obtaining power for their group. Any information or opinion that does not agree with their preconceived notion of how the world works is therefore a power play by an oppressor seeking to further oppress. Speech, from this perspective, must be limited to dismantle the power structures that the group-thinkers presume have oppressed them. Approach any of taboo subjects of their worldview and you will be met with conflict. 

This group-think Marxist perspective is not new. It invaded our culture decades ago. An ex-KGB agent and foreign official Yuri Bezmenov once remarked in a 1985 interview that Soviet (group-think Marxist-Socialists) espionage operated in plain daylight. Their project was not a one-time gathering of sharing secrets in code in back alleys. On the contrary, their mission was a 15-20 year effort to infect US culture with the very ideas we have been discussing—undermining free speech in the interest of group-think communism. By doing this, they would erode the foundations of trust that Americans have in our way of life for a more communal Soviet-style group-think. This effort started in the 60s. He even provided where you would find the brainwashed at the end of this cycle: the universities, the media, and the tops of economic hierarchies. It seems that their efforts succeeded. Instead of models that rely on free thought and speech, our culture, largely propagated by mass media and the universities, teach group-think, “hate speech”, and protesting deviations from their paradigms instead of self-reliance, innovation, and responsibility. In this way, the individual, the thinker, the speaker, the doer, is replaced by drones who carry out the will of the elite decision-makers at the top of the hierarchy. Furthermore, one cannot question the authority or ideals of these paradigm-makers, because remember within this mindset there is no room for dissent. Think like us, look like us, talk like us…or else. 

When such a group-think ideology has possessed the cultural place that free speech once occupied it would make sense that dissent or disagreement would be met, not with civil discourse in the interest of a common solution, but conflict and even violence in the interest of undermining a preconceived notion of group-power. Seems kind of like what my friend did, doesn’t it? 

We don’t have to dramatize this problem with talk of Russian defectors, global conspiracies, or propaganda mixtapes. All one needs to do to see this paradigm in action is to go on social media. Disagree with something taboo in public and watch the mob, motivated by irrational fear of the other or unknown, respond. Just recently, an elected representative, encouraged intolerance and violence, exhorted her followers, I mean “supporters,” to chase White House officials out of public places like restaurants, even if they are simply trying to enjoy a meal with their families, because she, I mean “they,” disagree with her on policy. In a free society where free speech is enshrined not only in law, but culture, the sober-minded would engage in a civil discourse with those in power and/or those who disagree with them in the hope of a solution. In a society defined by group-think, identity politics, and intolerance, however, a dissenter would be shouted down, forcefully removed from a location, or even attacked. Which one of these cultures do you think is represented by encouraging violence upon someone with whom you disagree?

You can always tell the true believers in the group-think by their commitment to conflict. If you bring up something with which they disagree you will face wrath, not dialogue. But how far does this go? Maybe this is just the growing pains of a Republic. Maybe we’re just getting used to technology. Maybe this culture of outrage will dissipate as folks express themselves online. Or maybe it will reach a tipping point….

The most frightening thing that my friend said when he visited my podcast, for our brief encounter before he refused to engage, was, “We’re already in a second civil war.” He even went so far as to pull up a map and divide the country into “us” and “them.” This sentiment is echoed on social and mass media by those who are indeed intolerant and committed to conflict. Every time I have heard this phrase uttered recently it has been the assumption that it would be “them,” as in “conservatives” or “those religious nut job fucks,” as my friend put it, who would incite this domestic war. I tried to encourage him by saying that maybe there is hope. Maybe people can talk about their differences. Maybe we can seek a common cause and a common understanding “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….”  That’s went it all went downhill.

“There are certain things that should not be given a platform!”

“I refuse to talk about that!”

“I see what you’re doing….”, implying that I am playing some power game by asking challenging questions.

My friend clearly feels strongly about the topics that I brought up, which included the role of the state, abortion, and free speech, but he was not interested in seeking common ground with me. He was interested in winning. He was interested in his, “their,” worldview bursting forth from their supposed oppression to become the cultural norms of the United States of America. Likewise, far leftist groups are not interested in dialogue either, but “the fight”; Just like the social media armies who will not tolerate dissent; Just like the cable news outlets who romanticize these conflicts and make them seem historical, not calculated. None of these institutions or followers are interested in a conversation about the future. They are not interested in responsibility, nuance, or free speech. They are interested in winning, because their underlying worldview, group-think neo-Marxism with a postmodern bent, will not allow for disagreement. Therefore, they are not interested in free speech. 

The worst part? This is the norm now. Just like the KGB defector prophesied, those at the top that are propagating this worldview of inevitable conflict are the heads of universities, which educate future generations, heads of major mass media organizations, incentivized to fan the flames of conflict for increased ratings and advertising dollars, and the executives of top economic entities, today represented by the Mark Zuckerbergs and Larry Pages of the world. These pillar institutions openly and proudly support these group-think perspectives that indoctrinate children and the unaware with the idea of group-think-as-progress. They have no use for idea of disagreement, discourse, and dialogue. That’s oppression to them. The result? A culture more obsessed with shouting down ideas than openly and civil engaging with them in the interest of a common goal. So much for domestic tranquility. Why? Because our culture, with the exception of those brave enough to disagree with Big Brother, has given up on the very first principle of inalienable rights given by God to all people—foremost among them the right to free speech.

Disagree? Let’s talk about it.

ADDENDUM: If your reaction to reading this piece is fury and anger and a desire to shout me down or shut me up, then I would challenge to look at your worldview and ask yourself why you feel so convicted and unwilling to engage me as a fellow citizen. Where did the idea that some topics are taboo come from? Did they use the words “power” or “oppression” or “hate speech”? Did you reason to those conclusions yourself or did someone teach them to you? Do you have friends who will disown you if you hold a certain opinion? If the answer to any of these questions are “yes” I would challenge you to search yourself and ask yourself why you think the way you do about any given topic. And come to your own conclusions. You are a sovereign individual who has ever right to free thought and speech as a citizen of this country. To settle for anything less is despotism and will only lead to conflict. Ben Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This is the Great Conflict of Culture for our age. Where will you stand? As a free thinker, a sovereign individual with all the rights and responsibilities thereof, or an indoctrinated puppet who thinks and acts at the whims and pleasures of “greater men”? The choice is yours. I encourage you to choose freedom, dear reader. It’s not safe, but it is worth it.