To what end are we responsible for the free speech of others?
The idea came up because of the whole thing with Milo Yiannopoulos losing his book deal. I was talking to my boss about this, although I think it was prior to me hearing this news, so I still thought the deal was on. We work at a very liberal-leaning book store so management thought it wouldn’t be wise to stock the book on the basis that it would probably bug some customers and, most importantly, it wouldn’t sell. We would have no problem ordering the book for people, but it just didn’t seem like the kind of thing that would do well just lying around.
My boss was lightly condemning Simon and Schuster’s decision to publish Yiannopoulos’ book. The publisher claimed to have done it for free speech’s sake, my boss gave a eye-roll and said they most likely did for the controversy, which is inextricable with book sales. I agreed, but it got me thinking about external bodies’ responsibility with 1st Amendment Rights.
I’ll establish this: that it is everyone’s responsibility to secure and promote the right of Free Speech to their fellow countrymen (and anyone for that matter). When someone wants to speak their mind, they should be allowed to do so. But the question I’m wrestling with is to what extent should we do so? Like, sure, allow Yiannopoulos to write the book, but to what end should Simon and Schuster publish and promote it? So, first off, it’s their right to do what they want with their business. They can say no for the sake of doing so. But what would I have done in that situation?
So, first off, I am a bit Darwinian when it comes to ideas. I think if an idea is bad enough or doesn’t fit in society’s current framework, then it will be inevitable ousted. Or, at least, that’s how I’d like to believe it works. That we can publish Milo’s book and widely distribute it and because they are objectively abhorrent ideas, society as a whole can dismiss them.But on the other hand, there’s something about Milo, as a type, that interests me. Watching him on Bill Mahr answered a lot of questions I had about him, and Sam Harris touches on some of these. One of them being that Milo himself doesn’t seem to fully agree with his own ideas. He really comes off as a provocateur and nothing more. He likes the debate, the banter, and, of course, the attention. I really believe Milo does what he does simply so we can have someone doing it. That shitty ideas should have some focus so we can morally align ourselves as a society.
Sure, okay. But to what end should we bolster these ideas, especially in a society as susceptible as ours? I mean it’s one thing to put these ideas out there and they get universal disapproval, but I don’t think that’s how it works any more. People are getting their news and information in all these strange and sometimes peripheral ways that, most often, we’re not even arguing about the same thing. To argue about the value of racism seems simple, cut and dry. But that’s not what people are arguing, and yet they sort of are. Take the Muslim ban or Trump’s Wall. While many liberals are decrying discrimination and some cases of racism, conservatives argue that those aren’t the reasons. One side argues against racism, the other agrees, and yet there’s still an argument.
The marketplace has fallen off its axis, I think. The things we’re talking about aren’t fully the things we’re talking about and that’s where people like Milo Yiannopoulos and Tomi Lauren can thrive. By blocking their rhetoric with liberal-trigger words, they can say what they want without fully meaning it or being misunderstood by the other side. While the Lefts argue for things the Right agree with, the Right is getting sub-info that inadvertently leads to racist or discriminatory or climate-fucking policy. Mainly because the triggered liberal, or the caricature of one, is an ugly sight. And that is enough evidence for some Conservatives to not listen. So what you get is perfect alchemy for miscommunication. Two sides unwilling to listen to each other. The Lefts won’t listen because of the hateful rhetoric. And the Right won’t talk because Liberals won’t seem to handle it.
It’s appealing to say that both sides are misguided, and I agree for the most part. But ultimately, in the case I’ve established, it’s the Conservative that is still unwilling to listen. What they’ve done in this case is think and discuss in the 2nd Dimension, opposed to the 3rd which the liberal has achieved and can only achieve.
2nd Dimension discourse is any confined to the space or the act of the discussion itself. Say you and Barack Obama are having a discussion about music. Assuming you’ve never met him, it’s reasonable to imagine that it would be a tough thing to pull off without thinking about/being excited about the prospect of shooting the shit with a U.S. President. While he went on about whatever it is interests him musically, it’s likely that you would think “holy shit fuck dick shit I’m talking to BARACK OBAMA!” which would make conversation difficult. While one party tries to discuss what is actually being discussed, you are thinking about not the topic, but THEM. Perhaps you want to impress them, so you try to sound or even gesticulate a certain way. In this context, what you’re into is the person you’re talking with, not the full pursuit of the discussion. This is discourse in the 2nd Dimension. 3rd Dimension discourse has a goal, a plot, a horizon. You converse in the pursuit of truth and understanding with respect to the topic, not the person.
All conversations hold elements of both, of course. It’s impossible, or at least incredibly hard, to debate without considering the other person in some facet. Humans are naturally biased like that. But Conservatives, I’ve noticed, are more focused on the Liberal as a person rather than the topic as a means for finding a solution. They believe Liberals to be misguided snowflakes that need sound logic to debunk their regulation-pressed agenda, masked as trite/overly-intellectualized garble. In this case, the Conservative isn’t trying to learn anything, they’re trying to reveal the Liberal for what they are: a moral fraud or worse, a child.
The Liberal, alternatively, feels altruistic. In so, they make the folly of wanting to convince the Conservative. What they don’t appreciate is that the Conservative already is, in fact, convinced. They just don’t care. They believe that the Liberal, in their zeal for symbolic/moral/intellectual arguments, are misguided in their understanding of the practical and immediate issues, that they simply do not live in the real world. They point our contradiction, no matter how offensive or severe, in order to pop the liberal ‘bubble’ and out them into a real moral dilemma. I think, to Conservatives, Liberals are fairly useless.
And they’re right to an extent about us not living in the real world. Moral hypotheticals, while intrinsically useful, don’t fully lead to solutions for the desolate many living in America. Part of living in privilege is being afforded the time and comfort to think past one’s own body. Just as the invention of agriculture allowed for the subsequent creation of the arts, and just as the invention of the printing press allowed for the creation of modern philosophy, comfort and time are always precursors to progress. Liberals get wrapped up in the moral and symbolic because, I think, they can afford to.
And maybe that’s the crux of this debate. Which is correct: the symbolic or the immediate?
Going back to considering the Free Speech of others, I can only go as far as to think that everyone should have a platform, but that platform should be an earned position. To have a functioning democracy, ideas need to be allowed not a place in the conversation, but in a running for that place. With the internet and whatnot, everything has at least a chance at making it to the table. And humanity has already tried autocracy, fascism, racism. These ideas are outright refused by many for historically and empirically good reasons. If we morally deny Milo the chance to publish, it’s on quantitative grounds. But if his argument is that we need to weed through the hate to get to some level of enlightenment, then maybe it’s on him to clean up his rhetoric.
There’s plentiful evidence to suggest that racism is a poor philosophy. Even if someone were to come to me with quantitative proof that racist policy would lead to the most good, I’d have to argue that, in the long run, that’s seldom the case. The point of a constitution is to implement laws and statutes that predictably navigate man’s inevitable bias. If a law were passed to make blacks subservient to whites again, but all the whites unanimously agreed to not take advantage of such a system, it would be easy to see how the tides could eventually turn.
I’d like to end on an interview I heard on On The Media, shortly after the election, between Bob Garfield and Jared Taylor, a white supremacist and founder of American Renaissance. On it, Taylor argued that it is every man’s right to choose where they would like to live and who they would like to live around. If a white person only wants to live around other white people, then it is in their full right to do so. What bugged me about this opinion was how many of my liberal friends I could see agreeing if you simply stripped down the racial overtones. That every person has a right to live in whatever community they wish, which ultimately can be broken down to: every person can do what they wish so long as it doesn’t negatively effect others. This is an idea I’ve always been irked by.
Going back to Taylor’s opinion, I’d say no. It is not within their right to do so, because no one fully understands that desire and, simultaneously, how that desire to do so impacts others in horribly negative ways and the evidence of this is all around and fuck it if I don’t cite anything.
What does it mean to fully know what you want? To what extent can personal bias be made accountable for your desires, and to what extent would those desires poorly impact others? It seems strange to say that people should not be allowed to do whatever they want, simply because what they want is the product of a long history of selfish, type-A, group-think. Plainly: people have no clue what they want. We can make safe assumptions on some things (i.e. food, water, safety, education), but to say it’s okay for people to choose who they live around is a recipe for terrible behavior, especially when one considers what effect societal pressures have on certain races and locations. To say you only want to live around people who look like you is to ignore both the humanity of others and the systemic pressures that made them perceptively ignoble in the first place.
I struggle to find any other way of considering this.