I don’t usually (never, so far as I can remember) do a “Blast from the Past” with a post so recent but the issue with Alex Jones and Infowars merits attention.
For aliens who have just arrived from the Ferenda Galaxy, let me sum up. A number of platforms, within a very short span of time between them all permanently banned Jones and Infowars from using their services.
People point out that it’s not a First Amendment issue, since they’re not the government but private services and can choose who they do business with (so long as they aren’t refusing to do a custom baked and decorated cake, I guess–don’t worry about it, Alien just arrived from the Ferenda Galaxy, just an exercise in hypocrisy of those making the current arguments). However, it remains a very disturbing trend.
Don’t get me wrong. Jones is a fruitcake his “commentary” laughable. But that’s the proper approach to dealing with it: laughter. Yet what I’m seeing is claims like one from Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) saying that banning sites like Infowars is necessary to the “Survival of our Democracy”.
“Sites like.” They aren’t going to stop with Infowars. No, there’s always someone who’s the “most extreme” example of whatever they want to silence. And there’s always another target. They’ve been setting precedents for some time and continue to use those precedents to quell any further disagreement with the Party line. So, yeah, Jones it a fruitcake but, as H. L. Mencken said:
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws [to which I would add: corporate policies] are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
Mr. Murphy, 1984 was a cautionary tale, not a how-to. And Newspeak, where you rewrite the language to mean something completely different, was a bad thing.
And so, this past May I wrote the following in response to a much smaller precursor of the current case:
A couple days ago I wrote about the Origins Game Fair screeching. This is part of a larger scheme where people, almost entirely from one end of the political spectrum (or one corner if you are into two-dimensional descriptors) of attempting to silence any dissent.
You know, it’s pretty sad when fictional characters make more sense than people who at least pretend to be real human beings. Consider, for instance, on the case of some pretty extreme examples, what Captain America had to say about actual, self-identified neo-Nazis (and not the “Everyone I don’t like is a Nazi” that’s become so popular these days) and their Jewish extremist opponents in a long-ago issue of Captain America:
“All my life I’ve had a habit of making speeches. Some people have criticized me for it. They may be right. Because I cannot express with words the horror I feel at seeing what you’ve done here today.
Don’t you realize that in your attack, you’ve attacked your own freedom as well?
The Freedom that guarantees all ideas–both noble and ignoble–the expression that is imperative if our society is to survive!
[Ed: speaking to Jewish protestor] You! Can’t you see that in stooping to your enemy’s level–you’re being made over in his image–that you’re becoming the very thing you loathe?
[Ed: Speaking to Neo-nazi] And You! In your fear and ignorance you deny reality! Rewrite history! I wish I could take you back with me to the day we liberated Diebenwald [Ed: Presume this is the name given to one of the death camps in the Marvel Universe]–let you smell the stomach-churning stench of death–let you see the mountain of corpses left behind by the corrupt madman and murderer you idolize!
You two aren’t interested in the truth—are you?
You’re only interested in your own self-consuming hate.
Two of a kind.
Freedom of speech means that, yes, even people who are saying vile things have a right to speak. You don’t have to listen to them, but you do not have the right to silence them, to prevent them from assembling (so long as it’s peaceable), from renting halls or air time, or even for speaking at your campus so long as there are people at your campus who want to hear them and they fill all the rules (which should not include limitations on content) any other speaker has to fulfill.
No, speech that you disagree with is not violence.
Let me cite another fictional character, Mike Harmon from the novel Ghost (Oh! John Ringo, No!) to kind of illustrate the idea:
“You’re not with the police?” the girl said, totally confused.
“Oh, come on,” Mike scoffed. “I know you’re an airhead, but use at least one brain cell. Do the police commonly shoot people through the leg to get information?”
“Well, they beat people up,” Ashley said, with relentlessly liberal logic.
“Did those guys beat you?” Mike asked, gesturing at the dead terrorists.
“Yes,” Ashley said, sobbing gently.
“Would you like me to shoot you through the knee so you can tell the difference?” Mike asked, puzzling over the load list.
If you think speech is violence there are only two possibilities: you’re a complete moron (and that’s an insult to complete morons) who has never experience violence and lacks even the rudimentary ability to imagine what it’s like, or you are lying.
I know which way I bet.
Speech is not violence. It might incite violence, and when the incitement is immediate and direct, then that might be a cause to intervene, but just saying things you despise is not. Examples:
- “I hate brown haired people and wish they’d all die.” Allowed to say. You’d be an idiot and I’m allowed to mock you and say that you’re an idiot that should eat a bag of dicks and choke.
- (Pointing, with an angry mob listening to you) “Seize that (brown haired) guy over there and beat him to death with sticks.” No, that justifies some intervention.
In most cases, the proper thing to do when somebody says things that you consider utterly outrageous, even vile, is given by another fictional character (oh, there was a historical person of that name, but this is a fictional adaptation). Rameses from The Ten Commandments (and while Charlton Heston may have been the “star”, Yul Brynner owned that movie):
Let him speak that men may know him mad.
Because if they are really that outrageous, then the more they speak, the more they’ll be ridiculous. And the more people will turn away from them because they are so ridiculous. You don’t have to silence them. They are their own worst enemies.
However, when you go out of your way to silence them, once again what’s happening can be summed up by another fictional character, Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones:
When you tear out a man’s tongue, you do not prove him a liar. You only show the world that you fear what he might say.
So, if you’re so afraid that what they say is so much more persuasive than what you say, you need to take a long hard look not at them but at yourself. Why do you lack confidence in your ability to defeat their words with words of your own?
Maybe the weakness is in you.