When the right becomes the left
A belief that has gained a lot of popularity is that we’re embroiled in a literal Civil War, and in order to succeed we must fight fire with fire. In this Civil War, dissenting from the sole effort of eradicating your political opponents is basically treason — or as many put it, “punching to the right.” To “punch to the right,” has now come to mean defending free speech, apparently. But the reality is that politics is fought for and won by the middle; the majority of Americans who aren’t ideologically inclined one way or the other. These Americans support the free exchange of ideas and hate when others shout down those with whom they disagree, resorting to disruption instead of discussion. And yet, some see this as rolling over or ceding precious ideological ground.
This came to a head when some flustered reporters stormed the stage of the latest rendition of a modern reenactment of Julius Caesar. Only, in this rendition, Julius Caesar looked more like President Trump. That was the offense which prompted this inflamed response. For these reporters and their supporters, this is tantamount to inciting violence. One could even say it constitutes ‘hate speech.’ In this episode of 1791L, we will examine if words are literally violence.
A common defense of the play is that Trump isn’t the only President to have been portrayed as Caesar in this production. Obama, in 2012, was too, but there are some big differences that make this argument disingenuous. Namely, that the Obama-Caesar connection was deliberately vague. Additionally, Obama was depicted with much less mockery and derision, and was not killed in such an unusually brutal fashion.
Many defend the play’s disruptors by citing these legitimate criticisms, but they forget that the purpose of free speech, as an inalienable right, isn’t to protect speech that’s right or ‘moral’. In fact, precisely the opposite is true: if it were speech that enjoyed overwhelming support, it would have no need for protection. And while we believe this play is incredibly disgusting and misguided, that does not give anyone license to censor or impede it.
The principle of free speech seems to have become secondary for those solely animated by the almighty prospect of “winning.” But “winning”, if not towards any sort of higher value, is little more than a dog chasing its own tail. All that distinguishes each side of the political debate are its competing values.
It’s pretty ironic for these play disruptors to claim that free speech advocates are virtue-signaling their moral superiority, even while they are literally standing on a stage and asserting theirs, which amounts to virtue signaling of the most vocal caliber. Another criticism levied by these forces is that to stand by our inalienable rights is an act of “cowardice.” But the exact opposite is true. The temptation to abandon the equal application of our rights in the face of political expedience has always been there. The challenge is holding firm to them even when they fall out of favor. That’s what has distinguished America from the rest of the world. It’s precisely that which made America great.
And even if you manage to destroy Team Blue by disrupting their events, in the process, you will have also destroyed the only framework that keeps the escalation of political violence at bay — dialogue.
Now, again, that’s not to say this play constitutes ‘dialogue’ — by every indication it’s in very poor taste — but it’s not violence either. Simply depicting fictional acts of violence doesn’t constitute actual violence. If this were the case, violent video games depicting real world violence should also be censored — as is the case in countries like Australia that notoriously have given a few government officials authority to shut down what they believe is “too realistically violent” for fear that it may result in actual violence.
And it’s important to note that the suppression of speech does not always come from the government. Some have argued that their obstruction isn’t suppression of free speech — that they’re merely exercising their own! What this ignores is that my rights end where yours begin. No one gets to come into a public forum or a private venue you’ve acquired and impede you from saying whatever you want just like no one can stuff you in a basement and impede your freedom to move unmolested. “But oh, I only -disrupted- your movement by chaining you in my basement for a few minutes!”
No, that’s a dumb argument on both counts.
Even claiming that curtailing free speech can defeat Democrats does not hold up to scrutiny. There is no evidence to even remotely suggest that this strategy of tribalism & partisanship is a successful one. After all, Republicans control the majority of state legislatures, governorships, both houses of Congress, and the White House. The reality is that the intimidation and disruptive tactics of social justice warriors, feminists, and Black Lives Matter activists has driven away voters in droves. The rapid success of anti-SJW YouTube channels and figures demonstrates this much. And while most of this has to do with the folly of their identitarian politics, the disruptive, unreasonable tactics they use are a big reason they are disdained.
It’s absolutely clear that adopting the same failed tactics of the radical left will lead to political suicide. When Trump supporters are beraten, shouted down, called Nazis, reasonable Americans rightly feel that the regressive elements on the left are irrational, hysterical, and unable to withstand scrutiny when engaging in open, honest discourse. Republicans will lose sympathy from reasonable people when they see them engage in the same ridiculous behavior as the radical left.
Now, that’s not to equate disrupting a play with the pepper-spraying, car-burning tendencies of Antifa-types, but the principle is the same. They can both be unlawful in their own rite. Silencing your opponents, to whatever degree of severity, is not particularly liked by your average joe.
In fact, the strongest appeal to Donald Trump there was, during both the primaries and the general election, was his defiant rejection of the restrictions on “hateful” speech. It’s arguable that, among other things, it was this backlash to the disruption and suppression of free speech that propelled him to the presidency.
The notion that unpopular ideas can be directly responsible for violence and thus their physical disruption is a proportionate reaction has long lied at the heart of Antifa and their allies’ actions. This notion has been used as a justification for violence on college campuses against conservative or even reasonable liberal speakers by the radical left for years.
The idea that because bad speech might influence a microcosmically small, mentally-ill segment of the population is not a reason to wrap the country up in a virtual safe space. In fact, that’s a particularly dangerous idea. It’s similar reasoning that is used by opponents to gun ownership, who shift the burden of culpability for actual violence to inanimate things. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”
If we ignore the foundational values that bind our country together, we face the risk of hitting the actual Civil War some believe we’re already embroiled in.
And if you don’t want to be embroiled in a civil war, consider pledging $1 over at our patreon at patreon.com/1791L