Boycotts and Undermining Free Speech

There has been a recent splurge of boycotts and counter-boycotts centering around the anti-firearms advocate David Hogg and his critics. After Laura Ingraham made a deprecating joke about Mr. Hogg’s getting rejected from four high ranking universities, David Hogg called for a boycott of her sponsors.

The challenge I see with this boycotting disagreeable free speech is that it forces us to explore the old issue of legal liberty versus social liberty. If you watch the video of Bill Maher in this article, you will see multiple people give similar iterations of the argument that free speech does not mean a guarantee to advertisers paying you to say your free speech.

John Stuart Mill argued that the true challenge against individual liberty was not the law but society and its authority over the individual

Max Boot of the Washington Post said, “”She can talk all she wants. That doesn’t mean that all these big companies have to underwrite her speech to millions of people.” To which Maher responded, “It is a very chilling atmosphere because it could happen to any of you”

A philosopher from the 1800s, John Stuart Mill, argued in the book On Liberty that the true challenge against individual liberty was not the law but society and its authority over the individual. We are seeing this today as people try to influence and modify the opinions of all Americans without engaging in meaningful dialogue or debate. By trying to bend and play at the rules of our system, these debatable tactics are undermining the playingfield.

This is reflected when Bill Maher said, “Effectively, it(boycotts) is the modern way of cutting off free speech”. Bill Maher is touching on the fact that this boycotting strategy is a recent development and it is aimed at preventing people with contentious ideas from speaking to the public. I would add that these boycotts are often times a PR attack rather than a withdrawal of service as it is debatable about how many of these boycotters and tweeters are actually doing business with these companies on a day to day basis.

By BDS movement (BDS movement) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What strikes me as odd is that these people are all, to the best of my knowledge, in support of other social justice issues like respecting LGBTQ+ groups, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the equal opportunity laws. These laws go above and beyond the civil liberties espoused in the Constitution and the Amendments. They assert positive obligations on people over and above the rights protected by our core legal system.

These laws run against the spirit of the argument that free speech does not guarantee the right to receive funding without social opposition because the spirit of the Civil Rights Act and similar acts is to guarantee a civil liberty that is being frustrated by voluntary association because they leverage social opinions towards forcing others to obey or suffer.

I do not believe that these people are intentionally trying to create a double standard. I think that the issue is that our nation, the United States of America, was based on negative rights of what others and the government could not do and not on positive rights except when voluntarily agreed to.

The United States people are not in the right frame of mind to begin reviewing and changing how our system works. There is too little respect for differing opinions. Yet, we are rarely ever ready for what needs to happen and it falls on individuals to lead the way.