The Death of Dialogue
Speaking Past and Around Each Other
While the Left is now the ideological bearer of the “War on Free Speech”, the Right has for decades been in a war against Dialogue itself. Although I think the characterization of the former is almost entirely incorrect, which I’ll explain first, the latter is undeniable, and, I’ll argue, far worse.
In the US, because so many people really don’t understand, the First Amendment protecting speech is a pact between the government and citizens, not a binding agreement between citizens. Still, the government has certain kinds of speech it won’t protect: shouting fire in a crowded building, certain kinds of fighting words, libel and slander. So to claim that you can say whatever you want, wherever you want, and you should face no repercussions ever is a deep misunderstanding of the law and the intention of the law. Which brings me to the next point.
The Dialogue (not to be confused with Molyneaux’s bullshit The Argument) is the spirit of Free Speech, the actual exchange of ideas, and, in a political way, also the process of compromise. With so many definitions of politics out there, I’d like the reader to keep in mind this one, which should be additive to any others you already hold dear: politics is the process of peaceful concessions, or deciding what you can live without so you can live in peace.
Under this definition, it’s easy to see that Republicans lately haven’t been politicians at all, using their power to obstruct and stall instead of compromise and build. I won’t claim Democrats are perfect, but they have at least been willing to entertain Republican ideas and concede even in positions of power where no concession was necessary. I think this puts Dems on higher moral ground, even if both parties have serious problems. Note I am affiliated No Party Preference for the concerned reader.
The Right’s “War on Dialogue” can be seen from Right-wing talk radio through Fox News to Breitbart and Alex Jones. The “Fair and Balanced” Fox brings on guests only to shut them down for the pleasure-high of their viewers. Provocatuer and psuedointellectual Milo Yiannopolous puts on comedy shows he labels as political lectures, which instead of providing a facts-based analysis of data with reasonable conclusions drawn from that data and its context too often simply bullies students, focuses on straw men arguments, and twists data to support his preferred conclusions. Don’t believe me? You probably won’t, so please don’t leave a comment arguing I’m a dumbshit liberal snowflake unless you’re going to take my advice at the end.
The Left’s “War on Free Speech”, from my view, is really more about adding overhead to the Dialogue. Things like getting someone’s pronouns right aren’t an assault on what you’re allowed to say, but a plea to respect the individuality of the person you’re engaging with by taking an extra few seconds to be curious about them. Most of the “restriction of free speech” by the Left, which by definition it actually isn’t, is based on empathy and an intricate understanding of the multidimensionality of every person. The demand is to respect others, and to respect others we must recognize and work through, not around, our differences. Aside from a few specific instances of Lefties at a University trying to restrict speech through policy, in practice I’ve never felt I needed to sensor myself around others on the Left. The worst that happens is I have to re-evaluate how I want to say something, which I see as a support of intellectual integrity, as it aligns with Plato’s quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We should examine what we say and how we say it, or else we are allowing ourselves to live in a sub-sapient way.
I had a conversation with a friend, I wouldn’t even call it a debate despite the fact we took opposite views, about Milo and the Berkeley protest. My position was that, had this been Milo’s first ever college talk, the protesters would be wrong to shut him down. But this wasn’t his first talk, and having seen his track record of sub-par debating skills and fanciful narrative dozens of times, the protesters were well within their right to deny giving him yet another platform to play the same game. This wasn’t a matter of free speech to me, but one of platform: Milo has proven time and again that he has little to provide intellectually, and we shouldn’t give him endless resources just because he whines and complains (as much or more than any college snowflake) when things don’t go his way.
My friend took the opposite position, not because he’s any fan of Milo, but because he saw the protest as an attack on The Dialogue. He argued that by shutting down the event, the protesters were attacking the very idea of engaging with others. I’ve been thinking about his position deeply, because I respect our friendship and his intellectualism deeply. But the more I thought, the more I wanted to trace back who started the “War on Dialogue”, and spoilers, I already shared that I think the Right started it.
The Right started it over a hundred years ago when they, as Confederates, betrayed the United States. In that instant, the Right of the time declared that they would no longer hold their Northern counterparts in any esteem, deciding that their State’s Rights to Own Slaves was a superior ideology to Dialogue. The “War on Dialogue” continued thereafter to varying degrees, from pushes against expanding the Dialogue to women via the vote, to being anti-union (not wanting workers to engage in Dialogue with owners/employers), to today, where the Right denied President Obama the Dialogue. In fact, we can even go back farther, and see that there were always players in power in the United States who attacked The Dialogue. The Founding Fathers and members of the Constitutional Conventions were all land-owning whites, and I’ll laugh you off of this website if you think for one second they really respected non-land-owning anyone; if you need any evidence, consider that you generally had to own land to vote way back then.
Who started marching with weapons first, the Tea Party or Antifa? Hint: Tea Party. It’s a bit hard to engage in a dialogue with someone holding a murder machine ready to fill graves. Black Panthers didn’t just decide one day that they’d march around with rifles, it was a response to continued and unchecked police brutality.
To bring it back to Milo, then, he’s really just a further instantiation on the “War on Dialogue”. His talks feature boilerplate misinterpretation of data and straw-manning, and his A’s in the Q&A section are more often put downs of the asker than actual answers. Go watch one if you don’t believe me. This is part of the reason I call his college tour a comedy show, his answers are for the entertainment of his circle-jerkers, not to engage in a dialogue for a more complete understanding. Just as the South still often views the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”, from the perspective of the Right, the protesters who shut down Milo looked like aggressors only because they decided to make an example of Fort Sumter. The Right, both now and during the Civil War, conveniently forgets who withdrew from the conversation, and who really fired the first shot.
So my advice to anyone on the Right who wants to comment and call me a dumbass snowflake: instead of using ad hominem, identify something in my piece you don’t understand and ask me about it, and present the way you understand it. What pieces of knowledge bring you to that understanding? I want to engage in good dialogues, and I know many others do, too, but online mediums do not offer any wisdom on how to get that done. They leave it up to us, and too often we fail. I’m done failing, so all I’m asking is that you extend an olive branch instead of an AR-15, and once we understand each other, we can use our sapience to determine a greater truth than either of us currently believe.