“When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.” Most people know this quote from the Dune books, where it is retroactively attributed to Louis Veuillot. The attribution may or may not be true but the saying itself is a truth that has an echo in history all the way back to the dawn of man.
For the past twenty years or so, I’ve had a saying of my own: “If we treated the First Amendment like we treated the Second Amendment, it would only apply to Revolutionary-era printing presses and actual wooden soapboxes.” After all, the only firearms in this country that enjoy authentic Second Amendment protection are blackpowder muzzle-loaders. Your right to order a blackpowder muzzle-loader and keep it loaded by your bed is basically the only undamaged firearms right left. It even applies to felons, although felons may not have the cap primer that makes modern blackpowder rifles vaguely reliable. Every other kind of gun is subject to a Byazntine admixture of state, federal, and local laws.
Our Supreme Court has continually interpreted the Constitution as a “living” document. Which means that they’ve been free to whittle down the Second Amendment as they like, while expanding the First Amendment to cover everything from the airwaves to the Internet to public defecation “art” to the infamous Citizens United decision. The word “militia”, which originally referred to the “militia” that overthrew King George, has been redefined as the National Guard. Meanwhile, “speech” has been expanded to mean every form of communication imaginable plus money plus behavior. That expansion is the lever by which socially liberal people and organizations have reshaped America in their desired image. Without the freedom to carpet-bomb Americans with everything from freaky old titties at the Super Bowl to a coalition of media that lampoons and undermines traditional family life, we’d probably still be living in the early Sixties.
Whether this is a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion, or perhaps a matter of degree. I like having the freedom to read D.H. Lawrence but I’m not sure I would want my eight-year-old daughter, if I had one, to be exposed to a bunch of swinging dicks in bathrooms just because such a “freedom” is the current cause celebre in California. Regardless of the merits of America’s social transformation, however, you cannot argue that it could have been done without hugely liberal (in the classic sense) interpretations of the First Amendment. But remember that maybe-Herbert quote above, because it applies starting now.
Fifty years, the ideas of gay marriage, biological men in women’s bathrooms, full-frontal nudity on your TV screen, deliberate public mockery of Jesus Christ, and (insert your own progressive accomplishment here) were absolutely and entirely antithetical to American culture and society. The change was done through media, the same way smoking was curtailed by laws that controlled what media could be purchased and/or controlled by tobacco companies. And it was done because the courts in this country (nearly) unfailingly permitted the public discussion of unpopular ideas. In other words, the First Amendment protects your right to promote the gay lifestyle, or the Black Panther lifestyle, or the Nazi lifestyle, or the mini-trucking lifestyle through whatever media you can access, regardless of how offensive it is to regular people. The concept of “obscenity” was all but destroyed. We tend to think of “obscenity” as being sexual, but to a working man of 1955 it would have equally applied to Piss Christ or the song “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction.
Again and again, the courts have said that if you’re offended by something, that’s your problem. They have told us that America depends on that principle. That principle has been loudly and widely espoused by every liberal or progressive politician of note over the last century.
Prepare for that all to end.
Today’s Slate has what amounts to sedition on its front page: You’ll Never Guess This One Crazy Thing Governs Online Speech. I’ll excerpt the most offensive portions below.
But private individuals or corporations, like Twitter, are not covered by the First Amendment and can curate or even censor speech without violating the law. In fact, some have argued that a platform’s right to keep up and take down what’s posted there is its own free speech right. Others have pointed out that not policing for abuse has a chilling effect on speech… One of the main forces governing speech online is the same thing that governs (speech) is societal norms. Norms are customary standards for behavior that are shared in a community.
I bolded that because the whole idea of modern progressive politics and belief is to deliberately and thoroughly shit on the “norms” of traditional Americans and to ridicule those “norms” until they are replaced with “norms” devised by progressive leaders. (This is not necessarily a right-wing value judgment. Slavery was once a “norm”, mind you, and it was morally wrong. It’s just a statement of fact.)
The task of creating policy for governing online speech falls not to governments, but to platforms. Individual platforms that host user’s content—like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or YouTube—are each responsible for creating policies that reflect the online speech norms of the community the platform wants to create
No, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. If that were the case, then the task of creating policy for governing what a baker writes on a cake would fall to the baker doing the baking, and that is not the case in $THE_CURRENT_YEAR.
The underlying principle that Facebook has managed to grasp and put into motion is that digital speech is about much, much more than Twitter’s black and white notion of “free speech.” Online speech is not about simple speech absolutes. It’s about developing a global system of governance that can empower the most, while harming the least.
No, is it not. Free speech and “social justice” aren’t just unrelated; they are mortal enemies, the same way that free speech and “national socialism” were mortal enemies.
The sooner we start thinking of online speech not only in terms of “free speech” but in terms of responsible and responsive platform governance, the sooner we create the internet we want.
Note, dear reader, the absolute cast-iron certainty she has in the royal “we” here. I’m pretty sure that “we” doesn’t mean “this idiot who writes for Slate, and Jack Baruth”, because my idea of “free speech” is, you know, free speech. And I don’t think the “Internet we want” can refer to a single Internet, either. The Internet that I want is basically one website that shows pictures of Dodge Vipers at a six-degree slip angle through the Climbing Esses at VIR and a movie of Kate Winslet getting railed by somebody who looks as much like me as possible, with autoplay audio of the second solo in “Welcome To The Jungle.” I’m willing to bet real money that such a thing is not the Internet that she wants. But notice how effortlessly she assumes that all right-thinking people must feel exactly the same way about the Internet.
That, my friends, is insane fanaticism. It is the fanaticism of the pogrom, the gas chamber, the purge, the jihad. It is the most serene assurance that she is correct about what’s best for everyone and that she is simply effortlessly engaging in doubleplusgoodthink. “A true Party member could automatically, and without thought, expunge any incorrect information and totally replace it with true information from the Party. If properly done, there is no memory or recovery of the Incorrect information that could cause unhappiness to the Party member by committing thoughtcrime.”
If you want to have something to keep you up at night, consider that this woman will probably eventually be in a position of power or a position in which she can advise a powerful person. This is her bio: “Kate Klonick is a lawyer and writer. She is currently a resident fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project.” She’s already been given the freedom to address what is admittedly dwindling but still massive number of readers with this claptrap. No senior person stepped in to stop her. If anything, she was encouraged in this anti-American sedition.
I suspect that many of my fellow corporate drones will have already had their hackles raised by the use of the word “norms”. In the “Agile” and “scrum” communities that are increasingly dominating corporate culture below the C-suites, “team norms” are used to enforce a uniformity of corporate-acceptable behavior. For instance, it can be a “team norm” that you attend an 8:30 meeting. It’s not a actual written requirement of your job, which means that you can’t have it examined by a court. It’s just a “norm”. But if you don’t conform to the norm, so to speak, a reason will be found to move you into another, lesser position.
“Norms” are the methods by which groupthinkers enforce conformity. We to live in a country where the “norm” was that you grew up and married someone of the opposite sex who was the same approximate skin tone as you were, then you had children. This “norm” was enforced by laws that were all eventually overthrown because they interfered with human freedom. Today, nobody in this country doubts your right to walk down Main Street USA holding the hands of your same-sex, interracial, poly-triad, hippo-kin, trans-identifying partner. Even if your behavior offends every single member of that actual community, you have the right to do that.
Slate would have us believe that an “online community” should be protected more strongly from upsetting speech than an actual, physical community should be. Note that nobody was making this argument in 1995 when Mrs. Clinton was demonizing black “super-predators” and there was still significant majority support for censoring rap records. At that time, the progressive viewpoint was not yet the majority, so progressives demanded free speech. Now that they have the upper hand, they are going to censor speech. Sound familiar?
Also note that this ridiculous business of “communities” being able to enforce “norms” doesn’t apply to science fiction, computer-nerd stuff, or any other “community” where white men are the majority. Hell, the whole GamerGate thing was largely about nerdy gamers wanting to enforce the “norms” of their community and the media crucifying them for wanting that to be so.
No, I’m afraid this enforcement of “norms” will be diode-style. If you, the community of Cheetos-stained gamers, want to see nude women gyrating on your PlayStations, you’re going to be sorely disappointed because your community is going to be face-fucked into the Brave New World of gender identity and neo-Puritanism. If, on the other hand, you’re in a community of right-thinking people all expressing identical sentiments, anybody who dares to harsh your buzz is going to be doxxed into homelessness.
The sad part is that I agree with this woman about the idea that communities should be able to enforce norms, online or otherwise. You don’t have the inherent right to troll a web forum. Take this site, for example. I don’t censor my commenters in any meaningful forms — I permitted Paul Niedermeyer’s explosion of demented rancor against me to live into eternity — but if you start posting 500 comments an hour promoting the Nissan Rogue as the ultimate driving machine, I’m gonna blackhole you. Similarly, if I want to sodomize a man wearing a fursuit underneath the sole stoplight of downtown Powell, I support the right of the cops to Taser me and beat me into a bloody pulp so children don’t have to see that shit.
Only an insane person, however, could characterize Facebook, Twitter, or even LinkedIn (FUCK THEM) as “communities”. To the contrary. They are common carriers, as essential to human interaction in 2016 as a telephone was in 1965. Maybe more so. Facebook has no fuckin’ right to enforce “community standards” because we sure as shit didn’t give Ma Bell the right to enforce “community standards” in 1975. Facebook and Twitter are the modern soapboxes. Anybody has the right in this country to stand on a soapbox, which means that anybody should have the right to post what they want on Facebook. You don’t have to read it, the same way you don’t have to listen to the man on the soapbox. But you can’t censor those incidents of speech without irreparably damaging this democracy.
The minute we decide that some forms of speech are protected and some are not, we’re all the way to Animal Farm. And we’ve reduced the mighty First Amendment to the same humbled misery enjoyed by the Second. (But not quite as miserable as that the thoroughly violated Tenth.) If you are a conservative, you should resist this with methods short of bloodshed. But if you’re a liberal/progressive, you should also resist it. Because what will you do, my progressive friend, when the Leaders determine that you’re the loser of Privilege Bingo? When you’re the parent of one of the 1,400 children raped at Rotherham? What will you do when the groupthink makes you the victim? And we’ll end with yet another dubiously-sourced quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.