Why and wherefrom the trigger warnings, and whose innocence or interest are they meant to comfort, defend, and preserve? Who is afraid of whom or of what, and why do the trumpetings of doom keep rising in frequency and pitch? — Lewis Lapham, “Petrified Forest”
It was just coincidence that I happened to finally get around to my newest issue of Lapham’s just after squabbling online with one of the Best&Brightest’s fussier members, but the contrast between the two could not be more stark. That goes for the men behind the statements as well. Lewis Lapham, as I don’t expect any of you to know, is the former editor of Harper’s and a Renaissance man whose intellect continues to shine brightly and forcefully although he is now in his ninth decade. “Arthur Dailey” is, by, a Canadian citizen who claims to be a wealthy human-resources executive and investor.
It is only reasonable that these two individuals would come at the free-speech issue from divergent, if not entirely opposing, places. “Arthur” spends his days protecting the interests of his company in a country where feelgood socialism tends to dominate the public discourse. Mr. Lapham, with his outstanding and thoroughly recommended current publication, seeks to discover truth and beauty by juxtaposing the best of classical and modern writing. He is also a staunch defender of traditional American values, if not necessarily friendly towards the Republican Party and/or the current President.
My sympathies are naturally with Lapham here. I’m an American by birth and culture. I believe in the unrestricted freedom of speech and in the latterly controversial idea that the truth is best discovered when no voice, however distasteful, is silenced. Towards that end, I believe that nothing should be held as sacred or above discussion — even if, in a bit of an ouroboros-esque twist, we are talking about free speech itself. So lets give Arthur’s ideas a workout, shall we?
The above quote by Arthur is excerpted from several reactions on his part to the use of the phrase “frat-mattress” in a TTAC piece written by brother Bark. This phrase, which appears tens of thousands of times on the Internet in pieces by men and women both inside and outside the so-called Greek system, is commonly understood to refer to a woman who will have sex with pretty much anybody as long as they are part of a particular fraternity, or part of the Greek system in general. If you attended, or are attending, a school with a significant Greek presence, chances are that you know someone like this. It’s worth noting that the phrase implies consent as inherent to the concept. A woman who is sexually assaulted at a fraternity is not a “frat mattress”. In order to get that name, you have to come back to the house every weekend of your own free will.
Let me for the record state that I don’t think much of traditional social fraternities or sororities. I had some brief acquaintance with the system in school and I never saw it do any good for anybody. There was a lot of cruelty, a lot of drunken behavior, a lot of peer pressure to do awful things to yourself and to other people, not to mention some remarkably unpleasant consequences handed out seemingly at random to people who probably did not deserve them. During my freshman year I had two friends who spent a total of five days in the ICU from acute alcohol posioning. I also knew of a few women who were pressured into making choices that they later regretted.
With all of that said, I can’t say that I’d consider “frat mattress” any more deserving of a “hate speech” label than, say, “track rat” or that beloved sobriquet of the modern age, “bro”. In fact, I’d argue that “frat mattress” is less hateful than “bro” or “tech bro” or “brogrammer”, because the former implies some specific choices made again and again while “bro” is commonly thrown at anybody who has the nerve to be white and male in public.
At some point in the argument, “Arthur” claims that
Third, freedom of speech is not an absolute. As we all have seen/learned hate speech is not protected. And in the jurisdiction that owns/publishes this site, there are strict rules regarding written/spoken harassment in the workplace. The type of pejorative phrase used, falls under that definition and under the applicable statute, anyone can then make a complaint regarding it. The editor should probably not have allowed that phrase to have been posted.
Arthur may well be right about the law in Canada, but here in the United States we don’t have to follow the rules of Justin Trudeau’s Technicolor Dreamcoat. Let me tell you what the Supreme Court just unanimously said:
A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
That opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, who is not exactly a right-winger. So while Arthur is free to play Thought Police in Canada, here in the States he’s free to go fuck himself.
Of course, things get stickier when we consider that TTAC is owned by a Canadian media corporation. Canadian laws prohibit discrimination based on… this is gonna be a long list, so hold on… “race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, creed, political opinion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.” You may not publish anything that discriminates against any of those people.
Does “frat mattress” qualify here? It seems to me that in order for it to be hate speech, as Arthur notes, somebody who feels discriminated against by the phrase would have to complain. In other words, somebody would have to step forward and say that “I, STATE_YOUR_NAME, am an Audi Q3 owner who engaged in promiscuous behavior with the members of an entire fraternity, and I am offended by being called a ‘frat mattress’ as a consequence.” And then the court would have to determine if “frat mattress” is offensive under any of the above categories.
Arthur also says,
Hanging epithets on a group of people based on their age, race, gender, religion or mental/physical abilities can fall into the realm of hate crime. Free speech is not dependent on someone’s ability to ridicule or bait others based on the above factors. The suppressors of free speech first dehumanize or hang appellations on their victims/targets. Therefore allowing hate speech is a precursor to censorship.
“Frat mattress” has nothing to do with age, race, gender, religion, or mental/physical abilities. By contrast, “brogrammer” almost always implies white man with above-average mental abilities, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that Arthur can’t hang the “hate speech” tag on “frat mattress” using any commonly-accepted definition. Which is how we get to the part that I’ve bolded above. Arthur seems to feel that allowing hate speech is a precursor to censorship. If other words, if you don’t censor people, it’s a precursor to censorship. But if you censor them, then you won’t have that precursor to censorship, because you’ll already have censorship, so you won’t need it. All roads lead to censorship! It’s censorship turtles all the way down!
Now that we’ve established that Arthur has no case in Canada (where TTAC is managed) or in the USA (where Bark writes and where the vast, vast, massive majority of TTAC readers reside) we’re free to disinter the true reason behind Arthur’s complaints. As far as I can tell, it boils down to this: Arthur doesn’t believe that women have sex with a lot of guys in a fraternity and he has some fairly odd ideas about sex and gender. At one point he writes,
Rather than descend into a ‘pissing contest’, I will state that over the decades I have come to know or become friends/associates with a number of extremely well known, powerful, accomplished men from 2 generations who have demonstrated over and over again that what you wrote regarding ‘swordsmen’ has little to no actual relationship to their real actions and is more reflective of a rather sad view of reality, embraced primarily by those on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder.
This is a dish of pure masturbatory fantasy with a side of envy tossed in for good measure and a little garnish of anecodote-as-data on the side. To be forthright, and to engage in speculation no more absurd than what you see above… I see this mentality most often in older men who have very little experience with women. They desperately need to believe a bunch of pretty little lies about women, sex, and relationships because those lies help them maintain their self-image.
I can’t control what goes through Arthur’s head, but here at Riverside Green we like to live in reality. And here’s reality for you: A lot of people have a lot of sex without giving much thought to the matter. Some women have commitment-free, no-last-names, no-first-names-sometimes sex with fifty or a hundred men in college and then they go on to get married to good, decent men who pay all the bills and buy McMansions and they refuse to have sex with those good, decent husbands on any night but the second Friday of the month and you know what? That’s their right as free human beings. And sometimes people will call them “frat mattresses” not because they are a particular color or gender but because of their behavior and you know what? That’s not hate speech. No amount of wishing will make it so.
In a way, I envy Lewis Lapham. He won’t live to see the day when we, as a country and a people, give up on free speech entirely. He won’t live to see what happens to a world where the mere accusation of hate speech is enough to make somebody an unperson. Most of all, he won’t be around to witness the day when the Bill of Rights are all replaced by the single Right To Not Be Offended in much the same way that Christ wiped out the Mosaic Law with his single commandment. Lewis was born in America and he’ll die in it. The rest of us will die in The World According To Arthur Dailey. Unless we all decide to do something about it, and sooner rather than later.