In Defense of Free Speech; and, Hopefully, the Rebirth of Blogging

Free Speech is one of the cornerstones of a free people.  It is at the heart of the Enlightenment ideals that are the philosophical underpinnings of our Constitutional Republic (note, we are NOT a democracy, thank goodness).  On the Federal level, it is enshrined in the First Amendment, which prevents the Federal Government (not the States) from engaging in prior restraint of speech.  Citizens have the right, if not the duty, to speak their mind.

This does not mean freedom from consequences.  All Citizens have the right, if not the duty, to read/listen/view, research, and make up their own minds on the topic.  They also can choose how and if they want to do business with a person or persons on the basis of their public speech.

They also have the right, and again the duty, to ridicule, mock, and otherwise dissect what is being said by others.  The concept is that there is a marketplace of ideas where anything and everything is out there for consideration.  That ideas, not matter how wild (or vile) can be put out for discussion in the form of rational discourse.  Within this, facts can be challenged, countervailing ideas proposed, and — with an informed electorate — general consensus reached on any and every topic.  Within that, there was a fond hope that ridiculous ideas would be dealt with in an informed manner.  This, as noted above, included mockery, ridicule, and other means of expressing condemnation of the truly ridiculous in a rational manner.

A free and open press was considered a key to this in an age of printed materials.  That said, it was also expected that such would take place in public discourse, be it in speeches or in tavern discussions.  It is worth noting that the free and open press accepted that many of what became newspapers (evolving from broadsheets) were not unbiased, but were often party organs with an agenda.  The idea that the media was unbiased and only reported the news is a fairly modern conceit that has little basis in fact.  In fact, the modern media is a guild and guards itself accordingly.

The fact is that most major newspapers are the evolved “children” of various party organs.  Competing newspapers were the product of the various political parties of the time.  That competition was considered essential to the marketplace of ideas, in that it allowed competing opinions (at least of the major parties) to be put before the Citizens of the Republic for discourse.  Said discourse was hoped to result in an informed electorate making informed decisions on political topics of the day.  That said, emotionalism was and is a heavy part of coverage, discourse, and resulting elections.

I’ve written before on the history of journalism and this topic.  I will further state that the concept of an unbiased press is one I support, but have seldom seen in the newsroom.  Today’s media is in fact heavily biased, and within the modern newsroom one does NOT find a diversity of political thought — in fact, I would say it is shunned in fact no matter the official declarations.  That is one reason I do not (any longer) refer to myself as a journalist, and is a reason I had my press credentials when doing embeds in Iraq say “Blogger” rather than media, reporter, or similar term.

It is also worth noting that every repressive regime makes extensive efforts to control the media and speech.  Only approved content is allowed out, or desired to get out.  The more repressive the regime, the more speech is controlled, to the point of informers turning in those who make any utterance not fully in line with the official line, no matter where or when it is uttered.

The concept of free speech goes well beyond the First Amendment of the Constitution.  It was, until recently, an unspoken part of American life.  The public, even beyond Citizens, looked askance if not in condemnation, of anyone who openly called for limiting free speech.  Those making such calls were rightly considered demagogs, if not despots.  Or, at least, despots in the making.  It was also known that such people hated being mocked, which led to much mockery of them and their position.  In America, nothing and no one was considered above such.

It has been noted that one can tell who controls a society, and how open and free it truly is, by who and what can not be mocked or ridiculed.  There is a great deal of truth to that.

Today, the concept of free speech is not just under attack, there are many active efforts to destroy it.  There are politicians who are openly calling for it to be eliminated on the basis of “hate speech” or other labels.  Those all boil down to “any speech we don’t like.”

For decades, modern media has been a gatekeeper to widespread free speech.  On some levels, refusing to cover fringe elements has been a good one, in that it limited the ability of such people or groups to have a wider audience.  Note that this was not the government openly limiting free speech, but an exercise of private companies to choose what they allowed on their platforms — which is their right.  However, when any industry becomes a bastion of one particular ideology that also becomes an attack on free speech, and artificially limits the marketplace of ideas.

The advance of communications technology has always served to break, at least temporarily, such a stranglehold.  New forms of media have consistently lowered the cost of entry into the field.  No such advance has had the impact of the internet, which dropped the cost of entry to pennies as opposed to major capital investment.  Hence, the efforts of repressive regimes everywhere to limit or control the internet within their borders (and beyond where they could) as they are adamantly opposed to their people both being exposed to contrary ideas (and facts) and discussing topics not approved.

Which leads us to today.  As is noted here, the internet spawned blogs.  Blogs allowed anyone with a few dollars to have a platform to put forth their ideas unfettered into the marketplace of ideas.  In its best form, it allowed specialists in an area or field to write about that field in a form not possible in the major media (see previous writings about the death of specialized journalism).  If you wanted to learn about the latest in high-energy physics, the military, or any other topic, and there were blogs devoted to those topics either by subject matter experts or by those who were interested in those topics.  The gatekeepers were bypassed, and they did not like it.

The attacks were immediate, and at first were limited to ridicule such as bloggers being people living in their parent’s basement writing in their pajamas.  It grew to organized (and well-funded efforts) to spam the comments to popular blogs with trolls.  That real trolls jumped in on such was simply icing on the cake to those desiring to shut down discourse and the wide dissemination of ideas.  It also found ways to use regulations, pressure, and other tactics to sidestep (in the US) the Constitutional protections for free speech (see above reference).

New social media was initially embraced by the bloggers as a means of reaching even wider audiences.  Rather than depending on those interested in finding on a given topic finding them through a search, platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., provided a way to increase reach and readership.  In fact, most platforms encouraged it as it helped them to grow financially, which was helpful since one or more started with no real business plan (looking at you, Facebook).

However, that relationship changed.  The new social media platforms recognized the revenue potential of making blogs, bloggers, and others pay for dissemination through ads.  This led to the practice of throttling posts with links.  Want your readers/friends/whatever to see what you wrote?  Well, buy an ad and we will let a select number more see your post, pay more and more will see it.  The net result was that the readership of the social media outlets (and revenues) grew over time as such policies grew.  The readership of blogs and other outlets declined.

This was not unnoticed by those desiring to control free speech.  It was also noticed that those behind some of the major social media platforms were of a fairly uniform political belief system, one that mirrors strongly those of modern media.  The result is what we face today.  A good read on this is here.

One of the hardest things to do is defend speech that is unpopular, either because it goes against prevailing beliefs or is simply vile.  Yet, such defense has been an essential effort to preserve freedom, and the Republic.  One can find many instances of the idea that ‘I hate what you are saying, but will defend to the death your right to say it.’  Doing so is not popular, and has consequences.

Yes, the social media companies have the right to decide what goes on their platforms, just as I decide who gets to comment here and to delete/not approve any given comment.  It is not that I desire an echo chamber; rather, I will not allow someone to use the bathroom in my comments by posting vile, loathsome, or false information here.  My house, my rules.

Yet, when the social media companies act in concert to “deplatform” someone with whom they disagree, and work with politicians on matters of regulation of speech (suppression of speech by any name) and there is a problem.  In fact, there is a huge problem that needs remedy.

The best remedy is for Citizens (and individuals anywhere) to cease using those platforms, depriving them of revenue.  Let the marketplace decide.  If that marketplace is rigged, however, the choices get more difficult.  Such rigging is at the heart of what is going on, and the open collusion of said companies with politicians to make them the only game in town.

Personally, I consider Alex Jones and InfoWars (no link from me) to be vile and loathsome on the order of any ethnic-purist or socialist.  According to someone I know, who stepped between him and a person he and his were physically attacking, he hits like a girl.  I’m very much in agreement with this post in regards him, and what is going on.

I do NOT like having to defend his right to free speech.  That said, however, to fail to rise to his defense brings up the old saw about ‘I didn’t say anything when they came for X’ which is not just a slipper slope, rather one already being on the slide.

For me, I’ve already dropped out of Twitter (several years ago) and no longer recommend it as a platform for most clients.  I’ve cut back on my use of Facebook, and hope to cut back even further in the days ahead.  I’m also starting to post more here, as I think the blogs may well see a resurgence and are a much needed alternative to current social media.  Will I reach as many people without them?  Time will tell, but initially the answer is no.  It is, however, the best I can do.

If you drop a single rock in a stream, the water flows around it.  If you drop a lot of rocks, you can — at least initially — dam the stream.  Thing is, water works to find a way around such dams, even the best built/most heavily funded works.  The public has had a taste of the river that is the free-flow of ideas, and is not likely to truly like efforts to dam it no matter the cause.  Even with regulations and such, people find ways around the dams — just look at China and elsewhere for examples.  The most you can do is force them underground, and there things happen that dam builders seldom like.  I would also note that sending them underground also brings about things that are equally as bad as the initial repression, or even worse for a free society.

The deplatforming of Jones and InfoWars is a bad idea.  It is one more step in taking the new civil war within the US hot.  Taking it hot will not go well, for individuals, groups, and the Republic.  That it is desired strongly by those who want to make it hot (idiots, no matter which of the sides they are on) makes it more essential to protest.

The public has had a taste of the river.  You can’t stop the signal, it will find ways around.  Those ways undermine essential structures, societal or otherwise.  Then again, that’s what far too many want.  It will not end well.

-30-

With Tears In My Eyes

Please, Step Back and Think

This morning, I want to ask everyone on every “side” of the political spectrum, to take a step back. Yes, the majority of my remarks are aimed at the progressive side of things, as they are the ones initiating most, if not all, of the violence. But, it also applies to everyone as far too many seem intent on throwing thermite on the fire.

In more than fifty years of life, I have never seen this Republic so divided, and the concept of discourse so thoroughly discarded. I have never seen a level of hatred with open calls of violence by so many in all those decades.

With tears in my eyes, I beg you: please step back. Think.

Look in the mirror, and take an honest look at yourself. Are you condoning violence against those who hold a different opinion on politics or any subject? Do you say the “Nazis” (socialists by the way, look at the name) deserve to be punched or worse? Do you pass off violent assault and murder with any form of ‘they had it coming/deserve it’ because they hold a different belief? Do you hate those who disagree with you or hold a different opinion? Do you support violent ‘resistance’ to the results of the election, or to those of a different viewpoint by armed masked brown shirts? Do you eagerly anticipate and embrace anything by anonymous sources that validate your beliefs? Do you take any news that validates your position without question, without doing any digging or critical thought?

If so, you are the reason the Republic is, if not dead, in a coma. You are the reason for the violence, and the lack of civility and discourse. Own it.

Demonizing your opponents is as old as time itself. In terms of the American body politic, the idea of casting non-progressive (conservative, libertarian, Republican, etc.) as Nazis goes back to the early part of the last century (see lidblog.com/republicans-less-human for some interesting history on this)but has reached epic levels in the last decade. It’s easy to get people to hate that and those who are demonized. Hate removes rational thought, and what truly scares me about the situation today is the rampant unthinking uncritical hate that has infected far too much of the body politic. It is not enough to disagree: one must destroy the ‘enemy’ and all they hold dear. Take a look at the Social Justice Bully playbook, and see how often it has played out in the last 10-15 years.

While there is hatred on all sides, a good case can be built that much of it is institutionalized on the progressive side of the spectrum. Use a good metasearch engine (I like Dogpile) and do some searches on calls for political violence; actual cases of political violence; and, false claims of violence/hate crimes. The unfiltered results may shock you.

Take a look at the cases of actual violence against conservatives/libertarians/Republicans/etc. A good listing of them is at dailycaller.com/2017/06/16/this-list-of-attacks-against-conservatives-is-mind-blowing Don’t like the source? Do some more meta searches as there is a good bit out there for those who truly are willing to think and be responsible informed citizens.

Yes, there were some nutcases who said nasty and vile things about Obama. However, I ask you to show me a single case where major members of the political/entertainment class (and I include news media in the latter) openly called for violence against him and/or the progressive cause. There was a rodeo clown who wore a mask, and was subjected to the required three minutes of hate and a concerted effort to destroy him and his life…

Today, you openly have professors, journalists, and even political leaders calling for open violence and armed resistance to the duly elected President and those who agree — even slightly — with him. Don’t believe me? Again, metasearch is your friend if you truly are interested in being an informed Citizen. Frankly, it is my opinion that much of it is a deliberate and cynical effort aimed at political power and destabilizing (killing) the Republic. May I commend to you that your reading include www.powerline.blog//archives/2017/06/the-empire-strikes-back-4 as part of your reading.

I would also commend to you some wise words from Brad Torgeren, on the subject of hate. Please check out his very wise words at www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/1967883229904567

To those on the conservative/libertarian/etc. side of the spectrum who are egging it on and eagerly pushing for violence in return: you are just as bad.

There is much more I could say and list. However, far too many minds are closed, so I will simply say this:

Your fantasy is just that, a fantasy. The blood and pain will not be for others, but for you. Don’t believe me? Just look back at the French Revolution. Then look at every other ‘revolution’ that pitted socialism (in all forms) against everything else.

It did not work out well in 1914. It did not work out well in 1933. It did not work out well in 1789. It will NOT work out well this time.

Brad also has some more wise words at www.facebook.com/brad.torgersen/posts/1970456016313955.

To everyone on all ‘sides’ of the political spectrum, I beg you with tears in my eyes, to stop and think. If you continue, you are responsible for all that happens and are just as guilty of the assaults, murders, etc. that WILL come if things continue this way. As yourself if you are willing to personally pull the trigger, swing the club, etc. If not, you need to step way the fuck back and try to pull in those who continue the calls. If you are, then look in the mirror and realize that you have met the enemy and they are you.

It will not go well, and it will not end the way you think it will.

Few today realize the aberration that was the founding of this Republic, which enshrines the peaceful exchange of power; of the checks and balances (sadly damaged if not destroyed) on that power; of the idea of one set of laws for all (sadly gone). It all hinged on the concept of an informed electorate and the marketplace of ideas. Where is that open and honest marketplace now?

Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said “A republic, if you can keep it.” Can you? Will you?