A deep dive into the narrative that America is experiencing an acute “free speech crisis” – and why it is so misleading
True Democracy is equality for all. The Bible says we are all born equal in the sight of Jesus. Let me be perfectly clear, you can't help yourselves have a voice by crushing out Christianity or removing Christianity from American History. You might understand that so I am so happy for you. If you feel Jesus must be removed and crushed then you will fail and war of attrition will never end. Fear is really what all this is about. Jesus said as it was written that he supports the minorities, the people that are not treated fairly in his speech on the Mount of Olives. Jesus was murdered for that belief. True Christians understand what this blog is trying to do. Acknowledge the other side as having a right to exist. I vote for peace, how about you? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDCbJ4vnMNg&list=FLZkcSA9MKYHOyvnGoCJxzOQ&index=31&t=51s&pp=gAQB
Absolutely brilliant. My theory of the “cancel culture” ruse is the use of subversive language to convince 80% of normal kind white citizens to believe the other 20% complaint is anyone not white will destroy their way of life and replace them with sub-nominal violent people who do not look or sound like them yet are just as American as they are. 1619 Project was a real threat to their heritage.
Despite being very much a non-American who does not live in America, I find myself engrossed by the journey of the American Right and the learnings from it that I see in the countries I belong to (Australia and the UK). The decades fight, and eventual victory, to overturn Roe vs Wade is particularly instructive. We know that the shots that ended that war were fired by Donald Trump with his judicial appointments, and we know that Donald Trump has zero ideological opposition to Abortion and no Christian tendencies at all. The fight against Roe was only ever slightly about abortion, but mainly about galvanising an immovable base with something to fight. Tell them them what they hate, and they will vote to let you trample all over whatever the hell you like.
With the abortion war over, the culture war is the new rallying point. Anti-trans, anti-BLM, anti-woke, whatever.. it doesn’t matter what is true and what is not. It doesn’t matter if any of the people talking believe what they are saying.. they need something that gets the attention of their base laser focussed on an enemy that isn’t the one that is actually doing them, and their rights, harm. And they are winning.
I am glad you made such a comprehensive point arguing for your standpoint. As it happens, mine is the complete opposite and I hope we can have an honest debate.
"choosing to frame the issue along the lines of what they say is a “popular conception” of free speech: that anyone can say whatever they want and never face consequences. But this has obviously never been the case anywhere in the world. Public speech is always regulated, there are always boundaries to what is considered acceptable and what is not. And everyone agrees that certain transgressions should be met with consequences, with shaming or shunning."
That is one of the major misconceptions of those arguing for the denial of cancel culture. The ethical idea of free speech indeed does not only regulate what the state can or can't do but also cultural norms. The claim that this has never been the case anywhere is the world is plain wrong. It's what I was taught in school im Germany and has been a solid norm in democratic countries during the late 21st century. With ethical norms it is the same as with legal rights - they can have limits when other norms are touched. But that does not mean they don't exist.
"Finally, the “free speech” crisis presented in this editorial is utterly detached from the reality of the political conflict. There are two competing narratives about what the actual threat to civil rights and civic freedoms is: A rightwing assault on multiracial, pluralistic democracy - or illiberal leftwing cancel culture. These two narratives are not equally plausible."
Are they? I hear you complaining about the "imbalance" of the NYT critique. Maybe you have missed that the NYT ran a couple of pieces criticising the GOP education bills. And rightly so. Now there is one article where the left becomes the target of the criticsm. What is wrong with that? Are you proposing that the NYT should spare its vitriol for the right because menace from MAGA Republicans is far much greater? What if I told you the left also played their part in making the Republicans stronger? Why else did Glenn Youngkin win solid-blue Virginia in a landslide? Have Virginian swing-voters all been brainwashed by the NYT, Thomas Chatterton, Matt Yglesias and Barack Obama? Or, rather, do they know exactly what is going on at schools, universities, workplaces and decided they don't want that?
"So many “cancel culture” anecdotes, so few actual cancellations"
OK, you found a couple of cancellations which turned out not to be cancellations. Geschenkt, as we Germans say. But for those couple of cases I can give you a handful which should be not so easy to dismiss:
Dorian Abbot - disinvited from prestigeous MIT lecture after critizing affirmative action in an article
David Shor - fired for tweeting a study from Omar Wasow linking race riots to Republican election gains
Emmanual Cafferty - fired for cracking his knuckles while driving his car which looked like the white supremacist "OK" gesture
Greg Patton - suspended from USC for teaching idiomatic use of a Chinese expression in a Chinese language course that sounds like the N-word
Jason Kilborn - suspended from UIC after putting a question into an exam about employment discrimination where he used the expressions 'n____' and 'b____' (redacted exactly like that)
These are only the tip of the iceberg, the FIRE database now contains over 1000 cases. I heard you elsewhere that you don't trust the FIRE criteria of "cancellation". Well, I seriously invite you to draw a sample from the DB and discuss the individual cases.
"These comparisons across time are inherently problematic if they pretend to be measuring something stable: “free speech” in the 1950s vs. “free speech” today."
I grant you that for the 1950s but more interesting in that poll is the comparison between the late 2000s/early 2010s and the late 2010s. There is a >10% jump between 2011 and 2013 and it corresponds very well to when observers realized a shift in campus atmosphere (I heard both Jon Haidt and Jon Chait make that observation elswhere).
By the way: interesting that you invoke the 1950s, where the red scare was not only driven by state institutions but, yes, cancel culture.
"There you have it. “Transgender people have a mental disorder,” “Black Lives Matter is a hate group,” “the 2020 election was stolen,” “abortion should be completely illegal.” Those are the actual positions that a majority of college students would not like to see platformed on campus. Translating that as “conservative beliefs,” as Graeme Wood does, deliberately obscures the substance."
"The election was stolen" is a factual claim which is proven to be wrong, while the others are value statements. You may not like them (I don't) but there is no point in punishing people who believe that stuff. If you ask me, none of them should be invited to campus, but only because a University is a place for scientific inquiry, not for political propaganda. Unless they talk about science - then I don't care if they believe one should cook puppies or pray to Saddam in hell.
"We are in the midst of a profound renegotiation of speech norms and of who gets to define them. And that can be a messy process at times. But it’s not “cancel culture.” From a democratic perspective, it is necessary, and it is progress."
If peoples lives and careers are ruined its not "messy", but simply appalling. I doubt that a "renegotiation of speech norms" is necessary. As I said above - what is the point of letting people with different views "face consequences"? Does anyone seriously think it makes the nation more progressive? Electoral results suggest otherwise. Or is it just to feel good and righteous? To spare people from psychological discomfort? Or is it an effort to sanitize the symbolic realm because we traded our physical reality for a virtual simulacrum? Whatever it is, unless this renegotiation brings about more tolerance and sanity, it is not progress.
I wish you would add Sam Harris to this list and address *his* particular issue with "wokeness"/BLM/trans/etc: Their actions are driving the response, a form of blow-back to Lefties going too far.
Of course Im new here so I would be you already have 1 or more articles on the IDW ...
Thank you for this! There was this Professor, Ward Churchill, American Indian Studies and chair of Ethinc Studies at U of Colorado at Boulder who *was* actually cancelled. He lost his job for writing _On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of US Imperial Arrogance and Criminality_ and other books in that vein. But he was hardly a right wing conservative! If we do an actual cancellation investigation, I think we’ll find many more liberal voices being cancelled (as is the case, obviously, with the forbidden books and classes in Florida).
And the same folk screaming about "cancel culture of the left " taking away their"right to free speech" are silent and probably supportive of De Santis' move requiring bloggers to register with his government if they write about him.
"What FIRE was actually asking college students was something more along the lines of: Do you support allowing extremists (think: Marjorie Taylor Greene) to speak on campus? And they want us to believe that it’s actually a bad thing, evidence for a worsening national crisis, that a majority of students said no."
"Want us to believe that it's actually a bad thing"???
Of course it's a bad thing.
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Thank you. This is a very well written thesis of the problem behind the BS of a "free speech crisis" using a logical, evidence-based approach. I was a university professor for more than 35 years (retired now, white woman, 70 years old) and believe me when I say that colleges and universities allow more "free speech" than any other organization. As a tenured full professor I could say things directly to the university president in a meeting or event that I could never freely say when consulting in corporate America. Staff have much less freedom of speech but most students do not resist offering their opinions. The idea that all colleges and universities are liberal bastions is also ludicrous, spoken by people who have not spent any day-to-day time on a campus. Student attitudes are also shaped by where the school is located, whether it has a religious affiliation, and the demographics of the student body. I spent my career not only teaching but conducting and publishing research in business schools. I know full well how polls and data can be manipulated and how wanting a particular end result can determine how everything is conducted. Unless I can read the questions and see the details of the sample (size and makeup) I never accept only the summaries of polls.
I find myself often whittling down arguments around "wokeism" and "cancel culture" to two basic questions.
#1. Is what the person is saying objectively false (ie. are they a liar, particularly if they are a serial liar)?
I don't feel like we as a society, or I as an individual, need to make space or give credence to someone who is intentionally spreading falsehoods. You may have a "right" to lie, but you're certainly not entitled to an audience, or anyone else to take you seriously or engage with your bad faith antics. (Looking at you, Fox News).
#2. Are they going out of their way to be an asshole?
Much of what passes for "opinion" now on social media is just people with tragically low self esteem and few life prospects looking to give themselves a brief and temporary shot of dopamine in the form of imagining they've made someone else feel worse. Often these are just the cheapest, most ignorant attempts at "scoring points" via tribalism and being validated with attention (good or bad) from strangers. And it's frankly kind of pathetic, and says a lot more about the person launching the attack than the people they're attacking.
It's one thing to ask an impolite question out of ignorance, but it's usually pretty easy to tell when someone's just trying to get their kicks at someone else's expense and I'm not afraid to call it out when I see it.
"I am sad that you don't have a more stable and productive source of self esteem in your life, such that attacking strangers on the internet gives you a misplaced sense of importance and some temporary dopamine. Maybe think about getting a more productive hobby and some therapy?"
"...but when, exactly, was that golden age of free speech when all Americans were free to speak their minds at all times? Unless we are talking about wealthy white Christian men only, it makes absolutely no sense to construct a version of U.S. history in which the past was characterized by free speech"
Excellent. Looking forward to Part 2. The News from the States newsletter, among other sources, does a good job of reporting on bills in state legislatures and how some members of the right perceive criticism of their bills, or behavior, by other members within their own party. Their responses often allude to worries about the infection of cancel culture by the left and the need to eradicate those people. A current example here in Idaho is House Speaker Mike Moyle's reported threats to remove the House Education Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs for not passing bills he supports.