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‘Free Speech’ Won’t Rescue Dumb Ideas

‘Free Speech’ Won’t Rescue Dumb Ideas

A protester holds a sign that reads “Make Fascists Afraid Again!” during a demonstration in front of Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus where far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was giving a speech, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This week Kevin Williamson unlocked another level in his new career as a right wing free speech martyr with a whining column in the Wall Street Journal. He’s not alone. Being hounded out of credible venues is the new mark of distinction on the right. As their last drops of intellectual credibility drain away, the jilted remnants of the rightwing intelligentsia are rallying for a last stand around “free speech.”

Thanks to the new rightwing passion for free speech, you can’t get through an awkward family dinner with your drunk uncle without some reference to “campus radicals” shutting down speakers. Free speech has become the new birther crisis or Clinton email scandal, the defining concern of the right. As Republicans gear up to pervert the 1st Amendment just as they distorted the 2nd, it would be good for us all to get reacquainted with the meaning and importance of our free speech values.

Neither the 1st Amendment, nor any moral or intellectual notion of free speech grants me a right to be taken seriously. No one has a 1st Amendment right to be invited to speak on campus, be interviewed on TV, teach a class in a university, or get a featured column in The Atlantic. Freedom of speech is not equality of ideas. Our investment in free intellectual exchange doesn’t mean we shut down our rational faculties and treat every idea as equal on the merits. Freedom of speech gives us freedom to express ourselves without repression from our government. It is not a defense of lousy ideas. Rightwing complaints about free speech are an effort to gain some sort of protected status, the only way for these sad, entitled snowflakes to preserve a platform when their ideas have failed.

When I bring to a free marketplace of ideas an ideology that is bigoted, ugly, violent, or just plain dumb, the values of free speech give me no right to be treated with respect or dignity. And when my ideas are both intellectually unsound and threatening toward others, I should expect that others will exercise their own rights of free speech to express their displeasure. My right to an opinion doesn’t require anyone else to treat it with unearned dignity.

Kevin Williamson, Christina Hoff Summers, Ben Shapiro, and the rest of the right wing trollosphere are not “controversial.” They are performers. Their interest in free speech does not extend beyond the steam of their own breath. The National Review does not publish Ta-Nehisi Coates. Laura Ingraham does not engage in intellectual exchanges with those of other viewpoints. Modern conservatives have no interest in reasoned debate.

Conservatism today is little more than an identity assigned at birth, like being a Cleveland Browns fan. You’re either in the cult or you aren’t. The overwhelming majority of so-called conservative thought is manufactured by a few outlets, mostly underwritten by the Koch or Mercer families. People don’t independently sit down to reason through our toughest policy challenges and arrive at Republican talking points. Stripped of inbred religious bias and racism, no element of the modern conservative policy agenda makes sense. Today’s conservative ideas have none of the persuasive power required to gain currency in a marketplace of ideas. That was not always the case.

Conservatism has a powerful, lost intellectual heritage. Milton Friedman was brilliant in debate. William F. Buckley engaged in fascinating and insightful interactions with figures like Gore Vidal and James Baldwin. Such a debate with conservatives was possible because men like Buckley and Friedman accepted the bounds of fact and reason. They weren’t paid hacks spouting canned slogans. That commitment to facts has been obliterated on the right, replaced by cult loyalty premised on a racial and religious identity. Debating a conservative is like trying to convince a mental patient that the voices in their head aren’t real.

Efforts by rightwing trolls to climb though the unlocked windows of college campuses and have their picture taken at a podium are about performance and victimhood. These are desperate efforts to manufacture relevance. So-called conservatives are trying to convince their cult followers that their failure to succeed in a free exchange of ideas is evidence of injustice rather than incompetence. Stripped of any intellectual weight, survival of modern conservatism depends on convincing young white people, especially boys, that nothing awaits them in the wider world of intellectual exchange but identity-based persecution. Conservatives must persuade a rising generation of whites to close their minds before they discover the truth and are lost to the movement forever. Having abandoned reason, surivival depends on a fear-driven campaign to keep their heirs locked inside the compound.

Williamson didn’t lose his job because of an off-hand tweet about abortion. He lost his job because there was nothing else in his work to justify his presence on that platform.

The 1st Amendment grants me a sacred right to say that dog owners are dumb, Hitler was great, veterans are terrible, or even to claim that women who received abortions should be hanged. It doesn’t require The Atlantic or anyone else to let me write for them. The 1st Amendment grants Williamson the right to express his ideas without government oppression. A free market of ideas which emerged from those 1st Amendment protections placed a value on his ideas, a value so low that he’s on his way back to the fetid ghetto of conservative media. This is a golden age of free speech.

As our culture becomes more inclusive, more tolerant – and as direct consequence, more intellectually competitive – expect to hear a lot more whining from people who’ve grown used to unearned deference. Conservative “thinkers” are waking to a terrible dawn. Thanks to decades of cult reasoning on the right, the public increasingly places conservatives in a category of cranks. You can’t get a job at a major publication anywhere in the world as an Anarchist, Segregationist, Communist, Nazi, Baathist, vaccine denier, climate denier or Maoist. There’s nothing wrong with that. American conservatives are working their way into that category of deplorables, one bigoted tweet at a time.

Our 1st Amendment grants you the right to wander around in a Nazi armband, wave a Confederate flag, or wear a MAGA hat. It doesn’t require anyone to respect you, like you, or hope you don’t fall in an open manhole. If “freedom of speech” is your only claim to a public platform, it would be wise to reexamine your life choices.


  1. I’m going to suggest something that I don’t think will be very popular: Williamson’s position on abortion shouldn’t be unreasonable to a pro-lifer. Anybody who really believes abortion is murder should support treating it as murder. Now, I don’t think calling a fetus of 0-3 months of age alive is reasonable, but one who does should agree with Williamson.
    That the Republicans denounced Trump when he said something similar is just proof that they lack the courage of their stated convictions. I don’t think anyone really believes that abortion is murder; if they did, there would be no exception for rape and punishing those involved in an abortion would make sense.
    So, there’s a danger of people who know abortion isn’t murder but who take the “litigate as murder” route to appear logically consistent. I don’t think this applies to Williamson, as he is against the death penalty.
    That said, based on his one Atlantic piece, I thought he was overly flamboyant and perhaps lacking in depth.

    1. I know this will sound cranky and entitled (because the issue has never affected me personally as far as I know), but, honestly, I’m just soooo tired of talking about abortion. I wish we could just move on from the topic and spend all that political energy dealing with other issues. We’ve made no real progress as a culture on settling the issue, persuading one side or the other, or making a compromise other than what the Supreme Court set out in Roe and Casey. Instead we just keep talking in circles. In fact, I think that’s what we may end up doing to solve abortion: just keep running out the clock until improved medical care solves the problem for us (through widespread use of safe and effective birth control, through pushing the point of viability earlier and earlier, or through the creation of something like artificial wombs that would create an alternative solution for unwanted pregnancies).

    2. I’ll attempt to respond to both posts regarding abortion. Let me begin with this: abortion is a horrible choice, but it is a choice which directly impacts the person who makes it. I am not a doctor but have read pretty widely on the subject of viability, which the vast majority of doctors consider to be 22-24 weeks. Hear this: the right to life group will never be happy with anything less than “life begins at conception.” As a pro-choice female, I consider that their right; but they do not accord these rights to me for my different views.

      There is an obsessive focus on this issue. “Nov 14, 2016 – Lawmakers have pre-filed more than 500 bills on the first day to propose legislation before the Texas Legislature reconvenes in January.” ( The major reason the Evangelical masses in America supported Donald Trump, despite his serial infidelity and known sexual perfidies is because it moves them closer to their goal of placing lifetime right to life justices on the US Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v Wade. Nothing less will satisfy them.

      We are all tired of this discussion, but why shouldn’t a woman get to make the decision as to when or if she wants to bear a baby? Republicans have successfully challenged (S.Ct) mandatory contraception coverage (Hobby Lobby case) so that now in many situations, women who want to use contraceptions have to pay for it out of pocket even though they are paying for health care coverage. At the very same time that right to life criticize abortion as “murder”, they object to contraception and do very little to help women who bear children they do not feel they can care for properly.

      In some states, pharmacies are allowing contraception to be sold over the counter without a prescription. That’s a good start because it puts the woman in the driver’s seat on this issue. Young girls, or women who were raped or impregnated under very difficult circumstances, have a very tough time dealing with how they are going to manage given cost, work, etc. responsibilities.

      The clock will never run out on this issue, but the lack of compassion and understanding for all women’s choices is the reason. This issue will again be a harbinger of the right to life evangelical movement’s support for DJT, a man who is despicable morally in actions, words, and choices. Those who would judge pro-choice women while condoning and “blessing” a DJT, exhibit a double standard that defeats any legitimacy of their claim for Christian values.

      1. I agree with both of you; I’m simply making an argument about arguments here, motivated by one of the examples in the article. Abortion isn’t something I dwell on. But given that the pro-life position is mainstream, it’s strange that Kevin Williamson’s position isn’t also. Or rather, it’s not strange when you think about it:
        Pro-lifers, for the most part, don’t take that stance because of their views on what age an embryo is a human; they take it because of their views on sexual liberation. The resistance to paying for birth control as part of medical coverage is evidence of this.
        There are all sorts of practical reasons to be pro-choice. Mine is that forcing the existence of a child that maybe there aren’t enough resources for, or whom the parents don’t want to raise, will be bad.
        And, I think everyone here is aware that “Hypocrisies of the Religious Right” could fill a volume of encyclopedias.

    1. Powerful, important article, Dins. Thanks for sharing. Bennett is right where he is needed. As for Brett Stephens, I have mixed opinions about him. Frankly, I think he is a more capable writer than thinker. He left the WSJ because the environment was oppressive and the NYT opportunity attractive, but I don’t think he has changed nor deepened his world view. Still, per Bennett, it is important to have more than one perspective presented, as long as it is intelligent and well supported. It is up to each reader to parse those views critically.

  2. Chris, I have a question for you.

    I remember some time ago reading on this blog that you have to do a lot of work eliminating bot spam accounts. What about right-wing troll factory accounts?

    What I am getting at is that this site, as far as I can see, pretty much is an echo chamber itself. I recognize the irony that you are likely the most right wing of all here, or at least started that way. But all though there is sometimes conflict on this site, most posts are a variation of the same theme, with people debating nuance rather than diametrically opposed stances.

    Is that by design by censorship (which I highly highly doubt you would do) or simply because of what oh so many others have pointed out: people self censor and cut themselves off from any opinions and sites that bother them.

    “Conservative “thinkers” are waking to a terrible dawn. Thanks to decades of cult reasoning on the right, the public increasingly places conservatives in a category of cranks. You can’t get a job at a major publication anywhere in the world as an Anarchist, Segregationist, Communist, Nazi, Baathist, vaccine denier, climate denier or Maoist. There’s nothing wrong with that. American conservatives are working their way into that category of deplorables, one bigoted tweet at a time.”

    You can get a job as Nazi or global warming denier in any number of massive media and non-media organizations, including the White House. I would say that Brietbart, Fox, Sinclair et al provide ample spots for these monsters to exercise their 1st Amendment rights and they do just fine. They just preach to the 30-35% of the population that are as backward as they are.

    1. Notice how losing those voices hasn’t reduced the overall quality of exchange or the back and forth on substantive issues? I have.

      What I’m about to say is really scary and I don’t know what to do about it.

      When was the last time you had a substantive exchange of ideas with a Trump supporter. Or, let’s be generous, when was the last time you had a substantive exchange with a reluctant Trump voter who would have preferred, say, Cruz or Rubio? For me it’s been years, going back before I quit the GOP. Trump was the death of discourse. If you’re backing that guy, or making excuses for the people who enable him, you’re beyond reach.

      You can’t have a give and take exchange with someone who’s entire political platform is based on putting certain people back in their place. There’s nothing left in the Republican agenda but to Make America Great Again, the way it was when a woman couldn’t get a credit card, black people couldn’t live in your neighborhood, and we only accepted immigrants if they came from Europe. There are no intellectual or policy points to discuss, no negotiated middle-ground to reach via deliberation. What policy compromise would achieve an acceptable middle ground with that ideology? They will lose, or everyone else will lose. That’s it.

      We didn’t create this mess. I didn’t create this mess. People outside that mindset have been trying reach accommodations with these forces for thirty years, and they have consistently failed. America has finally reached the crux of it’s post-Cold War dilemma – will we be an open, vibrant, forward looking leader of the global capitalist community, or will we shrink in terror from the world emerging around us and close up in a racist, paranoid fortress. That’s the only question on the ballot for the immediate future and there’s no debate. It comes down to pure identity and emotion.

      This is not good.

      Non-negotiable political stalemates like this are usually resolved via a debilitating crisis, inspiring the rise of a powerful authoritarian figure (like the Depression, and the rise of the imperial Presidency in the 20th c), or a massive war, as in the French Revolution, English Revolution, WW2, or our Civil War. Those are terrible options, with uncertain outcomes. Our only alternative is to engineer a massive electoral wave, functioning like a revolution, that will sweep these people from power. And that wave has to be large enough and revolutionary enough to reach places like Arkansas or Nebraska.

      That might be possible, but I’ve never seen it happen before. That said, we are the Land of Things No One Has Seen Happen Before. If it could be done anywhere, it would happen here. Considering the fact that barely a quarter of us vote consistently, there’s plenty of unspent energy to tap out there. And when you look at the size of the rising generation and they fact that they’ve practically never voted before, you’ve got a base with which to work.

      If you want some evidence on the ground of such a revolution taking shape, you can point to the new Democratic Senator from Alabama, the new Democratic Congressman from PA’s 18th district, and the State Senator from the Working Families Party who won a seat in a Republican district on Long Island last year, among dozens of others.

      But debate and reasoned exchange? Forget about it, at least with Trump supporters. There is no hope for this transformation to happen peacefully unless those people are relentlessly marginalized. The future of the American Republic will not be secure until those assholes feel like they need to hide their MAGA hats with their porn stash, their autographed picture of Bill Cosby, or their white robes. When we get there, we can start fighting about policy again.

      1. Man, you sound as bleak as I do on most days. I get it, and sadly agree with you.
        But I do have questions, that I still don’t have answers to.

        What happened to the rational conservatives, like yourself? Where did they all go? If Buckley was alive today, what would be saying, and from what media platform would he be saying it?

        Like you said, there is a significant portion of the population, and I think that demographic can be found in any country on the planet, that are deplorable, and irredeemable. But there is also a segment of the population, albeit smaller, that is compassionate, decent, yet believe in free market solutions, the rule of law, and intelligent discourse.

        At the same time, they hate everything this tryant’s regime stands for, and can’t stand the people that back this regime. You are one of those people.

        But I can’t believe that your demographic is such a tiny sliver of the conservative political spectrum that there is no large organized platform for them. If the followers of the puppet tyrant make up 40% of the population, there still must be 5-10% of the population that identifies as Republican, but follows along the lines of Buckley.

        Is that demographic so marginalized and terrified of the 40% that they mute themselves? I just don’t see in media, or in politics, that 5 or 10% represented in the numbers. More like 1%. So what happened to them? We see how you handled it when Forbes was corrupted, but what about all the others?

        And if you tell me that yes, they have given into the dark side to maintain a living and presence, then we are indeed charging hellbent towards 1939 Germany.

      2. >] “Is that demographic so marginalized and terrified of the 40% that they mute themselves? I just don’t see in media, or in politics, that 5 or 10% represented in the numbers. More like 1%. So what happened to them? We see how you handled it when Forbes was corrupted, but what about all the others?

        What about them? You see them all the time – the Frums, Bartletts, Goldbergs, Nichols, Jollys, Kasichs, Kristols, and so many others that still speak out as frequently as people will listen, but they have absolutely no sway within the Republican Party, and haven’t for a very long time. It’s not that they’re terrified so much as too many of them still feel a futile need to try and fight for the GOP until the very last man. They don’t realize that their battle was lost (or perhaps they do, but just refuse to cede defeat yet) a long time ago.

        That’s why I think they should fight a two-front war here – work within the influx of incoming moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats to keep their national profile strong and to try to maintain *some* semblance of political contribution to the broader national debate. Seriously, do not be like Tom Nichols – who, while an obviously brilliant man, bitches and whines on Twitter about how impossible it is to talk to liberals like it’s his hobby.

        Secondly, do as they’re going to do anyways and work to restore (actually create?) a sane conservative party in America. That, IMHO, is the best political use of their time, not wasting minutes and years away trying to push back the proverbial flood waters that already have them 50 ft underwater, only they somehow haven’t realized it yet.

      3. And they ain’t volunteering. Republicans continue to pursue the hardest line possible because it has worked so well for them for so long. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s ethical as long as it “works.” The only solution is total dissolution.

      4. Oh it can be done, make no mistake about that. It simply requires marginalizing the extremists into their own little corner while the adults in the room take the two parties back into their own hands – like our own little parliamentary-esque system, which, really, isn’t all that far off from what we have now.

      5. Yes but they would need to be marginalized internally. Liberal/mainstream persons can’t do it; that’ll just bring out their contrarian sides. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but “Obama is a Kenyan” is believed by like half of the GOP. And that’s a fairly extreme statement, so the full extent of the “unreasonable” crowd is likely even more. As long as that electorate exists, cynics and demagogues will try to use it. They may lose, like Christine O’Donnell, but in the process they’ll take competitive pressure to have good candidates away from the Democrats. The problem here is not in the organization; it’s in the electorate.
        Remember that the adults in the room tried to take back over after Romney lost, and failed. The adults are even weaker and fewer now.

    2. “What I am getting at is that this site, as far as I can see, pretty much is an echo chamber itself.”

      All fora are pretty much echo chambers by virtue of the fact that they focus on certain specific topics of interest to their members and usually from a certain point of view. Echo chambers are matters of degree: the strength of the chamber, and the loudness of the echo.

      In the earliest days of my involvement in the Internet I was happy to become a moderator for several of the fora I followed. It taught me a lot about the stupid shit you have to deal with. On the one hand, you want to balance openness with a commitment to cutting trolls. It’s not easy to know the difference, especially since some trolls just simply don’t know they’re trolls.

      When the group is too small, it’s very common for the forum to stagnate around certain standard responses and rejection of many common counterarguments. But when the group is too big, it’s hard to have meaningfully deep conversations about any specific forum topic or post, and the discussion gets quite superficial.

      For the most part the two things that matter most are the participants’ behavior, and their individual (self-moderating) openness to discussion. Behavior is mostly easy to moderate, but individual openness to discussion is luck of the draw. You get that by leading by example and setting the tone of the conversation. It follows that Chris’ writing would attract the people who are on this forum, based on how he writes it and the level of thought he puts into it.

      As long as the individuals on this forum are also relying on other sources of information other than merely this forum, the level of discussion can remain relatively strong. But if this becomes some people’s fundamental go-to for all matters politics, then the echo will get louder and the walls will start to go up.

      1. Given the breadth of thought, the challenges which we all feel comfortable lodging (civilly). the range of ages and professional backgrounds, the diversity of sourcing cited, I’d say this forum offers a pretty challenging place for dialogue. Lots of smart people here and though we share many common values, which I think is your point, I sense that most are quite well-read but simply enjoy frequently Chris’ blog because it’s honest, interesting, well-sourced and well-written.

        I do miss some of the old commentators who were “rightys” because of their interesting contributions, as long as their comments were relevant and honest, and most were. But Chris seems to have a wider audience than those who frequently comment and every now and then they pop up….like Ked and Jon, new voices in the mix…and they are very welcome. Trolls get outed pretty quickly on a smart site like this.

      2. I’m going to be an open jerk and say that I do not, not for one hot second, miss Tracy whatshisname. If dat gun nut isn’t still slurping the Trump kool-aid and sporting his cheat red hat whenever he gets the chance, I’d be stunned.

  3. #MeToo is helping women down the road to “freer” speech, though not always without consequence. Gender, race and ethnicity still dampen free speech opportunity if one is “brave enough”….which, as Ked’s clever six-panel comic illustrates, always has a door lurking in the background.

    I couldn’t help but think about the young woman on a bike who recently exercised her “free speech” gesture at Potus’ motorcade, which was then posted by someone (else) on a public site, resulting in her termination (for “free?” speech unbecoming….), who has now sued her former employer. Takes guts all the way around – from making the gesture to suing her employer. I have to say, I’m a fan.

    1. I’ve written a post here on women that discussed the challenges and progress women experience in speaking out against workplace harassment and sexual abuse. The linked article states that “…complaints about retaliation in the workplace have almost doubled in the last two decades, a stat that experts say acts as a proxy, because about three quarters of all sexual harassment complaints include allegations of retaliation, said Mindy Weinstein, acting director of the Washington field office of the EEOC. The agency doesn’t have a separate category for that.” The process for tendering a complaint is now almost totally private…which has pluses and minuses in the private sector. Less so in government.

      Still progress is being made. The “attorneys general of every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia in February sent a joint letter urging Congressional leaders to take action to prevent victims of sexual harassment from being forced into arbitration. At least one House bill has been introduced to ban such practices, but it hasn’t been referred to committee.” Hmm. Wonder why?

  4. Hi

    Have read regularly since a few months before the Lifer blog was discontinued but am just now posting.
    I was wondering what you have specifically against Christina Hoff Sommers.
    I’m a left-leaning college student who has been increasingly on the “right” of conversations around me, and while I don’t question the constitutionality of protesting or seeking to disinvite speakers, I question very much the broad brush with which opposing views are labeled toxic. Just as an example, in a recent argument with a friend of mine I was defending the claim, which I thought completely uncontroversial, that not every difference between men and women is learned/cultural. i.e.
    And for my troubles I was implicitly compared with Nazis. Or there was the time that I listened to a speaker who wanted more women in STEM, and when I spoke to him afterwards he wasn’t aware that female participation in STEM and societal gender inequality have an inverse relationship. (The graph can be found in Now, I’m not asking that he interpret that graph in the same way I do, but if reducing the gender gap in engineering was something he cared about, he should have at least seen this sort of result.
    The Nazis and the MAGAers are reprehensible, but I’ve come to expect this sort of thing from them and besides, they are not as influential as progressives are. I am ever-disappointed to see what I thought was my own side trade science and reasoning for baseless moral posturing and virtue signalling. Increasingly large swaths of the left appear unable and unwilling to engage with dissent from their black-and-white, binary worldview of oppressed and oppressor, and because of them, I’m not so sure that that “Free speech has become the new birther crisis or Clinton email scandal”.

    1. I enjoyed the STEM article but wonder if environmental and social factors influence girls choices of these careers more so than greater freedom of choice offered in America as suggested in the article you linked?

      I’m curious as to what you find to be “baseless moral posturing and virtue signalling” by “large swaths of the left?” As the “big tent party,” I have always felt that the diversity of opinion enjoyed by liberals was both its greatest strength and greatest challenge.

      Welcome to the blog, Jon, where you will find intelligent, civil debate of issues.

      1. Oh I agree that intellectual diversity is our strength; I just also think that some groups want to do away with it. My problem isn’t really with the Democratic party; it’s with a certain subset of its voters. (I voted straight ticket D in 2016 and imagine I will again this year.) Perhaps that sounds vague, but this is one of those “hard to define but know when I see it” things. I think Chris once referred to them as the Whole Foods Left.
        True; I don’t actually know how big they are. There isn’t much survey data I’ve seen breaking down the Democrats like there is for Republican voters. But I deal with this in life, and read about excesses from certain schools and tech companies, so it feels big. I agree with WX Wall’s post about how “free speech” is, practically speaking, also about social norms; of course, I am going in a slightly different direction.
        By “baseless moral posturing”… perhaps it is best to recall something I saw in the Twitterverse: The naturalistic fallacy is to assume that anything in human nature is good, but there is also a moralistic fallacy, which says anything not morally permissible must not be human nature.
        With STEM: I think the key here is that engineering is a male-dominated field almost everywhere. And that we are comparing participation with aggregate societal attitudes. It should be all means be easiest for women to enter the profession where they are in actuality entering the least. To answer what you said more specifically, I think that “choice” is a bit hard to define – we are all the products of genes and environment – but I find it at the very least counter intuitive that the largest barriers to women’s entry into STEM are found in America and Western Europe.

      2. Couldn’t pass up posting this….When is speech “not free?” When it doesn’t auger well with the second amendment. Kind of an interesting conflict….pitting the bastions of “free market principles” against some of their biggest beneficiaries (I’ve read the tax savings in aggregate for big banks was $1.2B this year.) At least the Republicans are “conflicted”…. good to know they can still disagree on something.

      3. Jon, I think it’s safe to say there are “nuts” on both ends of the spectrum…at present, it seems much more so on the right….but that may be a product of my liberal bias…(which I freely admit). Likewise, my cyncism is rather complete in terms of our current political environment which badly skews any pretext of morality by Republicans (that is believable.) Today’s Doonesbury strip provides a relevant example….(Ked inspired)

      4. That article on evangelical TV is frankly terrifying. I live in Kentucky so trust me I see this kind of thing firsthand.
        As for the banks opposing guns… I really don’t know how I feel about this sort of thing in general. In this case I’m on board with the program, and it is amusing to watch the Republicans’ articles of faith pitted against each other.
        Ah and good old Doonesbury, which tried to warn us about DT long ago.

        I agree there are more nuts on the right. The reasons I focus leftward mainly come down to 1. proximity: I study math and econ, mainly the former, and it is very unlikely that my career path will ever snake across an industry dominated by conservatives. Certainly the right has no power in my immediate surroundings at school. That said, when with evangelicals or when working summer jobs I am more than happy to argue with the right. 2. the Rs’ days are numbered: both politically and culturally, the MAGAers look to be on their way out. They’ll lose the House this fall, and the presidency in 2020. 3. I think somebody of my position is more likely to find agreement/converts on the left than on the right.

      5. The Houston Chronicle reported in today’s paper that the US Census data released Thursday finds that there are more 26-year-olds in this country as of July, 2017, than any other age. That is both encouraging and frightening. Let me explain.

        I am very impressed with the teen movement for gun safety. These youth had demonstrated intelligent reasoning and the ability to organize and act that speaks well for their generation and our country, by extension. Millennials appear a bit more mixed in their politics but generally, seem to be more supportive of social issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. That is encouraging – If they vote. My chief concern with Millennials is that so many of them are bitter about Bernie that they are not enthusiastic about mid-terms, which is a big mistake. As Chris has shared many times, there are hard choices to make and sometimes one has to make the best of them to advance democracy – even if the choice is not one’s “be-all” candidate. This may require that one votes “against” a candidate/party as a pragmatic choice to protect the democratic process. People who know their values and study current and past political history, understand this and vote accordingly.

        What is unknown, is whether these two very large population groups nd (and those they influence by extension – parents, siblings, spouses) will actually turn out to vote. Millennial voting turnout is poor and teens are untested. Both are needed to achieve the +8 (or more) wave Chris describes to sweep Congress. Frankly, this is the only way to avert the trainwreck we are watching happen, the damage to our democratic institutions and norms. Potus is next. For that to happen, GOTV is crucial. There have been too many waffling Republicans (Corker, Flake, Graham, Collins – all over the map) who threaten but end up voting the party line on critical issues. (Flake’s recent negotiated vote for the NASA appointee – Bridenstine – who is clearly unqualified is the most recent example of absolute principle deficit. Why even bother, Senator Flake? Just retire already.)

        the 2018 Mid-terms are a real watershed point in our country’s history. I don’t know how much longer our institutions can hold back the forces threatening our democratic institutions and norms. Adding to my concern is the large number of judicial appointees available for Trump to nominate. He will be aided in a green-lit process assured by Grassley as chair of the Judiciary Committee, and supported by McConnell who promises to fast-track their nominations for a floor vote. Bloomberg reports there are 22 current justices over the age of 75, out of 164 appellate positions. The total number of available positions can rise from 143 that lie in wait of mere nomination and confirmation. Of those, 22 are appellate level positions, which are, of course, lifetime appointments.

        Bloomberg’s piece in January of this year on the “state of judicial nominations” is interesting. Bear in mind that as jurists die or retire, the number and prominence of the judicial nominations changes. May the current justices live long, healthy lives and stay on. The elephant in the room, of course, is the SCOTUS. Achieving a solid conservative majority on that body would be devastating to jurisprudence.

        There is so much to concern ourselves with but I try to stay focused on working to GOTV for mid-terms. I don’t waste my time trying to convert conservatives, rather, I work to support, encourage, and expand the base of those who have not been active politically so that they are more likely to vote than ever before. It is imperative. If America doesn’t make the “right” choices for democracy in 2018, I don’t know how much longer democracy will be able to survive as we know it.

    2. Hoff is a troll. I’m not sure how much what she spouts she actually understands at an intellectual level, or how much of it she even believes. It’s hard to tell from her act. But she knows what it takes to get an audience. That’s her profession. She reminds me of 90% of the “Black RepubicansTM” you’ll see on TV. None of them would have an audience but for the audacity of what they’re saying.

      About 30% of her standard pitch is based on fact, not even to get her on TV absent the rest of her act. And even that stuff wouldn’t be interesting if she didn’t spend most of her time trying to find ways to be oppressed, and capture it on camera. She earns her base pay from a semi-credible Koch Brother “think tank,” the real gravy comes from selling books and getting in front of microphones. I’m coming to loath those people. By the way, Charles Murray is this category too. He may be the architect of this profession.

      So, yea. I’m not a fan.

  5. The US First Amendment is a prime example of the Law of Unintended Consequences

    The First Amendment prohibits the government from legislating on free speech

    Which means in the USA that the rich and powerful are able to

    Drown out the normal citizens
    Persecute anybody that says anything they don’t like
    And the government cannot do anything to stop them!

    The Finest Democracy That Money Can Buy!!

    The result is that Americans have much LESS “Free Speech” than the Brits or most other advanced nations

    1. I got to watch the British government shut down whistleblowers, and watch powerful Brits use the country’s absurd libel laws (laws that Trump deeply envies) to threaten anyone who criticizes them. Don’t lecture me about the British commitment to free speech.

      When the magazine that was publishing my posts fired me over content they didn’t like, I just moved it right back here, and posted the email they sent me about it. And that piece doubled the number of followers on this site, sending traffic so high I had to change my hosting plan.

      We have problems, but restraints on free speech aren’t one of them. I’m not aware of another place in the world with fewer restraints on expression.

      1. Whistleblowers are shut down in the USA exactly the same as the UK – if anything MORE in the USA
        The UK libel laws are absolutely NOTHING to do with anything anywhere near the First Amendment and the US libel laws are worse

        In the USA you can be fired for your political speech – not possible in the UK
        There is no comparison

        The lack of control over political speech means that US politicians are bought and sold – if UK (or NZ) laws applied all of your politicians would be in jail

      2. Fortune Magazine “gets” what is happening in America and the world. Forbes continues to ply to “their” base. Fortune just announced their selection of the top 50 world leaders. I am impressed with their grasp of societal change and those who are leading it, and only one elected official made the list: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Good job, Fortune!

        In making their choices, they acknowleged: “Top-down hierarchies where power is centralized in the hands of a few is ceding ground to “new power” that is “bottom-up, participatory, peer-driven.” Leaders who are “best able to channel the participatory energy of those around them — for the good, for the bad, and for the trivial…”We live at a time when the captains of business and government are being taken on by surging currents of social media-fed sentiment.”

        Let us hope this bodes well for mid-terms.


        Fortune List:

    2. I have this wacky idea that the real purpose behind the Free Speech clause is not that we all have the right to flap our jaws but that we have the right to hear all opinions on a given subject. To the extent that money is used to drown out some opinions, its an illegitimate use of that money under this principle.

      Aside from that, money isn’t speech, it’s property. There are protections for property in the Fifth Amendment, and they are different from protections given to people in the First Amendment. If the Founders had meant for speech to be interpreted broadly as “expressing an opinion in any fashion” in the First Amendment, they wouldn’t have separately mentioned freedom of the press.

      1. “To the extent that money is used to drown out some opinions, its an illegitimate use of that money under this principle. ”

        The first amendment also guarantees freedom of association, which can be interpreted to mean the ability to support groups and messages financially, including the amplification and promotion of messages. The more mechanisms you put in place to limit free association such as the Mercers underwriting certain PACs and lobbyists creates more mechanisms to, for instance, prevent Planned Parenthood from lobbying or advertising, or regular people from donating, if the ‘wrong people’ come into office. Or vice versa, if there are any conservatives here who want Planned Parenthood to burn in hell but think the Mercers are pretty decent folk. Or for the federal government to set limits on advertising income for various media sources.

        “we have the right to hear all opinions on a given subject.”

        Most of the opinions available on the media are the most relevant opinions on the matter, despite what people insist. Most people insist that’s not the case because many media outlets don’t present the information the way they like, either not giving it as much of a weight they personally feel it has or describes the issue in the way they think about it.

        Regardless, for almost all important issues, the reason why it’s not covered in the media is:

        1) It is. Look again. No seriously it is. No really, just Google, type in the issue, click on “News” and voila. You are not specially privileged with information other people don’t have.

        90% of ranting about the media is done away with in number 1.

        2) It’s not true. No really, you’ll full of shit. Yeah I know I see that article from . It’s not real. You’re stupid for reading that bullshit.

        That covers a good 9% of the remainder.

        3) a) It’s a local issue that hasn’t gained the attention of the media yet.

        b) it’s not actually that big of a deal.

        That covers the last 1%.

        Name me some important issues you know about that the media doesn’t report. Or actually don’t waste your time, if you know something really important, you should be approaching the media with a request to publish it.

        Furthermore, one issue with modern media is actually the opposite: too much deference to opinion without significance.

        Print has letters to the editor. Television has viewer polls. Websites and web journalism have comment sections. Any cursory glance through the value of any of these shows very little substantive dialog from people offering valuable dissenting opinions. The stuff that really manages to be substantive also really manages to get published through official channels.

        And this is all before we get into social media, in which everyone’s personal opinions have much further amplification and platform than 99.9% of people deserve. This includes you and me.

        Or to sum this all up: everyone thinks they know more about the world than the media. But that begs the question, where did they get that information without the media?

        I am saying this all with the awareness that FOX News and Sinclair have outsized influence specifically in television, where they have mastered spin and framing to convince a large portion of the voting public to believe a viewpoint that suppresses alternative perspectives, many of which are fact based and many of which I personally find to be more ethical and effective than FOX News’ and Sinclair’s ideology. But those companies are racing headlong toward the exact same demographic brick wall politics in general are: you can’t push yourself too far outside of reality before your True Believers stop functioning properly and start dying off or being removed from the conversation. FOX News has the highest television ratings, but the people having serious conversations about what to do next aren’t watching television. The people who are watching television are aging out.

      1. The problem with proving people “foolish” lies with those who are making the determination. Without critical assessment utilizing consistent, substantive reasoning, what do they have to worry about? It has devolved into a “if xyz said it, it must be true/right. Discouraging but it is why I don’t converse with many conservatives on politics any more. Too often, I find myself calling “B.S.”

  6. I fully agree with this article, but conservative clowns like Yiannopolous and Ingraham are a sideshow to the real issue, which is corporate control of speech.

    You’re right that the only thing the 1st Amendment guarantees is you is that the govt won’t jail you for something you say. But our norms go further. Our government protects people from private violence for expressing their ideas. That’s why you can’t go to a KKK parade and shoot a Klansman because you disagree with his speech. Similarly, for example, physicians are expected to treat everyone equally. There would be a huge uproar if a Jewish physician refused to treat a neo-Nazi, although he is well within his legal rights to decline any patient for any reason.

    So I would argue that while you’re correct about the legalities of the 1st Amendment, you’re discounting the tremendous norms surrounding our ability to exercise it. Unfortunately, those norms are slowly being chipped away. I have no love for neo Nazis, but I’m vehemently against their employers firing them for their views, unless they can make a case that those views impinged on his/her work product, or created a hostile work environment, etc.

    Similarly, the internet was founded on the premise of anyone being able to publish what they want and being accessible around the world. As they say, freedom of the press is only useful if you own a press, and the internet was supposed to make the cost of owning a press approach zero. But nowadays, that freedom is being chipped away as control of information distribution is consolidated in just a few companies and a few platforms e.g. google and facebook, who are now being hounded by government to take an *even bigger* role in deciding what posts their users are allowed to see.

    While none of these things run afoul of the 1st Amendment, they nevertheless reduce the ability of people to express their views. Yes, no one is entitled to having an audience for their views, but if Google, Facebook, and your employer can keep you from even expressing them in anyway aside from writing them in your private journal, then the 1st Amendment is essentially worthless.

    I agree that every idea should be forced to compete in the marketplace. But we *must* pay attention to the political structure of that marketplace. Whoever controls that wins the argument. Every tech innovation since the printing press was supposed to reduce barriers to the marketplace. Instead, most have made it even harder. The original creator of radio thought it would enable two-way direct communication between people, bypassing the powers that controlled printed media. Instead, radio was brought under government control, such that it’s harder to open a radio station than start up a newspaper. Similarly, it was felt that television would end all wars, because rather than depend on the biased reports of newsmen in print and radio, we would see the battlefield directly, and the humanity of our enemies, and learn of the horrors of wars without the govt trying to suppress it. Instead, the Pentagon controls war reporting so thoroughly (any reporter who accepts a Pentagon “embed” should resign from journalism), that if anything, we’re whipped up into an even bigger frenzy than any manipulation of the written or spoken word ever did. We’re now seeing this with the internet, with Google and Facebook literally being forced by the government (not that they resist all that much) to decide what gets through their filters and what doesn’t.

    If conservatives were true small govt conservatives, they could make a very powerful argument about how the practical rights of the 1st Amendment have been stripped away by a government and corporate sector who has no interest whatsoever in fostering a true marketplace of ideas that they have no control over. Unfortunately, we’re left with a conservative clown show that, at best, is only upset that they’re not the ones doing the controlling. And I’m afraid liberals are getting a taste of that control finally and finding out they kinda like it too…

    1. Instead, radio was brought under government control

      Communication is a complicated business.

      I enjoyed reading your response to Chris’ post, but I feel the power of speech is so ginormous that the creators of communication technologies — and the internet — were more than naive to believe it would all be good going forward.

      I can’t think of any technology that was created without a underlying commercial intent.

      Radio station owners actually wanted government regulation. Transmitters were overriding one another, signals were colliding. Bad for business.

      Europeans and now us, too, actually want the government to regulate at least some aspects of social media platforms.

      Like any superpower, speech can be used for evil and good.

      For we lowly citizens, as always, we have to keep paying attention to our environment in order to ward off potential abuses. There’s no rest for the engaged citizen.

      (Or we can set up our own low wattage micro radio stations — that could be fun!)

      1. “Radio station owners actually wanted government regulation. Transmitters were overriding one another, signals were colliding. Bad for business.”

        Radio and television spectrum is a limited resource, unfortunately. Broadcast is an area where the whole ‘signal to noise’ thing is both literal and metaphoric. Too much going on is noise regardless how you look at it. Most of the regulations regarding radio and television is merely to make sure the technologies still function.

        On a technical level, each media technology invention has been more democratic than the last, and are moreso today. Yes, radio is limited to the number of channels, but it broadcasts wider and doesn’t require text literacy to understand. Television has more channels and after cable, even channels, and also doesn’t require text literacy to understand. The Internet is effectively infinite number of channels (and the whole ‘walled garden’ thing is only taking governments and corporations so far) and its drawback of occasional literacy requirements still underlines that it teaches the literacy as you consume it — viewer / listener / reader / consumer is also content producer, by virtue of interacting with it.

        The overarching belief of free media and expression is like any idealist scenario: assuming that everything will naturally sort itself in terms of some inherent value. Life, being messy and complex, leads to more what we have today.

        Chris’s point about “You can’t get a job at a major publication anywhere in the world as an Anarchist, Segregationist, Communist, Nazi, Baathist, vaccine denier, climate denier or Maoist. There’s nothing wrong with that” strikes at one of the issues between media as practiced and media as perceived. For the most part, the quote-unquote ‘mainstream media’ covers nothing more than the most openly accepted ideas, and the filter systems we have in place such as editors, publishers, and so forth are mostly there to prevent poor ideas and half-considered ideas poorly written from being noise in the discourse. Everyone loves to hate on the mainstream media because it doesn’t cover their pet issue in precisely the way they think of it, but for the most part that’s because they’re wrong about the issue.

        And whenever the media landscape is called out for not acknowledging some major issue, like for instance the decline of real wealth in the middle classes and rural communities, either a) the media damn well has been covering it (and that’s why you know about it), or b) it’s because it wasn’t really understood by anybody, much less the media.

        In other words, much of where we are in this culture is where we should be, as its the product of every individual’s effort and participation in that culture. In the United States, there’s very little very important ideas that you cannot find a good venue for. The problem is that people have spent decades disengaging discourse from action. They’ve become lazy, and one of the main reasons why Americans are so politically lazy is simply because they had nice, comfortable lives.

        Now lives are less comfortable and shit’s gone weird. It only makes sense that previously rejected ideas now ring louder. It also makes sense that they’re being shoved aside again, because they were rejected for good reasons. Fascism hurts people. Fascism is a bad idea. We don’t have to question the fundamental functions of how media, discourse, and free speech are regulated or not to try to find a way to create a frame for fascism to not look like such a bad idea. It’s not given space in the mainstream media because it shouldn’t be.

        Hopefully what is changing, and from the ground it looks like like it is, is that Americans are becoming more active within the good discourse that exists, rather than remaining lazy and letting fascism reform the media. I certainly hope it works out that way.

      2. >>Most of the regulations regarding radio and television is merely to make sure the technologies still function.

        That’s not entirely true. Radio and Television (and cellphone) bandwidth is a classic example of artificial scarcity. We are nowhere near the physical limits of how much information the radio spectrum can transmit (which is nearly infinite).

        Strictly speaking about physics, the waves themselves *don’t* interfere with each other. They can cross each other’s paths fine and end up at their destinations untouched. What matters is whether the *receiver* is able to pick one wave out of multiple crashing on its antenna. And even in the 1940s, there was technology (i.e. spread spectrum technology) to allow multiple signals to be sent while being resistant to jamming and interference.

        But forget about the 1940’s. All of the radio channels being broadcast throughout the country today could fit neatly into the bandwidth available in 1 single 4G cellphone channel. All the government has to do to is create a new standard for a receiver (a-la AM and FM, which are merely government standards of a certain receiver and encoding technology). Yet they don’t, because incumbent radio operators and the government enjoy the barriers to entry that currently exist. (I should point out they did reserve a new spectrum, available only to XM and Sirius, which use their tiny piece of spectrum to broadcast hundreds of CD-quality channels throughout the country via satellite. And yet the vast swathes of the AM and FM spectrum are only allowed at best 20-30 stations in any given area. Sounds like artificial scarcity to me…)

        For another example, look at cellphones vs. wi-fi. Cellphone spectrum is auctioned for billions of dollars to primarily 4 companies who maintain an oligopoly on service, for which they charge $100 or more per month. In contrast, wi-fi spectrum is unlicensed (it was left unlicensed because no one wanted it because it’s in the same frequencies as microwaves, which is why your internet goes flaky when someone is warming their food :-). It was considered junk spectrum that no one could use. So without government restrictions to “protect” that spectrum from interference, collisions, etc. what happened? Lo and behold, users can buy one receiver / transmitter for ~$100, and have free wireless bandwidth much, much higher than their cellphones get, while not having to worry about interference from their neighbor’s Wi-Fi (or even multiple devices within the house itself). No one needs to register with the government to buy a Wi-Fi transmitter (aka a network card for your computer) either. It all just works. And yet cellphone companies argue we need to regulate the rest of the spectrum “for our own good”. Trust me, this was not done because of the physical limits of their spectrum, and certainly not “for our own good”…

        Similarly, Net Neutrality is being attacked in the name of “saving” the internet with arguments about [artificial] scarcity. Cable companies argue that service would be better for their customers if they could just decide which traffic goes through quicker. Do you really think cable is asking for that power in order to improve their customers’ service?

        But it’s not just about the technology. It’s about what we wished to do with it. When TV was first created, the spectrum was *given away* to TV stations because TV was seen not as a commercial resource, but as a public resource, to be used to educate the public. That’s why network TV (i.e. not cable) still has to comply with FCC standards of broadcast such as no nudity, equal time for opposing political views, and requirements for children’s programming.

        IOW, when TV was first created, the regulations were structured to ensure the medium would be used for educational purposes first, and commercial purposes second. This has now been reversed. To the point where network TV complains they’re at a “competitive disadvantage” to cable because of all those pesky public interest regulations that cable doesn’t have (while conveniently forgetting that they are given billions of dollars worth of spectrum for free), and so continue to lobby to water down those regulations.

        Similarly, it’s telling that the metaphor used for the internet — and promoted by tech companies — was “Information Super Highway”. Why not “Global Education Network?” Easy: a highway is something the government maintains at its own cost, in order to enable private players (primarily involved with commerce e.g. malls, truckers, etc.) to use and profit from. It is a classic public good, maintained at public expense, except one with very minimal regulations over its use: the government never says, because you’re using public roads, your store must serve the public interest, or that you must pay a tax because of the benefit you gain from being located next to a highway.

        Voila: the internet is now dedicated primarily to commerce, with very minimal regulations on how private players use it (one difference: government no longer maintains it). Its information potential (i.e. the ability to be a Global Education Network) is now secondary to its commercial potential. Indeed, information is purely valued by how much it increases ad revenue, i.e. clickbait, a term which I think perfectly captures how tech companies view any duty they have to use technology for better communication rather than higher profits.

        Here’s a great interview with an internet pioneer, Jaron Lanier, where he argues that the structure of the modern internet, where everything is free, paid by advertising, creates “assholes” e.g. trolls, conspiracy theorists, bullies, etc. Because the fundamental premise of marketing is evoking emotions, and has very little to do with truth. Therefore, a marketplace of ideas in which ideas are judged by their ability to drive advertising means the ideas that “win out” are ones that generate strong emotions. Truth is not the primary determinant.

        That’s why the real question isn’t should ideas be judged in a marketplace. It is, who decides which ideas get to compete in the first place, who judges the winners, and by what criteria? If you can control that, the competition itself doesn’t matter. You’ve already won.

        Sorry for the long posts. The structure of our communications media is boring and inscrutable because it combines technical details and gov. regulation, two incredibly dull subjects 🙂 But it’s incredibly important. And strictly focusing on the 1st Amendment as a magical savior of our public discourse is disregarding the 99.99% of the rest of public policy that ultimately controls what we can say and hear. I’d even argue that these days, the FCC chair is nearly as important as the President in his power to set the terms of our national debate.

      3. >>On a technical level, each media technology invention has been more democratic than the last, and are moreso today.

        I disagree on this one too 🙂 It’s been more democratic on the *receiving* end, but has become less democratic on the *transmitting* end. What do I mean? I agree with you that for people receiving information, radio is easier than newspapers since you don’t need literacy. And TV is better still.

        However, to *transmit* information, each technology has made it harder. There were plenty of pamphleteers in the 1700s and 1800s. It was pretty easy to write up a few pages, pay for your local printer to make copies, then stand on a street corner and distribute it to your neighbors. And pamphlets like “Common Sense” (Thomas Paine) could wield enormous influence.

        When you get to radio, you need a recording station, plus a license to transmit, or at least time on your local radio station. When you get to TV, you need a full production studio complete with video cameras, producers, and editors.

        Furthermore, with each technology advance, the form of the broadcast has taken on more importance than the content, making it even harder to compete. For example, with written word, the NY Times isn’t much prettier than what you can crank out on your word processor. With a fairly level playing field on the form of your communication, you can compete with them on the actual content of what you write. In contrast, if you want to make a TV show and have people watch and believe what you say, you need to dazzle them with the form: bright graphics, pretty anchormen/women, authoritative-sounding music, and a visual background with a globe on it. None of this makes what the anchormen say true, but it certainly makes it more convincing, which means if you want to compete with Fox News, you can’t just be right; you have to beat it on its form, which requires spending millions of dollars.

        To be fair, the internet has made it easier to publish than the above technologies, but the internet is a young technology. Wait until it comes under more control. It’s already becoming harder and harder. In the early days of the internet, anyone could put up a blog, and since the internet was primarily the written word, you could easily compete with anyone. Furthermore, it wasn’t hard to land on Google’s top page as long as your content was good.

        Nowadays, if you want people to visit your site, you need to have great graphics and video, and you need to hire a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) consultant who can manipulate your pages to get you higher on Google’s ranking. Showing up on Google’s first page of search results is now a science that people devote entire careers to. And if you’re not in the first 3 pages of results, you might as well be handing out pamphlets on your street corner in terms of the distribution you hope to achieve.

        For all the talk about how the internet enables peer-to-peer communication, the truth is, every single technology started out that way, and eventually became one-to-many communication, with the “one” being consolidated into fewer and fewer players, even as the “many” side exploded thanks to technology.

      4. “Radio and Television (and cellphone) bandwidth is a classic example of artificial scarcity. We are nowhere near the physical limits of how much information the radio spectrum can transmit (which is nearly infinite).”

        The technological limitations of radio and television bandwith are observed whenever you’re in between channels and two start cross-feeding. Within those broadcast spectra, the more figurative use of the term ‘noise’ can be indicated to stuff like War of the Worlds*. Not just anybody is let into that wide broadcast space because we don’t want a bunch of alt-right trolls overwhelming it with fake emergency broadcasts.

        Outside of that spectrum, ham radio and independent television have always had their thriving communities. Television less so because it’s broadcast equipment is more expensive and cumbersome, but public access has a rich tradition in most communities.

        Those spectra are absolutely more divisible with finer equipment — see the release of digital broadcast equipment in the early 2000s — but by the time that stuff came along the Internet had already taken off and rendered much of the ‘public access’ broadcast space obsolete.

        Cable opened up television exponentially but the people laying the cable created the market, which is what is happening to the Internet right now. All media go through a ‘crystalization’ phase, and a lot of what the modern debate about Net Neutrality et al are about how the Internet is crystalizing.

        * War of the Worlds wasn’t the big freak out people make it out to be, mind you. But the point is that if anyone can broadcast widely or even nationally on a device of limited bandwidth, they can send out all matter of nonsense while simultaneously choking off signals others could use to counter that nonsense. Just see how emergency alerts send simultaneously through radio, television, and cellphones while shutting down broadcast on every channel.

  7. Members of Congress and the Republican Party leadership are not exercising “responsible speech” about Donald Trump’s actions and those of his hand-selected cabinet. There is a greater danger in not speaking truth when one knows it than there is being the fool who will say anything to influence their audience. Their silence shows complicit support and utter disregard for the truth and principle. They are, indeed, hollowed out.

  8. “Unearned deference” – Says it all, even as reputable polls show Trump at his highest poll number ever (42), his support from rank and file White Evangelicals steady at 73% , and a solid 85% of Republicans give Trump’sjob approval their blessing. What does this say about conservative effectiveness in their campaign of fear and mis-information?

    The “dumbing down” of America has found a willing audience for those who misuse free speech. Women have figured this out and our teens are calling B.S. The rest? They are motivated by something far less honorable. FB has provided a platform for secret groups to share fact-supported ideas but there are also internet sites that promote opinions masquerading as truth. It is up to each of us to read widely, think deeply, and call out B.S. when we confront it.

    1. That’s not entirely true. You are free from physical harm for expressing your views. You used to be free from being fired for expressing non-work-related views in your own private time and private space. Not anymore.

      Freedom “to” and Freedom “from” are two sides of the same coin. Jean Paul Sartre argued that everyone has radical freedom “to” do something as long as they’re willing to accept the consequences. For example, you can easily murder someone, as long as you’re willing to accept facing the death penalty yourself. Nothing really restricts you from exercising that “freedom” if you’re willing to face the consequences. Similarly, it is just as easy to go to the middle of Tiananmen Square in Beijing and denounce the Premier, as it is to march in DC and denounce Trump. The only difference is that you’ll be arrested and tortured for doing the former. But as a practical matter, there is nothing preventing you from making your speech in either location.

      So a freedom “to” do something essentially says you will not face consequences of that action. IOW, there is no such thing as a freedom “to” do something without a corresponding freedom “from” the (at least some of) the consequences of doing that thing. The 1st Amendment guarantees a freedom “from” a very narrow set of consequences for your speech (essentially government punishment). But our general set of laws, regulations, and norms guarantees a much broader set of freedom “from’s”. While not constitutionally protected, they’re still an integral part of our society. Those are indeed being chipped away, and that’s a big problem.

      1. Good points, and I agree with most of your larger stroke arguments in your root comment above. You’re doing a finer job talking about what this issue means to the larger structure of discourse than me.

        But what I’m saying is that free speech does NOT give you the right to bully people, and modern conservativism at root is nothing more intellectual than bullying. I’m not then making the next step argument that liberals make — that we need tougher laws against speech to prevent bullying. What I am saying is that if you bully people, either someone is going to intervene or the victim is eventually going to bully you back.

      2. And that’s what the whole “politically incorrect” thing is about. “I should have the right to bully people without them getting upset with me.” No, that’s not how any of this works.

      3. It can go further, as The Guardian points out, with practices of “extreme vetting” that identify people who are suspected of being “potentially” antagonistic to America’s safety. This can lead to targeting people, searching their electronic devices and social media for proof of personally held beliefs as grounds for expelling them from the country whether they’ve publicly uttered any speech that would be subject to criticism. I understand this has gone on for a long time for America’s safety, but not as brazenly as it appears to be used today. At what point does freedom of thought become as endangered as freedom of speech?

        With the advent of deep-state technology, how will the right to private speech be impacted?

      4. Aaron-

        I agree with you about bullying. If you bully someone with speech, be prepared for someone to fight back occasionally. Laura Ingraham has learned this lesson quite painfully 🙂 It does seem that conservatives want to spew racist / fascist / sexist / stupid stuff but want to be protected from people then calling them racist / fascist / sexist / stupid which is not how it works 🙂

        That article about Peter Thiel and Palantir is the scariest thing I’ve read in some time. The fact that it isn’t illegal, with Palantir being broken up and its executives behind bars, just shows you how far the norms around privacy have eroded since 9/11.

    2. Every now and then, people fight back against bullies like Alex Jones who have enjoyed relative impugnity from consequence of their speech. That is changing for him and we should hope it changes for the president. When there are no consequences for one’s actions and words, or insufficient consequences, it tends to numb one’s sensitivity to the content. That used to matter. Respect for norms is important, especially with the broad and fast capabilities of today’s media. It’s difficult to “take back” something that’s spread across the internet, even if it’s been re-packaged to convey a different meaning. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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