More on the High Cost of Free Speech
I was just in the final stages of completing my commentary on the continual high cost of free speech (already delayed by the leaked Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade) when the news was flashed across the TV screen about the racially motivated mass murder in Buffalo, New York. Almost immediately there were calls for social media platforms to increase their content moderation of white supr4emacy and to eliminate violent live feeds.
The Buffalo killer, Payton Gendron, live streamed the attack on Twitch, a live streaming service owned by Amazon. Twitch claimed that the stream was taken down within two minutes, but it had also been downloaded by a number Gendron’s followers who had reposted the video all over the Internet.
The problem isn’t that Facebook, Twitter and Amazon don’t sufficiently censor their content, but that there are innumerable other websites and services appealing to fringe groups on the right and left. Mr. Gendron accessed his white supremacist garbage on 4Chan and used the instant messaging service Discord to spread his hateful bile. Discord, a service that boasts 350 million registered users, has been rife with problems but has promised to clean up its act. But as soon as Discord begins to censor whatever it considers to be beyond the pale, nefarious users will just migrate to another platform or create a new one on their own.
As a society we cannot overcome this problem by driving it further underground. The burghers and bishops of the sixteenth century probably thought they could stamp out protestant heresy with censorship laws and inquisitions. They failed miserably. And we will fail as a free society if we attempt drive out hateful and malicious speech and publications by banishing them to the underground (along with other heterodox speech as well). These ideas flourish in the darkness. What destroys them is exposure to the light. They cannot stand up to debate. They cannot back up their outlandish assertions. Their vast conspiracies of pedophiles fall apart when openly discussed (as Ben Franklin said, “three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”)
Mr. Gendron described himself as a white supremacist, a fascist and an antisemite, as if he relished being defined by these bizarre and hateful causes. And politicians of the left, and the panderers of black ethnicity have latched onto white supremacy as the driving force of Mr. Gendron’s hate and have vowed to stamp out white supremacy as a force in America. But the white supremacy defined by the left and the race panderers is actually the Enlightenment civilization, American principles and free market economics that has made America the prosperous dynamic country that it is. They want to stomp out white supremacy by destroying everything that Western civilization has built over centuries, which included outlawing slavery and striving to deliver civil rights to people of all colors and ethnicities because that’s what our values and principles tell us to do.
Mr. Gendron’s hate does not appear to be an ideology. It appears to be a sickness, a mental illness. White supremacy, QAnon conspiracies and other far right dogmas are illogical and unsupported by empirical evidence. Mr. Gendron, himself, was placed under psychiatric observation overnight a year prior to his massacre after he published a paper in school saying he dreamed of murder and suicide. It would appear that an intervention at that time might have prevented Mr. Gendron’s descent into madness and hatred and saved us from a tragedy.
But Antifa protestors and BLM anti-racists share many of the same symptoms as Mr. Gendron. Their beliefs are equally illogical and lack any empirical evidence to support their new woke religion. Mass murders of black people, nightly protests with no apparent objective and blocking police from dangerous neighborhoods are unlikely to achieve the results these extremists seek. Their purpose does not appear to be specific results or outcomes but chaos and disruption. As if they want all of society to suffer the pain of their disturbed thoughts.
The problem lies in the borderlands between delusion and ideology. Every myth has some inkling of truth, and deluded individuals can always find some fact that can be twisted into matching their beliefs. The “Great Replacement” theory that held Mr. Gendron’s imagination in its grasp posits that non-white immigrants are being brought into America to dilute white votes in order to achieve an un-American political agenda. This theory dovetails nicely into anti-racists beliefs that American society and culture is basically white as asserted in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Cultures. The United States is currently undergoing one of the greatest demographic shifts in the history of any nation. These are the kind of demographic shifts that have seen great empires collapse – such as the migrations that afflicted the Roman Empire. And while anti-racist author Ibram X. Kendi might be very pleased with the prospect of whites becoming a plurality instead of being a majority in the coming years, most of the demographic change is occurring from increasing populations of Latin Americans and Asians, not blacks.
But the flaw in the thinking of both Mr. Gendron and Mr. Kendi is that American ideals and principles are white ideals and principles. They are not. They are universal principles that apply to anyone. And anyone who adopts those ideals and principles is likely to have a successful and rewarding life in America – no matter their race or ethnicity.
Of course, it is our political leaders that are driving so many Americans over the edge, what with woke ideology, Stop The Steal, Modern Monetary Theory and all other sorts of nonsense. It is time for all of us to remember the middle-class values that helped our parents create the America that we now want to make great again, or build back better or whatever.
It is time for us to live by our American founding principles, honor our Enlightenment values and become the virtuous people president John Adams hoped we would become, and the rest will take care of itself.