For weeks, a great amount of energy was poured into discussing whether Ann Coulter should be allowed to bring her snark heavy schtick to the Berkeley campus. Before her it was Milo. Now Brett Stephens’ first column at the New York Times has hysterical leftists cancelling their subscriptions because he dared express skepticism about climate change.
The conversations about all of these inevitably became about Constitutionally protected freedom of speech, but are these really examples of people having their right to free expression infringed upon? I say they are not.
My reasoning there is that the Constitution protects your right to express yourself, but it doesn’t guarantee you a venue or an audience. No one is being silenced. Maybe it’s the Cold War kid in me, but when I think of people being deprived of the rights described in the first amendment, I think of Soviet dissidents being jailed, tortured, and diagnosed with fake mental illnesses for speaking against the state. I don’t think of a multiple bestselling author appearing on a bunch of national radio and television shows talking about how her speech to a few hundred people got cancelled. That’s not to say that what’s happening today isn’t a portent of real rights violations to come, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
What’s going on right now is arguably worse.
The pre-existing rights that the Constitution protects are themselves under fire. That may seem like splitting hairs but this is more insidious than a violation of rights. The people on the left are redefining what rights you actually have. The balaclava clad dumpster burners and the academic pinheads who encourage them no longer believe that people have a right to be wrong (by their definition). They have also invented a new right that only some people have—the right not to be offended.
They are not simply violating the Constitution. They are supplanting language, philosophy, and reason with pure emotion. They are destroying the common means of communicating and understanding human rights and replacing it with a “coexist” bumper sticker. The kicker is that they’re setting themselves up as the arbiters of who is worthy of coexisting with them. Those who don’t make the cut simply get labeled as purveyors of “hate speech” who have no right to be hateful. The left likes to claim that they value human rights, but it’s only because they also think they are the ones who get to decide who is actually human.
After thirty years of being told that we only have 10 years to save the planet, they have still somehow managed to convince a lot of people that questioning their accuracy is equivalent not only to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater but to actually setting fire to a crowded theater. There are those who literally believe words are a form of violence.
The least effective method of fighting back against this is to cite the Constitution and expect the leftists to abide by an authentic understanding of what the document means. It only means what they want it to mean at any given time. The fight over who gets to say what and where isn’t a going to be won in a courtroom because it’s not a legal fight. It’s a cultural fight that needs a cultural strategy. Arguing about a single speech, a newspaper column, or a social media policy barely scratches the surface.
If the problem before us was as simple as fighting a top down violation of our freedom of expression we would be on much better footing. The problem is that we are fighting a movement that is working from the bottom up to change the very idea of what freedom is.