Quite some time ago, I wrote a bromide discussing first amendment issues (see below). I started with the title “Shut Up, No You Shut Up.” That was misleading. For that kind of exchange to take place, it’s assumed that two parties are in close enough proximity to be barking that at each other.
Labeling becomes useful in preventing two parties from engaging. If I am a racist, fascist, authoritarian, or whatever you choose to call me, you aren’t even obligated to respond to any of the points that I might have brought up.
Twitter has afforded us the opportunity to answer the wants, dreams and aspirations of the ADHD crowd (I number myself among them) to pare huge substantive issues of point/counterpoint to “Nana nana boo boo, stick your head in poo poo” and “Oh yeah, I can’t stick my head in poo poo because all of it’s between your ears.” That is the level of our discourse. And don’t forget clever memes – one image, seven or so words, distilling what used to be dueling white papers between think tanks, into something we can glance at, chuckle at, and get back to our bagel and grande Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino. Granted, Twitter does allow more of us into the fray, but the depth of the discussion rarely ventures beyond tongues sticking out and fingers extended (choose your finger).
Come on, if it requires more than 280 characters, it’s going to be TLDNR (Too Long, Did Not Read). Who has time for in-depth discussions, thoughtful rejoinders, the witty repartee of bygone days? No one does. No one cares.
Let’s be honest. I don’t care if Elon Musk is buying Twitter and if the marketplace of ideas returns and becomes a thing again. I actually do care, but I am only slightly heartened by the news. I had much more intense and strongly worded, elegantly phrased, and truly inspired rhetoric to support my point of view. But I read it, smiled, and thought to myself TLWNR. (Too Long, Will Not Read).
This topic comes down to this, very simply. Stay with me here, I won’t turn this into WAP (War and Peace). You hear someone talking, you see someone post a meme, you read a tweet… pick any one of them and imagine it to be something that you completely disagree with. It doesn’t have to be vile, or disrespectful or vulgar, or stupid – you simply disagree with the premise, its message, and what you think it means. You have a choice – which too many people don’t do – disregard it, scroll on, walk away.
Now, with this example, let’s take it one more step. The someone who is saying this or posting it or tweeting it – is someone that you like, or thought that you did, or someone that you respect. Maybe what they have said is so disagreeable that it causes you to rethink your assessment, respect, or admiration for them. Then you reflect on past interactions, and it troubles you. You double back on your instinct to block them out of your life and send a verbal blowtorch their way about their cruelty and insensitivity. You instead send them a private message and try to follow up with them about their message.
No matter what you find out, your discussion leaves you with this: you and this person agree on 85-90% of other things, the person is still a good person, and they did not intend to blow up your relationship, and you might continue to disagree with them on this issue, and possibly others. What if you have treated this person like a leper, shunned them from your life, and chose to knock the dust off your sandals and never allow yourself to have anything further to do with them.
Would your life benefit from this righteous exodus away from this person because of this untenable thought? This is my point. When we squelch other people’s opinions, or when groups, or organizations, or platforms or governments – silence speech that they have labeled as hate speech, disinformation, misinformation, lies, factually lacking context and thereby keep it from being shared or viewed or discussed… all it does is keep us from learning. I repeat, all it does is keep us from learning.
In my hypothetical example, let’s change things up a bit. Say that this is a person who is not a friend, it is not a person that you admire, that it’s a person with whom you might agree only 10% of the time. Then you can take the leap and exorcise them from your life and news feed if you want. Or you could probe deeper, ask that person some questions, learn more about them and maybe your discussion will lead to helping them learn some things that may change them or educate them in ways that are beneficial. I know, it might not be worth it.
Is it ever worthwhile to expunge the record of every thought, every sentiment, every idea? Yesterday’s misinformation, or disinformation, as we are learning, are today’s facts. They were labeled disinformation by people who benefited from them not being disseminated.
Ask yourself this question:
Are we ever better off not knowing the truth? And ask yourself that question often and ponder the answer. Does preventing someone from speaking or from posting or from distributing information ever do anyone any good?
There are limits to free speech, I understand that. I also understand that if we pull the trigger on free speech too easily, and without great thought and reflection, we probably aren’t doing it to serve the greater good.