Welcome to 2020, where words are violence, and silence is violence, but actual violence is not violence.
‘Do you remember,’ he [O’Brien] went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’
‘Yes,’ said Winston.
O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.
‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’
‘And if the party says that it is not four but five — then how many?’
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.
‘How many fingers, Winston?’
The needle went up to sixty.
~ George Orwell, 1984 (part 3, chapter 2)
Welcome to the age of loyalty oaths and the banning of unpopular opinions — as well as “problematic” facts.
An age of witch hunts in search of seditious wrongthink.
Robby Soave writes, in another excellent piece at Reason:
James Bennet resigned as editorial page editor of The New York Times on Sunday, following a successful campaign by irate staffers to oust the person who published an inflammatory op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) that suggested the government deploy federal troops to “restore order in our streets.”
. . .
Bennet’s resignation was an instructive show of force from those Times staffers who want the paper to be more transparently progressive. Their successful strategy—describe their opposition to someone else’s speech as a matter of personal safety—is straight out of the woke left’s playbook. Dismayingly, we should expect to see this tactic deployed more frequently in the future.
“The key aspect of this affair,” Soave notes, is that,
The progressive group didn’t just say that the op-ed was wrong and shouldn’t have been published. They stated directly that publishing it undermined their personal safety. Their choice of phrasing was deliberate—part of an effort to gird their opposition to the op-ed in the language of workplace safety, according to a piece by Times media columnist Ben Smith:
That pattern continued last week, as Times staff members began an extraordinary campaign to publicly denounce the Op-Ed article written by Senator Cotton. Members of an internal group called Black@NYT organized the effort in a new Slack channel and agreed on a carefully drafted response. They would say that Mr. Cotton’s column “endangered” black staff members, a choice of words intended to “focus on the work” and “avoid being construed as hyperpartisan,” one said. On Wednesday evening around 7:30, hours after the column was posted, Times employees began tweeting a screenshot of Mr. Cotton’s essay, most with some version of the sentence: “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger.” The NewsGuild of New York, later advised staff members that that formulation was legally protected speech because it focused on workplace safety. “It wasn’t just an opinion, it felt violent—it was a call to action that could hurt people,” one union activist said of Mr. Cotton’s column.
This is quite obviously nonsense: Cotton’s words placed no one in imminent danger. Sadly, it’s becoming distressingly common for progressive employees who wish to silence a dissident view to cite workplace safety as a pretext. To take just one example, this was how conservative writer Kevin Williamson got fired from The Atlantic.
This is a disturbing trend that ought to concern everyone—liberals included. It’s an insult to actual workplace safety issues, for one thing. For another, it makes the office a dangerous place to express a potentially unpopular opinion. Journalistic institutions shouldn’t live in fear of difficult conversations, or of provoking offense. But the necessary consequence of this new regime of safetyism will be everybody walking on eggshells.
In 2020, the use of certain “unapproved” words by the “wrong” people must be punished by the cultural nomenklatura.
I opened with a quotation from 1984. In 2020, freedom is the freedom to say that many many people of all races enjoy interracial porn, or that people must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, or that there are only two biological genders — while society is full of enraged woke O’Briens happy to crank the pain dial up to 11 so as to punish such wrongthink.
The concept of freedom of speech is designed to specifically protect unpopular speech. Popular speech doesn’t need protection — it’s popular.
And freedom of speech recognizes that unpopular speech has great value.
It’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard. It is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear, and every time you silence somebody, you make yourself a prisoner of your own action, because you deny yourself the right to hear something.
Indeed, as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except for one person, it would be most important that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his, perhaps outrageous, view.
In more modern times this has been put, I think, best by a personal heroine of mine, Rosa Luxemburg, who said that the freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently. That person doesn’t just have a right to speak, that person’s right to speak must be given extra protection, because what he has to say might, in any case, give people to think about why do they know what they already think they know? How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else? It’s always worth establishing first principles. It’s always worth saying, what would you do if you met a flat earth society member? Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think, you’re bound to be okay, because you’re in the safely moral majority.
Kay is correct. The woke intersectionalist march through our institutions has left us with a generation of journalists who see censorship as a welcome tool, and objectivity — the duty to examine and treat all sides of a situation or argument fairly — as the enemy.
Activism now trumps journalism, and they are unashamed to say so.
Ben Smith’s piece, “Inside The Revolts Erupting in America’s Big Newsrooms,” should terrify you. He points to writer Welsey Lowery as a chilling example of this phenomena:
“American view-from-nowhere, ‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment,” he tweeted of the Times debacle. “We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.”
Whom would you elect as the guardian of moral clarity?
An editor or journalist at The New York Times?
Tony Rios at AVN?
Some faceless Social Justice apparatchik at Twitter who will unverify and “unperson” you for not toeing the party line?
I’ll close with a final quote from Mr. Hitchens:
Every time you violate or propose to violate the free speech of someone else you, in potentia, you’re making a rod for your own back because the … question raised by justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is simply this: Who’s going to decide? To whom do you reward the right to decide which speech is harmful? Or who is the harmful speaker? Or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor?
To whom you would give the job to decide for you, relieve you from the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear?
. . .
You’re giving away what’s most precious in your own society and you’re giving it away without a fight and you’re even praising the people who want to deny you the right to resist it. Shame on you while you do this. Make the best use of the time you’ve got left. This is really serious.