Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Final Exam

When I am running with a dog, I find that they tend to fall into one of two groups. The first group, the racers, will just run faster than me, racing ahead on their four legs and frame built for speed. They tend to run circles around me as I plod along on my two primate legs. The second group, the tricksters, take a different tack. They want to sabotage my run, to cut out my legs from under me, to interrupt my path. They will cut across and trip me up rather than racing ahead.

I mention that because it reminds me of my views on free speech. Everybody says they are in favor of free speech (that is, speech which is unimpeded by law or violence). But my experience is that most people have no idea whether they really are in favor of free speech or not, and a lot of the people who find out, find out that they are in fact NOT in favor of free speech at all.

The moment of decision comes when a person is confronted with STIRD. What's STIRD? It is: Speech That I Really Dislike. Speech so unpleasant that it kicks you in the stomach, speech so offensive to you that you break a molar every time you hear it. Speech that makes you want to punch someone twice in the mouth and once in the throat.

Finding a hyperoffensive, hateful idea like that is an opportunity. It's a final exam for your commitment to free speech, to the Enlightenment notion of the unobstructed exchange of ideas.

People confronted with their own STIRD will tend to react in one of two ways:

1) The Debaters - The instinct of the Debater is to rebut. Their answer to an offensive article in the newspaper is to write a letter to the editor. Their reaction to an offensive speaker on campus is to attend the speech and ask questions at the end, or to give their own speech in response. Their reaction to offensive media is to answer with media of their own. A cakemaker who is an advocate of ideas hateful to them doesn't get their business, but they don't try to shut him down. They just go someplace else. They fundamentally defend the right of people to bring ideas into the forum, even ideas they hate with a passion.

2) The Stiflers - The instinct of the Stifler is to stifle. Their reaction to the hated article is to call on the publication to retract it; to call on others to boycott the publication; to seize the printed copies and call for the blackballing of the author from further publication anywhere. Their reaction to an offensive speaker on campus is to pull the fire alarms, to drown out the speaker with bullhorns, to form human chains across the doors to the lecture hall. The cakemaker who doesn't agree with the Stifler? Shut him down, run him out of town, burn his business to the ground. Keep that STIRD from being accessible to anyone. The stifler attempts to prevent the speaker from speaking, to prevent the listener from listening, and to prevent the forum from existing. Surprisingly, Stiflers often claim the high moral ground while doing this shit.

If, when confronted with your own STIRD, you react as a Stifler, then you do NOT believe in free speech - you believe in speech with which you agree. Guess what, Kim Jong, everybody believes in that. It's nothing at all. Even Saddam Hussein and Al Sharpton are in favor of speech with which they agree. You should just jump in all the way, buy the crisp hat and the jackboots, get yourself a snappy salute and a Wagnerian logo in black and red, and start beating up those people whom you blame for your own shortcomings.

If, on the other hand, you are a Debater, then congratulations. The legacy of western civilization rests in your hands. You are probably going to lose, because the Stiflers are vicious bastards, but at least you can lose knowing that you stood for human freedom.

Monday, June 22, 2015

QOTD - Reality

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." - Philip K. Dick

Wednesday, June 10, 2015