Somewhere between Elon Musk bullying Twitter into submission, the Biden administration launching a “misinformation board” and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis bullying Disney and gay people, the realization is starting to sink in. We are not doing very well with this freedom of expression. Too bad it’s a bit critical for us to do other things well. Ask Vlad.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin simmers in his evil villain’s lair, absentmindedly stroking the head of his Komodo dragon, thinking about his disastrous invasion of Ukraine. As many experts have pointed out, Putin sits atop a pyramid of liars and corrupt officials. Its oligarchs lied about the materials they were supposed to supply to the Russian army, the military lied about the quality of the army, and everyone lied about the Ukrainian people. The system is so corrupt that it cannot be fixed by people within the system – they are all too afraid of a Fall Putin’s speech.
“[w]We see corruption coming back to Russia,” journalist David Volodzko told NPR in early May. As a result, “Putin may have had the wrong information, thinking that the Ukrainians were going to wait with flowers instead of…. . . a Molotov cocktail – and going in with bad gear, thinking he had the best and the latest. And so as much as we fell in love with this idea that Russia is much more powerful than them, much more capable than them, Putin fell in love with that himself.
If people are afraid to tell their superiors and the public unwanted news, you end up with debacles like Russia’s war in Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani’s Four Seasons Landscaping press conference. As the computer nerds say: trash in, trash out.
IT’S NOT JUST FOR DICTATORS ANYMORE
People censor others and themselves for various reasons. To protect himself. To manipulate others. To stifle opposition. It’s addictive, and it’s been there forever.
Book banning was once relegated to the realm of neo-Nazi cosplayers and occasional fundamentalist schoolteachers in the South. Now it’s all the rage, with Republican-led state governments seeking to ban books that say anything about [censored] or were written by a [censored]. There’s even a congressional candidate in Virginia seeking legal action against Barnes & Noble for selling books that make him sick. God forbid anyone who reads something that bothers them; but it’s even worse if you’re so intellectually fragile that you can’t stand anyone else reading about [censored to protect fragile political candidates’ feelings].
But it’s not just on the right wing of American politics. On the left, this has taken the form of framing conversations and entire issues in such a way as to exclude their opponents from the conversation. And it goes beyond politically correct language. Not so long ago, the ACLU, a Berkeley English professor and American independent booksellers got involved in a controversy over an anti-trans book, but they weren’t defending the right for an author. to make a controversial affair, they demanded in turn its suppression, even its fire.
This general desire to silence others even touched this same newspaper of this very liberal city, with a group of supervisors from San Francisco who were so [censored to protect fragile powerful people] that they tried to punish Marina hours financially because of some negative tweets.
IT WAS ENJOYABLE WHILE IT LAST
I guess I’m part of a generation that reveled more in the diversity of opinions and ideas. Some of them are crazy, yes, but the democratic conversation is better to be broad than narrow.
In college in the late 1980s, the two student dailies on my campus opposed attempts by the school administration to impose a speech code. It is a conservative-leaning newspaper and a very left-leaning newspaper, both of which are opposites. Now you have students on the left calling for censorship, refusing to allow opposing speakers on campus. Between Republican lawmakers passing laws restricting speech and students demanding a ban on other speech, classrooms will go silent.
Sometimes education is all about being upset. If learning the truth about something bothers you, it’s up to you to adapt to the reality, not deny it. (And sometimes reality is just acknowledging that there are people with vastly different and sometimes irreconcilable opinions from what you believe.) [censored to protect god’s feelings]?
On the political right, there’s a lot of talk about free speech these days, but most of the talk is about standing up for internet trolls. When it comes to real freedom of speech and exposure to ideas they don’t like, they eagerly ban books and tell teachers what to say in class. Imagine you’re a teacher, maybe you have a master’s degree and 15 years of teaching experience, regularly attend conferences to learn new teaching methods and keep up to date with the subject matter you have chosen – and you have to bend over backwards to a political party that thinks Marjorie Taylor Green and Louie Gohmert are worthy solons. It’s enough to make you [bleeping censored], and it does not help the students. Meanwhile, on the left, they’ve resurrected those 1980s speech codes with gusto. The measure of a statement’s value is no longer its truth, but how it makes its audience feel.
But if I can’t disturb people once in a while, if I can’t talk about everything that matters, what’s left to write?
“Hey, the Kardashians have a new series.”
Son of [censored]!
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