“Elon Musk said Tuesday that he would restore former President Donald Trump’s banned account on Twitter if his deal to acquire the company is completed.” — CNN, 5/11/22
As a freelancer, I appreciate the trust you’re showing me in offering this commission. But to be honest, I’m just not feeling the topic.
Don’t get me wrong, I love freedom of speech. It’s just that we’ve got beautiful spring weather right now, and I’d like to spend my time enjoying it rather than writing about whatever stupid, hateful, corrosive-to-the-very-concept-of-the-human-spirit shit Trump might tweet when he returns.
Before he got banned, I was all on board with what a dangerous slippery slope it would be to block any form of speech, no matter how blatantly harmful. I would never want to turn our world into an echo chamber where I never need to be exposed to different points of view. After all, any truly worthwhile ideas should be able to easily withstand a fire hose of Russian propaganda deployed specifically to destroy American society in the name of owning the libs.
But since the ban, none of the doom we so righteously worried about has come to pass. It’s not like we can’t have right-wing hate speech beamed directly into our face holes at all times. People even manage to stick it on gas pumps. And it turns out that giving a rancid cockwomble’s insane rantings a platform where they can be instantly picked up and repeated by every media outlet on the planet doesn’t have the amazing benefits for public discourse that we claimed it did.
For the record, I loved being a free speech absolutist. It’s an easy argument to make, and it feels so damn good. A middle schooler can understand it. Grover Norquist dominated right-wing thinking for, like, twenty-five years with an idea he came up with when he was twelve, and he has the disadvantage of being him. But I’d like to make the world better, and sometimes that requires thinking that’s a bit beyond the sixth-grade level.
And yes, I know the solution to bad speech isn’t to ban speech but to have more and better speech. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis came up with that idea back in 1927, and he was a clever little segregationist. But as self-righteously satisfying as that argument is to make, it’s just not true. I mean, it never was, but it’s obviously empirically untrue now when we can see how responding to bad speech only makes the algorithms amplify it, and how the media have to prioritize controversy rather than honesty to collect eyeballs and generate profits.
I hope you’ll receive this letter in the spirit of goodwill it’s intended, and I want to assure you that this momentary bit of soul and backbone does not apply to other topics.
Do you want an editorial about how all the Republican book bans are actually caused by wokeness and cancel culture and liberal overreach? I can pop a dozen of those out in a week. It’s just as ludicrous, but we can’t be sure there’s not some tiny crumb of a shred of an angle of a loophole that might—if we ignore certain inconvenient facts—prove that we are actually the bad guys. I’m more than happy to help you examine the concept from all angles for ten to fifteen years to make sure before we start expecting the book banners to take any responsibility for their actions as independent, sentient beings.
And that’s because I respect your mission of publishing self-flagellation for a liberal audience about how the world’s problems are all due to our intolerance of conservatives, our unwillingness to abandon our values to appease rural Republicans who will always hate us, or our insistence on using slogans like “Defund the Police” that don’t manage to give a comprehensive review of an issue with all possible caveats and disclaimers that may apply today or in perpetuity, all within the same number of characters you need to call Brazil.
Like you, I am a proud liberal, and I will never stop looking for ways to allow our perceived imperfections to impede progress.