Using the Freedom of speech defense has long been a go-to for conservatives. Often, it’s used to weaponize their bigoted rhetoric under the guise of patriotism.
For instance, just this week, Trump cited freedom of speech to defend the Confederate flag.
However, there’s been quite a debate about free speech lately that’s cirulating throughout liberal circles following the publication of an open letter in Harper’s Bazaar signed by prominent scholars and writers accusing insitutions of discouraging open debate through a vicious “cancel culture.”
This is a tough one. In an era when we’re finally uniting to reckon with systematic racism and discrimination, it can be deflating that there’s more divide than we think among what we’d normally consider open-minded people.
As usual, I fall somewhere in the middle. People who spread hate should be called out and face the consequences for their words. And yet, sharing a thoughtful yet unpopular opinion shouldn’t cost people their livelihood.
This dilemma was recently highlighted in a fiasco that occurred in the board of the National Book Critics Circle— a forward-thinking institution. A written statement denouncing racism turned into a controversy that resulted in more than half the board resigning.
Overall, I agree with the letter writers. And what does it say about our culture when a letter promoting free speech and open debate becomes controversial?
It’s undoubtedly a good thing that we’re drawing a fence around acceptable and unacceptable concepts and ideas in today’s world. But who decides what’s in-bounds and what’s out out-of-bounds? Who’s the gatekeeper? This is what needs to be focused on.
Cancel culture does indeed stymie open and thoughtful debate. It also endorses an attack on the person rather than an idea. When JK Rowling explains her rationale behind her unpopular view on transgender identity, the reaction was to cancel JK Rowling rather than trying to dispute her reasoning.
Healthy debate is how you truly change minds. Cancelling some one does not.
Conservatives have been illiberal for years. Let’s not make it easy for them to deflect by going down that same path. After all, there’s no equivalency between racism and overzealous political correctness.
Freedom of speech will always be the most American of ideas. But it does not give you permission to say whatever you want without consequences.
Let’s call out hatred, bigotry, racism and discrimination for what it is, but let’s also remember who the real enemy is. And as mad and disappointed as some people are, the enemy is not JK Rowling.
Still not convinced? Well, if cancel culture was as mainstream in 2010 as it is now, I may have never started this blog. And if that was the case then … literally nothing in this world would be different.