Watch Your Head

[A] culture that no longer values free speech as a cultural value will eventually lose sight of the reasons why speech is protected, and will inevitably then take steps to curtail and restrict speech.

Watch Your Head

One of my favorite quotes, and the one that has always gotten me into all kinds of trouble on the internet, is from C. S. Lewis' sermon Learning in Wartime, from the collection The Weight of Glory. And the quote is: "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." It's one of the reasons that a healthy, vigorous debate is something to be desired. Hopefully, in the course of a healthy, vigorous debate on an issue, people will (ideally) consider the various viewpoints, make reasoned conclusions, and reach some kind of consensus.


No, in today's fast-paced social media world, there's rarely time for debate. You've got to click on the next interesting thing. The algorithm is constantly shoving new things in front of your face. You've got to go, go, go, or you'll MISS something, and then you'll MISS OUT... And besides, debate is a tool of white supremacy, or something, as is asking for evidence. Or objective standards. Or anything that happens to pop up that may indicate that they are wrong. It can be quite frustrating.

It reminds me of a book I read when I was a teenager - Secret of the Sixth Magic by Lyndon Hardy. It's a sequel of sorts to Master of the Five Magics. See, in MotFM, Hardy created a world with five different kinds of magic. Thaumaturgy, Alchemy, Magic, Sorcery and Wizardry. Each different school of magic had certain rules that governed how the magic worked, and typically you studied one school and got really good at that.

But in SotSM, Hardy creates a sixth discipline that changes the parameters of how the other magic schools work. There was a bad guy trying to invade, or something, and what he did was he changed the magic system and people who were trying to stop him with thaumaturgy or alchemy or what-have-you suddenly got no reaction or strange new potentially dangerous reactions to their spells and potions. In one scene in particular, they were trying to overwhelm the person changing the magic parameters by doing one kind of magic, and then when he tried to change the rules, they would IMMEDIATELY switch to another kind of magic, and then when THAT changed, they would switch to a THIRD type of magic, and so on and so forth, pushing at the rules so that they person trying to control the rules couldn't keep up.

And I think something similar is going on in certain realms of online discourse. The rules governing what is or is not acceptable speech keep changing. And people use those changing rules to enable their own speech and disadvantage the speech of others. Or to lift themselves up and destroy others. It's a realpolitik of speech - how do I gain power, keep power, and deny it to others? And the ability to speak your mind is the power that's being sought. Might be a bit deeper, even - as the idea of objective truth is one of the things under attack. It's a strange time.

One of my newer favorite quotes is this one - "A people can be no greater than their stories." - Marlon K. Jenson. Which makes me think that one of the ways you attack and undermine a group of people - a culture, let's say - is by attacking the things they tell themselves about themselves and their history. If you look around at what people are saying about USA, and in particular about the founding of America, and its history, and the men and women who brought that off, it's not the kind of thing that encourages someone to love their country. It's not the kind of thing that holds up a standard to live up to. Instead, it seems to be designed to make people ashamed and afraid. And of course, anyone who speaks up is either a white supremacist themselves, or they have some kind of false consciousness and internalized racism or sexism, and they can be safely discounted. (Bulverism!) In fact, just being around those people can infect your mind with their ideas like a disease (remember the news story a few years ago that claimed that watching Jordan Peterson YouTube videos would lead people to watching Ben Shapiro videos which would lead them to PragerU videos which would lead them to FASCISM!?!!!?!11!? Yeah.)

Cultural supremacy is what the left thinks it has. And it does have an awful lot of cultural power. This is dangerous because a culture that no longer values free speech as a cultural value will eventually lose sight of the reasons why speech is protected, and will inevitably then take steps to curtail and restrict speech. Same with the right to keep and bear arms. Same with the right to assemble. And eventually, the whole 1st Amendment, including the rights associated with free exercise of religion, will be washed away.

So, it's important to think now about the rules you want to use to discern truth, whether it's on the internet, or in the newspaper, or if you're having a conversation with your neighbor. How will you decide what's right and real? How will you treat someone that doesn't agree with you? And how would you expect to be treated by someone who disagrees with you, but is still acting in good faith? Are you committed to acting (and speaking) in good faith? Are you willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt when they're trying imperfectly to express something? Do you expect that benefit of the doubt when someone is talking to you and something comes out not as artfully as you might have wished?

And what stories are you allowing into your head and out of your mouth (or your fingers) about who you are, what the country is, and how reality works?

The image for this post - "skull 2"by gustopher is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0