Lets talk about free speech:
A thread on free speech, cancel culture, and what's at stake.
Free speech, the first amendment, and cancel culture tend to be spoken of together, and I actually think that's a problem. Conflating separate but related concepts from a cluster of interlocking issues we muddy the water and make addressing the situation properly impossible.
So let's map the territory Shall we?
To begin, in a very strict, narrow, LEGAL sense, free speech is doing well. In 1st amendment cases the Supreme Court rules, almost without exception, the GOVERNMENT can't censor speech. Which is good! Government censorship is tyranny.
That said, the 1st amendment only covers government censorship. This means that while the government cannot impose consequences on you for speaking your mind, your fellow citizens can. This is where we run into our next concept: Cancel Culture. Which can be tricky to define...
Cancel Culture is the phenomenon where a mob or group uses clout, social cache, or social pressure to implement (usually) financial consequences for expressing an idea. This almost always takes the form of social pressure campaigns and threats of boycotts to get someone fired.
Many of the mobs, and pressure campaigns originate from social media, and because digital mobs are easier to create then real ones Cancel Culture has a lower bar to entry. That said, there is a concept that cancel culture shares with other types of social speech policing...
Namely, that social speech policing is always an attempt to win a debate using social power to marginalize your opponent rather then attempting to persuade people by engaging with the substance of the disagreement.
Cancel culture is a 21st century implementation of this.
It is important to realize that cancel culture is an attempt to do via culture what is impossible via government (thanks to the 1A):
Create a power structure to enforce an ideology across the whole of our society.
Read that again. And then again.
Cancel culture is a hack of society that distills
1. Social media
2. Clout/social power
3. Capitalism (everyone needs a job)
into a speech policing death-star that operates in the blind-spot of the first amendment: Government can't punish you for speech, other citizens can.
Now, attempts to end cancel culture with government regulation will invariably weaken the 1st amendment. If you allow the government to tell the cancelers they can't say they want people fired then you will have destroyed the 1st amendment.
That's not an acceptable solution
Very often when people talk about "free speech" that's what they are talking about: the creating of an unchecked method of cancel culture to use social power to hand out social and financial consequences for disagreement instead of winning by persuasively engaging with ideas
And people who lack the social vocabulary to describe how all this works, are fighting against activists that simultaneously say both that cancel culture doesn't exist, and also that anyone who doesn't like people losing their jobs "just wants freedom from criticism."
When people talk about freedom of speech in light of cancel culture they are not saying there is a shortage of platforms from which to express an opinion, nor are they upset about garden variety shunning (I'm not your friend, you can't come to my birthday etc) from peers...
This is new.
They think, and I think, this is not conducive to healthy civic discourse
Would any academic journal in the world publish a paper that used getting people fired as evidence of the truth of a claim. Would a journal publish a paper that said "we have proven that Keynesian economics is correct by getting the people who disagree with us fired."
And that is the issue: cancel culture builds a social apparatus that allows activists to purge ideas they don't like by harnessing a combination social power and financial pressure, all without having to deal with the substance of the arguments they are trying to purge.
And the problem with government censorship is the same as the problem with cancel culture: they're both using power to win debates rather then persuading people by engaging with the substance of ideas the Government uses legal power, cancel culture uses social power.
I am not sure exactly what the solution is, although I am positive that the solution is not a legal one.
My own view right now is that we need to reestablish the view that the way to settle disagreements is through debating the substance of ideas, no through the use of power
and we need to reestablish a norm against the use of power as a way of claiming victory when we disagree about politics, morals, values, truth, or anything else. We ought to say "no" to pressure, and we ought to provide support to those who do resist the cancel culture.
Reason, debate, evidence, charitable interpretation, and a willingness to tolerate views of those you disagree with without giving in to the temptation to crush them with superior social firepower
That's the way forward.