The big news, of course, is the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, what with the leaked draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s ponencia in Politico magazine. The ramifications of that will be discussed in a later article. The other big news, coming earlier, of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, led to absolutely deranged breakdowns from woke progressives.
And the reason for the leftists meltdown, complete with gnashing of teeth? Because apparently Elon Musk promised that Twitter will be a platform for “free speech.”
Now in normal, saner times, that comment would not have raised an eyebrow. Much less mass hysteria. But these are not normal sane times (e.g., see lockdown and mask fanatics, as well as vaccine adverse effects deniers), so the idea of upholding free speech is now considered anathema to the woke crowd.
For them, free speech is an avenue for hate and intolerance. It gives the bigoted and the uneducated the freewheeling capacity to spew their misogyny and medieval beliefs (e.g., Christianity).
But the problem with that mindset is that it’s utterly self-serving, baseless, and self-destructive.
First of all, who decides what is hateful, intolerant, and misogynistic? And who decides what’s to be done with the hateful, intolerant, and misogynistic?
It can’t be those woke progressives with a clear ideological agenda on those matters. Their obvious bias can’t possibly reasonably lead to the common good. Because, actually, no one can. Because everyone has a self-interest: we all have wants, purposes, and beliefs. But society cannot cater to each individual’s wants, purposes, and beliefs. Rather, society seeks to uphold those shared characteristics, culture, interests, and beliefs, which free speech allows us to identify. That’s the point of free speech. Woke cancel culture is the reverse of that.
Princeton professor Robert George laments: “Secular progressive ideology is ascendant in the elite institutions of our society: the federal government, many state governments, universities, news and entertainment media, the arts, professions and professional associations, labor unions, charitable foundations, major business corporations, and on and on. [Wokeism has a] near monopoly on cultural power. Obviously, it enables the transmission of Woke ideology — a fundamentalist and increasingly militant pseudo-religion — to rising generations and makes it difficult for dissenters to challenge that ideology and, indeed, to survive without being subjected to discrimination and even ‘cancellation.’” (“Can We Still Reason Together?,” Serena Sigillito and Robert P. George, Public Discourse: The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute, Dec. 30, 2021)
Hence why it is absolutely vital for free speech to be upheld. A vibrant and dynamic society needs diversity of thought, which can only be achieved through voluntary and honest exchange of divergent ideas.
Political commentator Arthur Milikh writes: “Restriction of free speech… will cause a decline in these moral and mental prerequisites to self-rule. The loss of the capacity to think for oneself and form rational judgments about the common good and human merit will give rise to the rule of anger, resentment, and force.” (“Why Identity Politics’ Speech Controls Will Cancel Self-Government If We Don’t Resist,” The Federalist, Dec. 3, 2020)
News and social media are definitely to be blamed in this censoring of divergent views. And yet, universities are also hugely at fault for the rise in cancel culture mentality in the young: university professors trying to relive their glory days of 1970s activism, academics forcing their views on defenseless students dependent on them for grades, and — as we have seen recently — universities effectively campaigning for specific political candidates. This is all contrary to the idea of what a university should be.
Professor Lucas Morel, Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University, points out that: “College campuses have to be in the vanguard of protecting the right of diverse thought that is uttered in good faith and civility. But even civility is being challenged now as, ‘Oh, if you’re in favor of civility, you’re in favor of the status quo, and therefore, you’re in favor of white supremacy.’ xxx [if on] college campuses you cannot be free, your students cannot be free, and if we are self-censoring to avoid challenging situations, then both hands are practically tied behind our backs in terms of trying to figure out what’s true, right, beautiful, and noble in the world.” (“Fighting for Free Speech on Campus,” Howard L. Muncy and Lucas Morel, Public Discourse: The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute, Aug. 28, 2021)
Universities serve as microcosm of the greater world. What happens to universities translates outside to the public. And, of course, those former students will eventually take over the country. Thus, Professor George says: “Where there is a mutual commitment to truth and truth-seeking, relationships can be built between religious believers and secularists, and they can indeed reason together. The minimum condition is this: interlocutors, however wide and deep their substantive philosophical or other differences, need to share the conviction that business between them is to be conducted in the proper currency of intellectual discourse — namely, reasons, evidence, and arguments.”
Indeed, after two years of pointless COVID measures, it would be nice for society to return to “reasons, evidence, and arguments.”
Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence