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Free speech is a waste of breath

Free speech is not our cause, and it gets us nowhere anyway

The Brussels NatCon is ancient history, isn’t it? Does anyone even remember it? No, of course not.

That alone ought to be enough to tell you that whatever happened, there was in no way a PR triumph for its attendees, supporters, the adjacent, sympathisers, pitiers, etc.

Readers may remember this previous piece on why free speech is bad strategy. At least NatCon can serve as a case study. It doesn’t have to have been an entirely missed opportunity. And there are more reasons why free speech is still bad strategy.

It’s not your story

The modern free speech phenomenon is not yours and you’re not allowed into it.

For a start, it’s American, and you’re not an American. Appealing to it is as much foreign nonsense as the imported chant of “hands up, don’t shoot” at our unarmed kneelers.

The mythology is not yours.

The teachings go that free speech happened as part of all sorts of other “progress” after an unspeakably evil 1950s (which oh my goodness the evil-reactionary-right-wing-nazi-phoby-fascists keep trying to take you back to) gave way to some new enlightenment led by university students in Berkeley in the 1960s.

Students did not rise up and change the world, let alone drugged up hippies at Berkeley

The more recent free speech mythology belongs to the progressives. You are not a progressive. The mythology exists entirely to explain and justify why oppressive tradition kept down their progressive political project and why that project should keep marching. You have no part in that. You are against that. (If you want something similar to or resembling free speech, it will have to come from a non-progressive lineage.)

Besides, it’s obviously fake history. Students did not rise up and change the world, let alone drugged up hippies at Berkeley. For a start, there is no such thing as a successful peasant rebellion, at least without external backing. The free speech movement happened because it was useful to those with power to push the upheaval of social order.

Any notion that there was some sort of movement producing bottom-up change from the poor and downtrodden is fake.

Actions speak louder than words

Every which way you look at what happened at NatCon, free speech was not a decisive factor in changing anything.

Was anyone new won over? Who knows. Were the Mayor of Brussels, their chief of police, or anyone interesting fired? No. Did the story make it out as big landmark news or have any discernible cultural impact? No. Deflatingly, NatCon continued without doing anything obviously useful and now everyone has totally forgotten about it. Perhaps the attendees got to feel a little excited and under siege and entertained that something out of their ordinary was happening, but what else?

The end result of a lot of free speech protest is that more speech occurs. Well, OK, fine, surely that’s the point of a free speech protest — to get more speech which was previously not possible — but does it really matter how free you are to speak about things? NatCon has so far only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

Free speech is still bad strategy because it’s sort of like a right-wing version of the Francis Fukuyama end of history mistake (yes, yes, that’s not quite what he meant, but the analogy works). You don’t just get free speech and then live free speechily ever after. Politics is never over.

There is more talk about immigration, the climate agenda, DEI stuff, etc. etc. etc. than there ever has been. David Cameron said a million years ago (2011) that multiculturalism failed. The idea that Muslamic ray-guns (it turns out he meant rape gangs) were terrorising the land is now openly acknowledged where before it was dismissed as peasant superstition. Flights to Rwanda are allegedly happening any second now, you’re told that the migrant hotels are closing, there was the Cass Report, Army DEI stuff is under review, etc. etc. etc. and yet nothing is happening.

Nothing is happening. It’s not like the government can’t do things. It can certainly move heaven and earth to send money and resources to the war in the Ukraine, or send the RAF to shoot down Iranian drones heading for Israel. It can lock you in your homes for two years.

NatCon people, are you just going to talk more about free speech and talk more about all the problems, or are you going to use that free speech to at least call for organisation? Better yet, are you going to use that energy to organise?

The real criticism is not that the Belgian police were against your free speech. It’s that they are enemies of the truth — tried to crush the truth, and deny it, for their own vanity. The real criticism is that they are trying to destroy anyone who would dare try to save the country. Wouldn’t the story have been much better if the Belgian police were attacking people who were getting together, not just to talk, but to save the country?

Beyond talk, do you have any plans? Are you even capable of saving the country? If not, does it matter that you don’t have any free speech?

Si tacuisses philosophus mansisses

Just as there are no successful peasant rebellions, the marketplace of ideas is also mostly a lie.

The idea that ideas are an emergent phenomenon is false. New ideas come from people who actually have ideas. Their adoption doesn’t come from robust public discussion, it comes from people who are then capable of furthering those ideas. In both cases those people are a small minority. Most people have other people’s ideas. You can see it most clearly in people who speak in slogans, because they are certainly thinking in slogans.

What’s more, not everyone has something worthwhile to say. Did the speakers at NatCon have anything worth saying? Or are they just noise?

Arguing for free speech for these people only means noise and disorder and inaction. At worst, getting free speech for these people means prolonging that chaos, and putting ideas out there without permanence. There’s a lack of commitment if you yourself aren’t a force, or part of a proper force, to make these ideas go the whole way.

Meanwhile you’re just talking, showing your enemies that you exist, keeping them alert, allowing them to run drills, while you trot around on the banks of the Rubicon with no intention to cross, or a plan for what you’d even do after that.

Further down the ranks, though this applies as much to the top. The internet especially is giving people a distorted understanding of their own relevance and intelligence. Going 1000 “likes” is nice, perhaps. It’s not nothing. It’s not nothing but what is it? It’s not enough, that’s for sure, and it’s not the key to winning. 

The marketplace of ideas is a lie. Being seen, discussed, refined, and adopted, only matters for a small few who can direct those 1,000 people. The 1,000 don’t really need a full and rich understanding of everything. Just enough for morale and to follow orders. From the progressive on the street to the ones in the government, you don’t think most of them really know why they’re doing what they’re doing, do you? At least not beyond a superficial level.

History is full of the grug-brained overturning nerds. The Chinese and Persians had civilisations. The Horde could be smelled before it was seen. The Vandals literally vandalised Rome. Little Englanders and Deplorables (properly channelled) did Brexit and elected Trump, for what either of those things were worth.

The real trick is to at some point do something.

“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than being able to decide” — The Emperor

And yes, to govern is to decide, and sovereign is he who decides the exception.

Arguing for the continuation of discussion is just procrastination or going around in circles. There’s a point at which you have to go.

Even if you got every free speech thing you could ever hope for, who exactly declares when that’s enough and “free speech” is now happening? We did it guys, we’re free speeching. What is the limiting principle which stops you from becoming like one of those race or gay activists who now moved onto a new cause or still see discrimination everywhere? Maybe you agree with the progressives that permanent revolution (Mao) is a good idea, or that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance (Jefferson). You can’t keep talking around something and theorising forever. No business or military plan is ever perfect. You will never have 100 per cent of the information before making a financial investment. Of course, that doesn’t mean just doing anything.

The best you can hope for is a person who can tame the chaos, or at least manoeuvre through it.

The free speech argument seems to amount to an argument for more of that chaos rather than for a plan which takes you through it. It’s an argument to be Socrates rather than Alexander. (If only grandpupil Aristotle had corrupted the youth, and been forced to drink hemlock, this analogy would have been so much better). So many of you seems so keen to “die on that hill”. Put the dramatics away. For a start, you’re not dying on anything —  and as covered above, repeating this cliché sure sign that you’re running someone else’s ideas, not your own.

No, it’s worse than you just dying on a hill. It’s dying as Socrates. In some sort of principled defeat. Besides, you are no Socrates. And sure, there’s a staying power in martyrdom, but be very careful about that one. You’re also certainly not Jesus. You’re probably not even a saint. You’re probably just Brother Faisal from Four Lions.

Stop with this cliché too, while you’re at it: “if you’re drawing flak, you must be over the target”. No. The idea is not to get shot. What’s best is to sneak on your enemies without them even noticing. Dying on hills is stupid. Do you have that many men and resources to waste? Besides, the idea isn’t to die for your country — it’s to get the other guy to die for his.

Still, doing something doesn’t just mean doing anything. It certainly doesn’t mean just saying anything.

Say what?

Free speech. Free to say what, exactly?

How many NatCon people tried it on again that it’s the progressives who are the real nazis? You won’t beat them using their own attacks. They will never think of themselves that way. Even if there’s some sense in which that’s true (which it isn’t), they’ve gotten to those conclusions through different methods, and therefore don’t view it as “the same”. In their framework it’s not the same because only bad people can do bad things and they don’t count themselves as bad.

It’s not rational. There’s no dealing with it like that. To the progressive, truth and rationality come from group consensus. It comes from whatever the shifting egregore of the cult says is true. It’s not derived from the outcome of principles and calculation.

Stop spending energy inside their ruleless game. If there’s no rules there’s no level playing field or path forward for you to outplay them, only to overpower them, and you don’t have any power. Not yet.

Free to say what? The free speech crowd are really just arguing for the freedom to keep saying the pointless things they’ve now been saying over and over again since, what, 2014?

The next time someone is on the TV or radio for some silliness about how the England flag is racist and needs to be put away, or calls you a racist, the answer isn’t about free speech or “oh no I’m not”. It’s to flatly and boringly say something to the effect of “well, you don’t believe what you’re saying, you’re speaking in your own cult jargon, and, everyone knows this is a fake game you play, and we’re going to carry on with our lives”, and just deflate the whole thing. 

The level free speech playing field just means the biggest and strongest win

What’s more, if there was some sort of levelling so that free speech could reign, and you all start again with equal treatment under the law, why would you expect anything to turn out any differently? Why wouldn’t exactly the same people with the power and resources very quickly reconquer the conversation and push exactly the same ideas and control they have now? This progressive meme of the three people standing on boxes watching baseball is helpful here. The level free speech playing field just means the biggest and strongest win. The progressive meme isn’t (only) wrong because equity is a lie and doesn’t work out that way. It’s wrong because equality and equity themselves are a lie and helping short people out is a kind thing for benevolent rulers to do.

Don’t have their conversation.

Put your energy into making sure conversations are had about the things you want, not what they want, in the way they want, so that the programming in their foot soldiers can run, and so that progressive rulers can keep you within their paradigm. It’s to make sure that your priorities are boosted and not theirs.

People’s attention and how they’re directed is a zero-sum game. There’s only so much time in the day, so much bandwidth, attention span, etc. so figure out how that is given to you, not them. Your time is much better spent thinking about how to get your points across to the people who can help further them.

What you really want

Freedom doesn’t happen like you think it does. It isn’t a million people doing all sorts of things at once. It’s the creation of order within which you can operate. Freedom is not a great screeching din of white noise. That’s oppression.

Forums need to have moderators. Events have MCs. Magazines have editors. Language itself is full of all sorts of rules.

The proponents of Universal Basic Income (UBI) got their test run during the pandemic. Furlough gave all those aspiring artists and musicians and novelists all the time in the world and resources to do their thing. And their things happened, of course? No. Giving everyone freedom of speech is like furlough/UBI. You’re just not going to get a great genius poet on every street corner in the land. Most people will churn out dud tweets or read stuff and then do absolutely nothing.

Empowering everyone to become their own publisher worked for a vanishingly small number of people. Instead we got a million people instagramming at trendy locations, or pretending they went to Coachella. And the smart people who should have been making something great instead went into Silicon Valley to make yet another dick pic app.

Politics/OnlyFans, what’s the difference? You give your support to some performer. They pretend like they like you and will do what you want. Meanwhile they have no idea you exist and whenever you do “interact” with them, really it’s just some back office neckbeard typing out the responses to your requests. You even get the ones saying they quit, regret it all, and are going to be all based now. Big if true. Maybe? Who knows. Time to go live a quiet life, perhaps.

People say all sorts of stuff in politics, but what do they actually do? Is it more important for your politicians to be able to say the things you like, or for them to do the things that you like?


Belgian police, free speech, etc. Okay. What is the real core of the problem? Because ultimately NatCon continued and then got forgotten.

Your real focus is simpler: are the things which are good for you increasing, and bad for you decreasing? Are the things which are good for your enemies decreasing and bad for them increasing?

How does the Brussels NatCon affair come out of that calculation?

At least salvage what you can. It was an opportunity to reinforce some sort of in-group solidarity. You are in it together with one struggle. The attack on the conference was not good for you because it showed how you don’t have free speech. Continuing with the conference wasn’t a victory because you didn’t gain anything, you just got out of the red, and to break even. Instead, the events at NatCon were good for you because every time this happens it shows you who is out to destroy you.

That’s not entirely nothing, though you’re a bit slow on the uptake if you didn’t understand what you’re up against already.

Going around and around on this won’t be enough. The real work will be to organise to actually achieve something with people who are fully capable of actually achieving it.

And if that’s not you, and energy keeps getting wasted, at least you might serve as a good distraction for when the real thing comes.

Your political problems are a power issue, not a free speech issue.

Rather than wondering why you aren’t being allowed to say what you want, instead wonder why you don’t have the structures, support, resources, and leadership which empower you to say what you want. You don’t want to beg for permission. You don’t want to ask for forgiveness either. If anything, you want people to defer and apologise to you when they err. But one thing at a time.

Look at it more as having the power to say what you want rather than the freedom to say what you want. 

If you want to achieve this, though, you’ll have to look at some examples that work and slightly adjust some of your likely current assumptions. Some of you will have to give up some pride and entitlement. Winning should be worth it, though, right?

First: leadership.

You really could do with a better class of aristocrat. If democracy is about voting/hiring for the job, here are some criteria you should watch out for in a worthy leader.

Has this person built or run a large organisation before? Can he wield 10,000 people and a budget of billions while fending off hostiles and still make a profit? Can he identify talent, understand appropriate delegations, and lead a team toward an effect? Can he understand what customers want/what market demands are? Is he going to pursue that or take in the uninformed wailings of fickle critics? Can he lead an effective publicity/marketing/opinion forming/comms campaign? Does he flip flop or not on the really important issues? Can he keep cool and stick to a plan and/or convictions? Is he sufficiently invested? What does he have personally at stake in the project?

This is not, to say that least, a person who merely talks well about free speech or whatever other issue.

Hold out for someone more like the above. When the time comes it will then be your whole-hearted duty to follow him. You will have to have the humility to get over yourselves and at some point or another trust in the leader, and team, you get behind to get things done. 

I mean, who are you at all? Someone with a very small amount of individual energy. Let someone gather all the people like you so that energy can be focused like a laser.

What can that focus look like? Second: go beyond the big conferences.

Recognise these for what they are. NatCon is a music festival. It’s entertainment. That’s fine. Entertainment has its place. Start running workshops or some sort of political hackathon. The attendees would certainly be much more limited, less public, and with a rather different profile, but they might come up with some clever ways forward. Not everyone gets to come. That’s fine. You only want the best. And besides, exclusivity is attractive.

Third: positioning. The messaging shouldn’t be that you aren’t getting free speech. Complaining that they aren’t allowing you is an admission that you aren’t in power, that they are in power, and that maybe they should be because you want their permission.

It’s a better idea to just get on with your own thing. After that, expect that they might come for you, if you’re giving them an obvious target. You’re not going to get their permission. You don’t even want their permission. The attitude should be to take back control (hm…) because they are going to destroy everything. You’re not political, you’re merely rational and objective, and measured. Other words, in control.

Start projecting that instead, and just like John Paul II said, fake it til you make it. Once you start to look powerful, you might be surprised how quickly you truthfully become powerful.

Fourth: against them, not for free speech.

The progressives have an advantage. Their belief is balanced much more strongly to adherence to consensus rather than firmly held principles.

You don’t have to match that and compromise on your own principles. You do have to deal with it though.

While the balance is more toward consensus for progressives, they still have centred around at least some ideas. This sets them at odds with those who are not part of their club, but also those who disagree on principle. That group (of which you are part) is very varied. There is no ideological unity and there is very little regard for consensus. One of the big obstacles to being organised is that “we are all individuals”.

The easiest thing to organise around is about what you are all against.

You are all against the progressives. The thing you have in common is that they are squashing your particular pet ideas.

After they’re irrelevant, unfortunately you’ll have to start thinking about what it is you actually want to do. For now, that’ll have to be a problem for another day.

Go have a cup of tea and then get started on any of the above.

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