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Artillery Row

Free speech is bad strategy

The right has to focus on the true and the good

Sebastian Milbank, in a recent issue of The Critic, was right that we should rethink “free speech” — but he did not go far enough.

Free speech is strategically limited. It’s a self-imposed time-delayed trap — fighting for it uses up a lot of energy, and it is unachievable. Free speech is absolutely doomed.

There is some hope, though. There are other ways to reach the same goal. There are better ways to deal with progressive oppression.

Ideological frameworks are traps

Free speech is the product of an ideological framework. Ideological frameworks inevitably throw up difficulties, contradictions, unexpected consequences, bugs. Take some of the worst examples of things that a free speech framework allows: racial slurs, Holocaust denial, doxxing, abstract calls for general violence, cartoon depictions of indecent acts with children, “MAP” advocacy, snuff films and Kay Burley are all acceptable under free speech.

These things in and of themselves cause no physical harm or defraud anyone. They are rejected for the abhorrence of their content. The grey area around abhorrence is what free speech is supposed to address, because it’s not always agreed what is acceptable or not, in what context, etc. Free speech permits bad things by design.

Free speechers don’t have a neat way of patching up this design flaw. Is it just the price of freedom — fighting bad speech with more speech? Who gets to decide? If they make compromises, they’re really just admitting that the free speech framework is flawed.

From the perspective of the basically sane and good:

What happens if Elon Musk has a different definition of free speech than you do? Or different priorities? His free speech promises are already questionable. Progressives say, “he supports tyrants in other countries.” Others point to Alex Jones. Banning people immediately exposed Musk to charges of being a hypocrite or liar. The free speech framework in turn is brought into question.

From the perspective of the progressives:

Progressives are afraid of Musky Twitter because it means they can’t neatly control what’s said any more. More specifically, they can’t control what Donald Trump might say if he comes back. If he comes back, he might persuade people to support him in 2024.

It’s not that they only like free speech when you agree with them. It’s just that everyone has to choose, or at least appear to choose, to believe in progressive things. This is the same criticism that the New Atheists had about God and free will: “You’re free to choose as long as it’s what God wants; otherwise he’ll torture you for eternity in hell.”

The comparison doesn’t really work if God actually is truth, love and supreme authority. Going against those things would actually be evil. Progressives are not God, even if they want your soul. The devil wants your soul, too. Luckily for us, the progressives are just cringey overgrown theatre kids. They’re like those limp American Christian preachers warning against the evils of Pokémon and Harry Potter in raps so they can get down with the kids. Nutty puritans, especially their modern secular progressive incarnation, do like to get down with the kids.

The progressives, though they won’t overtly frame it this way, do not really view themselves as “left wing” or “progressive” or whatever. They view themselves as the ones with the truth. Doesn’t it make sense, from that perspective, that they are only reinforcing the truth? They’re not censoring free speech; they’re squashing evil, fraudulent, heretical, bewitchment away from the truth. That’s why they can set up things like the Disinformation Governance Board, fact checkers, the BBC, etc. They can, with no sense of shame at all, batter honest intellectual disagreement in favour of their own progressivism. To them it’s not political opinion; it’s just the truth.

They’re wrong, obviously.

Better ways

You are the one on the side of truth. You don’t want to behave like a progressive, but there is something to learn from them.

Is the world orderly enough for you to have free speech? There’s probably quite a lot which you wouldn’t stand for, but which falls short of a call for violence, harassment or fraud. These are the normal limits that free speech absolutists ever put on free speech, which still leaves a lot of space for bungling and depravity.

Free speech makes “the right” too tolerant of its own mistakes. Purity purging amongst the progressives might go too far, but setting standards and strongly sticking to them is good. This doesn’t mean you can’t respect people as people, flawed but with basic human dignity, but you shouldn’t have to accept errors, incompetence or other foolishness — or evil.

Outright lies are often also well within the bounds of a free speech absolutist. The neocons (many were ex-Trotskyists. Hm) and other progressives have lied the West into war, economic ruin, healthcare disasters, social degradation and much else.

Why give them another vector of attack by sticking stubbornly to free speech? Why can’t you be a bit more velvet rope with the people you want to let into your party, club, school, social circle, etc.?

Think of the progressive censorship filter as a sort of discipline

Look on the bright side. The attack on free speech by the progressives took out a lot of the weak and the sloppy, leaving the strong and the crafty, those capable of resisting or evading the Eye of Sauron. Meanwhile it allowed every manner of crap progressive to roam free: their crayon-eaters, the spitting eye-bulgers, the clammy, under-handed, soiled and squalid. It inadvertently made “the right” look better and made the better thinkers, strategists and leaders easier to identify. Think of the progressive censorship filter as a sort of discipline. Discipline is good. Being careful with your words is something you should do for yourself anyway. It’s something that good friends and allies can do for each other, too.

Be careful not to try to use censorship as a weapon in the way that progressives do, though. Free speech may be weak. It may allow the progressives the room to be evil. It may be true that nobody should be allowed the chance to be evil. You’re not powerful enough to do anything about that, and you’re not powerful enough to censor people like the progressives do either.

The best way is to behave as if you’re the one on the side of truth, because you are, but not in the way that this manifests with progressives.

Free speech is an anomaly. The historic norm (even in the US with their alleged 1st Amendment) is against free speech. Forces of conformity, groupthink, etc. are much more the norm. Free speech does not come very naturally, if at all. Your better bet is to find a way to work with the force thrown against you, than to meet it head on with brute force you do not have. Like a judo throw, use your opponent’s weight against them.

As a weapon against the progressive censorship weapon, free speech absolutism tries to meet one of their strengths head on. In a fight you want to be aware of your enemy’s strengths for how they can hurt you. You ideally want to attack their weaknesses. Free speech advocacy uses up energy going directly against their strength.

The free speech thing doesn’t do what you think it does.

The call for free speech is, most of the time, mostly an impotent complaint against what the progressives are doing against you.

(1) Why would you be surprised that they’re doing this against you? They believe speech can be violence. If you’re a progressive, why would you let your enemies have weapons and do violence against you? You’re never going to make the progressives, who have power, and are your enemy, feel guilty about what you have to say or squashing you.

(2) Strongly related to (1) above, the idea that free speech is good because it allows society to discuss, work out ideas, work out problems and find a fuller picture or common ground where the truth emerges from all of us freely speaking together, does not apply here. It’s mistaken at best and foolish at worst. What common ground is there between you and the progressives?

(3) Free speech absolutism is trying to appeal to standards that progressives don’t hold. Do you care that bacon isn’t vegan or that your haircut is un-American? You might as well just be whinging “but you don’t agree with me”. It doesn’t have to be theoretically pure either. Perhaps it’s just unpragmatic. Do you care that Twitter censors people in some dictatorship or another? Sort of, maybe, but that’s not really the point of why Musk’s takeover was good for you in the West.

(4) Complaining just confirms to them that they’ve found your weakness and signals that they should keep attacking you there.

(5) Complaining is weak and not at all sexy. It shows you’re desperate. It’s shouting from the outside to be let in. Nonchalance and doing your own thing is much better. Yes, the progressives are lying, hypocritical, blah blah blah. Don’t complain. Be someone on whom others can rely for truth.

The pointlessness of free speech is fine

Don’t worry about free speech, and don’t worry about their censorship.

If they’re censoring you, it’s a sign of their weakness

Good wins in the end. Truth will out. If they’re censoring you, it’s a sign of their weakness. Let them keep showing it. Not being confident that their case is more persuasive than yours is weak. The way North Korea treated Otto Warmbier for taking a poster is typical. The more totalitarian a regime gets, the more it must maintain the fiction that it is beyond question, in control of everything, omnipotent. Even the smallest thing must be met with ruthless suppression. It’s a sign of how fragile, how weak their power is, once it’s challenged even a little.

If you don’t want to learn from the progressives, learn from the early Christians. Do you doubt that they would crucify, throw you to lions or use you to light up the Palatine Hill if they could? They just don’t have the testosterone. This makes it easier for you to IDGAF them. At a certain point they’re just hysterical screechers, losing their shit, uncool, and you’re getting on with it.

Screeching and having to actually use power is weak. You don’t need laws or Twitter T&Cs or whatever for the things that people choose to do naturally. It’s better if something can go without saying. In this regard, the 1st Amendment might really be the first sign that free speech isn’t a natural part of American culture. If it were, it would go without saying. This isn’t a controversial take. It was tacitly admitted at the time by the guys who did the US:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” James Madison

In other words, if people believed in free speech, there would be no need for a law to enforce it. Best not worry about free speech, really.

Just get on with your own thing. There’s no need to draw their fire unnecessarily, but when you do draw it, don’t worry about it. The more they are forced to spend their power, the worse it is for them. The more energy you put into doing your own thing, the more you show people that the progressives are not the only choice, that all they’re really good at is attacking you, and not doing anything good themselves.

Steps forward

The free speech excitement seems to have died down anyway, but even if it hasn’t, junk any interest you have in Elon Musk doing a free speech thing with Twitter.

Free speech on Twitter — or “X” — will be a consequence of the real work he’s hopefully doing now that he’s bought Twitter. The real work is restoring order. Until then, free speech is an unnecessary restriction on your choices. It opens you up to purity spiralling, and it validates boomers.

Try looking at one of the goals of free speech the other way around. Not “most freedom possible for the most truth” but rather “least oppression possible for the least oppression of truth”. The first formulation is appealing, sure, but the second is better for actually managing a company.

Or a government. Letting people say whatever they want, even when it differs from the government, is a sign of that government’s strength, stability, self-assuredness, etc.

Restore order, make clear rules on what people can’t do, enforce it properly, make Twitter governance predictable, let people know where they stand. A firm hand is not always synonymous with tyranny but slobbering, rabid progressive chaos always is.

Free speech isn’t real anyway

Let’s skip the theory and answer this more tangibly.

Tweet view limits, Alex Jones, third world dictators aside, Elon Musk controls Twitter. There is no free speech on Twitter because he could shut it down tomorrow. That would be the ultimate end of “free speech”, the ultimate “censor”. So far he seems to be a pretty benevolent dictator.

Who decides what’s acceptable if there’s no free speech? Who watches the watchmen? Well, we have an answer. So far, it’s a relatively neat solution. It’s not high minded or theoretically pure or without risk, but it’s probably about the best result you could ever expect to get.

You want to be governed by someone who won’t excessively censor you.

Isn’t that what you’ve got in Twitter? Can you really argue with that? Good result? Job done? Government next? Not yet.

What’s next?

Now that you’ve wisely junked the free speech ra ra and are ignoring the progressives, just ask yourself whether what Musk’s doing is a net negative or a net positive. That’s more realistic, frees you from potential disappointment, and takes the pressure off.

Now ignore the progressives and go do something cool, something that energises you and attracts others.

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