The progressive, far-left-wing faction in US politics is aggressively pursuing so-called "deplatforming": denying their opponents any outlet or medium or channel from or through which to make their views known. It's more than censorship. It's a blatant attempt to ensure that an entire viewpoint or perspective never reaches those who might be persuaded by it.
Fortunately, its ideological proponents make no secret of their motivation - and thereby expose their own intolerance.
We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority.
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Marcuse was insightful in diagnosing the problems, but part of the solution he advocated was suppressing right-wing perspectives. I believe that this is immoral (in part because it would be impossible to do without the exercise of terror) and impractical (given that the internet was actually invented to provide an unblockable information network). Instead, I suggest that we could take a big step forward by distinguishing free speech from just access. Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole.
There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas.
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Donald Trump, first as candidate and now as president, is such a significant news story that responsible journalists must report on him. But this does not mean that he should be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Research shows that repeatedly hearing assertions increases the likelihood of belief — even when the assertions are explicitly identified as false. Consequently, when journalists repeat Trump’s repeated lies, they are actually increasing the probability that people will believe them.
Even when journalistic responsibility requires reporting Trump’s views, this does not entail giving all of his spokespeople an audience.
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What just access means in terms of positive policy is that institutions that are the gatekeepers to the public have a fiduciary responsibility to award access based on the merit of ideas and thinkers ... The invincibly ignorant and the intellectual huckster have every right to express their opinions, but their right to free speech is not the right to an audience.
There's more at the link.
The author omits any mention of Marcuse's left-wing and Marxist orientation - not surprising, I suppose, because that might give the game away. By simply citing him as an authority in the field, he avoids examining his motivation or ideology. Convenient, that.
Note, again, the weasel words and evasion of objective standards in the author's arguments. A few examples:
- "the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one" - who defines which is stupid, and which intelligent?
- "Access to the general public, granted by institutions ... is a finite resource". Who says it's "granted" by anybody? Institutions have their own audience, but they don't control that audience. Also, who says it's finite? Isn't the author really implying that if you deny any other form of access to the general public, that automatically turns such access into a finite resource? Is he arguing that access to the general public outside those institutions should be restricted, or even forbidden? It sure sounds like that to me.
- "There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas." Note the weasel twist. The sentiment attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - regarded by many, including myself, as the very hallmark of free speech - has now become "I disapprove of what you say, but I cannot prevent you saying it; therefore, I shall prevent as many people as possible from hearing it". Isn't that trying to achieve at second hand what clapping a hand over the speaker's mouth would achieve at first hand? If the results are indistinguishable, isn't the fundamental principle behind the actions - intolerance and censorship - basically identical?
- "Donald Trump ... should [not] be allowed to set the terms of the debate". Agreed - but neither should anyone else. The whole point of a debate is to allow and encourage analysis, discussion and investigation. If one side or the other insists on imposing their own frame of reference on the debate, that will automatically limit its freedom. The author is trying to impose a different frame of reference to that of President Trump, but he's still imposing it rather than allow true freedom of speech and discussion.
- "their right to free speech is not the right to an audience". So, you can say whatever you like, provided you do so in a howling wilderness where no other human being can hear you? Isn't that in itself inhibiting free speech until it becomes meaningless? If free speech is a right, it has to be an absolute right, including the right to reach the ears of those one wants to hear it. If the latter right is denied, it automatically infringes upon the former right. A particular outlet, or medium, or platform, might decide that it doesn't want to carry speech from someone whose ideology or philosophy it opposes. That's fair enough, and I have no argument with it. However, when those of that persuasion seek to deny any other avenue for that speech, they overstep the mark. That becomes even worse than censorship. That becomes dictatorship.
There are many on the left who follow this specious reasoning. It's at the root of campaigns to deny conservatives a platform on Twitter, Facebook, etc. - all while largely ignoring actively evil contributors like terrorists, pedophiles and others. It's as much a lie as justifying violence against political opponents. Those who propound such views brand themselves as the enemies of democracy and free speech. We should take note, and not be fooled.