The Seven Threat Vectors Against Free Speech

Free speech…free expression generally…is under attack in America and throughout the Western world to a degree not seen in a long time.  I think there are seven specific phenomena, incarnated in seven (partially-overlapping) categories of people, which are largely driving this attack, to wit:

The Thugs.  As I pointed out in my recent post The United States of Weimar?, illegal actions against political opponents–ranging from theft of newspapers to direct assault and battery–have in recent decades become increasingly common on university campuses, and now are well on track to being normalized as aspects of national political campaigns.

The Assassins.  These individuals go beyond the level of violence practiced by the Thugs, and make credible death threats…which they attempt to carry out…against those whose actions or believe they view as unacceptable.  The majority of threats and attacks falling in this category have certainly been the doing of radical Muslims; however, some of the more extreme ‘environmentalist’ and ‘animal rights’ groups have also demonstrated Assassin tendencies.  At present, however, it is those Assassins who are radical Muslims who have been most successful in inhibiting free expression. Four years in hiding for an American cartoonist.

The Wimps.  It seems that among the younger generations in America, there are a disproportionate number of people whose ‘self-esteem’ has been raised to such lofty but brittle levels that they cannot stand any challenge to their belief systems. Hence they are eager to sacrifice their own freedom of speech, as well as that of others, on the altar of ‘safety’ from disturbing words and thoughts.

The Bureaucrats.  Bureaucrats, especially in the universities but also increasingly in the private sector, are eager to provide the altars for the sacrifice of free speech, with Star Chamber proceedings and various forms of witch-burnings.

The Regulatory State.  The vast expansion of Federal regulatory activities and authority enables a wide range of adverse actions to be taken against individuals without the checks and balances of normal judicial proceedings. Witness, for example, the IRS persecution of conservative-leaning organizations (possibly extended to pro-Israel organizations as well.)  And the Bureaucrats in nominally-independent organizations are really often acting as agents and front men for the Regulatory State. (Consider the 2011 ‘Dear Colleague’ letter sent from the Department of Education to colleges and universities, regarding the handling of sexual assault allegations–which has had, the linked article argues, serious negative impact on free speech and due process.)

The Theoreticians.  Various academics have developed the concept of ‘oppressive speech’ and have developed models which attempt to break down the distinction between speech and action.  Since everyone agrees that actions must be regulated to some degree, this tends to pave the way for tightened regulation of speech.  (I think the conflation of speech with action is particularly sellable to those who in their professional lives are Word People and/or Image People.  To a farmer or a machinist or even an electrical engineer, the distinction between speech and action is pretty crisp.  To a lawyer or an advertising person or to a professor (outside the hard sciences), maybe not so much.  And the percentage of Word People and Image People in the overall population has grown greatly.)

The Fragility Feminists.  Actually, the word ‘Feminists’ should probably be in quotes, because the argument these people are making is in many ways the direct opposite of that made by the original feminists. There is a significant movement, again especially on college campuses, asserting that women are such fragile flowers that they must be endlessly protected from words that might upset them.  See the controversy over the name of the athletic center at the Colorado School of Mines…here I think we have the Bureaucrats and the Fragility Feminists making common cause, as they so often do.  For another (and particularly bizarre) case, read about professor Laura Kipnis, whose essay decrying ‘sexual paranoia on campus’ resulted in a Title IX inquisition against her.  In a particularly disturbing note, when Kipnis brought a ‘support person’ to her hearing, a Title IX complaint was filed against that person.


Your thoughts?

30 thoughts on “The Seven Threat Vectors Against Free Speech”

  1. A contributor is the decline of small business and independently employed craftsmen. I’ve always found that construction types are more open to discussion (with an astounding level of politeness) on lots of topics. I think the cause is that they are hired to do specific tasks with specific skills. So long as they can get along with others, break time and after-hours conversation is enhanced by actual diversity. Employees at large corporate or government are worried more about corporate politics and their employers are worried about deep-pocket attacks by others.

    The same applied to small farmers, ranchers, truckers etc since they sold or provided commodity services and political views mattered much less.

    Since becoming a small businessman almost 30 years ago I found my worries shifted from corporate politics to managing my own and my employees work.

  2. One factor that needs to be considered is the influence of the Internet. On the one hand, the Internet enables speech which bypasses traditional gatekeepers and censors. On the other hand, it also…especially in its Facebook and Twitter incarnations…enables easy formation of mobs for the persecution of dissenters. See my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet

  3. To follow on what Foster said, the internet and rise of alt media has caused a huge amount of anger and desperation. Just follow along the comment thread of a simple youtube video. Six hundred, eight hundred, a thousand, back and forth, the most acrimonious, vile stuff.

    I’m surprised (but grateful) the internet continues to function for us heretics.

  4. Facebook in particular has accumulated a great deal of political power, because so many people use it as a primary vehicle for keeping in touch with extended friendship networks. Say something that gets the Zuckerminions to ban you, and for a lot of people it’s probably like being banished from one’s city.

  5. Yep, Will – so am I grateful for the alternate media. There are events, people, controversies that we would NEVER have heard about, if it weren’t for the internet/alt-media. Alt-media, and internet commerce and advertising likely has put a stake through the heart of old, establishment printed media. I have only to look at my local newspaper (the San Antonio Express News) and compare the daily issue of what it was in the nineties when I first moved to San Antonio. Yep, full, many-sectioned newspaper – although nothing like the heft of something like the LA Times, or the NY Times. Now – it’s a shrunken little tabloid-sized thing, about the size of the military Stars and Stripes, as I remember it. Maybe three slender sections … my former partner in the Teeny Publishing Bidness said now and again that she felt like she was carrying a dying bird inside, when she handled the Express News daily issues.

    I cancelled my own subscription entirely after their local columnist published a cartoon of truly striking insensitivity towards military veterans. I was teetering on the edge, since I had long realized that practically everything I read in it regarding national and international news was an AP/UPI release – and I had read it days before online anyway. Now I see the SA-EN at … the garage mechanics when I am stuck waiting for a while. Even they have dropped Time and Newsweek.

    The acrimony, and the absolute viciousness in some internet comment sections is absolutely awful, though. It’s like wading through sewage up to your waist. There are sites that I dropped from reading, because of it — and they were libertarian/conservative sites at that. I dropped posting at Open Salon because that place just got so vicious … and two years later, the Salon organization dropped Open Salon itself, and I didn’t notice until months afterwards.

    Zuckerminions; nice name for them. And their boss is a sanctimonious, hypocritical little creep – an authoritarian and a fascist wrapped in 21st century robes. I’ll bet that he is absolutely hell to work for, just as it is said that luminaries like Michael Moore and Ralph Nader. It’s nearly a trope, isn’t it? The activist who makes such a big show about being down with the little people, and a lover of all humanity — but treats all the little people and those representatives of humanity who actually work with/for them horribly.

    It’s why I keep the overt political commentary off my Book of Face page. That venue is for friends and book-fans.

  6. I’m in Seattle on business. I was talking to a guy I know slightly who is retired Navy. I usually don’t bring up politics with people I don’t know well.

    The subject of Trump came up. He is another supporter who does not talk about it with those he does not know well.

    I don’t know what is going to happen but I don’t think anyone does.

  7. You forgot the Rainbow Fascist Brigade and their love of suing, screaming at, trashing, and throwing bottles of urine/AIDS infected blood/whatever at anyone that doesn’t embrace and love them, and who might object that — for example — a queer Scoutmaster or a grown man in the ladies’ room is simply not appropriate. Their abolition of any distinction between the sexes — with the enthusiastic help of the Alinskyite left and the feminazis — is a much bigger threat to the health of our society than any number of hood rats or illegal aliens, who after all chiefly prey upon their own.

  8. >I don’t know what is going to happen but I don’t think anyone does.<

    preference cascade?

  9. The list in the article is very good, but these issues are not a development of our era only.

    It is important to remember that our political and cultural system is an anomaly in human history. It isn’t the censors who are unusual, but those of us who reject the idea of censorship except in very specific cases.

    Before our Bill of Rights was approved, there was little freedom of speech or religious affiliation in history.

    Indeed, the history of the human race is nearly an unbroken series of repressions and persecutions violating those rights as a matter of common practice.

    And, it is well to remember that the attempts to violate those rights began early on in our own country, and occurred repeatedly for political, moral, or religious reasons.

    One of the basic reasons that those of us who value these rights so highly are so adamant about their preservation is the simple fact that there have been numerous attempts to violate them from all sides of the political spectrum, and some have been successful for a period of time before they were rejected.

    The primacy of individual rights has always been a work in progress, and continues to this day, and will into the future, as long as there are those for whom control over their fellow citizens is a basic motivator.

    In our current era, we have allowed the collectivist ideologues to gain control over much of our educational and entertainment systems, much to the debasement of both.

    It will require a strong commitment to upholding the rights
    guaranteed by the Constitution at every level, and in every context, in which they are threatened.

    It will be the determination and courage of ordinary citizens, as it always has been, which will determine whether these basic elements of our culture are maintained, or allowed to be undercut for this alleged need or that claimed injury.

    We have been given, as a birthright, a pearl of great price, something that many great minds and creative people have only dreamed of down through the centuries.

    It is our duty above all others that we pass this precious inheritance on to our children, and teach them the reasons it is so valuable and rare.

    Only by this unrelenting effort can we overcome the continuous attempts to subvert and curtail the rights we have been able to enjoy, purchased by the blood and sweat of uncounted thousands of our ancestors.

  10. I know a prominent blogger who ended his blogging as a direct result of Obama. He worked in the beltway, and was concerned with reprisals by the executive branch if he was found to be criticizing them.

  11. Sgt.Mom-

    Excellent point regarding the local papers. I’ve noticed the very same. We live in an area where the population has doubled, if not tripled in the last decade. As such, the news has changed, and is often shocking and rather predictable.

    What I’ve noticed is that the local paper (website) has outsourced their comments section to the Facebook overseers. Whereas you once could (and people most certainly did) comment on the nature of something like the recent pistol-whipping and immolation of an elderly widow, such comments are now moderated by the Facebook, absolving the locals of the task.

    Inconvenient news is no longer being reported, locally, nationally and internationally.

  12. Neither civilisations nor countries last forever. Especially if you change the population.

    While true, the immigrants to America opposed to free speech were the communist architects, professors, journalists who were refugees from Nazism. Their numbers were always small, but, for reasons not clear to me, they were installed in professorships in the Ivy League where their students became as opposed to freedom as they were.

  13. The scariest thing about Hillary Clinton, IMO, is that she would accelerate all of these trends.

    I seriously doubt the ability of this country to recover from a Clinton presidency.

  14. This fits nicely with the recent release of “The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech” by Kimberley Strassel.

    “The book is an exhaustively detailed 376 page indictment of the Left’s unrelenting campaign to hammer down free speech.

    Those forces are led, directly or indirectly, by President Barack Obama, and include his Democratic supporters in Congress and an astonishing range of well-coordinated Leftist organizations.”

    IRS intimidation of the TEA Party and other conservative organizations is just one of many examples. The awful thing about it is that the intimidation continues in spite of law suits brought and Congressional investigations. Stopping the intimidation would be easier if the MSM gave a fig. Then more people would know what is going on and realize it could happen to them.

    There are many more examples from the book here:

    Reading the book will both enrage and frighten you. This book should be a rallying cry for the Right. Will it be? We can only pray so.

  15. Good lord, David – thanks for the link. I am still regularly appalled by women of my generation who thought that identifying as a “Feminist” (cap-F deliberate) meant having permission to be a nickel-plated B*tch to men in general, and the men unfortunate enough to engage with them, intimately.
    Lower case feminism used to mean something like equality of opportunity in education, employment and to be able to sort out your domestic arrangements in a way that worked for you. Work, not work outside the home, split up the chores or hire outside help … whatever. Being a whack-job towards your husband wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal.
    Maybe it’s different among the readers of the NY Times.

  16. I’m not the least bit surprised by the Schneiderman account. We grew up prog/socialist/atheist, and I can easily envision such scenarios in any number of different families (if we can still refer to them as such) Both myself and my ex as well as my wife were all raised in hard-left environments.

    Both women were doused heavily in feminist studies (Our Bodies-Ourselves!) whether they were aware of it or not. After 9/11, those around me began to notice an irritability in me, a restlessness. I began to say things, and as such, people began to distance themselves. Ten years ago, my wife asked me if I “was a Republican now?”

    To her credit, she has adapted and still loves me. It’s been an education for me, and for her as well. She may not outwardly accede to many of my opinions, but I know she is disturbed as hell at current events. I don’t think it has been easy for her.

    The early indoctrination’s are not easily shed. When your belief system is purely political, you’re left with few choices, as before your eyes, over two thousand people are murdered, and you struggle to reconcile what has just been seen.

  17. There is a passage in Ayn Rand’s ‘We the Living’ (much better from a literary standpoint than her later work, IMO) that is relevant here. Kira, the protagonist, who hated Communism, has a good friend, Andrei, who is a dedicated Communist. At one point, she says to him:

    “If we had souls, which we haven’t, and if our souls met–yours and mine–they’d fight to the death. But after they had torn each other to pieces, to the very bottom, they’d see that they had the same root.”

    Indeed, I think similar basic psychologies can be manifested politically in very different way, depending on personal experiences. Antoine de St-Expuery made a relevant point in ‘Wind, Sand, and Stars.’ He had been assigned to the French government to go to Spain, where the Civil War was in progress, and rescue French people who were in danger of being executed by one side or the other. The experience prompted these musings:

    “Let us, then, refrain from astonishment at what men do. One man finds that his essential manhood comes alive at the sight of self-sacrifice, cooperative effort, a rigorous vision of justice, manifested in an anarchists’ cellar in Barcelona. For that man there. will henceforth be but one truth-the truth of the anarchists. Another, having once mounted guard over a flock of terrified little nuns kneeling in a Spanish nunnery, will thereafter know a different truth-that it is sweet to die for the Church.”

  18. An interesting take on the Trump phenomenon in NY City.

    Wearing a Trump shirt. There are very few Trump bumper stickers around. The risk of vandalism is too great. The only one I saw in LA was on a Tesla, a sort of icon of the leftist enviroNazis and maybe immune to the dim witted vandal.

    A couple of interesting observations.

    You don’t see this shirt in Manhattan very often. Outside of people I know, I don’t think I’ve seen it once. I noticed cops staring extra long. I think they were surprised that someone with a hipster beard and big glasses was on their side. Construction workers would smile and sometimes nod. This is why so many New Yorkers were offended by Cruz’s comment. We hate the New Yorker New Yorkers just as much as the rest of you.

    And this.

    Why do Jews hate Trump so much? His daughter is likely more Jewish than the men on that elevator will ever be. I kvetched about this to Trump adviser Richard Schwartz and he agreed that it makes absolutely no sense. He said Jews want to be free to make money without being hassled by bureaucracy and Trump is the perfect candidate to facilitate that. The fact that they are so concerned with anti-Muslim rhetoric is downright suicidal.

    And this.

    A black man who was sitting on a stoop gave a nod and a supportive laugh. He looked like he had been hanging drywall all day but had one foot in a cast and the other one wrapped in so many bandages and bags it was almost spherical. He asked me where I got my shirt and I said the website line again. Most of the reactions fit into some kind of general pattern about American demographics, but this one was a curveball.

    I have no idea how this thing is going to end. I suspect the debates will be the determining factor and I have no idea how that will go.

  19. Here in London, a new police unit has been created to track hate speech in Social media.

    What exactly is hate speech is not clear…but there is now an official police unit to pursue and possibly prosecute speech that runs afoul of the law.

    Can anyone spell Orwellian ‘Thought Police?’

    Sounds like Democratic Party with police power.

    I’ve gotten a preview of the next 4-8 years

  20. “What exactly is hate speech is not clear…but there is now an official police unit to pursue and possibly prosecute speech that runs afoul of the law.”

    And this will absolutely not end well. Not in Britain, anyway. At least here in the US, we have the protection of the Constitutional amendments – even as the national uniparty tries to chip away that protection …

  21. British police have already been arresting homeowners who try to chase away vandals damaging their homes.

  22. Mike K, Britian has no such laws as ‘Stand Your Ground’ as exists in some states when faced with eminent danger.

    PS I live in NY without such protection where I am legally obligated to flee my own home if I can.

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