Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. – George Orwell –
There is a stealth attack on our liberties and most people don’t even recognize it. Before people are conquered by coercion and force, they must be disarmed philosophically. Once people accept a false premise, exalted opinion makers can use that premise to promote their agenda.
A consistent philosophy is like a sophisticated piece of architecture or a machine; without structural integrity it will collapse or fail. Sometimes there are specific elements of a structure that are needed to support the rest. In a building it may be a cornerstone, keystone or column. In a machine it may be a simple pin, filter, or chip.
The distinction between violence and communication is critical to liberty and civil society. Without it there can be no principled defense of free speech, nor can there be principled objection to violence being used in response to speech. The statist agenda has been well served by the recent MSM fixation on so-called “cyber-bullying.” The phrase is such a clear example of Orwellian newspeak that I would expect this to be nothing more than hyperbolae or a metaphor. “Bullying” is a phrase that has been associated with violence. The use of “Cyber” as a prefix is consistent with the use of certain technology. If the terminator starts making threats and beating people up, that’s cyber-bullying, but that is not how the phrase is being used.
People are being called cyber-bullies for making unwelcome remarks about peers and colleagues on the Internet. This wouldn’t be a matter of concern, if the word-use were understood to be metaphorical. For example, politicians will refer to “attack ads,” with full understanding that they need not draw a gun to defend themselves. But talk show hosts, law enforcement officials, and politicians actually believe that verbal and electronic taunting is an act of violence.
The lack of publicized dissension to this doublethink is mind numbing. Most pre-schoolers of the prior generation had superior intellectual integrity to the opinion leaders of today. They had a simple, though accurate phrase, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” The degree to which a person believed the phrase was the degree to which the outcome would support it; the words may be harmless, but the response one has to them may not be.
It has now become politically correct to disarm those who are most vulnerable, and convince them that they are emotionally defenseless, against criticism. As a teacher, I have seen the so-called “anti-bullying” hype that gives the impression that the way to address criticism is to silence the critic. Rather than learning that ideas are to be fought with better ideas, youth are learning that unwelcome criticism must be fought by silencing the critic. Civil liberty considerations not withstanding, this is a terrible disservice to young people. So long as someone takes ownership of his or her responses, he or she has a way to preserve his or her self-esteem amidst a surge of insults. Without these coping tools, the object of the taunts is helplessly waiting for help from others.
This leads me to the next critical piece of the philosophy that is in danger. The distinction between one person’s actions and those of another. Once again, the intellectual integrity of most pre-millennial preschoolers towers above the philosophical cesspit of contemporary pundits. The childhood wisdom would be encapsulated in a rhetorical question: “If someone dared you to jump off the bridge would you do that too?” Back in the day this would prompt a person to reflect on the stupidity of blaming his or her actions on the fact that someone else dared him or her to do it. These days it could be cause for prosecution.
Nowadays, pundits will say that unwelcome words or online postings “cause” a suicide. Remarkably, this double-think goes unchallenged. This is one of those cases where the truth is so self-evident that explaining it becomes difficult. The word “suicide” is reserved for killing one’s self. By definition the killer and the victim are the same person. To say someone else caused a suicide is to say that the act is not what it is. This is not just a matter of minutia. People are often put in prison or executed for killing other people. By definition the victim causes the suicide.
The reader may choose to respond with anger and disbelief, but the fact of the matter is that suicide victims cause their own deaths. Putting the truth plainly is not the most sensitive thing to do, but often it is the kindest thing to do. Tragically, statists exploit the grief of suicide victims families. Rather than guiding them to acceptance and helping them move on, suicide victims are used as poster children for laws that squelch discourse, and empower bureaucrats. Personal tragedies, childhood crushes, and teachable moments become part of a media circus, with children playing the Orwellian character, “Boxer” in the center ring.
The immediate outcomes are personal, but the paradigm shift this facilitates is even more abominable. If a writer is responsible for the way readers respond, then all writers are potential unwitting murderers. This not only has the effect of incriminating the innocent, but also absolving the guilty; if the author of an email or posting can “cause” a person to kill him or her self, the author could also “cause” a person to kill someone else. Thus a killer could use the “somebody dared me to do it” defense!
Some readers may think I am being alarmist, and that these semantic sins won’t have legal consequences. Unfortunately, the tree of irrationality is already bearing tyrannical fruits:
- I attended a school assembly where an FBI agent told children that he has had to arrest kids for sending unwelcome emails, and they have been taken from their parents and put in juvenile detention. Missouri has made “cyber-harassment” a Class D felony.
- State Representative Lisa Brown supports similar legislation in the Michigan Legislature. She supports fines for adults who make unwelcome remarks about other adults in blogs.
I have made a distinction here between words and violence, but I don’t wish to say words are of no consequence…. Just the opposite. Words communicate ideas. Belief in certain ideas can be lethal. The philosophy we have, guides our response to the words we hear.
When one’s philosophy equates words with violence, one is inclined to respond with violence. Not only does this bring greater tragedy, but it does nothing to defeat the depraved ideas. Brute force is impotent against flawed beliefs. The best way to defeat false beliefs is with the truth. This is much easier said than done, but that doesn’t make it less true. The ultimate alternative is the draconian approach of criminalizing ideas and executing heretics. In the battle of ideas there is no substitute for philosophy.
[Republication of the unabridged article with credit to Scotty Boman is welcome]