Saturday, November 05, 2022

Umair Haque on Free Speech

Umair Haque is an American pessimist, who is depressing to read because his worst-case analysis is usually right. His arguments are backed up by a much deeper understanding of history than most commentators have. Compare him to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, whose historical knowledge is impressive. Recently Umair Haque wrote a piece on"Everything the far right touches dies,".It made a number of interesting points, but the part I liked best was what he had to say on free speech.
Now. What is “free speech”, anyways? Let me give you an example from my own life, and countless other people’s. When I was a kid, I used to get all kinds of names, beaten, abused, bullied. I was a sensitive, creative soul, and I wasn’t like the other boys at all. I wanted to make music and write poetry, not compete for trophies on playing fields.


Maybe you were like me a little bit. What effect does it have to be harassed and insulted and threatened? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. Pretty soon, you go silent. Because of course that’s the point of beating you down, emotionally, verbally, maybe even physically. You grow afraid, and of course instilling fear is the point of intimidation. So for about two years, I was just…silent. I starting flunking my classes and not talking to anyone. I was practically catatonic.

Then I discovered a haven in the unlikeliest of places, which were nightclubs downtown, where the gay community protected a little kid like me fiercely, even though I wasn’t gay. Suddenly, I was cool — and I found my voice again. That little parable, and maybe you’ve lived it, or your kids are living it right now, is about what free speech really is. It’s the idea that everyone should have a voice. Everyone. If I’m using mine to take yours away, though, what we end up with is a loss of speech. And that is why we have rules — as civilized societies — about what forms of speech cause harm, by taking away other people’s dignity, voice, relationships, even place in society.


And those rules don’t come from businesses — but from democratic governance, at least in our societies. We all agree to them, because they benefit us all. So some kinds of speech aren’t really freeing at all. Instead, they choke off speech, at a net, larger level. It’s easy enough to understand what those kinds of speech are. When I was a kid, I’d get called a “f*ggot” or racist slurs literally a hundred times a week — even by teachers and coaches. Is that free speech? Of course not. It’s the precise opposite, because it took my voice away, and its intention is to take away the voice away of everyone from gay people to people of color to anyone who doesn’t support intimidation and violence and so forth.


Obvious, right? And yet a lot of people don’t understand this. Or they pretend not to, anyways, because they want to be bullies and brutes, they want the freedom to intimidate and harass and hector and demean and take away dignity and relationships and someone else’s place in society.


That’s not free speech at all. It’s the diametrical opposite: hate. That’s the second point you should understand. There are two forms of gaslighting at work here, thanks to everyone’s least favorite crackpot billionaire: one is the idea that we don’t really have free speech without him, LOL, when of course we do, but the second, which is even more noxious, is the idea that free speech is about me silencing you, with intimidation, threats, aggression, hate.
Have a look at what he has to say.

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