People are either pro-thought or anti-thought.
The Supreme Court’s contortions on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case should dispel any doubts about this. Defendant Jack Phillips had chosen not to create an artistic cake for a same-sex ceremony because doing so would violate his conviction that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman.
As David Harsanyi noted in The Federalist, the Supreme Court avoided the core issues of freedom of thought and speech while ruling for Phillips: “Phillips only won his case because the Supreme Court found that Colorado didn’t display religious neutrality when punishing him for his beliefs.”
So the usual political labels of Left and Right cannot explain the exploding attacks on freedom of speech and conscience that are running rampant today. The war on speech is basically a war on thought. Let’s review just a few examples that confirm power elites’ interest in abolishing freedom of thought:
- On college campuses: Administrators increasingly permit and expect students to disrupt and even riot at talks by invited speakers and scholars some deem politically incorrect.
- At Google: Software engineer James Damore was summarily fired for expressing a politically incorrect opinion, despite his copious citations of facts to back up his thesis.
- At The Atlantic Monthly: Writer Kevin Williamson was quickly fired for publicly expressing a politically incorrect opinion despite the fact that his opinion was well known before his firing, and that he was actually hired in part for his reputation as a talented provocateur.
- At Mozilla: Activists forced the resignation of CEO Brendan Eich when they discovered that he privately donated to a politically incorrect cause—California’s Proposition 8, which in 2008 confirmed the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Eich chose to resign rather than recant his thoughts.
- In New York City: Fines of up to $250,000 if you “misgender” a person.
Human resources departments in corporations and institutions across the nation can leverage political correctness to fire any employee who might be overheard or construed to have expressed a politically incorrect opinion. The paralyzing fear of misspeaking on the job has been an issue of concern for at least 10 years now.
Consider also the growing hypocrisy of the American Civil Liberties Union. Its professed purpose was to defend the First Amendment. Sure, every once in a while it still tries to promote its cover story by choosing a politically incorrect case to defend, such as one by Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yet it increasingly focuses its efforts on attacks on freedom of conscience, especially when the defendant is expressing a politically incorrect opinion. The ACLU now routinely joins the efforts of special interests to force people in in artistic fields (photography, decorating, music, etc.) to apply their creative efforts to ceremonies that directly violate their religious beliefs.
The great divide is really between pro-thought and anti-thought perspectives.
The Hinge Pin Is Thought Freedom
Let’s try to crystallize what this all means. The push for hate speech laws has little to do with promoting tolerance while protecting speech. Compelled speech always—always—all boils down to an effort to control what people think and how.
Of course, the old-fashioned and democratic way of changing minds is through skilled persuasion, debate, reason, and open discourse. But today’s heavy-handed forcing of speech—through court orders, preventing real conversation on campuses, and students’ conditioned emotional reflexes (the “trigger effect” over hearing a non-PC opinion)—is nothing less than an attempt by various power elites to control what you are allowed to think. It’s also to condition you, Pavlov-style, to comply.
So we now have two political camps that ever more describe how Americans approach culture and life: pro-thought and anti-thought. In one camp are those who respect and value everybody’s right to think his own thoughts. In the other are those who already have the “right answer” and thus are either not concerned about freedom of thought, or are outright hostile to it.
For the latter, government regulation of speech is the primary means to control thought. Speech is simply a byproduct and symbolic expression of thought, after all. Each perspective is taken up in varying degrees by both the pro-thought or anti-thought camp. But everything we’re seeing in politics today, no matter the policy or the issue, hinges in one way or another on those two outlooks.
So we ought to just drop all partisan labels as meaningless. Calling someone “progressive,” “right wing,” “leftist,” “conservative,” “liberal,” “Republican,” “Democrat,” “wingnut,” or “alt-right” only hinders thoughtfulness and conversation. Those terms are little more than pools of quicksand in the swamp of today’s vacuous political dialogue.
Put another way, we’d get more clarity if people simply identified in one of two ways:
- As a free thinker. Free thinkers believe freedom of thought is essential to the capacity to think clearly and to interact with other people—and therefore to our ability to achieve social harmony; or
- As a thought policer. Thought policers generally view honest self-expression as dangerous to collective solidarity (or to their personal perspectives), and therefore something for the state to control.
Does Political Correctness Promote Hate Speech?
Most actual “hate speech” is probably not spontaneous at all. It’s much more a byproduct of hate speech laws that really look to read people’s minds in order to sniff out the possibility of any hate thought. Sometimes I even get the impression that people who thoughtlessly spew out stupid and offensive rhetoric—as in the recent case of Roseanne Barr—are just taking the bait of agitators who are in the very business of drawing out that sort of behavior.
So here’s a question worth exploring: Can hate speech laws and political correctness actually promote compulsive talking in some people, or worsen, through social anxiety, other forms of obsessive compulsive behavior? Are some offenders like Barr responding to today’s strictures on conversation as any neurotic stricken with “talkaholism” might?
The delusion that we are all surrounded by Big Hate is fed to us by the relentless work of well-funded organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center. I don’t think there can be any doubt that the SPLC has a vested interest in stirring up the illusion of Big Hate, because it’s such an integral part of their raison d’etre. Sadly, nobody can ever pursue happiness in such a toxic, chaotic environment. Not even the jailers.
The First Freedom: Freedom of Thought
Freedom of thought comes before freedom of speech. We must remember that it is the source of any inalienable right. We ought to be talking about it as though it is. If we don’t recognize this reality, then we can’t protect it.
Instead, we eventually enter a void in which increasingly unknown authorities dictate our speech and attitudes. Once that happens, our very capacity to think our own thoughts becomes eroded, and the downward spiral continues. Without an ethos and legal structure to protect the right of individuals to think clearly and independently, civil society collapses, along with all respect for human dignity and individual uniqueness.
Let’s remember that all of the other First Amendment rights follow in logical order from the first freedom of religion/belief/conscience/thought. Freedom of speech is the right to express what you think and believe. Freedom of press means the right to record those expressed thoughts in writing or other media. In this vein, freedom of association would mean being able to deliver your ideas to anyone willing to listen. It means the right to peaceably assemble and have open conversation with other people.
The heavy hand of the state has no right to cut off or interfere in our ability to spark thoughtful conversations. If the state violates our First Amendment rights, the First Amendment also gives us the right to petition as a means of fighting back against that abuse of power.
Why Tyrants Always Hate Free Thought
Dictators have relentlessly attacked freedom of thought from time immemorial. Tyrants have always sought to control what people think, in order to control what people say and do. Of course, since they can’t mind-read, they always try to alter thoughts by controlling speech. So none of the first freedoms is negotiable. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the big prize for totalitarians isn’t thought.
The American founders were well-versed in the history of tyranny, going back at least as far as the murderous reigns of Roman Emperors Nero and Caligula or Attila the Hun. The twentieth century alone offers countless examples, including Joseph Stalin’s Red Terror in the Soviet Union or Adolf Hitler’s Germany or Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China. In such dystopias, people were routinely punished—often harshly, including death—for something as simple as laughing at an unauthorized joke.
Such diehard patterns of tyranny need a workable antidote, and that antidote is first and foremost independent thought. That’s exactly why the American Founders enshrined freedom of religion as the very first freedom listed under the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. After all, freedom of religion simply means you have the God-given right to think your own thoughts and believe whatever you believe, even if you believe nobody but you should have that right.
Are You a Free Thinker?
Once the Mass State starts manipulating language by legislating everyday expressions, such as forcing every citizen to adhere to unfamiliar pronoun protocols under the guise of anti-discrimination, it builds walls between people. That’s exactly what it’s designed to do.
We’ve probably all observed how political correctness controls speech and thought by inducing self-censorship. How does this happen? Through manipulating the primal human terror of being socially isolated for non-compliance. People comply with political correctness in order to avoid that perceived isolation. Yet political correctness is designed to isolate us socially through our compliance with it! Heads, they win; tails, you lose.
The only way to avoid that Catch-22 is to stand up to political correctness before its illusions root too deeply. The First Amendment is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. And it’s all or nothing.
The only way the bubble of political correctness can pop is if all free thinkers are inclined to follow through with the First Amendment. Thinking will only remain free as long as we express our thoughts by speaking them, recording them, and cross-pollinating them through peaceful assembly. Nothing less can insure against the de-humanizing effects of thought policing.
Let’s think about that. And talk about it constantly.