The discourse in our country is well and truly broken at the present time, and the basis of our difficulties is simple human nature.
Most everyone has craved unreserved approval merely for being a carbon-based life form since the moment of their births. No one likes to be told they are wrong, and many will argue that, as odd it it may sound to say so, it is definitely wrong for anyone to tell them they are definitely wrong. Few of us have ever appreciated criticism, even that which is gently and graciously delivered in an effort to help rather than hurt, and ignoring good advice has plagued humanity since the dawn of time.
However, our current solution to our inherently frail self-esteem is a disaster.
With approval ratings now acting as the common substitute for morality in America, it is not unreasonable to worry that support for human sacrifice might someday cross the magic 50% threshold and become a new holiday tradition. Having abandoned the difficult and sometimes distasteful work of seeking both consensus and compromise, everyone now seems to revel in telling others they are evil, and this message is often accompanied by the most hurtful and demeaning words one can possibly imagine. Moreover, legitimate disagreements and differing moral values are now routinely characterized as contemptible hate speech, a concept as elastic as it is remarkably nebulous, and the shrill demands for the unrelenting censorship of those with opposing views are as common as mosquitos on a summer evening.
Unfortunately, those institutions that we used to count on for some semblance of commitment to free and open debate—our institutions of higher education, our schools of journalism and newsrooms, and our nation’s court systems—are today the vanguards of Cancel Culture in America. Now lacking a counterweight to the oppressive hive mind of the social media inquisitors, Americans are left defenseless and must self-censor in order to avoid the implacable rage engendered by the least deviation from entrenched liberal shibboleths. Woe to anyone who asks pointed or rude questions about the direction of our nation; they will be branded a danger to our democracy, and that individual will be ridiculed, shamed, and banished from public view.
I have spent many years arguing that censorship in all of its supposedly beneficial manifestations is actually a malignant growth that itself must be excised, and I believe this more fervently with each passing day. Those who seek to control the national narrative by suppressing opposing opinions and ideas neither protect us nor, in the long run, even help their own causes. Instead, the advocates of ignorance help fanatics to seize power by allowing their extremism to go unchallenged, create the toxic breeding ground for conspiracy theories that corrode our trust, and show the most profound disrespect for all Americans by presuming we are not smart or capable enough to separate the best of our citizenry from the hucksters, grifters, and charlatans that plague every conversation of consequence.
Ignorance will never protect us, so we owe it to ourselves to be aware of the full range of ideas and opinions—and the reasons behind them. Censorship inevitably weakens our critical thinking skills and makes us more vulnerable to the siren songs of fanatics and demagogues. Even those ideas that are seemingly outlandish and possibly bigoted are worthy of our consideration because hearing them helps to inoculate us against stupidity and hatred. Therefore, unless a statement rises to the level of a direct and explicit threat of violence, I still believe it must be heard, evaluated, and refuted in order to sharpen our emotional and intellectual defenses against the extremism that stalks our nation today.
Many of the discussions we need to now have will be difficult, and they will be yet more difficult simply because we have spent the past decades embracing private, corporate, educational, legal, and political censorship in pursuit of a fool’s errand: suppressing the full range of thought in our diverse, raucous, and wildly individualistic country. We have allowed our brains to atrophy as a result, and having to now use reason, evidence, and logic to make our points might be a shock to some.
Nonetheless, I am hopeful that, if Twitter can resist the calls to re-impose a strangling conformity on our thoughts, that much good can come from the freedom of expression it seems is the goal. Should we fail—should you, Mr. Musk, fail this test—the damage to our nation will be incalculable.