-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

viewpoint

Free speech is idealisitic

| Thursday, March 31, 2016

I view the concept of free speech as idealistic not only because of the hypocrisy behind its most common supporters, but because it is based on the idea that all forms of speech are inherent to the human condition, and should therefore be defended. This would imply that one’s thoughts and opinions are not the result of any material reality, but simply an abstract process based on the individual’s free will. Mental culture is just as much a result of a society’s productive process than anything. If we live in a society where racist and sexist thoughts are expressed at all, it is not because those individuals have decided through their own free will to have those prejudices, but because of their place in the greater whole of our stratified society. Society is a self-developing organism; the attitudes and beliefs of its members are not the result of any external inspiration, but a reflection of their material realities.

The current trend in the defense of free speech is based on a bourgeois concept of expression. As a side effect of capitalist economies, this concept is almost entirely irrelevant to the economic realities that people face. Under capitalism everything is commodified, including speech. A factory worker can say whatever they want, but their opinion will be eclipsed by billionaires who possess the capital to fund news stations and other media outlets that will effectively push out their opinions, thereby silencing them. In fact, political opinions are a business as well, and wealthy capital owners make a profit out of “selling” their political outlets (news stations, newspapers, websites, etc) to the workers. This is why false consciousness is so high among the working class but so low among the rich. Their position in capitalist society has given them a monopoly on opinions, and workers end up “buying the product.” What we’re left with is a working class that not only believes that their current place in capitalism’s social stratification is deserved, but that resisting it would be hypocritical, and that they would be “betraying” those that have exploited them for surplus value.

This is an issue that many civil rights activists and authors have been concerned with over the years. Based on the subject of the speech involved, the common fear was a state that was able to police the words and consequently thoughts of their citizens. But it does not take a government representative or a police officer to carry out this action. Whenever social stratification exists, those on its higher end are able to suppress the speech of everyone else in favor of maintaining the status quo, and whether they believe that they are doing so or not, they are supporting the state, which gives them institutional power over others.

To oppose hate speech is not to oppose freedom of expression, because the speech in question is being used to silence the expression of others. Most hate speech we’re exposed to today favors the interest of the state, rather than humanity as a whole. For free speech to become a reality, social stratification by race, class and gender would have to be nonexistent.

Daniel Esparaza

junior

Feb. 29

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , ,

About Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

Contact Letter
  • Johnny Whichard

    This article is idealistic.

    • João Pedro Santos

      Ad hominem much?

      • Johnny Whichard

        Please explain to me how my pointing out the bulk of this article was idealistic is “ad hominem”, Joao. Did you take Intro to Philo yet? I’d imagine it’s tough to pass without understanding what ad hominem means.

    • Daniel Esparza

      Well with that attitude…

  • Matthew Bartilotti

    This article makes no sense – what are you calling for? You can oppose hate speech without hating free speech and calling it idealistic. I don’t understand at all how the preexisting condition of social stratification makes free speech unobtainable. I also don’t understand how you accuse those at the higher end of this stratification — the “bourgeois” — are the ones who you accuse of stamping out freedom of speech and expression, when it is commonly those who are fighting “against the status quo” or against societal norms who revert to the practice of shutting out opposing speech like those brats at Rutgers or CSULA who tried to shut out conservative speakers like Milo Yiannapolous or Ben Shapiro from getting to freely express their beliefs all in the name of “social justice”

    • Daniel Esparza

      I suppose I was a bit unclear. By no means do I oppose free speech; I’m saying that if social stratification exists, then all forms of speech cannot be held to the same, sacred value. This was a larger problem back in the day, when minority/majority classes were more apparent. A representative of the majority group was able to call for violence against those of the minority group, being protected by their association of the majority (social), and a state that has a higher representation of the majority group in power (structural).

      For example, white supremacists enjoy the liberty of expressing their anti-social ideas in the streets, and even if they themselves are not violent, they will validate the harmful beliefs of someone who is. If people wish to stop them by breaking up their rally or whatever, then the supremacists get to stand behind the police, who are armed and hold direct, legal authority. People will then come to the defense of the supremacists, saying that they should be allowed to express their ideas, even if they are detrimental to society.

      Yiannapolous is another example of this in action. He enjoys the liberty of spreading hate against transgender people, being protected from any public retaliation, and also benefits from it by being invited on podcasts, to universities, and from his articles of Beitbart. Since it has thus been determined that some of his words validates violence against transgender people, it’s in the best interest of transgender people to prevent him from spreading hate. Unfortunately, there’s very few trans people at all, and they are already socially conditioned to be silent, given the way they are commonly treated by their parents and portrayed in the media. The “brats” in this case are using their privilege (of not being transgender) to prevent Milo from validating harm that is committed against transgender people, because they know that society has not advanced enough to prevent his words from having their detrimental effect. If hate against transgender people were stamped out long ago, then there would be no historical baggage associated with hate speech against a trans-person, and we wouldn’t have to worry about the harmful effect.

      By all means, Milo is allowed to say what he wants. But, by going out of our way to give him a platform and preventing him from facing recourse from his actions, we perpetuate (and therefore support) violence against transgender people. When almost half of trans-people have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, we have to reevaluate how valuable Milo’s freedom of expression is compared to, for example, people that speak out against the US (who are then jailed, while we sit there and clap our hands).

      I should be clear, however. I don’t support the state breaking up rallies, even if they spread hate. I support vanguard groups (who represent the interests of an egalitarian society) breaking up those rallies.

      • MC

        This comment has a much more moderate tone than the article, which is good because the ideas expressed in the article are extraordinarily dangerous. In fact, if I were to concede that there is some speech that should be broken up or denied a platform, I would say it should be speech that preaches of egalitarianism. As Patrick has pointed out above, this ideology you so bravely embrace has historically lead to not only further oppression of minorities, but large-scale violence.
        However, you are still demonstrably wrong. For now, I will address this comment because the article is just too ridiculous to handle in a comment–I hope I can address it in a further article of some kind.
        First, I think it should be clear why the Constitutional protection of freedom of speech is content neutral. Based on one’s perspective, many ideas can be dangerous or detrimental to society, including ideas of the minority. This idea that you have to shut down the majority would also, in principle, allow the suppression of certain minority opinions. Speech degrading groups of people or perpetuating social views that are largely unfavorable can be dangerous, but so can, say, speech supporting monitoring of speech by groups of self-appointed “egalitarian” warriors or pushing Marxist or nihilist ideologies.
        Which brings me to my next point: who is allowed to decide which speech is hateful and unacceptable? How is there any guarantee that those groups will not use that power to simply stop speech that they do not like or that they have wrongly deemed hateful? And why have you deemed yourself among those able to determine Truth among power? We should not ignore the arrogance in this worldview.
        Lastly, your view of the United States simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Much of mass media is moderate or left-leaning. The rich are not the only ones who control speech. Some people’s speech is more powerful than others, but this includes educators, writers, professors, public figures, and celebrities. I am failing to see what majority danger you are seeing–it is a minority, not a majority, held view in the media that transgender people should be protected, that races should be equal, that violence towards those with whom we do not agree is abhorrent. This world you describe, in which the majority is tyrannical in its use of speech and the rich (usually considered a minority, but we will ignore that) uses it to manipulate the minds of the lowly poor, does not bear any resemblance to the country we currently inhabit. Hate speech can have real effects, but hate speech is not popular or accepted by any means–and to suppress it is only to embolden it. The best way to fight speech is with speech, and the only thing that has been able to push bad ideas (such as Marxism) to the fringe is stronger ideas spread by free speech.

        • Matthew Bartilotti

          I was going to reply to his comment, but you pretty much said all that is needed to be said

        • Daniel Esparza

          To address the first point, I’m not advocating for the removal of the ideas of the majority, only those ideas that seek to subjugate the minority (I use “minority” in it’s sociological definition; not that there’s “less of,” but referring to any group receiving unequal treatment because of who they are). By all means, a member of a minority group may have ideas that are detrimental to society.

          Your second point actually relates to my last sentence. In an ideal society (one without social stratification), the people can collectively decide which speech is hateful and which is acceptable.

          Lastly, hate speech is not as blatant as it was say, 100 years ago, in the media. However, since people are praised for “speaking their mind” when they give hateful rhetoric, and since US imperialism is hardly questioned, at all, then it wouldn’t make sense to consider progressivism as “mainstream.” Sure, they’ll condemn you for advocating violence against the LGBTQ community, but that’s pretty much as far as they’ll go. Then people go home and still use “f****t,” purposely misgender people, use terms they identify with as an insult, and police each other’s sexuality. People only really listen to progressive ideas if they don’t actually interfere with their routine (look up: MLK’s speech on white moderates). Hate speech is highly protected, by moderates, reactionaries, the state, and even some left-liberals. That’s why there will always be a line of police or well-to-doers ready to protect you from any retaliation should you advocate violence against minorities.

          I should note that the US did not fight Marxism with free speech. It did the opposite, perpetuating 2 red scares and McCarthyism to silence anybody who was accused of having Marxist thoughts or sympathies. Marxism, along with many other far-left ideologies (like racial or sexual liberation) were, in fact, pushed to the fringe, or at least radicalized. So it’s hard to say that they’re in any way “mainstream.”

  • Patrick Kearney

    Let’s tease out a number of contradictions here – Firstly, you accuse proponents of free speech as being hypocrites without ever explaining how. I could just as easily summarily disavow the views of Karl Marx for the indisputable fact that the attempted implementation of his loose economic polemics has resulted in more death and misery than any human endeavor in history. But we need not dwell on Soviet gulags and bread lines. Let’s just start off by realizing that unsubstantiated calls of hypocrisy amount to little more than ad hominem.

    Secondly, and to the substance of your point; if I accept your presupposition that my free will does not actually exist, and that my ideas are merely an amalgam of external forces provided by the “mental culture,” and that society obeys its own organic rules of growth, then what you have truly arrived at is predetermination. You are right to say “to oppose hate speech is not to oppose freedom of expression.” To oppose hate speech is rather to oppose the inevitable, because by your own standards, hate speech is the result of an overdetermined, preordained societal pattern of growth. So it is with all the things you hate so much about the world – the bourgeois, commoditization, social stratification; these are all organic byproducts of a system that you have no control over. What purpose do your Marxist ravings have when those very Marxist thoughts are merely an accidental byproduct of the “mental culture”? How can you prove your points as representing a higher truth exogenous to this trap of predetermination? Of course, if you believe yourself to be enlightened and somehow unaccountable to the standards you yourself have set, I would direct you back to your own complaint about hypocrisy. Otherwise, it seems to me that your contrived philosophical outlook cannibalizes itself.

  • João Pedro Santos

    One of the best articles I’ve seen here, good job!

    • Daniel Esparza

      Thanks João!

  • MC

    The arrogance of this article is simply astounding. Apparently, society determines our thoughts and we do not have original thoughts or perform original speech out of free will. The rich and powerful control the minds of the poor, helpless workers. And above all of this human stupidity and blindness comes Daniel Esparza, a man with apparently super-human enlightenment who will now use his speech, as a powerful and privileged member of society, to decide the next path the weak minds of the oppressed should take.
    Based on this desire to overthrow the status quo, it would seem The Giver here would advocate for a radically different social order than what we see today. I wonder if the author has considered the fact that the kind of society he envisions, lacking the economic discrepancies of a capitalist economy, is both impossible and immoral. The reason the view of the author is in the minority is not because the rich and powerful seek to oppress it, but because it is, both by reason and by historical evaluation, severely misguided. But I guess the fact that he is able to share such a harmful view is a perfect example of the importance of free speech–the more dialogue we engage in and the more we let the marketplace of ideas operate, the faster the bad ideas go away. I’m glad that this idea is sufficiently failing on the marketplace of free expression in the U.S.

    • Daniel Esparza

      What I meant in my first paragraph is that society has “as much” an influence on our interactions as our nature, not that society solely determines our interactions. This means while the rich don’t control the minds of the poor (I never said they did?), their position allows them to have a greater influence over education and the media. The problem, then, is that some of the things that we are taught serve to preserve the status quo. One example of this is how often the practice of competition, obedience to authority, and hierarchical social relations are taught in schools. These are most often detrimental to human interactions in the long run, but we do it anyway because it works for a capitalist society.

      I’m by no means enlightened, and going off what I said in the start of the letter, I and nobody will ever be, because there are too many social norms and ideologies that would have to be overcome/ignored at birth.

      A non-capitalist society is not impossible, considering capitalism has only been around for a couple hundred years (compared to humans’ 200,000). The morality of capitalism is highly debatable; I don’t see the morality of extracting labor for surplus value, exploiting developing nations, or enforcing involuntary association.

      Perhaps the “rich and powerful” don’t wish to suppress these ideas, but it’s in their best interest to, and they are able to, which is a problem imho.

    • Jw

      “I wonder if the author has considered the fact that the kind of society he envisions, lacking the economic discrepancies of a capitalist economy, is both impossible and immoral.”

      It’s very weird to look at the “discrepencies” of capitalist society as the reason why free market capitalism has any merit. one might think this if *they* themselves were being heavily influenced by the upper class in society who have historically reaped the disproportionate benefits of capitalism.

      That said, freedom of expression is necessary and any attempts to limit it are short sighted and will eventually be used to oppress the underprivileged. 🙂

      • MC

        That was badly worded on my part. I included the lacking discrepancies part to highlight what he sees as a more moral society. I think capitalism has moral value for other reasons; I see the discrepancies as amoral.

  • Daniel Esparza