Assholes Are Like Opinions, Everyone’s Got One, and Everyone’s Is Just His Opinion

Following a call by a French minister to censor certain so-called hateful speech, a Guardian writer wrote what I’d call a predictably contrarian piece praising limited forms of censorship, and Glenn Greenwald wrote a predictably outraged piece arguing that

 Nothing has been more destructive or dangerous throughout history – nothing – than the power of the state to suppress and criminalize opinions it dislikes.

Let’s say I’m not entirely convinced by this formulation, or by its corollary slippery slope: that the first infringement on free expression is the first step toward the camps. I mean, if we reject the notion that government-sanctioned gay marriage leads inexorably to interspecies romance or traditional Mormonism or whatever, then we’re also obliged to reject the notion that outlawing fag-baiting and Holocaust denial will march us straight into 1984.

Now I’m not in favor of government censorship, and The Higher Power According to Your Understanding of Him only knows that letting a bunch of self-satisfied énarques troll through hashtags, fishing for hatefulness and incivility and historical revisionism is a distressing—if also comic—proposition. But I do subscribe to this formulation:

First of all, I still lean to free speech absolutism. My position right now is to simply not give a shit about defending jerks.

That is to say, I think the left confuses the imperative to defend the least among us with the need to zealously defend the biggest fucking dickshits among us. The ACLU is great and all, but we completely over-valorize getting the Nazis a permit to march in Skokie. There’s a terrific irony underlying this notion that on the other side of prohibiting the swastika is inviting the yellow star. I do think the Nazis should be able to march past the synagogue and the Klan through downtown Birmingham, but we’ve too carefully cultivated the reflex to leap out of our seats when it seems that such ability might be curtailed.

Or, taking the French example, the conditions of extreme poverty and repression that obtain in the banlieues are much greater “threats”—are much more “destructive and dangerous”—than a bill to ban #SiMonFilsEtGay. That’s not to say that we need to fixate on one to the total exclusion of the other, but if we’re more concerned with assholes tweeting rank opinions (many of them not even the real, truly held opinions of their shock-seeking pseudonymous authors) than we are with the lack of a commuter line to Clichy-sous-Bois, then our allegiance is really to a hollow formalism rather than to the rights of human beings to live free, happy, comfortable, unmolested, and uncircumscribed lives.

In fairness, I believe that Glenn Greenwald would echo a lot of these sentiments, and it’s never fair to presume that a writer’s chosen emphasis implies the exclusion of other concerns. Still, there’s  tendency to swashbuckle into these absolutist arguments about free speech every time some C-list bureaucrat or columnist suggests cutting off this or that asshole’s microphone, which is rarely matched in intensity or duration when the police go storming in to nettoyer la cité au Kärcher. (Plenty of free-speech advocates are also prisoner’s rights advocates; are also drug law opponents; but as a matter of column inches, well . . .)

We saw a similar phenomenon when one of the Democratic Party hacks at the blog Lawyers, Guns, and Money made some shall-we-say intemperate comments about Wayne LaPierre in the moments immediately following the school shootings in Connecticut. Of course, a gang of right-wingers put on their shit-eatingest Schadenfreude grins and accused him of “eliminationist rhetoric”—a coinage popular on liberal blogs—for calling for Uncle Wayne’s “head on a spike.” Meanwhile, the blogger went on to call for the state to declare LaPierre a terrorist and toss his ass in jail. His university employer publicly regretted his comments, and a gang of luminous slightly-to-the-lefties circled the wagons and demanded that his freedom—his Academic Freedom, ye gods—be respected, with the implicit understanding that telling a guy to quit acting like a dick is the equivalent of Threatening His Job and Livelihood.

But people in much shittier and more precarious jobs all over America and all over the world actually get canned every day for mouthing off or using Facebook wrong or failing to ask the customer if they found everything they were looking for today, and that is the sort of injustice that demands our attention, not the plight of some entitled shitbag who felt that recent bloody events made for an opportune moment to advocate for criminalizing gun advocacy—that is to say, for supporting activities that, if lamentable, are legal in our society.

Insofar as there is a public debate about free speech, it’s largely confined to a neverending argument about the rights of privileged dickheads to be dickheads, and usually to each other. But most of humanity isn’t limited in the expressive sphere by censorship or hate speech laws or MPAA or whatever. It’s limited by poverty, imprisonment, the tyranny of intellectual property, the limitless powers of the boss, the cartel ownership of the means of communication. The terms of service are a bigger constraint on free expression than the Minister of Women’s Rights. The unequal distribution of wealth has more profound implications for speech than any statute.

18 Comments

Filed under Culture, War and Politics

18 responses to “Assholes Are Like Opinions, Everyone’s Got One, and Everyone’s Is Just His Opinion

  1. very nice!

    *thinking you meant “than” rather than “that” in the 2nd to last sentence(?)

  2. Thanks in particular for the last two paragraphs.

  3. doe

    wandering a little of what i’m about to say something on , but it will tie in to something of this post in time, somewhere near , on the suggests of a fair voicing equilibrium . now jacobb. if you are ioz ,or as i say io z , i imagine that you will see your friend’s review on his post today – ou-sont-les-bonnes-dantan , it was good to see the review . (of mentioned also in , i remember liking isherwood in my teens (and auden) ) , i wish that you still had something of your old blog for a larger ..seeing you all talk ..more than a little on this , on something of.. with its fairly large gathering of a vary’ of open/able, with wording in different ways , minded men , a few bi and gay wom’n looking in a little , and myself/anne ,the other , but not what i would call straight , of myself , that i mostly have only referred to as being very feminine in ways that relate

  4. doe

    jacob, look at your myspace pg, maybe we should get this my space thing going ag.(,)just kidding ( try to hear me saying that with no comma break as i am .. ) ,don’t ask me how i happened on your .. , i have no idea , all i can say is that it was quick ,bird for hand , like everything i do / ( a friend opened one up for me when he wanted me to see a clip of some songs ,7 or 8 yrs ago .. )as you can see i’m very particular about my friending ,1, 2 / so nice to see your face if this is you ,and to piece together my issues with the sauce , / i’ve put a few photos in to let you see some clips from stills of my flip bks if you like , / .. . , i’m so poor at communicating.. on line ,no tone ‘er

  5. Well, that’s your opinion.

  6. Frantz Fanonymous

    I got buddies who died face down in the muck…

  7. doe

    has anyone noticed that the .. go daddy vis ta prnt promo ..looks like davidly with shades ( of bingen )

  8. David Halitsky

    OTT word to the wise , JB:

    Be careful about the timing around publication of your new book.

    You don’t want to be accidentally upstaged:

    http://www.salon.com/2013/01/04/thomas_pynchon_to_publish_new_novel_the_bleeding_edge/

    You want Michiko to have nothing else worth doing, so she might as well review a new and up-and coming young novelist.

    Up-and-coming as in Mae West’s famous twist:

    “Why don’t you come up sometime, and see me?”

  9. doe

    fixie , to the boys of fifty won , make your site more able , o ‘ greek

    • doe

      by boys of .. i mean the defeatist ‘ side of those .. , the trying to read .. of something there .. and it never moving and causing problems /\Shlohmo – Teeth

  10. Why is it that you take such issue with the Indian people sir?

  11. doe

    anne comments on ‘er quick look in on jacobb’s tweets from ny, back here in this lovely quiet room /pg, ‘er comment – there is a ” glory hole doughnut “.. shop near me here , ny blaa , this is the place , said a hole , who was never married to mr. nirvana .. , but the last words he said to her (‘er ) as he turned back on the avenue .. on his way to go back home to die .. were .. that he was afraid of her ,of his wife .. court ney , with the name love ,what a riff .. ,/ my daughter of son of son of son the king of nor’ nom..means ugly hair , said whtgirl with a fro

  12. doe

    ”in from ‘er ..not a slut ..but need to walk , the wee hours / pen k o’ , have you removed my .. in just un just justin comment or did i not touch the send button ..somehow ?, -of monk’s atlas ,of justin’s need .. need to “…sometimes you have to get clumsy and incoherent for awhile.” —Justin “, of his going too far in his coherent but wrong minded babble on line .. on something said on line that it looks like he removed in my now looking back for it ,of a few weeks back i think .. , i did not say , but that led me to thoughts of .. don’t make me blog .., the most feminine wom. on the planet has had enough .., a response to what he wrote is going to be put more than on line .. . , i forgave him many times because of his high functioning autism , but not on this .. . /.. . no one paints an elephant quite as good as she ,not quoting “..

  13. dronkmonk

    who told anne about this place? ugh.

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