The Right of Free Speech

Posted on January 24, 2021

A Facebook friend of mine, let’s call him Arne, posted an opinion piece the other day where he expressed that for him, Biden’s win was no reason for joy or relief. He had set his hopes on a Trump win, because he did not trust Biden. Above all he made it clear that he does not trust the Democrats who he believed to be in control of every branch of society. He is afraid that they will engage in revenge actions against the followers of Trump. About the attack on Capital Hill he wrote the following:

The photos and videos from the totally egregious attack on Capital Hill, handled by Trump in shamefully irresponsible ways, suggest that there were clearly dissidents with truly bad intentions present; photos of military trained men with zip ties suggest as much.

Though, all signs suggest that for the most part, it was an expression of desperation from people who felt their voice had been taken from them, and who had ZERO intention of a coup.

And as far as I can tell, now that we’re entering an era of institutionalized cancel culture, folks like the ones storming Capitol Hill will have even more legitimate reason to feel that they no longer have a voice.

“The Storming of the Capitol was no big deal”

Several things about this I find shocking. What I find shocking is Arne’s suggestion that the event was not a big deal. It was a big deal, although it is also true that parts of it were farcical. It was a genuine coup attempt, for the mob entered the Capitol with a clear intention to prevent the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes. It was also farcical, for a large proportion of the insurgents behaved as if they were actors in a theatrical performance and seemed convinced that their participation would not have serious consequences for them. They were clearly deluded. The lost lives - four insurgents, a police officer who had been hit with a fire extinguisher and a police officer who killed himself after the event - were real, though.

“The Storming of the Capitol was a justified expression of desperation”

What I find shocking is Arne’s suggestion that for most of the participants in the march on the Capitol, it was a justified expression of desperation. It was not justified, it was a desecration of a symbol of democracy during a key event in the democratic process in the US. Some of those people may have felt that they were exercising their right, that they were righting a wrong, but if they really believed that they were deluded.

“Banning hate groups from social media is censorship”

What I find shocking is Arne’s framing of the banning of hate groups from social media as an act of suppression of free speech. We don’t need places on social media where one can debate with fascists. Steve Bannon is still free to spout his venom, because, unfortunately, hate speech is not directly regulated in the US. The Supreme Court of the US has ruled, weirdly, that hate speech is legally protected free speech. But the Supreme Court has also ruled that “advocacy of the use of force” is not protected when it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and is “likely to incite or produce such action”. This clearly applies to groups where assaults on politicians and the government are being planned and it certainly applies to all of Steve Bannon’s posts and broadcasts. There was every reason to ban him from Facebook and Twitter after saying in November that Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded. In European countries, where hate speech is a crime, he would have ended up in prison for this.

So in a comment I asked Arne whether he was serious, and when he confirmed that he was I told him that he should be ashamed of writing like this, because his text was trying to legitimize something that cannot be legitimized. I told him that there are no excuses for those who participated in the storming of Capitol Hill, and that he had disappointed me with his weird post.

When your audience includes Trump fanboys

Saying that Arne did not take my criticism well would be an understatement. He was seething with rage. And it turned out that his audience consisted partly of Trump fanboys. I know because I checked the Facebook pages of the most virulent ones. They went after me like I was the devil incarnate. I was infringing on their freedom of speech. I was challenging the right to express ideas that were contrary to mine. I was acting like a passive-aggressive bully. I came to this group with no good intentions. I was told in no uncertain terms to back off. I was “out of line”. There was no place for my questions and opinions in the group. I was a drain on the group energy. I was launching an ad hominem attack. I was not even beginning to engage with what Arne wrote. I was ignoring that this was really a call for unity. Shaming someone of their opinion is a step towards authoritarianism. I was part of the movement towards tyranny.

Would I really send a friend in front of a firing squad?

Arne himself called me dangerously deluded about my own destructive potential. He called me extremely intolerant. He doubted my positive intention. He tried to insult me by telling me that I am “likely to send a friend in front of a firing squad for having the wrong beliefs”. And: “As the world heats up, I am watching my back with you”. Hmm, Arne is playing the victim here and picturing me as the aggressor. This would be an insult if I could take it seriously. How Arne and I would behave in times when our lives are truly at stake and when we get tested we have no way of knowing.

It felt weird to be the object of all this rage. It was very unpleasant to be hate-bombed like this. And it was extremely painful to see some of my Facebook friends siding with Arne and his mob in this punitive expedition, by liking the slurs on me.

Am I the tyrant, or is the guy who just left the White House?

Still I would like to understand. So I started to ask questions. Does the fact that I disagree with Arne make me destructive? Dangerous? To me it seems that the tyrant has just vacated the White House. It is remarkable how perceptions of reality can differ among people. It was clear that my perception of reality was quite different from that of most contributors to the thread. But was that enough reason for this coordinated attack? Someone suggested, wisely, that much of the heat of the interaction could be attributed to trauma response.

For understanding, one should know that Arne is a community leader who offers training workshops for men, to develop healthy masculinity. Arne is a fan of Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein, vehemently opposed to safe spaces, political correctness, cancelling and woke culture. His curriculum offers an archetypal rite of passage intended to help the students reclaim their Sovereignty. Arne lives in a world of Jungian archetypes. Key words for him are sovereignty, power, strength, and setting healthy boundaries. I suppose that is what he believed he was engaging in with me. Oh well. I have met Arne once in real life, a few years ago, and we got along remarkably well then.

Some of the contributions to the thread were full scale QAnon stuff, mixed with antisemitism (Protocols of Zion). I am afraid the thread may disappear (you never know with Facebook), so I copied part of the exchange to preserve it for posterity. I may use it in a future post.

All opinions are not equal; some opinions do not deserve respect

Not every opinion has the same merit. The opinions of the QAnon believers have no merit. The opinion of the Trump fanbase that the election was stolen from them has no merit. The opinions of supplement-selling wellness influencers on covid-19 have no merit. Treating all opinions as equal is madness. Sure, everybody has the right to express an opinion, even if it is pure nonsense. But nobody has any obligation to pay attention to it or to take it at all seriously. Not paying attention to nonsense is not an infringement of free speech.

An annoying feature of the conscious community that Arne is part of is the belief that disagreeing with someone is a sign of lack of respect. In fact, the opposite is true. It is a sign of maturity to be able to respectfully disagree with someone, and a sign of fragility and immaturity to consider every disagreement with one’s opinion as a personal attack. Flocking together in tribes of likeminded people where opinions have to be respected engenders intellectual laziness and emotional stagnation. Such yes-crowds are scary. Being able to thrive in communities where there is variety of opinion and where debate is valued is a sign of psychological health, for this is how people can grow together in wisdom by learning from each other.

Both of us, Arne and me, live in safe stable countries with social-democratic government, universal healthcare, and a comprehensive social security system. Our European countries are the antithesis of the US in almost every way. It seems rude and arrogant to me to use our safe positions to preach to Americans about why Trump wasn’t all that bad and that we should respect the speech of neo-Nazis. It seems out of place and arrogant to watch the spectacle of what is going on in the US from afar, as a kind of metaphysical Broadway show. Hate speech has consequences. People act on it and then other people die.

The exchange on Arne’s page has shocked me. The unhingedness of the Trump fanboys has to be experienced to be believed. The more I think about it the more worrisome it all seems to me. Arne is an influencer, and he is thinking the world of himself. He believes he has penetrating psychological insight and a metaphysical frame that can be used to understand what is going on in the world, but he is deluded. In fact he is deeply ignorant about history and about politics. Unfortunately, he is not aware of his ignorance. He has the usual distrust of what he calls “mainstream media” and he is too naive to see through the lies from Fox News. I also suspect that he is not an avid book reader.

Strong man or bully?

Arne believes he is teaching men to set firm boundaries, but may I suggest another perspective on this? What if he is really teaching them how to be bullies? Some psychologists consider it a sign of emotional maturity to be able to hold several conflicting perspectives at the same time. So I am trying to do that in this case, but the more I reflect on this the harder it gets for me to see the difference. “Trump’s conversation was one of strength”, Arne writes in his post. Does Arne really think that Trump was setting firm boundaries? Let me offer a different perspective: Trump was the bully-of-all-bullies, the arch-bully-in-chief. To me it seems that there is absolutely nothing to admire in that horrible and despicable man.

New agers call themselves open, but many of them cannot handle dissent. New agers call themselves wise or enlightened, but many of them utterly lack in self-criticism. New agers believe they have superior knowledge, but many of them dabble in pseudoscientific nonsense and are woefully uninformed about history and current affairs and the world we live in.

The burned-out cars are real

Last night, covid-denying protesters in the Netherlands put fire to a covid-testing facility, and today they plundered shops and injured a security person who was in charge of protecting a broadcasting crew. The NOS (Netherlands Broadcast Corporation) crew had to flee. The protesters say they have lost all trust in our politicians, in our scientists, in our medical experts, in our journalists and in our national news broadcasts. They collect their “information” from obscure YouTube channels. They carry signs with texts like vaccine = poison. They deny that covid-19 is a serious disease and they believe that the social distancing measures were taken to enslave the population. Some of them do not shun violence. They have closed themselves off from people who do not share their views and they have never learned to engage in honest exchange of ideas. Like the Trump fanbase, they live in a world of their own making, an alternate reality, detached from the real world. But the burned-out cars, the plundered shops and the destroyed test facility are real.