Quote of the Day:

The war on speech is basically a war on thought.

–Stella Morabito in The Federalist

Stella Morabito is one of those writers who always gets to the underlying issues of current debates.

She does this in a provocative piece in The Federalist headlined “Today’s Two Main Political Camps are Pro-Thought Versus Anti-Thought.”

She gives a great rundown of the most noteworthy efforts silencing freedom of speech in today’s society: college campuses that riot when speakers with whom the students disagree dare to try to speak there, the Atlantic’s firing of Kevin Williamson for expressing politically incorrect thoughts, Google’s firing of James Damore for the same offense, and the firing of Brendan Eich from Mozilla for contributing to a politically incorrect cause.

Because people can be fired for expressing an unpopular idea, even casually, some must consign themselves to living with what Morabito describes as the “paralyzing fear of misspeaking on the job.” But if you don’t have freedom of speech, Morabito asks, do you really have freedom to think?

The answer is that freedom of conscience–that is the freedom to think–is under attack. Morabito sums it up:

The great divide is really between pro-thought and anti-thought perspectives.

I urge you to read the entire piece, but here is the summation of Morabito’s uncomfortable thesis:

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.

For Morabito, here are the better labels:

  • 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.

Next time you see a campus erupt in protests over a speaker who is trying to bring different ideas to the campus, use these labels.

This is a clarifying article.