This may come as a surprise to some but free speech doesn’t just mean “free speech for liberals who love everyone.”
Free speech means all of it. It means that as long as it is not breaking a law, it is okay for anyone in this country to feel anything they want to feel, say anything they want to say, buy anything they want to buy.
This includes dildos, Confederate flags, reality TV, inspirational pamphlets, yoga, fried Oreos, guns*, abortions, racist jokes, bigoted sermons, cosmetics ads, self-help books, and tie dye.
Freedom of speech means all of it.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a lifelong liberal. I caucused for Bernie, I tithe to Planned Parenthood, I believe the LGBTQ community deserves all the civil liberties that straight people enjoy, and although it breaks my heart that we even have to say this, hell yes, black lives matter.
I think Donald Trump is, at best, a moron, and at worst, criminally insane. But I take issue with liberals, and I know quite a few, who write off Trump’s followers as “rednecks” and “the idiocracy.” Sure, there’s probably a good percentage of those folks in his audience. There’s also a healthy number of people who are fed up with the status quo and see in Trump a route to change. Do I agree with his route? No. Do I agree with his bigotry? No. Do I understand why people find his utter disregard for political correctness refreshing? Hell yes.
Case in point: the other day I was enjoying a lovely afternoon with friends drinking cold beverages under the hot sun. One of these women mentioned that her friends from back home had discovered, on Amazon, a t-shirt that said I wish OJ had married Hillary. Since she works at Amazon she had addressed their horror by sending the item to the censorship team – okay I don’t remember what the name of the department was – in case they’d like to remove it.
“They’re the people who took all the Confederate flag stuff down, so they’ll do it if anyone’s going to,” she said breezily.
Everyone nodded as though about to move on to another topic of conversation, at which point I freaked out because I realized that my lovely liberal intelligent kind-hearted friends were also, just a little bit, acting like fucking fascists.
“Excuse me,” I said, “But this is censorship.”
At which point my friends looked at me like the third beer had just kicked in and I must be a drunk who speaks in tongues.
My argument is this: Amazon is, mostly, a marketplace. Almost anyone with the proper set-up can create an account to sell their shit on Amazon. It’s not a hand-curated boutique of specialized items that delight the vision of its artsy owner. It’s a free-for-all. We all easily came up with examples during the afternoon’s conversation: snake oil herbal remedies, clothes from China made of fabrics too synthetic and recycled to even name, eBooks written by deranged squirrels. Quality control is largely determined by user ratings, not Amazon’s. And we’re fine with all of this, in fact you could argue it’s exactly that open market attitude that has made Amazon the leading e-retailer in the world.
In this type of marketplace, where a variety of attitudes, products, lifestyles, standards and values are represented in hundreds of millions of products for sale, it seems a little specious to argue that there is a universal moral code at play. Obviously they’re not going to allow child pornography. But here’s a hint: child pornography is also illegal. My point is, if it’s legal, you should be allowed to say it, buy it, own it, or feel it. Does Amazon have the right to assert arbitrary values on its business? Absolutely. Does it have a right to call those values anything other than arbitrary and, the exercise of them, ultimately, censorship?
Just to reiterate: I get why the Confederate flag bothers people. I get why someone who still treasures the legacy of being a soldier in the South during the Civil War can seem equal to being a racist bastard. I get if you don’t want to date the guy who has one of these flags on the back of his truck. In fact I even totally and 110% support you throwing a beer in his face if he hits on you at a bar. But again… you guessed it, that would be you exercising your right to free speech.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Interesting side note, I’ve been pretentiously repeating that quote since high school, apparently incorrectly attributing it to Voltaire. Apparently a biographer summarized his attitude in that memorable line but he didn’t actually say it. Which just goes to show… something.
I can’t stress enough that I am not defending the selling of Confederate flags because I am defending the Confederacy. I’m defending it because the entire point of free speech is that it is free. You cannot have it both ways. As liberals we assume that because we’re liberal, our beliefs are better. They’re not. They’re just beliefs. History may agree with us, and our beliefs may become the prevailing cultural ethos, but if we have to get there by forcing them down everyone’s throats, we’re no better than the evangelical Christian who wants to ban porn, hip-hop or Disney movies.
You have your core moral issues everyone on the planet agrees with: murder, theft, violent aggression. Your biggies. There are laws, effective and universally understood laws, in place to impose these morals.
Beyond that point, morality is subjective. Some people feel sex should only happen in wedlock. Some feel it should only happen in a committed relationship. Some feel that it should only happen at a supervised club, preferably clad in hygienic vinyl. It’s time that progressives and liberals came to terms with the reality that what they consider facts are, ultimately, morals. Subjective truths. Beliefs. They may be right beliefs. But others have a right to feel otherwise.
What freaks me out, truly? The world is full of people you disagree with. You can think whatever the hell you want about them. But the fact is, they have the right to exist. They have the right to speak their minds. You don’t have to listen. You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to like that person.
But you do, as an American, and on this point I am pretty sure there are very old documents signed by the fucking Founding Fathers to support me, let them speak.
*As long as they’re legal and please could we re-examine what is legal.