08 April, 2014

The Culture of Shut Up - Jon Lovett - The Atlantic

The Culture of Shut Up - Jon Lovett - The Atlantic:

The right to free speech may begin and end with the First Amendment,
but there is a vast middle where our freedom of speech is protected by
us—by our capacity to listen and accept that people disagree, often
strongly, that there are fools, some of them columnists and elected
officials and, yes, even reality-show patriarchs, that there are people
who believe stupid, irrational, hateful things about other people and
it’s okay to let those words in our ears sometimes without rolling out
the guillotines.

Look, obviously there’s an important counter-argument here. It is
natural and healthy that as a society we have deemed certain ideas
off-limits. While in this country the government can’t stop you from
saying these things, or punish you for having said those things, it’s
often good that the personal, financial, and social costs of saying the
unsayable are prohibitively high. We all can name examples: hardcore
racism and anti-Semitism and misogyny, Breaking Bad spoilers,
that kind of thing. And it’s also true that hurtful words about, say,
gay people have a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable; it’s easy
for me to say bring on the homophobia, but what about the kid in the closet in a conservative neighborhood worried his mom will stumble onto his browser history?

The trouble, I think, is when ostracizing a viewpoint as “beyond the
pale” becomes not an end but a means to an end; that by declaring
something unsayable, we make it so. It makes me uncomfortable, even as I
see the value of it. I for one would love homophobia to fully make it
on that list, to get to the point where being against gay marriage is as
vulgar and shameful as being against interracial marriage. But it
isn’t. Maybe it will be. But it isn’t. And kicking a reality-show star
off his reality show doesn’t make that less true. Win the argument;
don’t declare the argument too offensive to be won. And that’s true
whether it’s GLAAD making demands of A&E or the head of the
Republican National Committee making demands of MSNBC.