I once read that a car designer held the philosophy that a new design should be jarring or excessive on first blush. It seemed an odd thought, but on further examination I realized that it spoke to our endless capacity to adapt and our propensity to grow inured to, well, just about anything.

This is true in countless aspects of our lives. Consider that it was merely half a century ago that long hair on men was viewed with deep suspicion and worse by the majority of society. Today, few bat an eyelash on long hair, shaved scalps, asymmetric styles, buzzed sides (or side), and wild, unnatural colors. On both men and women. Similarly, tattoos were the province of sailors, then of bikers, then of scary heavy metal dudes. Now, a few tattoos isn’t even worth a mention, and it takes some truly over-the-top ink (or extreme body modifications) to elicit discomfort. That, too shall pass. Same with clothes, earrings and other body jewelry, and on and on. The wacky becomes the normal after a while.

Much of this isn’t a Bad Thing, per se, especially for those who believe in individual liberty. But, sometimes, wacky-becomes-normal goes in harmful directions. Here I might inveigh on social justice concepts like Facebook’s 51 genders, the inclusiveness mania that has a film critic lamenting the lack of people of color in the Christopher Nolan movie Dunkirk, or the joke of anti-capitalists filming their protests on iPhones, but those are not quite as odious as the persistent hatred of free speech that is metastasizing out of university campuses and entering the mainstream.

From disinviting speakers with different opinions or beliefs, to “free speech zones,” to safe spaces, to micro-aggression, to trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine a worse place for free speech than college campuses. Thence has spawned the farcical “right” not to be offended, as well. The culmination (well, for now – we never quite reach peak-OFFS) is the premise that speech is violence. Its newness as an idea, or as one so overtly expressed, puts it into the category of the brand new car design. It’s jarring, and makes people a bit skittish. This is reflected in contrarian articles in mainstream liberal publications like The Atlantic and the Washington Post, among others. All this means is that, left unchecked, the idea that speech-is-violence merely needs some time to become the new normal.

Contrast this with the idea being promulgated by the Left that violent protests are merely a form of free expression, that they are a natural, understandable, and tolerable exercises of individual liberty when engaged in by the traditionally and chronically oppressed and their allies. Thus, violent acts by Black Lives Matter protesters, for example, are “protected speech,” while handing out copies of the Constitution on a college campus is not.

This, of course, is laughable and absurd, but as George Orwell sagely observed:

Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.

Tribalism and confirmation bias combine to induce people to come up with justifications and rationalizations of the aforementioned drivel, sad to say. While, today, the NY Times is defending the “speech-is-violence” idea and the Atlantic is deriding it, we shouldn’t be surprised if the idea mainstreams into the liberal lexicon before the decade is out.

This is all the result of having no ideological anchor, no baseline principle against which to test and challenge new ideas. And, before anyone suggests that the progressive anchor is about respecting others and fighting injustice, please – tell me how much respect they have for anyone who has the slightest difference of opinion?

The plain language of title of this essay exposes the absurdity of this current state of affairs. But, with enough word salad and enough spin (not to mention ad hominem attacks based on the non-“woke”-edness of whoever dares criticize), the willing will believe even absurdities. And, given enough time for their dissonance to settle down (or be crammed into a dark cubbyhole), they’ll regurgitate and perpetuate the nonsense.

The fact that this farcical idea even needs to be called out is both sad and scary. If you are among those who decries uncomfortable speech, but defends violent protests, it’s past time you take a time-out and reassess your morality.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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