Why Do Americans Hate Free Speech?
Yearning to Breathe Free?
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...the land of the free and the home of the brave...Give me liberty or give me death...liberty and justice for all...sweet land of liberty, for thee I sing...I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.
Some of our most famous American poems, songs, and speeches contain the words freedom, liberty, or a variation thereof. From the time we gave King George his eviction notice and dedicated ourselves to the concepts of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," Americans have been holding ourselves up as a model of freedom for the rest of the world. We love freedom so much so we feel the necessity to export it to others that we think don't have it, often at the point of a gun.
Freedom is a sacred word. We recite it like a prayer every fourth of July. We put our hands over our hearts and swear it every morning in class. But do we really mean it? Do we even understand what freedom, particularly freedom of speech means, and if we do, do we really approve?
I'll state my conclusion in advance, then prove me thesis as I go along. Americans know damn well what freedom means, and we damn well don't like it, for various reasons.
KMA Freedom of Speech!
I found out the brutal reality about freedom of speech during this election cycle, when I dared to exercise mine by supporting a candidate who goes against the grain of business-as-usual American politics. I won't say who that candidate was because it shouldn't matter. The US Constitution, in its revolutionary attempt to "..secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..." guarantees in its 1st Amendment that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..." So outside of libel and slander, all opinions are good, regardless.
It is widely believed that Americans have an embroidered copy of this sacred First Amendment hanging on our living room walls. Therefore, we should regard the opinions of our fellow man as something sacred, even if we do not agree.
What happened to me when I voiced my sacred opinion? I was shouted down as a "reactionary." I was called a "Nazi" (No, my candidate was not Trump, if that's what you're guessing). I was called a "dumbass (twice)."
Then, in the ultimate social-media era outrage against freedom of speech, I was blocked, deleted, and invited to "Kiss my Ass.". Bear in mind I didn't call this person any names, or disrespect her right to voice her opinion. I simply expressed my own.
The conclusion I draw is that, despite the religious reverence we express about the topic when queried, Americans don't really like freedom of speech. We are, in fact, downright hostile toward any speech that does not agree with our own. This, of course, is not freedom of speech at all, but censorship, a form of tyranny. Even though we divorced King George for being a tyrant, we still prefer honest to goodness tyranny.
As I sat there licking my political wounds in befuddled disillusionment, I tried to figure out why Americans hate freedom of speech so much. I came up with three reasons.
1). We're not Thinkers
The American Public School System is a mess. A 2012 assessment ranks our students 17 out of 34 among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, even though we rank fifth in spending per student.
This news is not particularly surprising. I have always recognized America as a nation of practical people, not towering intellects. Truth is, we import most of our brains. Any homegrown eggheads are chastised and bullied on the playground as nerds. This lack of appreciation for pure thinking is why the Arts are de-funded in cash strapped schools, and other Humanities are roundly laughed out of the building by school board members. History is boring, Philosophy is a waste of time. Any wonder, then, that Americans are not adept at free thinking, and do not appreciate its value?
The result of this neglect of reason for reason's sake is that we gladly allow others to do our thinking, and by extension speaking, for us, usually in slick sound bites that do not tax our limited attention spans. This is why Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and even Al Franken with his clever pro-Hilary jokes on the DNC podium are hugely popular. A man's got to believe something, after all, but coming up with these beliefs independently takes too much damn time, and time is money.
2). We're Puritans
Contrary to popular belief, the United States was not always a land dedicated to the concept of freedom of speech. Many of our earliest settlers were downright close-minded tyrants. Freedom of Speech was a crime that could get you a spell in the Pillory (rhymes with Hilary) on the public square.
Many Americans are the direct descendants of Puritans, a sometimes fanatically religious people who, Wikipedia says, believed that God "...was the center of public and personal affairs..." Among Puritans, thinking outside of the accepted Church standards could result in punishment of various forms, such as: Public shaming by being led by a rope through town, flogging on a whipping post, being forced to wear a sign like Hawthorne's famous Scarlet "A" (for Adultery) on the clothing, branding of the flesh, immersion in water on a "Ducking Stool" (Puritan water boarding), the Pillory, the Stocks, or in extreme cases being forced to swallow pins or being hanged for the alleged practice of witchcraft.
Even though we might not all be Puritans in the pure Calvinist sense, most Americans are the descendants of religious refugees, and most of our ancestor's religions were intolerant to some degree. This overwhelming sense of a fear of God and his lingering, loitering divine punishment still looms heavily over us and influences our thinking, even if we don't go to church. Grandma's stern warnings about the omnipresent eyes of God being constantly upon us to ensure we follow his rigid, inflexible commandments involuntarily influences American attitudes toward freedom of thought, and whether this thought should be allowed to travel down to that infernal devil's conduit, the mouth.
3). We're Tribal
Not all of our aversion to freedom of speech is a particularly American condition, some of it is a general human condition. Homo sapiens descend from tribes, which the Oxford dictionary defines as "...families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect..." Native Americans remember their tribes and still practice tribal customs to a certain extent, the same with members of the aboriginal groupings of Australia and Africa, and even nomadic Middle Eastern people.
Most people in our so-called "developed" nations, however, were part of tribes so long ago that we forgot what they were called and what secret rituals they practiced. Nonetheless, we still have tribalism in our blood. The deer antler wearing tribal shaman has simply been replaced by the deer antler wearing sports mascot. All the same, the mascot still serves the same ritualistic functions as the shaman, bringing religious unity to the tribe through shared prayers, dances and chants.
In spite of the advent of industrialism, nationalism, capitalism, and all the other "isms" we think separate us from our primitive ancestors, human beings still insist on grouping themselves into tribes. Politically, you might belong to the Conservative tribe, the Liberal Tribe, or the sub-tribe of the Liberal Tribe, the Progressive Tribe. Religiously you might be in the Catholic Tribe, the Protestant Tribe, the Muslim Tribe or the Mormon tribe. On a less institutionalized, but equally religious level you could be part of the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Cavaliers, or Boston Red Sox tribes. Unlike our primitive forebears, who were born into their tribal affiliations, in modern times it is possible to choose membership in different tribes at the same time and to change tribes at personal whim.
Tribes of similar types are mutually exclusive. You can't be in the Red Sox and Yankees tribe simultaneously. You can't be a Liberal and a Conservative in the same breath. You probably can't wear the Pope and Joel Osteen's picture on the same T-shirt either.
Tribes tend to demonize the other tribes. In more primitive times, members of the neighboring tribes were cursed with hexes and voodoo and sometimes attacked. Even today, we heap verbal damnation against members of the rival tribes. The New England Patriot tribe are a bunch of deflate-gate cheaters. Hilary Clinton, the queen of the Democrat tribe, is a criminal. Those darned Trumpster tribesmen are racists. Mel Carriere, he of the accursed unnamed third party tribe is a reactionary, a Nazi, and not to mention, a dumbass twice-over.
Sound off freely on Free Speech!
Do you think Americans really appreciate and respect Free Speech?
Ad Hominem, Ad Nauseam
Last night on Facebook I decided to do my little part to bring people back together, to get us listening to each others' ideas instead of shutting each other out based on what amounts to, among like minded people, theological hair splitting.
I wrote a post asking why there has to be so much bad blood among those who, prior to this divisive 2016 election, were friends and allies. I pleaded for a ceasefire in the profusion of blocking and deleting. I suggested it would be more productive if we talk, don't block. I even made up a nifty hashtag for it: #talkdontblock. I was in a very magnanimous mood.
I got a few responses back, most of which missed the point. Most assumed I was pointing the finger at those evil Trumpsters, which I wasn't. A Facebook friend, alias Jack, an Internet Troll who hunkers beneath a bridge in Florida, chimed in. Jack hides his troll colors quite well behind an impressive vocabulary. He told me that people who resort to ad hominem attacks should be blocked. I gently reminded Jack that he is the reigning champion of the ad hominem attack. He is the same one who called me a reactionary and a Nazi, after all. Jack apologized for such, then resumed throwing subtle verbal barbs that were essentially ad hominem attacks again. I still have not blocked and deleted Jack, and I won't.
My olive branch seems to have been pruned. Free speech loving Americans are still having a ball insulting, shouting down, and blocking and deleting each other all across Facebook and every other platform. We revel in such behavior.
I'm not accusing all Americans of being free speech haters. There are some very enlightened compatriots of mine out there, people who listen thoughtfully to conflicting opinions and sometimes even admit when they are wrong. Most of these have gone into hiding, sad to say, having given up trying to defuse the block and delete bombs.
Meanwhile, the playing field is left wide open for ad hominem trolls like Jack to run amuck, to trample the concept of free speech wherever it rears its ugly head.
Business as usual in America, I'm afraid.