Over the weekend, I engaged in a discussion with Friend of the Blog @tmi3rd. The topic of our discussion was what to think about shutting down a Shakespeare play over what Julius Caesar looks like. In part, going through my mind was this article by Popehat on free speech principles.
A few points to get out of the way first:
- I’m kinda nonplussed personally by the play. Seriously, by itself barely rates on my scale. If anything I think it might be too on the nose and give away the game. I wasn’t going to write anything about it, but then other stuff happened that’s a good segue to a point.
- I’m not sure appealing to the “But Shakespeare was writing about how bad assassinations were!” argument works either. Honestly, people are dumb and don’t think to hard before engaging in base tribalism. Serious question: Was the crowd cheering during the “et tu, Brute?” scene? If so, then we know whether they were taking Shakespeare’s message to heart or not.
- It’s not a threat, I shouldn’t have to say that; but it’s not.
Ok, with that out of the way, I want to turn to the question of principled stands. I’m of about several minds about the mess we find ourselves in. I see, very much, Popehat’s argument about remaining principled in the face of attack. As a sometimes virtue ethicist myself, it’s a pretty appealing argument.
On the other hand @AlextheChick makes a compelling single tweet argument. (Hey AtC, I resisted the urge to call it a “short argument.”)
As I’ve been trying to work through this, I feel like the abstraction of “principles of speech” make the issue hard to understand. It’s easy to say “we must uphold our values” when thinking in the abstract where the rewards of virtue seem infinite and the risk seems so small. But, the world isn’t abstract, and so, an analogy of sorts:
We’re playing a game of flag football. Sadly, not just a friendly game anymore. This game determines the who can use the field for the next, let’s say 20 years. We’ll skip to how we got to settling this by flag football for now or why the field can’t be shared. For more on that, go see Ben Wiker.
In any case, we’re somewhere around the start of the 4th quarter. The game has been back and forth for a while now, neither side dominating. When suddenly the opposing team lets out a full on tackle.
“Oh sorry, just got caught up in the excitement, won’t happen again.”
Well then, we’ll just carry on. Except the tackles keep coming. We appeal to the refs (the analogy gets a little muddled here but clearly there are enforcers of rules. As one example on the college campuses: the administrators.) The refs look at us and say “Well, I mean, I kinda like the way the momentum of the game is going, so I’m going to let it slide.”
Meanwhile, this whole time the tackling continues and is getting more vicious. Now there’s intent to injure our players and take them out of the game. (Oddly, in their fervor they injured their own player with their wild flailing.) At points it seems like they don’t even know what team their own and will just tackle anyone that moves.
In light of all of this, do we keep playing by the rules of flag football, knowing that it creates an insurmountable hurdle to winning, or do decide to join in on the tackle game to maintain the chance of winning?
As I said, I’m of about 30 different minds about this. Here’s the top 3:
- Some of our players are simply opposed to tackle football, and may walk away from the game. This puts us at a disadvantage right out of the gate.
- Others may be open to the idea of a tackle game, but like me, lack the stamina to actually play for any meaningful amount of time. (Let’s face it, if everyone could play tackle football, the game flag football wouldn’t have been created.)
- Still, with a team out there playing with intent to injure, standing aside and saying “We shall uphold the rules” seems…well dumb.
This is a tumultuous point in time, frankly one that never should have been reached. Alas, we run headlong into where angels fear to trod. I fear even the thinly controlled “game” is breaking down and soon we’ll just have an open fistfight for control of the field. Certainly that is…suboptimal.
In that vein my conversation with tmi3rd closed looking at this article on (to paraphrase) “What if a fight breaks out?” I take his point (on institution building) seriously. But also wonder: if we’re at a point in time where you’re talking about rebuilding institutions from basically nothing, will what we’ve strung together now hold up anyway?
Sure the left is great at building and coopting institutions, but if the food supply system gets disrupted by a massive social instability how many of the right or the left have access the land and tools to build a self-sustaining (or nearly so) farm to survive? Sure I can grow a victory garden in my back yard (ok, my yard has too much shade, but a yard) But I doubt it could feed my family even if I converted my entire 1/4 acre (minus house footprint.)
Some fringe elements will survive (preppers exist all over the political spectrum). But the bulk of people, no matter how well politically organized, would falter in the face of a societal collapse. Does this mean we shouldn’t prepare? I honestly don’t know. I tend to wonder if we even can prepare.
So to sum up: Everything is awful and there are no longer goo choices I guess.