In the genius of James Madison and his Bill of Rights, he neglected one important qualification. The reference to free speech should have been, given the quality of political discourse today, “free intelligent speech.” Which would disqualify 95 percent of free speech in 2021. Why? Because all the wrong people, the intellectual riff raff, use it to idiotic ends.
I’m not singling out any ideology or party in this indictment. Merely that if you look at the quality of current public speech you’ll see it has very little relationship to logic, reason, or coherence. Check out the comments section of any post on social media, even this one. You’ll see likely see fecal emojis, non-germane responses that indicate the reader has not read the piece- only the headline, trolling, and a level of writing that would embarrass a second grader. But all these people are grandly employing their constitutional right to free speech. It’s enough to have wished Alexander Hamilton had written the Bill of Rights.
I’m old enough to remember an age before social media when public free speech was limited to conversation, public political debate, and letters to the editor. All had limits of decorum, reasoning, and logic. Any politician who stood up and claimed what modern pols claim would have been laughed off a rostrum. People who wrote letters to the editor that proposed insane conspiracy theories or infantile thinking would have never seen their screeds make the light of day. Not on the basis of ideology. On the basis of adult reasoning. Even private political conversations had a better tone, as people knew there were public standards that had to be upheld. But no longer.
CNN can lie and spike stories. The immediately former president can incite a riot. MSNBC can ignore major stories that do not meet a left wing narrative. Populists can embrace a cult of personality not seen since Germany in the 1930s. It’s across the board. They do it because they know they can get away with it, there will be no negative repercussions for them. There should be.
Not in a legal or political sense. As odious as it is, all free speech should be allowed and, gulp, encouraged. However, if we still lived in a society that exacted a social and cultural penalty for intellectual transgressions then maybe the level of discourse would rise. But I doubt it.
We are very possibly too far gone down the road to national mediocrity to ever recover. For what institutions would hold anyone responsible for a misuse of free speech? The intellectual elite is usually left wing and low standards meet their need for a very stupid populace. The mood on the right is populist and as such revels in ignorance, cornpone ideology, and downhome provincialism. Not exactly a recipe for erudite debate.
Thus, a pox on all houses. None attempts intelligent adult discourse anymore. The spirit of the day is pandering to the lowest common denominator. As my hero H.L. Mencken is reputed to have said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Ergo, it’s going to continue and get a lot worse.
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