I watched this video in the middle of the night (couldn’t sleep again). If you don’t watch TYT, it’s a great place to get US and international news from a leftist perspective.
I strongly disagree with Sacha Baron Cohen and the panelists. I believe that free speech is already hampered enough. Now I understand that the American first amendment only protects government intrusion on to speech, not private companies censoring their own platforms, and importantly in this discussion, that no other country in the world goes further at protecting speech than the United States. Even in Canada, we don’t have the same rights; speech that comes from the margins is much easier to stifle. I don’t like it. The point I’m making about free speech is about the principle not the laws that protect it (and don’t).
I’m a leftist. I don’t like racism and bigotry. I see very clearly that we are teetering into fascism, not just in the US but across the world. Anti-Semitism IS on the rise. Fear of immigrants is being discussed everywhere and rarely without blatant hate or obvious attempts at dog whistling racists and supremacists. It’s happening in China, and all across Europe. I hate Justin Trudeau but somehow Canada as a whole has managed to avoid this discourse (not Quebec). Hate speech is real and it is starting to have terrifying effects, I won’t deny it.
I want to look at two things from Sacha Baron Cohen’s speech from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). First, the very fact that he’s speaking at an ADL event. The ADL has often been criticized for calling out anti-Israeli sentiment and treating it as anti-Semitism.
The Israel-Palestine debate (which really shouldn’t even be one anymore) has constantly been framed by those in power. The issue is very simple, the solution already there; pre-1967 borders, East Jerusalem should remain Palestinian, and the human beings that call themselves Palestinian should not be collectively punished for the actions of a few bad actors. I can’t believe I have to say the last part as if it needed to be argued for; it should be self-evident. Even those bad actors, that use violence (often referred to as terrorists, but I refuse to use such a loaded word), I’m sorry to say, I have some sympathy for. They live in an open air prison simply because of who they are. Israel keeps building new settlements encroaching on what little is left of a Palestinian state. And you want to talk about white supremacy? Listen to some of these Israelis discuss the Arabs; they’ve completely dehumanized them. I think we’re I in their shoes it would be reasonable for me to at least consider violence, even if it would not be legitimate.
A caveat here. I’m not a peacenik and never have been. I think that violence against the state is sometimes necessary. In fact, I want to write a blog post about when citizen violence against the state is necessary and when it’s not. I don’t because I’m not sure my thoughts and opinions are allowed! I might be a thought criminal! But I will say, while I can imagine many people who deserve violence against them, I only think violence against the state is legitimate if it can reach genuine political goals, which really requires an informed and supportive majority that is being ignored by those in power. In other words, it’s a very rare circumstance; you can probably find another way to reach your political goals.
If we are going to solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem, it’s going to take the same massive global (non-violent) effort that it took to end apartheid in South Africa. I will remind you here that Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist and by today’s standards, he was! He founded the militant wing of the ANC (Spear of the Nation), which used bombs that killed civilians to make their point. It is the reason why he was in jail. The facts have been whitewashed, but Nelson Mandela (MLK, Malcolm X) was one of us, not them. We ended South African apartheid by boycotting and sanctioning it, until the white government had no choice but to begin reforms and give power back to the Africans. There are people trying to do the same thing about Israeli apartheid, with the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement (BDS), something I strongly support. It’s a non-violent means to liberating the Palestinian people, while respecting the rights of an Israeli state. What does the ADL call it? Anti-Semitism! And they’ve lobbied governments to actually make arguing for it, hate speech. Even now as I write this, I’m not 100% certain that I am allowed to. What better argument against censorship could there be?
I don’t know why none of the TYT panelists brought it up. The ADL is not a leftist organization, and works hard to stifle leftist speech that is critical is Israel. It’s an obvious point. Would the BDS movement be able to survive were it not for Facebook and Twitter? Or do groups of powerful people get to keep deciding the frameworks of our discussion for us? The internet has democratized speech like never before. The fact that I’m able to write this and that people can read this… it changed the world forever.
Here is another area where I disagree with SBC, free speech IS reach! If I am allowed to speak but only in the middle of the forest where no one can hear, my speech is pointless. Speakers require listeners, words require an audience, and hindering the speech of some while amplifying the speech of others is simply not right. It still happens today. If this blog post were published by a newspaper or magazine, it would get more attention, but at least now, it can still be seen, and if people like it, it will be seen by a lot more people. There is a genuine and organic merit in that. Is anyone really going to argue that the people who write for daily newspapers and weeklies and cable news are actually better or more informed than some independent writers and journalists? I think we are past the point of being so naive. No, media is owned by a handful of people, and the people that “make it” in that business are people that have a limited intellect and depend on “common sense” and moderate politics to get by and appear legitimate. The very fact that TYT even exists is proof of that. They should have been co-opted early in the company’s history but they weren’t because they refuse to sellout. Why not just work for CNN? And why wouldn’t CNN want that kind of talent with such a huge following? Because they know what their getting and they can’t have it on their airways.
The powers that be haven’t done a very good job being democratic about reach and while I fear the silicon 6 as much as SBC does, I fear them cause of how much power they have to censor, not because SBC thinks they refuse to for money.
I know there are consequences to what I am arguing for. I know bad actors get an amplified voice as well, but when we allow them to be censored, we are one step closer to being censored ourselves. And they are coming for us! They want us silenced. This is not a game or a joke, this isn’t healthy competition, the powers that be want us silenced by any means necessary. Because not silencing us is bad for business; because keeping us engaged might mean boycotts.
This is not the end of history. And while it may appear to you that some speech is not acceptable, I beg of you to have a little humility and acknowledge that there was a day that talking about sex was impossible, and writing about equality between blacks and whites, or women in the public sphere would have never been published. We have the ability to sidestep all of that now, do you really think that magically come to a place where we know what is right or wrong every time? I want to live in a place where neo-Nazis have parades… and nobody shows up! That’s success; that’s a world without hate, not obstructing those who are too ignorant and hateful to know better.