Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Short Essay on Milo, Trump, and Misogynist Yogins

There have been lots of messages and emails in the past few days. As I see it, there is little in the _content_ of the alt-right alt-yogin asininity that warrants much response. What's been expressed are not ideas or values but actions that constitute hatred and reference a pathetic need for attention that I am not eager to dignify by granting. Masked in claims of alternative world views stated with "honesty" purporting to be "freedom" are dangerous, arrested emotional testaments to individuals and culture. What we witness all too vividly are personal and collective failures of character and decency.

In the case of the President* his dysfunctionality is a public menace that demands citizen response. Never before have Americans in the modern age wondered if the President is mentally competent. Ideology aside for a moment--- and I don't mean merely that obtuse doltishness that was PrezW at the lectern. With Trump we have reason to fear his mental _disqualification_ for this deadly serious office and its responsibilities. Republicans like Ryan and McConnell are actually counting on Trump's incomprehension, boredom, and short attention to pass their agenda. Party before country, ideology before all, venality, boorishness, and ineptitude are not sufficient criteria of ineligibility. I fear there is no chance for a 25th Amendment solution to the problem.

But what links these recent appearances of latent sordidness and branded baseness are two claims. First that these are expressions of a true American value: freedom, especially freedom of speech.
No where in the world is free speech so protected as in America. Slander is among the most difficult of cases to make and Europeans are deliberately more aware of their legal restrictions. America is, after all, the land of the free. Point two is that these ideas and values represent a constituency that claims them their own or, at least, condones or endorses them. This is more than a little disturbing because some of us truly want to be better than that, in moral character and effective social engagement.

Being in academia I am keenly aware of the power, the privilege, and the responsibility of free speech. My own position protects me in ways most people cannot imagine in their own lives because I am free to speak with the power of academic tenure. But it is that last point that warrants our consideration. Speech is precious, it warrants our deep respect and demands serious responsibility. Speech is power and using it is no small matter. How one reveals or conceals oneself in speech, at the heart of the matter is the character of one's heart. We peer into hearts even with words because that is part of what it means to be human too.

No one could be more ardent a proponent of free speech than I. Censorship is the first tyranny and its true ally is falsehood. In America there is still too much policing of indelicate and injurious language. But there is also far too little recognition that the price of debate may include ugly words and genuinely hurt feelings. These liabilities are not merely secondary costs because they effect the quality of the conversation. We lose something when we lose civility. But what are we to do when the "debate" is not civil, when the content is itself abhorrent and deconstructive of our shared humanity?

In each of the references above free speech is used to extol and aggrandize cruel behaviors and vile testimonials. Their purpose is _not conversation_. Instead it is to create headlines, garner attention, and then to grift. I have no appetite for those craving attention to dignify their own narcissism, line their own pockets, or manipulate others who share similar hatreds. I also insist that they not be silenced. But we dignify ourselves by carrying on instead other kinds of conversations in which there is ample room for dissent and disagreement. America's character is at stake and we need to decide what that is by how we respond to the worst among us. Let us be better to each other so that we honor Speech. She is among our most powerful and precious forms of the Great Goddess.