Geek On The Hill

Why Do Americans Hate Free Speech?

I have always considered the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to be the very foundation of freedom. It is the one freedom without which we can have no others because speech is an expression of thought, and the freedom to think is the foundation upon which all others freedoms rest. Everything that man has ever created or achieved, both the great and the evil, originated as thoughts.

I have always felt blessed to live in a country that so cherishes the right to freedom of speech that that right was enshrined in its Constitution. And yet it seems to me that increasingly, Americans are rebelling against that very freedom in a way that, rather ironically, also exercises that selfsame right. I’m talking about boycotts — in particular, those boycotts that are based upon what someone said, not what someone or some organization did.

There is a place for boycotts. Boycotting companies that manufacture products in overseas sweatshops using child labor, for example, is perfectly appropriate, in my opinion. In that instance the boycott is based upon an unconscionable act committed by the target of the boycott. I have no problem with that sort of boycotts. I also participated in the boycott, as it were, against South Africa in protest of Apartheid for the same reasons. Apartheid was an unconscionable policy that I simply could not support, nor even tolerate.

So yes, I do understand that there are times and places for boycotts. What I find objectionable (and frankly puzzling) are the ever-increasing number of boycotts in which the target did nothing wrong, but merely said something that ruffled someone’s feathers. Those are the boycotts that bother me because as much as I may disagree with what someone says, I once swore an oath to uphold their right to say it — even at the cost of my own life, if need be. So yeah, I take offense when people think so little of that right that they actively attempt to suppress it.

Conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has been the target of such boycotts for years. In fact, in a Politico article earlier this year, author Jason Easley asserted that Limbaugh’s “business model [was] in a state of collapse” because so many advertisers refused to buy time during his program, despite his loyal audience and their very favorable demographics. Apparently, the many years of boycotts and threats of boycotts against advertisers who sponsor Limbaugh’s show is causing some local affiliates to drop it altogether. That infuriates me.

Not that I’m a Limbaugh fan, mind you. I think Limbaugh’s obnoxious and annoying, to tell you the truth. I wouldn’t even know where to find his show on the radio if I wanted to. But he does have a right to be heard, and his listeners have a right to hear what he has to say. That’s the essence of the right to Free Speech.

In the modern world, advertisers are the ones who enable that right; so threatening advertisers with boycotts if they sponsor Limbaugh’s program is nothing more that an attempt to suppress that right to Free Speech that so many Americans have died to protect, and in defense of which many others (including myself) were willing to die.

In fact, as far as I’m concerned, boycotts based on someone’s speech are really nothing more than a form of fascist terrorism. The boycotters are threatening businesses with economic harm if they don’t stop supporting speech that they, the boycotters, don’t happen to like or agree with. If that’s not economic terrorism, I don’t know what is.

Another industry that is a perpetual target of boycotts is booksellers, who raise the ire of boycotters merely by selling some book, calendar, or postcard that expresses some point of view that some group happens to find offensive for some reason. That makes no sense to me. Book stores sell books. That’s all they do. They don’t write them, evaluate them, censor them, restrict access to them, nor stamp them with a seal of imprimatur. They’re booksellers. They sell books. Why would anyone want or expect them to also become de facto censors? Are people so afraid of their freedoms that they want profit-making companies to get into the business of curtailing them?

It makes no sense to me.

Another recent example is a boycott against Kellogg’s by Conservative consumers of Breitbart News, in retaliation against the company for making a decision to pull their advertising from Breitbart, which said decision was itself a response to consumers who threatened Kellogg’s with a boycott for sponsoring Breitbart. In other words, the Liberals threatened to boycott Kellogg’s for sponsoring Breitbart, and now the Conservatives are boycotting Kellogg’s for not sponsoring Breitbart.

Kellogg’s and other advertisers can’t seem to get a break these days. No matter what they do or who they sponsor, they’re going to piss someone off; and too many people nowadays don’t seem to understand that for all the freedoms that Americans enjoy, the right to never be pissed off isn’t one of them.

Advertisers provide the fuel that stokes the fires of Free Speech. As such, I believe that we should be grateful to them. They enable the media to keep us informed not only of facts that we need to know, but also of opinions and points of view that may broaden our minds and expand our perspectives if we’re open-minded and willing enough to allow it. To threaten advertisers with economic harm for enabling our right to Freedom of Speech undermines the very essence of democracy. Democracy cannot survive if the people are ignorant, and the media cannot inform the people if the money they need to do so disappears.

I suppose that’s why I’ve become what you might call an anti-boycotter. I’m so sick of boycotts that when I read or hear that a company is being threatened with a boycott, it makes me more inclined to buy that company’s products. I don’t even care whether the boycott is being urged by Liberals, Conservatives, or anyone in between. I believe that all boycotts whose goal is to suppress free speech are a form of terrorism, and I try to support the targets of those attacks irrespective of the political leanings of the groups sponsoring the boycotts.