Times change but our rights do not. This sentiment, repeated mostly by conservatives and libertarians, aims to show that no matter what changes in our society, our rights should always stay the same. This is a good mindset for any freedom loving individual. But what happens when society changes so much that the way we enforce these rights change? No, we aren’t talking about guns. We are talking about the mother of all rights, freedom of speech. More specifically, we are talking about how it is threatened on social media.
Craig Axford | United States
When the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, it seemed as though perhaps the liberal dream of a global consensus regarding the conditions necessary for human flourishing was at last within reach. Coming, as it did, on the heels of a global war that had taken the lives of over 40 million people and included organized industrial-scale genocide, this consensus was no small accomplishment.
Indri Schaelicke | United States
In January of 2016, speaking at a New Hampshire campaign event, Republican Presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio reaffirmed his pro-gun right stance. “I believe that every single American has a Constitution—and therefore God-given right—to defend themselves and their families,” Rubio said. The statements he made at this rally were clearly politically motivated- he was attempting to build a base of voters in a state with a strong commitment to gun rights, especially among Republicans. And it sort of worked- he received 10% of the vote in the New Hampshire Republican primary and came away with 2 delegate votes.
By John Keller | United States
Coercive Paternalism can be defined as intervention in cases where people’s choices of the means to achieving their ultimate ends are confused. An argument of this nature, notably by Sarah Conly, rests on four main points: (1) Such a view promotes individuals actual goals. (2) Coercive Paternalism is effective. (3) The benefits are worth the cost. (4) Coercive Paternalism is efficient. Coercive Paternalism offers an ambiguous and unclear argument that ignores many of the complexities of the issues.
The Argument For Paternalism
A Coercive Paternalist would make an argument such as this: (1) People want to live long and healthy lives. (2) Eating processed foods and consuming drugs hinders people from living long and healthy lives. (3) Thus, the government must ban certain foods and drugs to promote the goal of the individual. Assuming the premise to be true, a rather noncontroversial claim, logically the next step is to examine the second step of the argument. Does consuming drugs hinder people from wanting to live long and healthy lives?
Examine, for instance, veteran suicide and veterans who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Marijuana has been instrumental, if not vital, to veterans dealing with the mental complications involved with going into combat. By denying veterans drugs to promote the ‘individuals’ goals, they are actually exacerbating the mental complications of veterans and creating an environment in which veterans are forced to live shorter, mentally unhealthy lives as they tragically fall victim to the grip of suicide. Is this outcome the promotion of ‘long and healthy lives’? No, and thus Coercive Paternalism is unable to provide the needs of individual citizens.
The Failure of Coercive Paternalism
As it is unable to provide the needs of the individual citizens, it can not be effective. Paternalism itself is the idea in which the government must assume a role similar to that of your parent because the individual is inadequate to take of themselves and make good choices. Are any two individuals the same? Are any two children raised the same? Even siblings are often raised differently as a parent learns more, realizes mistakes, and adjust in real time to the needs of their children. The government, however, can not operate in this way on an individual level. Instead, they institute a policy under the basis of ‘one shoe fits all’. A clear example of this is common core education. With more money in the education system, improvement has been rare to come by. RealClear Education reports, “Between 2013 and 2017, only five jurisdictions logged improvements in 4th-grade math and just three in 8th-grade math.” As no two individuals develop the same, no government program can claim to be for the benefit of every citizen.
The theorized benefits of paternalism, that cannot apply to every citizen due to the nature of individuality, are not worth the cost. From 2013-2017, a total of $375,577,635,000 was spent federally, with an additional $840,757,185,970 spent in the same time frame by the states. In 2013, roughly 62,146,000 children went to school. That means that between 2013-2017, a total of $1,216,334,820,000 was spent on 62,146,000 school age children, or roughly $19,572.21 per student. As a result of paternalism, $1.2 trillion was spent to see only eight jurisdictions see an increase in math skills of America’s youth.
With the cost not being worth the near invisible benefits, Coercive Paternalism fails to also be effective. While it is not effective, it also fails to be efficient. Prohibition has historically failed to be efficient. The Eighth Amendment, passed in 1917 and ratified in 1919, was passed to prohibit the sales, transportation, importation, and exportation of “intoxicating liquors”, also known, more commonly, as alcohol. During the Prohibition Era, drinking remained constant. It is very likely that it not only stayed at the pre-prohibition levels but that drinking increased following the prohibition. When the government stopped sanctioning the legality of the alcohol industry and its services, it was forced to go into an underground state, run by speakeasies throughout the nation. The people reverted to the black market to get the products they desired, proving government regulation of the market to be inefficient. Furthermore, the government prohibition on the use of marijuana proved again to be a failure for the U.S government. Historically speaking, prohibition has always been ineffective.
Coercive Paternalism fails to promote the individual’s actual goals, is not effective, and is not worth the cost. The theory of Coercive Paternalism offers a simple answer to the complexities of society that fails to respect an individuals rights, needs, and the pursuit of happiness.
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Francis Folz | United States
In a recent CNN opinion piece, author Noah Berlatsky contended that “protecting Nazi speech doesn’t protect free speech” and concluded that a Nazi salute by a group of teenagers endangers the speech and lives of all non-Nazis. Although I credit Mr. Berlatsky for his laudable zeal and well-expressed opinion, his article is laced with multiple fallacies regarding free speech that must be confronted.
Firstly, our Bill of (Human) Rights are not, and should remain, non-negotiable, and that includes the first, second, and fourth amendments. Mr. Berlatsky attributes the belief that safeguarding controversial speech, which inadvertently protects less contentious or innocuous speech, to free speech ‘purists’.
Need I remind anyone it was less than 54 years ago that countless Civil Rights demonstrators were savagely attacked for merely utilizing their freedom of speech, expression, and assembly by law enforcement and firefighters on their solemn march to Montgomery from Selma.
It is for similar reasons that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from his Birmingham jail cell, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I wonder if Mr. Berlatsky disagrees.
Mr. Berlatsky proceeds, “Defending the speech of white kids doesn’t necessarily protect… marginalized people.”
To some extent, he’s right. Defending those kids doesn’t necessarily guarantee everybody’s speech of every demographic is going to be protected every time in the future. However, it does set a precedent favoring free speech compared to censorship, which should be a commonly held interest.
Mr. Berlatsky’s most startling, misguided premise about freedom of expression is whenever he discusses “giving free speech to fascists” and how organizations and judges need to balance ambiguous ‘interests’. Mr. Berlatsky blatantly misunderstands that our rights are not given to each other by society, rather they are innate, endowed to us by our Creator.
We don’t ‘give’ each other the human right to privacy, just like we don’t ‘give’ each other the 14th Amendment right to birthright citizenship. All of our rights are intrinsic to our humanity, inseparable from our existence, and deserving of our unwavering defense.
At some point in his article, I questioned if Mr. Berlatsky is aware of the equal protection clause since his attempts to justify censorship tend to fall apart when applied to groups outside of fascists. In regards to the Charlottesville rally in 2017, Berlatsky suggests that since white supremacists used their freedom to ‘terrorize’ people and one individual killed one person and injured nearly 20 others, that is cause to deny every individual within the group their human rights.
Using Mr. Berlatsky’s logic, shouldn’t all members of Antifa have their constitutional rights suspended? After all, when a Hillary Clinton supporter in Portland refused to surrender an American flag to the domestic terrorist group, Antifa members cracked his head open. And that’s only one example of their repeated malice. Shouldn’t their hatred be enough to disband the violent, left-wing faction?
What if you applied Mr. Berlatsky’s logic to religious fanatics instead of ideological extremists? Wouldn’t the tragedy of September 11th be enough to deny every American Muslim the freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly because of the actions of 19 men?
After all, haven’t Islamic extremists terrorized multiple nations and killed thousands of people throughout the globe in the last two decades? Any reasonable person would not punish a group of people for the actions of its individual members but would advocate for equal protection under the law, foils to Mr. Berlatsky’s arguments.
Next, Mr. Berlatsky makes the case that the Wisconsin school district should’ve reprimanded the students for their inappropriate picture that appears to show them performing a Nazi salute, despite being off-campus and unaffiliated with the school district at the time of the photo. In an attempt to buttress his argument, Mr. Berlatsky reports that a school suspended 20 students for a tweet that falsely accused a female teacher of flirting with students, justifying the suppression of expression.
The problem is that the Salem students were guilty of libel and accused a staff member of coquetting with her pupils, a criminal offense. The only crime the Wisconsin teens committed was taking a reprehensible picture, making the situation incomparable.
Mr. Berlatsky’s final argument centers around discipline and race. According to the Government Accountability Office, Black students, in 2014, were 15.5 percent of the U.S. student populace, yet accounted for almost 39% of suspensions. Mr. Berlatsky attributes the disproportion to schools inevitably using their disciplinary authority against ‘marginalized students’ at the expense of others.
However, American schools are extremely localized, meaning parents and administrators have the final say on countless decisions, from electronics to dress codes to disciplinary policies. Regrettably, American schools are nearly as segregated as they were in the 1960s.
So in other words, the black students who are subjected to disproportionate suspensions are largely attending non-white majority schools which choose to chastise their students at a rate that is, apparently, acceptable with school personnel and parents.
Free speech is under siege like never before in American history. I hate bigotry. I detest fascism. However, I appreciate our collective, human right to speech and expression, even if I disapprove of somebody’s opinions and/or actions.
Today, the groups whom people loathe most are nazism and fascism. Nazism, by definition, is national socialism. Socialism is just a few steps away from communism. Communism has left over 100 million people dead in 100 years. What would people think if you could no longer raise your fist in public because of it’s communist insignia?
We are better as a society for the ability to openly express all of our ideas, even ones we don’t concur with, rather than only tribal-mentality approved perspectives, regardless of ideology. If detestable, bigoted opinions are allowed to be expressed in the open, it allows society to weed out the most reprehensible of ideas. It is best we don’t take for granted the ability to communicate freely and openly with each other, as anything less is a form of authoritarianism, oppression, and tyranny.
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