Wednesday, September 27, 2023

COMMENTARY: The cancer of anonymity

by BRENT REGAN/Common Sense
| August 12, 2022 1:00 AM

The first 10 amendments to our Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights enumerates several rights. Some call these “Constitutional Rights” but they are in fact a list of God-given inalienable rights that the government is prohibited from transgressing. Phrases like “Congress shall make no law,” “shall not be infringed,” “No soldier shall” reveal that our founders were insistent on restraining the power of government.

These rights and the freedoms they permit are not unlimited as there can be occasion where one right collides with another. The classic example of falsely yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater brings free speech in conflict with public safety. If speech does not present this conflict it cannot be prohibited or censored by government. Or can it? Can something that cannot be done directly be done indirectly?

The Information Age produced an incredible democratization of information, reducing information acquisition cost to nearly zero, and allowing nearly every human to carry a device that is a compendium of all human knowledge while connecting these people in a world wide web. The public square has expanded to the solar system.

Like most new systems, the information age is following a growth path similar to human development. From the early first steps and language development of infancy to the boisterous enthusiasm of childhood to the wild west of adolescence and hopefully to the relative stability of adulthood.

The information age allowed for the explosion of personal opinion. Blogs and article comment sections were awash with the opinions of everyday citizens. Some seized the opportunity to opine without repercussion and hid their identity behind pseudonyms. The quality of commentary quickly took a nose dive for the sewer.

The anonymous commentators excused themselves by citing our founding founder’s use of pseudonyms, ignoring that in our founder’s time speech was not protected and sedition carried the death penalty.

In some cases moderators were appointed to maintain civility. With the rise of social media, moderators were given “community standards,” but these were general and subject to wide interpretation. Using these vague “standards,” the masters of these platforms were able to guide speech into only approved areas while suppressing, culling, or shadow banning opposing views.

This gave rise to cancel culture and its “woke” mentality where it is insufficient for dissenting views to be suppressed; they must be punished and purged. Self-appointed overseers scanned social media for the slightest “infraction.” Violators are harassed, their employers were threatened. Anyone with an association or connection to the offender is publicly castigated.

Having been severely battered, free speech is about to be mortally wounded. Woke mentality is driving toward formalization as Environmental, Social and Governance ratings (ESG) are being applied to corporations and people. Your ESG compliance score will ultimately affect all aspects of your participation in the economy. If you don’t say the right things, shop the right way, or hold the right beliefs then your options to work, shop, or play may be severely restricted or eliminated.

Historically, when we spoke in the public square we self-regulated our rhetoric because we could be held accountable. This reduced vitriol while increasing civility.

Now free speech faces a very real existential threat. The cancer of anonymity has metastasized causing power seeking self-anointed overseers to multiply. They virtue signal as are the arbiters of right thinking speech and claim it is their duty to enforce ephemeral “standards” against any who dare to offend.

The Quentin Tarantino antebellum western "Django Unchained" centers on a former slave’s quest to free his wife. His plans are nearly thwarted by Samuel L. Jackson’s character Steven, the head house slave. The movie portrays the hierarchal structure of plantation slavery and how high ranked “overseer” slaves ensure discipline and obedience among the lower ranks. In consideration for this, the overseers receive better accommodation.

Like the plantation owner allowing overseers to control the slaves, those that run government allow political correctness overseers to enforce the rules of thought and speech that government cannot.

If you shun your responsibility to control your own emotions, instead empowering others to protect your infantile state, then you are facilitating the death of free speech.

Scott Adams said, "If you judge a group by the worst person in that group then you are the worst person in your group."

The cure to this cancer is simple. The freedom to speak comes with the responsibility to endure speech that is offensive. We may utterly disagree with another’s speech but we must absolutely defend their right to speak it.

This is the price adults must pay to live in freedom and without paying this price, freedom dies.

It’s just common sense.

• • •

Brent Regan is chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

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