More On: Elon Musk
Elon Musk tells Tucker Carlson that the U.S. government was able to read the direct messages of Twitter users
Bringing the fight against censorship to one of its most important strongholds.
Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter was finalized last Friday, and the world's richest man explained why: "I bought Twitter because I think it's important for the future of civilization to have a common digital town square where people with different beliefs can debate in a healthy way without resorting to violence." Musk is upset about Twitter's overtly political censorship and bullying of conservatives and others who share opinions that challenge or expose the orthodoxy of progressive Democrats.
Here's hoping Musk keeps his cool and reforms Twitter by getting rid of its staff and policies that arrogantly run roughshod over the First Amendment, based on their delusional belief that they are good "brights" who are so sure of their superior knowledge that only they should be allowed to speak in the town square and be charged with silencing heretics and blasphemers against their sacred story of "our democracy."
What these censors don't understand is that free speech isn't just a nice-to-have part of our Constitutional order; it's one of the most important parts. That's why free speech is the first right in the Bill of Rights that can't be taken away. Without it, political freedom wouldn't be possible.
This link between free speech and political freedom started in ancient Athens, which was the first government to let people who were not part of the elite, or the demos, become citizens who could vote, debate, agree to the laws, and hold office. No matter how low they were born, how little they knew, or how poor they were, they were all equal and free politically.
But giving people the right to speak without fear of retaliation in public and civic spaces of the polis had to take into account that the new political community was much more diverse than the oligarchies of wealth or birth, whose interests and ways of life were much more similar. If rules of style or decorum were used to limit political speech, it would have to act as a gatekeeper that kept out and lowered the value of some citizens' different ideas, arguments, and ways of presenting them.
The solution was to give public political speech a lot of freedom, whether in the Assembly, during trials, or in the comic theater, which was not a place for private entertainment like it is today. Instead, it was part of a political-religious festival run by polis officials and attended by its citizens. So, comedy was a way of talking about politics that used humor, especially sexual and scatological humor, to judge and comment on politicians and policies.
In fact, even by our own crude standards, these comedies were full of obscenity and attacks on people. K.J. Dover, a classicist, talks about these brutal attacks on well-known political leaders in Athens at the time, all of whom were killed. All of them were called "vain, greedy, dishonest, and self-seeking," and "represent[ed] also as ugly, diseased, prostituted perverts, the sons of whores by foreigners who bribed their way into citizenship," which was only allowed for the legitimate children of an Athens mother and father.
So, comedy and other forms of writing like satire have always been an important part of democracies and republics. They are important ways to hold politicians accountable to the people by embarrassing them in public and making fun of their claims to be important and smarter than everyone else. So, for the past 2500 years, people have used scatological and sexual humor. This is because these are universal human functions that support the idea that all citizens are politically equal, which is the central idea of representative government in particular. Lenny Bruce once said that, no matter how strong a man is, he will still get down on his knees and beg a woman to "just touch it." This has always been true, and JFK and Bill Clinton's dirty and humiliating sexual behavior proves it.
It goes without saying that elites like Plato didn't like the fact that everyone had the right to be honest and rude with their betters. But Plato was a utopian, antidemocratic technocrat, just like the progressives of today who think that "experts" and cognitive elites should rule the masses. Hoi polloi don't have the knowledge and credentials to protect them from "conspiracy theories," the tricks of political hucksters, and "right-wing media" that spread "fake news" and "disinformation."
So why should we be surprised that tech moguls like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates support censoring news that challenges their political narratives and interests or that Amazon removes books that progressives don't like? Why are companies "cancelling" people who dare to criticize "woke" policies that only help the people in power? Why do people always tell others to "follow the science" or put up signs in their yards that say "science is real" when most of the policies they push are based on scientism, not real science? Is it because all of these Grand Inquisitors hate people who they think are too stupid, venal, or repressed to understand the brave new world that progressives want to create?
Or, why do we find it strange that comedy has become less funny over the last few decades? With a few notable exceptions, it's clear that today's comics and movies aren't funny to anyone but the "woke" commissars who check for deviations from the norm. But what we've lost isn't just humor; we've also lost the ancient and important role of comedy in a democracy: to "tell the truth to power" and hold it accountable to the sovereign people, and to put an end to want tobe tyrants' claims that they are the only ones who should be in charge.
Today, on the other hand, too many performers, with a few exceptions like Dave Chapelle and Ricky Gervais, are eager to bow down and apologize at the first sign of criticism from "woke" people.
Comedians who act like this should learn from the funny playwright Aristophanes. His favorite target was the demagogue Cleon, who was the most important politician in Athens after Pericles during the first ten years of the Peloponnesian War. Cleon was tired of the playwright's cruel jokes, so he went to the Council to complain. The Council ignored this attempt to silence Aristophanes and go against the basic right to free speech.
Worse for Cleon, in his next play, Aristophanes made fun of Cleon's failed attempts and explained the political role of comedy: "Let Cleon hatch his plots and build his traps against me to the fullest, for Good and Right will be my allies, and I will never be caught acting like a coward and a punk-arse toward the city as he does." In ancient Greek, the last word means a passive homosexual, which was a very serious insult to a man's honor in ancient Athens.
Today, not many people who are attacked by the "woke" have such courage or are aware of how important humor is to politics. This privatization of comedy makes it easier for oligarchic progressives to tear down the foundations of the "democracy" they accuse conservative Republicans and Libertarians of threatening, even though they are the ones who are acting hypocritically.
But what progressives mean by "democracy" is not the diversity of the people who settled the 13 colonies, which the Constitution protects by dividing and balancing power, but the abstract, homogenous "The People" of collectivist ideologies, who need a concentrated, expansive power to address their shared interests. This was clear as early as 1913, when Woodrow Wilson wrote about technocratic political "architects" and "engineers" who would build a political order "where men can live as a single community, cooperative as in a perfectly coordinated beehive."
So far ahead of its time Five years later, Mary Parker Follet wrote that the state's "higher function" is a "great forward policy that shall follow the collective will of the people" that is "embodied in the state," a "great spiritual unity" in which "the individual... is the state" and "the state... is the individual." Wilson's "beehive" and Follet's blending of the individual and the state are like what Mussolini said: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, and nothing against the state." Who is Joe, the "semi-fascist?"
The "cancel culture" that has taken over universities, government agencies, popular culture, and social media is a tool for breaking down the Bill of Rights and divided government, which were put in place by the Constitution to stop this kind of tyrannical concentration of power and its spread into private life and civil society. It also hurts the real diversity that gave rise to the idea of free speech more than 2,500 years ago and was the basis of our own political order and a check on tyranny.
If Elon Musk goes through with his plan and gives Twitter back its First Amendment rights, he will be remembered for bringing the fight against censorship to one of its most important strongholds. And let's not forget how much fun it is to watch the "woke" people lose their, um, minds. "There's no ordeal like the end of Camille," says the song from the musical.