Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Roseanne Barr's firing is a trench warfare casualty; can we avoid the same fate? #1stAmendment

Our freedom of speech has become a trench warfare battle where only "market justice" will determine who prevails.

I just ended an hour long stream with a fellow YouTube creator, Akil Alleyne aka "The Realist Libertarian", and we had a very open if confusing conversation about the issues of the new NFL national anthem kneeling law, and the subject of Roseanne Barr's firing by ABC came up. The irony of our chat was that despite the difference of perspectives on the Colin Kaepernick saga, racial politics, and personal beliefs, I agreed with him on both the idea of a legal restriction of freedom of speech in the workplace as well as that of a moral societal imperative to expand freedom of speech in excess of the legal protection in order to create a more civil society.

Yet after hanging up the call, I continue to sink back into the cynical nature of my personal observations and experience and despair of the state of that freedom of speech. The problem is no longer whether people believe in those rights but of whether they are willing to grant the courtesy and patience to entertain the speech that is being expressed by people whose views enrage them. 

A very simple piece of personal experience with this topic is the series of #FarrakhanFeminism articles and videos I produced since February in response to the Women's March national leadership co-chair Tamika Mallory's ties to Minister Louis Farrakhan, spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. My aim in that series was not to say "well, Farrakhan is a hateful person and he should shut up"; on the contrary it was to illustrate that thanks to the availability of his content on the internet any freethinking individual should be able to explore how his religious and social beliefs are simply incompatible with modern day feminism and intersectionality. I would never begrudge YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform for granting Farrakhan a venue to express his beliefs; without them I could not do my work, and I must confess it is a guilty pleasure watching him work a crowd and get into the zone even if I find the words coming out of his mouth to be ridiculous and contrary to my own views.

Those indignant over Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, as Alleyne stated, are in many respects the same type of people that tune into Roseanne because she is also willing to slay the sacred cows of others that are Kaepernick supporters. This is a circle of outrage that feels gratifying in the heat of the argument, but in reality is producing a public forum of people that have little to no trust in one another. In our discussion I repeated the concession I had made elsewhere that while I think that Kaepernick is a jerk-off, the imposition of a new NFL rule prohibiting on-field protests during the anthem is two years too late. The only conclusion I can come to is that the NFL had a chance to give a clear ruling in 2016, and instead it decided to punt the ball away. 

In the same manner, the Walt Disney Corporation as Roseanne's employer OK'ed a revival of her show throughout 2017 and 2018 knowing full well that her viewpoints were controversial and had been for a long time. Barr had at one point been a presidential candidate for the far-left Peace and Freedom Party in 2012 and then later veered to the other end of the spectrum in response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. They knew that signing the comedienne would be accompanied with a fair portion of sweaty collars for their PR people. The day before, Barr had openly sparred with Chelsea Clinton and even ridiculed her looks by retweeting a user making fun of her teeth by comparing them to the donkey from Shrek. 

 So people have to then question what's going on here. Nobody is debating the factual statement of whether Roseanne Barr is correct in saying that Chelsea Clinton has donkey teeth. The debate is also not over whether Valerie Jarrett looks like she's a character from Planet of the Apes. In either case, people are objecting to the purported insensitivity of attacking a woman's looks or analogizing a black person to a non-human ape species. 

I didn't watch Roseanne's new show, and I have a neutral take on her current political "conversion". I have a suspicion, just as I did in Kaepernick's case, that her motivation for becoming vocally political was careerist. She risked nothing as her show was a commercial success in the 1980s and 90s, and has raked in millions for her and others through TV syndication. The reason for her wanting to come back was likely due to a legitimate though selfish desire for the spotlight. I have argued that for Colin Kaepernick, the motivation was a byzantine attempt to get traded from the San Francisco 49ers with whom he was by then feuding.

What I find to be the real threat is not the motivations or validity of the causes of Kaepernick or Roseanne. Rather, it is the idea that currently when someone in the audience of a public event finds something objectionable in the content they are watching, they now have a corporate culture on many telecom platforms that is encouraging them to act as a speech police to squelch the offending speech rather than rebut it with an alternative or at least a review based on taste.

The executives of these companies may behave as if they are receptive to an "inclusive" and "socially conscious" corporate culture, but rest assured that beneath the surface this is how they are thinking:

  • NFL: "We can donate millions of dollars to causes that are supposedly in tune with Colin Kaepernick's beliefs while simultaneously having GM's and owners lacking the conviction to have him on a roster and willing to take the commercial hit".
  • Walt Disney/ABC/ESPN: "We will fire Roseanne Barr in order to slake the thirst of outrage over racial stereotypes, but continue to employ racial and political arsonists like Jemele Hill, Keith Olbermann and Max Kellerman because we lack the courage to look in the mirror and acknowledge that no, we're not a sports and entertainment hub anymore, we're an institution of an imposed social order."
These two approaches may appear different, but they are not. They also have two very important things in common: As far as marketing optics they are not fooling anyone, and at the same time their moral compass spins in every direction and no direction at once.

Why not embrace a solution that is both painful but in the long term a healthier alternative? Accept that we may have to hear things that clash with our worldviews or might even find defamatory, but respond to this with the best presentation you can of why that is wrong. Those that live in fear of things they may hear that are hurtful inherently concede that they feel too weak to live outside of a system of tyranny.