We have lost a cultural appreciation for free speech and free expression.
Early in her essay, Emma Camp makes an offhand comment that I think is most important to diagnosing our current cultural disease. She confesses she is maddened by having her "words read in the least charitable possible way." Maybe it's charity that gets lost in our new social media; the charity, or manners or simple decency we tend to call on when we talk to people in private, real, face to face life.
The best lawyers learn this. Lawyers can and must argue zealously on behalf of their client. They are advocates. But in the fairly small world of legal practice, courtesy and respect are also important, because in small communities a person's reputation matters, and while there is no small percentage of lawyers who have and cultivate reputations for being hard-hitting and ruthless, there is an important distinction between what you argue in your briefs and what you say in front of a judge or jury.
We've become something of a nation of advocates. Maybe that's a natural development in a world where everything is not just political but partisan. We are engulfed by legislation, conflicting rights, lawsuits over controversial issues, public interest groups, and advocates of all kinds on all sides.
Amid that, it’s easy to forget that someone, somewhere has to decide among all of the advocates who is right, or who is more right than someone else, or if, maybe, no one is right at all. How many times do we read things about issues we're pre-decided? How often do we read with an open mind, a fair mind, a mind charitable to the writer?
That is an alternate model for our thinking, reading and listening not as advocates but as jurors who have to sift through the evidence, sometimes mountains of it, and -- maybe -- come to what might be a conclusion surprising to ourselves? Or maybe read and decide there's more here to think through?
Rather than reading and listening like an advocate for the mistakes, for the quote out of context, for the faux pas, for the fib, we can read and listen more charitably than we do. If an issue is really important, can we avoid reading into others what we would not want others to read into our own words? That seems to be a more humane way to approach the never-ending stream of public issues that are manufactured daily, weekly, monthly for our overconsumption.
Camp is smart to see that she's just today's piñata, and more are out there. But she's on to something when she calls out the lack of charity in the way too many people approach their reading in our distanced, filtered, oblique, indirect interactions through social media.
You're a very brave and admirable young woman. Learning is the process of taking in information and thinking and deciding for one's self. Indoctrination is being told what to think. Today's universities are indoctrination centers, not centers for learning.
Your views — not those of the woke Twitterati— are mainstream, classical liberal ones. I wish you well in your future career and hope you continue to challenge illiberal orthodoxy wherever you find it.
There was sentence in Jonathan Haidt's article in The Atlantic from a few days ago that just floored me, and I thought of it here again when reading this article. He says that research has shown that posts on social media that trigger negative emotions, and especially anger at "out-groups" get the most likes. That's amazing. We're all being wired by Twitter, Facebook, etc. to hate each other to the greatest degree possible in return for social media attention. Please resist that temptation everyone, and sorry young Emma had to be the victim of the day for sharing her perfectly reasonable and important viewpoint.
Great job tuning out the haters. Other’s beliefs, even other’s insults, cannot hurt you. Only you can let it in. These free speech hating, pile-on maniacs lack the resilience and stoicism to understand that. Let us hope they come to a deeper understanding, preferably before they ruin free society. I wish us and them well. May you be happy.
Every time someone writes about the problem with tolerance of speech in America they are met with vicious personal attacks that prove their point.
By the way, I would not take anything Hannah-Jones has to say with any credibility.
It grieves me that most college students don’t feel free to speak their views publicly. And it makes me feel lucky that I went to college during a time when speech on campus was (or seemed to me, anyway) free. Since I graduated from college in the early 1980s, my political views have evolved from moderate conservative to moderate progressive. But I don’t think they would have changed at all if I hadn’t been exposed to the viewpoints of others, or if today’s online echo chambers had existed then.
Thank you so much for this, Emma. I have to say, even I was surprised at the level of ill will being directed at you from some corners of the outrage sector. Since I've always felt like part of this problem stems from the way we've infantilized college-aged people these days, I was hopeful that it would at least work in your favor in this instance. Surely, they weren't going to subject this poor, brave "college kid" to the harsh, traumatic, "violent" opprobrium from which they labor so hard to shield all of her contemporaries. I should have known better.
Nonetheless, I believe you are articulating things probably felt by most college students - I hope at the very least you are getting private encouragement from them. If only more public figures would be willing to do the same.
One of the biggest problems we tend to have these days with speaking out against leftist illiberalism is people becoming so disenchanted that they spiral into right-wing crackpottery. Rather than naming names, I'll just say that I'm quite happy to see some of the other stands you've taken in your article, and thrilled that you chose to publish in Persuasion. You still have your head screwed on straight, it seems. 😏 No doubt joining the folks at Reason magazine will keep it that way. I often agree with the people there, and yet I frequently disagree with them, which is good. I've learned the folly of ideological echo chambers.
When I graduated college 27 years ago, my ideological positions were very similar to yours. At the time, I was a blissfully apolitical math student. Which was easy enough then; the World Wide Web was brand new (and I took little to no interest in it), and social media didn't exist. For better or worse, your generation scarcely seems to have that choice. But perhaps it will be a comfort to you to know that your general outlook is in line with a reasonably thoughtful, educated person of the pre-internet era whose brain had yet to be corrupted by politics. 🙂
All the best wishes, and keep being you.
Emma, first of all, thank you so much for your courage and your decency. I have no criticisms, but I would like to suggest an additional answer to your title's implicit question: Why the fury?
We have all noticed woke safetyism (e.g. Coddling of the American Mind). The result is woke fragility. But the strange thing is these fragile people are such bullies. I googled "bullies" but found no good explanation. Much later I googled Fragile Bully and found a wonderful book, with a new answer to your question.
The book, "Fragile Bully" by Laurie Helgoe, covers both personal relationships and politics -- especially Trump. But it notes that this applies to the left as well. The new answer is Narcissism. This explains why these people feel so hurt by what seems like no offence at all. They are suffering from what's well known in psychology as "Narcissistic Injury." They feel devastated.
"To the fragile bully, what seems minor to others threatens to do major harm—to injure." Or from another source, "when the potential of a threat (real or imagined) is perceived by the narcissist, intolerable emotions in the form of shame, humiliation, and anger are evoked."
According to Helgoe and other psychologists, the result of such an injury will generally be "narcissistic rage" or passive-aggressively playing the victim. Or a mixture of the two, which is what we constantly see with the woke.
So, although Helgoe never mentions the woke, so much of what she said fit them perfectly that I found her completely convincing.
Congratulations on the Reason job, Ms. Camp. Wonderful magazine.
There is nothing more important than free speech.
Marxist/Woke Leftist ideas are at odds with reality, especially with human nature.
In order to keep the ponzi scheme running, people must initially be muzzled and silenced.
Dissent is not only not valued, it is not tolerated and it is punished.
When overt and self-censorship eventually runs into resistance, coercion and force is employed.
Hence the answer to the paradox of how such "nice" sounding Lefist Marxist ideas eventually lead to the death and destruction of so many of their own people and the nation.
Congrats on having a job lined up post-graduation! That's more than most woke zealots can accomplish.
Excellent essay, but one small critique. Early in your piece you mention that it took you an hour to learn how to throw a frisbee. If that’s true, it comes off sounding like victimhood; if it’s false, it undercuts your reliability as an author.
Emma, you aren’t a victim, and should not lean into the victimhood/shrinking violet narrative. You are a lion beset by packs of Twitter hyenas and internet jackals. Keep up the good fight, and good luck at Reason.