The Marketplace of Ideas

Last night the campus of Berkley was roiled with protests that turned violent, led to objects being thrown, fires being set, and ultimately the cancellation of a speech by noted alt-right gadfly and baby Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos.  This is not a productive way to resist, people.  Let us not fall into the trap of the anti-war protestors during Vietnam who turned a complacent middle class against them, led their, perhaps, persuadable parents to vote for and support Richard Nixon in a backlash against the violence.  I wrote a story for an upcoming Wild Cards book dealing with the chaos at the Democratic convention in 1968.  I did a lot of research and what became horribly clear was that the violent clashes between police and protestors help put Nixon in the White House.

Now before everybody starts yelling at me —  I’m not saying don’t protest.  By all means protest, but protest smart.  Follow the example set by the gigantic marches the day after the inauguration — not a single arrest while millions took to the streets around the world.  (I was at the giant Women’s March in L.A.  It was a joyous, uplifting and empowering experience.)  Be pro-active.  Schedule a speaker opposite Yiannopoulos who will counter the loathsome bile being spewed by Yiannopoulos and his ilk.  Since the illegitimate president has made crowds such an issue see who draws the bigger one and make sure the press covers it.  Make that the story.  By causing chaos we take attention away from a dark and divisive message that will shock most decent people.  Instead of isolating Yiannopoulos and revealing to the world what he and the alt-right stand for the protests have become the story and the white supremacist gets to play the victim.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are bedrock foundations for this country, and while, as a nation, we sometimes stumble and take a few steps back we have so far managed to move forward because we allow for vigorous debate and the hateful, violent, evil ideas lose when measured against truth and justice and American ideals.

Let them talk.  Let them reveal their crabbed and shriveled souls.  If they call out an individual by name then be prepared to help that person with the cost of hiring a lawyer and going after them.  That’s how the Southern Poverty Law Center brought down a number of branches of the Ku Klux Klan.  Not by throwing things and setting fires, but by taking them into court and destroying them with the rule of law.

Justice Holmes in his brilliant dissent in Abrams v.United States wrote:  “The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”  

This standard was based on the writings of English poet John Milton “And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

One Response to The Marketplace of Ideas

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    There is an added question; when is it necessary to take direct and violent action? It sort of goes along with the meme flying around social media — is it okay to punch a Nazi? The issue really comes down to a question of whether there are still institutions that can and will protect you. The German courts simply rolled over when the Reichstag (the pseudo parliament of Nazi Germany) passed the Nuremberg Laws. They took the position that a law passed by the elected representatives was a valid law and after that subsequent degrees were enacted further limiting the rights of Jewish citizens ultimately leading to the Holocaust. The judges who allowed those laws to be implemented were not saved by this argument at their trials at Nuremberg.

    Contrast that with what is happening as regards Trump’s Muslim ban — so far that EO is 5 for 5. It has gone before five different federal courts and been stayed each time pending a decision on its legality and Constitutionality and the final court gave a very broad ruling questioning the legality of the EO.

    We still have an intact judiciary and I firmly believe the military will not obey an illegal order. I don’t think it’s time for us to storm the barricades. At least not yet.

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