As a former UseNet and chat room aficionado, I spent years on the internet debating angry Christians and angry atheists, angry Muslims and angry feminists, angry Liberals and angry Conservatives, and angry Dems and angry NeoCons. Though all presented interesting viewpoints, it seems for the most part they only casually skimmed my responses, looking for something at which they could take offense.
Much which gets published on the internet these days is just digital graffiti, which I actively avoid. I think of it not so much as a “free speech issue,” but rather more of a “sanitation issue.” I am often puzzled by people who write truly vile things online, then scream about “un-American censorship” when someone reacts by erasing that shit.
Since when is it “un-American” to bust people for being assholes?
Reasonable tolerance for the opinions and behaviors of others is to be expected in any civilized society. Free speech is precisely that. But the only thing that the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment grants to American citizens is the right to say and believe what they want without being jailed for it. Everybody ELSE is allowed to react to what is said (and thought) however they want. And if that reaction involves judging said speaker or thinker to be an unmitigated asshole, and to treat them accordingly, then so be it. “Free speech” does not equal “speech with zero consequences.”
The first official act of the nascent United States of America was to formerly declare the King of England and his assorted agents to be— essentially— total assholes, and to bust them for it by withdrawing American allegiance from their monarchy.
It’s not un-American to “not be nice” to those with whom you disagree, or whose actions or behavior cause you offense, provided no laws are broken in the process. In fact, quite the opposite: Americans are famous for telling off assholes in their midst.
It can even change things. Here’s how it works: if enough people disagree with a particular behavior, then the cultural paradigm shifts and the culprit will eventually feel the pressure to abandon the unacceptable behavior. FYI: the argument “But it’s our tradition!” is usually the flimsiest, most bullshit argument of all. Times change, and so must rational society.
Also, every so often we are all, as Americans, subject to a collective pang of guilt here and there, and our country can usually be depended upon to redress a past injustice. Probably too late to mean much, but it does occasionally happen.
In any case, here’s some advice for those with perpetual axes to grind:
Don’t like what a company or corporation does with the money they make? Stop doing business with them.
Don’t like what other consenting adults legally do in the privacy of their own relationships? Don’t peek through their windows. It’s none of your business.
Don’t like guns? Don’t buy one.
Don’t like people who own guns? Don’t hang out with them.
Think you know a gun owner who is planning to break the law? Call the police and report them.
Don’t like people with other religious beliefs than yours? Don’t discuss religion with them.
Angry at corporate and banking excesses? Peacefully protest them, if you are so inclined.
Unhappy with your political representatives? Vote them out of office. Keep voting them out until you get ones you like. If they lie to you like a leopard changing its spots once they are in office, vote them out at the next election cycle.
We can do ALL OF THE THINGS listed above because we still live in the land of the free. But being “free,” in this context, does NOT mean “doesn’t cost anything.” Representative Democracy is a system where the people themselves have direct input into how they are governed— BUT ONLY IF THEY EXERCISE THAT POWER. No one ever got elected President with 0% of the popular vote.
We are also a Republic. A Republic is a system where a minority of citizens— no matter how few— can and should expect to be treated no differently by the agencies of their government than other citizens, even those in the majority.
My right to swing my fist ends the instant before it hits someone else’s face. My right to practice my religious or philosophical beliefs ends at the moment it encroaches on someone elses’s freedom to do the same. Our system was intentionally designed to work that way.
Your rights end where mine begin, and vice versa. We are all in this together. So maybe it would behoove us, as a society, to play nice.
If that proves impossible, then let’s concentrate our fire on the most heinous assholes among us. As a social service.