Anacharsis wrote about the laws existing among the Scythians, and also about those in force among the Greeks, urging men to adopt a temperate course of life, and he wrote also about war, his works being in verse, and amounting to eight hundred lines: he gave occasion for a proverb, because he used great freedom of speech, so that people called such speech the Scythian conversation. — Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Great Philosophers
Freedom ain’t nothin’ if it ain’t free. — Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee”
Free speech. Such a neat, pleasing little phrase, like a well-wrapped Christmas gift for a small child. It seems so obvious and immediate and right. It is what Americans used to call a “Mom and apple pie” argument. Who could possibly be against it? Only sociopaths and, as we shall see, the ruling Leftist elites. It’s a little jingle which, apparently, has no semantic rabbit-holes to fall down. It does, as we used to say, what is says on the tin.
But what does free speech mean? Simple: I am able to say anything I want to say to whoever I want to say it to, and so are you and so is everyone else. But what does that mean? Not what does it mean in its semantic sense, but in its application. Try speaking freely, in what Justin Trudeau would call the current year, and see where it gets you, or where it doesn’t get you.
Examples: Anyone reading this who works in what I have seen termed as “an office environment” will have had a little think about what they say and who they say it to at work over the last few years. The last time I worked in an office, 20 years ago in London as a sub-editor, I had no problem greeting the office gals as “sweetheart” or “honey” and they had no problem being referred to as such. Then I noticed the gradual appearance of a younger generation of feminist journos — it was the office of a then-famous women’s magazine — who started to give you the fish-eye if you didn’t call them by their first names. I remember wondering when I would have to call them by their last names, like teachers. Or Ma’am. Or Your Fucking Majesty (sorry, free speech got the better of me there). Office work is crushingly boring at the best of times, and requires fun and flirtation and humor to make the day spin by. Way to make an already dull “office environment” duller still, Leftwaffe. But back to freedom of speech.
I remember a phrase I heard a lot when I was growing up in England. Men would sit in pubs — “boozers,” if you are English and of my generation — and they would talk. (This is, or was, part of the point of the institution of the British public house, by the way. A couple of hours away from the kids or work or ‘er indoors). Sometimes they would talk politics. If, after a few pints, one of them said something that seemed contentious (or a bit iffy, as might have been said then), there was a kind of Monopoly “Get out of jail free” card available.
Suppose one of these supping gents said, as many did say then but probably can’t now without a swift visit from the police, that Enoch Powell was right. Well, a few wise and wistful nods of the head would follow, but there was often someone who would raise his eyebrows disapprovingly. There was no fight brewing, but the whole thing had got a bit troublesome, a bit fractious. The first fellow would often defend his statement by saying, well, it’s a free country, isn’t it? I can say what I like. Well, that was then and this is now. Is England a free country? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, if you can still find a functioning English farm. But let’s row back to the Scythian conversation, to freedom of speech.
Did you have freedom of speech at home when you were a little one? Close your eyes and think back. If you had walked into the house after school one day and for no apparent reason insulted your parents using outrageous and insulting language, was your speech free? Well, yes, except for the fact that your parents were also quite understandably free either to give you a well-deserved slap on the back of the head, ground you, or take you to a child psychiatrist.
Freedom, as every paddocked horse knows, is all about where the field fence is, how strong and high it is. It is all about barriers, limits, enclosure. Sure, you can gallop about, but only thus far and no further. Can you jump the fence or go through it? If the answer is no, it’s no. No horse in existence is a free movement absolutist. Freedom is curtailed by that old enemy of our Leftist friends: hard reality. If you ever visit horses in a field and think how wild and free they look, think again. Did they walk from their house to visit you? No.
We all know the arguments for and against free speech. Both counsels finished their summing-up a long, long time ago. Mill more or less did the job in On Liberty, and everyone is familiar with the question of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. Can you do that freely? Again, yes. But the state is also free to send you to jail for doing so if carnage ensues, or even if it doesn’t. (Unless there actually was a fire, in which case you did a good job.) It seems an obvious problem, one easy to solve. So why hasn’t it been solved?
Well, firstly, it is not a chemistry or biology problem, and that is something the epistemologically bemused Left can’t seem to grasp. In terms of the type of Enlightenment lateral thinking we are all used to, they all think they are René Descartes when they are not even Ricky Martin. The perfect example of these idiot gurus is Anthony Fauci. I don’t want to over-egg the omelette in terms of my right to speak freely, but what a piece of work that little blighter is.
Some of the Left are entranced by science (because it is something they are told they can follow, like the Yellow Brick Road) but know little of it, believing it to have been delivered to their door like some Thai food from Uber Eats. They know nothing of Popper, Russell, or Kuhn. When the Left are told to follow the science, they do so gladly, seeing it appear in the sky as a glowing cross leading them on the freeway to Damascus. Speaking of which (freely), we have had Highway to Hell and Stairway to Heaven. Why not Freeway to Damascus?
Let us continue. The United States famously has the First Amendment, which seems to protect this most obvious of human rights, that being to speak freely. Why, then, is this apparently impervious protection of the right to speak freely beginning to creak and groan under the weight of anti-free speech opposition? What, as one of the gentlemen I mentioned earlier in some 1970s pub would have said, is all the kerfuffle about?
As you may have noticed if you own at least a cell phone and are not dead of a fentanyl overdose somewhere on the Texas border, it has been quite a month for free speech. If Oscar Wilde is correct, and there is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about, free speech has little to concern her. She is being talked about as though she were Scarlett Johansson at a Vegas strip club.
Since life increasingly resembles a Marvel movie, and not even a good one, it is appropriate that there is a new super-villain in Gotham. The masked menace involved in this crime of the century (thus far) is Elon Musk, whose name appears at first glance to be both a crossword anagram and inescapably reminiscent of Musky, or Muskrat, Deputy Dawg’s sidekick.
Musk could not be more disliked by the Left if he were Donald Trump’s cloned twin. It’s amusing in one way because I suppose technically Musk is African-American, but not in the acceptable way. The look is all wrong. What if Musk were a black African? Alleluia! Let songs of praise ring out. But he is a white South African and apparently the richest man in the world, and boy, do the Left hate what has just happened. Excuse my free speech, but as you may have noticed, the bugger’s only gone and bought Twitter — lock, stock, and two smoking barrels.
The media are predictably brain-boiled, and if I read or hear the word “meltdown” one more time I swear I will melt down the railings outside my apartment, fashion them into Mjölnir, and then the bashing will commence. Take the media in the US. (Please.) Brian Stelter — who looks like he is made of marshmallow –, hideously carved totem Joy Reid, and every randy pig-farmer’s dream Joy Behar all looked as though they were in need of severe doses of smelling-salts to get over the fact that Musk just opened the planet’s largest wallet and unleashed the whirlwind of white free speech.
Musk was godlike to the Left not that long ago. He had not exactly invented the electric car, I gather, but he seems to have vastly improved it. The electric car, for so long the dream of the planet-saving class, cast Musk as the Hollywood movie hero saving the planet. In a spectacular piece of cultural reverse-polarity, however, Musky is now Dr. Doom, The Green Goblin, and Thanos all rolled into one. Actually, those are not the comic-book parallels worrying the Left. That would be The Joker.
It must be fun being Musk. Orson Welles once described directing a film as like being given the biggest train set a boy ever had. Musk has gone one better: His train set is the world, because that is what the Left think Twitter is. He personally seems to be having a ball. He is always smiling in photos, gets monged on weed with Joe Rogan, and generally has some good days and some good days. Also, unlike Bill Gates (who allegedly has just bought arable land up the road from me in Costa Rica) he doesn’t have a face like a crumpled glove-puppet when he grins.
He is also, of course, the king of trolling. Not much makes me laugh these days, but when Musk tweeted that he was going to buy Coca-Cola and put the cocaine back in, my ability to exercise my right to free speech was rendered temporarily unavailable by the fact that I was gasping for air, a Japanese peanut having gone down the wrong way as I laughed like a drain. This is what laughter is to our enemies, the new Oliver Cromwells but without the dress sense. (Or the warts, frankly. Cromwell made Lemmy look like Kate Moss). Humor is to the average Leftist what Kryptonite is to Superman. They can’t fight it, so they must flee.
I suppose it is time to turn our attention to Twitter, the Leftist bouncy-castle that passes for the modern-day agora, and which Musky has just bought, like you or I would buy nuts or a six-pack or a toy for the kid. Muskrat, incidentally, had one 0f the funniest voices in cartoon history, a sort of Columbian whisper. Deputy Dawg! Deputy Dawg! Where was I. Oh, yes. Twitter. About as enjoyable as a bowl of grits with no sugar, salt, milk, honey, or company.
I won’t bore you again with the tawdry tale of why I got a lifetime ban from Twitter — which I wear as a badge of honor — but a few things need to be said. I wonder what Musk will do about one of Twitter’s more sinister aspects.
Banned for life I may be, but I note that my entire back catalogue on Twitter has not disappeared. My account is “suspended,” not deleted. This turns out not to mean that my account is suspended and has gone forever, no, but rather is in suspended animation. All the text is still there, my digital fingerprints. My freedom of speech on Twitter has been disconnected at the mains, sure. That’s how it looks — until, let’s say, the British government wants to put me in jail, when my account will suddenly spring out of its cryogenic chamber, like Meatloaf on his motorbike in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and be admissible as evidence.
Twitter was fun for a while, but it is a thief of time. Peter Hitchens once called me “thick” on the platform. Dan Hodges told me I was a “very strange man.” Alex Wickham asked me if I was “as much of a tit as your profile suggests.” I told him that every young man who is already losing his hair (you can tell by the profile pic, cut off at the top of his head) hates men like me, far older but with luxurious manes. Louise Mensch called me “brilliant” and “muppet” on the same afternoon. But, in the end, Twitter is a bore, and there are books to read.
Another of the recently-formed adages we are hearing is that some people — journalists in particular — think that Twitter is real life. Two points: What if real life became Twitter? And what if a white South African saves free speech? This could be an interesting passage of play, as cricket commentators would say.
This is a story to watch unfold with interest because it will explain to those who are rather unkindly referred to as “normies” that there is a malevolent psychosis on the Left, and they wish to silence you. I have banged this drum for years. If you have Leftist friends, do not, under any circumstances, try to engage with them on this. They don’t do free speech, when push comes to shove. If anything, use a phrase the gents in the boozer might have used in 1978. Tell them — at least in the context of your life — to make themselves scarce. These are not the people who were bullied at school, nor were they the bullies. They are the people who tried to be bullies but were punched in the face by people who didn’t really care for being bullied. It is surprising, when it comes to political divides such as free speech, how often the people you thought were your friends are actually your enemies. Don’t be trapped by those you thought you trusted. Sometimes the people you trust to protect your freedom are the very ones who will pick your pocket.
From Anacharsis to Elon Musk, it still took The Clash to carry the flame of the Scythian conversation, in a song title from their second album: stay free.
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