One of my favorite sections in The [Un]documented Mark Steyn (which I see is one of Politico's bestsellers this week) is entitled "Last Laughs", and deals with the ever more openly totalitarian ease with which everyone who matters in western society - from politicians to "educators" - is happy to ban opinions, attitudes, even jokes, all in the cause of regulating the new utopia. The more officially "tolerant" we become, the more intolerant we must be in enforcing it.
Older lefties can still just about pay lip-service to that apocryphal bit of Voltaire about disagreeing with what you say but fighting to the death for your right to say it - a line that used to appeal to the progressive's sense of self-inflating heroism. As I say in the book, nobody needs you to "fight to the death" for it: a mildly supportive Tweet every now and again would do. But among the leaders of tomorrow even these rote nods toward the "principle" of free speech ask too much. A fellow called Zach Traynor, exercising his "white privilege" from the cozily parochial confines of Dartmouth College, sums up what passes for current thinking:
This country has gone too far in allowing people to say whatever they want, and should curtail speech that is obviously harmful to society, such as hate speech.
Those in support of aggressive civil liberties will protest: What is stopping the government from moving past sensible restrictions on free speech, once they are in place, to something more Orwellian, as in China or other authoritarian regimes? At face value, this is a fair question, but given America's deeply-held cultural norms and the power of the Internet and social media, such a scenario is highly unlikely. We need only small but significant change to the freedom of speech in this country: namely, the prohibition of unambiguously destructive, hateful speech.
And obviously everyone can agree on what constitutes "hateful" speech, can't they? Some right-thinking chap from the Ivy League (Jonathan Gruber, for example - he seems to be available) could put his thinking cap on and draw up the "architecture" for such prohibitions. And then some disinterested bureaucrats could create an agency (perhaps headed by Lois Lerner - she seems to be available) to administer the new prohibitions fairly. And obviously "America's deeply-held cultural norms and the power of the Internet and social media" would prevent the new regime getting out of hand - in the way that Canada's deeply-held cultural norms and the power of the Internet prevented it prosecuting stand-up comedians for putting down lesbian hecklers homophobically, and Britain's deeply-held cultural norms and the power of the Internet prevented it cracking down on a bloke making disrespectful Nelson Mandela jokes, and Denmark's deeply-held cultural norms and the power of the Internet prevented it charging Lars Hedegaard for some private observations made in the privacy of his home about Islam's treatment of women...
Oh, no, wait, all those deeply-held cultural norms didn't prevent any of that at all. You'd be surprised how non-deeply-held most cultural norms are once push comes to shove. This Zach Traynor chappie seems entirely unmoored from any himself. But perhaps I underestimate "the power of social media". After all, it seems to be doing a grand job in persuading Canadians and Americans and Aussies and Frenchmen to take up head-hacking for the Islamic State. So who knows what it might accomplish if one were able to harness its awesome power in the name of unambiguous good - ie, "the prohibition of unambiguously destructive, hateful speech."
Personally, I like hate. I don't mean I hate Zach Traynor, although I do despise him - as the pampered beneficiary of a glorious inheritance too dim to understand what he's betraying. But as the years go by I am inclined to take Blake's view. That's Blake Shelton, judge of TV's "The Voice" ...no, wait, I mean William Blake, obscure dead guy, who remarked:
Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.
He's not saying Hate is "good", only that it's "necessary to Human existence". The freedom to hate is part of what makes us human, and what makes us free, and therefore "without Contraries is no progression" - which is why those places most advanced toward Zach Traynor's utopia (American college campuses, say) seem most stagnant. I wouldn't necessarily want to argue that Jian Ghomeshi, the impeccably liberal, progressive CBC radio host of plonkingly correct attitudes Tweeting out his support for #EndViolenceAgainstWomenDay all year long while cheerfully punching their lights out in his apartment every night, is a testament to the strain of living under such a regime, but the strange, increasingly vicious urge to ban, silence, forbid, exile, obliterate even the mildest disagreeement that now characterizes "liberal" institutions such as the academy suggests that the formal proscription of "hate" only leads it to find other outlets. The world Traynor's generation is ushering in will be be bloodier than one of Mr Ghomeshi's dates.
~Speaking of The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, Jonathan van Maren has a word to say about my new book, and about the strength of some of those "deeply-held cultural norms":
On the announcement by Ontario school boards that in conjunction with newly imposed "Gay-Straight Alliance" clubs, they would be holding a "National Day of Pink," Steyn's sarcasm turns acidic. "Er, I don't think I have a lot of choice on that front, do I? 'For schools holding Anti-Bullying events in April, you still have time to order [pink] shirts at a discount.' That's great news! Nothing says 'celebrate diversity' like forcing everyone to dress exactly the same, like a bunch of Maoists who threw their workers' garb in the washer but forgot to take the red flag out."
Diversity, as it happens, is where Steyn says "nations go to die." Canada is one example. "If local Mennonites or Amish were segregating the sexes and making them enter by different doors for religious services in a Toronto grade-school cafeteria, Canadian feminists would howl them down in outrage," Steyn points out. "But when Muslims do it they fall as silent as their body-bagged sisters in Kandahar."
The entire book is a roller-coaster ride of ridicule and fiercely sharp analysis. Mark Steyn is one of the few commentators that can turn his pen, which often doubles as a harpoon in his hand, to almost any topic, intelligently lampooning his subject while not losing sight of the bigger picture.
~If that makes it sound heavier than you're in the mood for, hey, relax: The [Un]documented Mark Steyn is up with Lena Dunham, Russell Brand, Tina Fey and all the other cool kids on the New York Times Top Ten humor bestsellers. Ain't that a laugh? It's available in America from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, not to mention Costco, and from Indigo-Chapters, Amazon and McNally-Robinson in Canada. Or you can be reading it within seconds - via Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks. And, wherever you are on the planet, we're happy to ship you a personally autographed copy of this year's perfect Christmas gift direct from the SteynOnline bookstore.