Elon Musk’s “Freedom of Speech” Idiocy

It might very well be that by the time you read this, Twitter will have ceased to exist. The lesson behind the Elon Musk episode is, nevertheless, deeper than just learning how to burn $44 billion really quickly. The tycoon never hid that under his rule Trump would be back on Twitter sooner rather than later. Topped up by libertarian superficiality, his shtick is indeed to let crass demagoguery and blatant lies run amock under the pretext of “freedom of speech.” In this rather odd moment in social media history, Musk’s foolishness shines also as wilful blindness about the phrase’s genuine meaning.

Critical Race Theory

We are all in favor of free speech. Yet, this does not mean much if “speech” is seen as throwing words in the air and expecting that they will somehow make sense when falling back down. The ability to freely speak your mind is indeed a cornerstone of democracy, but it is not enough for democracy to exist if your mind is empty. Freedom, like knowledge, is built. We are not free when spewing nonsense; we are merely caging ourselves in our own ignorance.

Most people, unfortunately, refer by default to “freedom of speech” and miss the deeper meaning of the phrase. Hitler was making “speeches” only in the material sense of the word when eructing demented rage and hatred against Jews. In the formal sense, speech is when you seek coherence and relevance, and your discourse is articulated enough to be submitted to the critical judgment of others. We should always be able to tell the difference if we want to live in a free society.

There is no doubt that we all have a fundamental right to say whatever we want, whenever we want to. But this is the condition of freedom, not freedom itself. Freedom is when you think. What we ask for through freedom of speech is, in that sense, the practical ability to reflect and debate as far as we wish, not a license to fall into the seduction of irresponsibility. If the saying “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” shines as the principle to hold on to, this is precisely because it refers to an instance where there is enough room for confrontation. Debating is creating each and everyone’s space for freedom. I will give my life for your right to defend your ideas because my dignity resides in accepting having my own ideas challenged with the tools of reason. I will not, by the same token, give my life for the pseudo-right of a mob and demagogues to yell slogans they refuse to make sense of and deny others the right to exist.

Though a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” Elon Musk has regularly closed Twitter accounts of people who merely happened to hurt his ego since he became the platform’s CEO. Visibly unaware of the contradiction, he does not seem to see, either, that conflating the right to say anything that crosses our mind with the nature itself of freedom is effectively defending stupidity’s dictatorship. Both contradictions can somewhat be explained when considering that, in their individualistic view of things, Libertarians relate freedom to the sole ability to move around as you please, not to responsibility toward each other. This is why they cannot fathom how banning Trump from Twitter wouldn’t be infringing upon his effective freedom of speech. They forget that speaking should always come with the responsibility of clarifying the righteousness of your views.

Libertarianism is, for that reason, an open door to Fascism. Pleading for everybody’s freedom of speech no matter what is wilfully ignoring that demagogues, especially with authoritarian tendencies like Trump, do not speak to make sense but to deceive. It is also denying that since the ex-president gives as much value to coherence and honesty as he would his first pair of socks, he barred himself from the inherent right to freedom that comes with actual debating.

The link between libertarianism and fascism, therefore, is that professional liars might always succeed in politics, eventually shutting down voices that don’t go along with their lies. Apparently, this is what constant “freedom of speech” heralds in the U.S. long for. If it were for the GOP, critical race theory, LGBTQ rights, or climate change would be banned from public discourse. To protect the kids, allegedly. Before putting their parents in jail. Not so incidentally, the primary and unique value of fascism is the purity of the youth.

As for Trump, he was never deprived of his freedom of speech. He is seated on it. What he was deprived of, before the other bully acquired Twitter, was a broader opportunity to become a dictator in his own right.

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