Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was finalized last Friday, and the world’s richest man confirmed his reason for doing so: “I acquired Twitter because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.” Musk is reacting to Twitter’s blatantly politicized censorship and bullying of conservatives and others who publicize opinions that challenge or expose progressive Democrats’ orthodoxy.
Here’s hoping that Musk keeps his nerve and reforms Twitter by purging its staff and policies that arrogantly run rough-shod over the First Amendment, based on their delusional belief that they are virtuous “brights” who are so certain of their superior knowledge that only they should be allowed to speak in the town square, and be charged with silencing heretics and blasphemers against their sacred narrative of “our democracy.”
What these censors don’t get is that free speech is not just an accessory to our Constitutional order, but a defining foundation of it. That’s why free speech is the first unalienable right to be codified in the Bill of Rights, for without it political freedom can’t exist.
This link between free speech and political freedom, moreover, arose in ancient Athens, the first government ever to allow non-elites, or the demos, the masses, to become citizens who voted, deliberated, consented to the laws, and served in offices. No matter how low their birth, how lacking in education, or poor, they were politically equal and free.
But giving citizens the right to speak without fear of retaliation in the public and civic spaces of the polis had to acknowledge the larger diversity of the new political community, compared to the oligarchies of wealth or birth, which were much more homogenous in their interests and way of life. Restricting political speech by rules of style or decorum, would necessarily function as a gatekeeper that excluded and diminished some citizens’ diverse ideas and arguments, and their various styles of presenting them.
The solution was to allow great latitude in public political speech, whether in the Assembly, trials, or the comic theater, which was not, like today, the venue for private entertainment, but was part of a politico-religious festival managed by officials of the polis and attended by its citizens. Hence, comedy was a form of political discourse that used humor, especially sexual and scatological, to make political judgements and commentary about politicians and policies.
In fact, these comedies were wildly unrestrained in their obscenity and personal attacks, even by our vulgar standards. Classicist K.J. Dover describes these brutal assaults on known politically prominent Athenians of the period, not one of whom was spared. All were described as “vain, greedy, dishonest, and self-seeking,” and “represented also as ugly, diseased, prostituted perverts, the sons of whores by foreigners who bribed their way into citizenship,” which was restricted to legitimate children of an Athenian mother and father.
Comedy and other genres like satire, then, have been foundational to democracy and republics from the beginning. They are important mechanisms for keeping politicians accountable to the people by humiliating them publicly and mocking their pretensions of importance and superior knowledge. Hence the use of scatological and sexual humor for 2500 years: those universal human functions reinforce the central assumption especially of representative government that all citizens are politically equal. As Lenny Bruce joked, there no man no matter how powerful who won’t get on his knees and beg a woman to “just touch it.” The sordid and humiliating sexual exploits of JFK and Bill Clinton confirm this eternal truth.
Needless to say, elites like Plato despised this freedom of all citizens to speak frankly and crudely to their betters. But Plato was a utopian, antidemocratic technocrat, like today’s progressives who believe that “experts” and cognitive elites should govern the masses. Hoi polloi do not have the knowledge and credentials that protect them from “conspiracy theories,” the wiles of political hucksters, and the “right-wing media” who peddle “fake news” and “disinformation.”
So why should we be surprised that tech moguls like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates champion censoring news that challenges their political narratives and interest, or that Amazon censors books disliked by progressives? Why are any corporations “cancelling” those who dare criticize self-serving “woke” policies? Why the incessant scolding to “follow the science,” or the smug yard-signs proclaiming “science is real,” when most of the policies they promote are the fruit of scientism, not legitimate science? Is it that all these Grand Inquisitors despise the retrograde ignoramuses or superstitious people of faith who they believe are too stupid and venal and repressed to understand the progressives’ brave new world?
Or why do we wonder at the decline of comedy over the last few decades? There’s no question that today’s comics or film comedies, with a few notable exceptions, are not funny to anyone other than the “woke” commissars checking for violations of orthodoxy. But what we’ve lost is not just humor, but the ancient, vital function of comedy in a democracy to “speak truth to power” and hold it accountable to the sovereign people, and puncture the pretensions of wannabe tyrants that only they should rule.
In contrast, today too many performers, again with the exception of dissenters like Dave Chapelle and Ricky Gervais, are eager to grovel and apologize at the first condemnation by “woke” scolds.
Such missish comedians should take a lesson from the comic playwright Aristophanes, whose favorite target was the demagogue Cleon, who after Pericles was the most consequential Athenian politician in the first decade of the Peloponnesian War. Fed up with the playwright’s brutal ridicule, Cleon complained to the Council, who brushed aside this attempt to censor Aristophanes and violate the foundational right of free speech.
Worse for Cleon, in his next play Aristophanes mocked Cleon’s failed efforts, and articulated the political function of comedy: “Let Cleon hatch his plots and build his traps against me to his utmost, for Good and Right will be my allies, and never will I be caught behaving toward the city as he does, a coward and a punk-arse.” The last word in ancient Greek more obviously denotes a passive homosexual, a deadly insult to masculine honor in ancient Athens.
These days not many people who are assaulted by the “woke” have such courage, or the consciousness of the vital political import of humor. This privatizing of comedy makes it easier for the oligarchic progressives to dismantle the foundations of the “democracy” they hypocritically accuse conservative Republicans and Libertarians of threatening.
But what progressives mean by “democracy” is not the diversity of the peoples who settled the thirteen colonies, and which the Constitution protects by dividing and balancing power, but the abstract, homogenized “The People” of collectivist ideologies, who require a concentrated, expansive power to address their unified interests. This view was clear as early as 1913, when Woodrow Wilson wrote of technocratic political “architects” and “engineers” who would construct a political order “where men can live as a single community, co-operative as in a perfectly co-ordinated [sic] beehive.”
So too progressive Mary Parker Follet, who five years later wrote that the state’s “higher function” is a “great forward policy which shall follow the collective will of the people” that is “embodied in the state,” a “great spiritual unity” in which “the individual . . . is the state” and “the state . . . is the individual. Wilson’s “beehive” and Follet’s melding of individual and state prefigure Mussolini’s “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Who’s the “semi-fascist” Joe?
The “cancel culture” that now dominates universities, government agencies, popular culture, and social media is a weapon for dismantling the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and divided government designed to check such tyrannical concentration of power and its expansion into private life and civil society. It also undermines the authentic diversity that created the idea of free speech 2500 years ago, and was the foundation of our own political order and its guardrails against tyranny.
If Elon Musk follows through and returns First Amendment rights to Twitter, he will be remembered for taking the war against censorship into one of its most consequential bastions. And let’s not forget our delightful schadenfreude over watching the “woke” lose their, er, minds. As the show-tune has it, there’s “no ordeal like the end of Camille.”
Mo de Profit says
If and when president Trump decides to tweet again, then I will reopen my account.
THX 1138 says
I would much rather listen to the much more intelligent and razor-sharp-witted Kari Lake, that woman can think on her feet. She thinks clearly and lucidly in real time. She can and does drop a verbal atom bomb in the blink of an eye.
I’m profoundly grateful to Donald Trump for all he’s done to expose the Uni-Party Swamp but his inarticulateness, his inability to think on his feet, his boorishness, and his anti-intellectuality, are self-sabotaging and harmful to his message and effectiveness and have resulted in too many missed and ruined opportunities to articulate with swift and devastating precision what should be exposed and devastated.
Quick and sharp-witted articulateness, the precise right words at the the right time, said in just the right way, while thinking on your feet in real time, is a powerful and necessary skill of devastating attack and defense, that a politician requires. Kari Lake has that skill, Donald Trump rarely has it. I would love to see her be president one day.
I’m typically not a fan of your comments but I love this one. I’m always at a loss to articulate what it is about DJT that makes me sigh w/ a longing for better — despite the numerous things I love. You summed it up right on point, & w/ a great economy of words.
Lake had no problem accepting the Trump endorsement. Without it the race would be much closer.
But I get it. You never miss a chance to bag on Trump. Fortunately Lake doesn’t need your endorsement.
Paul Nachman says
“You never miss a chance to bag on Trump.”
That is **so** lame. THX 1138 expresses great gratitude to Trump while also making quite-supportable criticisms. Then Intrepid characterizes this as “bag[ging] on Trump.”
I, too, am grateful to Trump but think that DeSantis and Lake are better bets for actually advancing the football.
Trump hardly did that, except for three Supreme Court appointments. Beyond those, he seemed to have minimal attention span (especially on immigration), albeit that surely was influenced by the nonstop, fraudulent “resistance.”
And maybe Trump’s spine, especially after it’s been educated by the 2015 – 2021 nightmare experience, ultimately makes him a better bet than DeSantis or Lake.
But such back-and-forth considerations don’t rate any respect from Intrepid.
Jeff Bargholz says
Kari Lake plans ahead. She hosted TV news for years and years so she understands the fake news media trolls and how to easily counter them. She’s very smart but what often seems like an impromptu answer is actually based on experience and planning.
THX 1138 says
Tell President Trump to take lessons from Kari lake, he needs them.
Assuming Musk does not give in to the left…… “they” will try to marginalize Twitter, get Musk for something or other, or they will melt like the Wicked Witches they are.
I am glad the author highlights comedy and ridicule here. I believe this points to is their Achilles heel – because of their influence among the younger set and people who care a lot about being trendy and their status.
For if you think about it, once a person is worth hundreds of millions (do you think those elites in big tech and media setting cultural policies and trends aren’t mega wealthy;? Well, I’d say they are), its not security, comfort or luxuries they seek as they have all that, but continued esteem and power.
Ridicule is the tool to undo their hold on us.
Kynarion Hellenis says
“What these censors don’t get is that free speech is not just an accessory to our Constitutional order, but a defining foundation of it.”
We have to stop assuming they are ignorant.
There was always something more than a bit strange about the “in order to have free speech, we must censor those who do not agree with us” school of thought. Hopefully, with Mr. Musk’s purchase of Twitter such sentiments will, with time, seem stranger and stranger with each passing day.
Madalyn Murray O'Hair says
One man and Twitter cannot save anything. Ignoring God will cause failure. Just look at me…….. as proof
ELON MUSK,from his history ,falls into one of the 3 categories,they are:
1.The Globalists-New World Order-Great Reset
2. The anti-Globalists,who are divided into:
a. The MULTIPOLAR world group,who are NON-interventionists.
b. The ones who want to destroy the Globalists AND also the Multipolar world.
They are PRO-interventionists( IMPERIALISTS), pro the US government applying economic sanctions, secondary economic sanctions,
creating coups d’etat, covert operations, propaganda, secretly interfering in other countries, using threats.
Musk is b. He was in FAVOR of a coup in BOLIVIA, effected by the US, because that way he could get
LITHIUM for his Tesla car.He said in TWITTER: ” “We will coup WHOEVER we WANT! Deal with it.”
THX 1138 says
“Needless to say, elites like Plato despised this freedom of all citizens to speak frankly and crudely to their betters. But Plato was a utopian, antidemocratic technocrat, like today’s progressives who believe that “experts” and cognitive elites should govern the masses.”
Plato was a Platonist. Which means he was a supernaturalist, a dualist, a mystic. His philosophy argues that there are two realities, two dimensions. The INFERIOR one we live in and another higher, SUPERIOR, perfect, reality in another dimension. Plato further argues that in order to understand the higher, superior, perfect reality, of which this earthly reality is but a shadow requires years, if not decades, of intellectual preparation, which only a few individuals in any generation will be capable of achieving. Which means mankind requires an elite PRIESTHOOD to guide and control it.
The metaphysics of supernaturalism, dualism, mysticism, necessarily, inexorably, logically, lead to the tyranny of theocracy. A ruling elite, a ruling secular, or religious, priesthood. Technocrats, Rabbis, Bishops, or Mullahs.
The article is not about Plato, nor is it about you.
Though the left/democrats, push fear as hard as they can to try to stop people from voting against them, the biggest, no, greatest, fear they have is, “Freedom of speech,” in the realm of the, “citizen class,” of the American people.
The left/democrats, also like to think of themselves as the smartest people on the planet and would, like the rest of the communist class of people, like to rule the world.
THX 1138 says
“Is it that all these Grand Inquisitors despise the retrograde ignoramuses or superstitious people of faith who they believe are too stupid and venal and repressed to understand the progressives’ brave new world?”
The metaphysics of Platonism, supernaturalism, dualism, mysticism, and religion logically demand faith and unreason as their epistemology.
In order to perceive natural reality man uses his natural senses and then proceeds to reason about the evidence of the natural senses to arrive at objective, demonstrable, knowledge about natural reality. But how can man perceive an allegedly existing super-natural reality that lies beyond his natural senses and natural mind?
The Christians in order to make some pseudo-rational sense of their supernatural mysticism, in order to make their Judeo-Christian supernatural CLAIMS seem intellectually and philosophically, acceptable and respectable, hijacked, co-opted, Plato and his Platonism. There was and is no way to defend supernatural mysticism using Aristotelian reason and logic alone.
Which of course led to the collapse of the West into the one-thousand years of the superstitions of the Christian Dark Ages.
But pseudo-reason, pseudo-logic, and pseudo-science are not the exclusive monopoly of religion. The Marxist, the communist, the socialist, the fascist, and the Nazi all employ them too. Thanks to be to Plato and his followers Immanuel Kant and Hegel.
The article is also not about Christianity, or you, Mr. One Track Mind. Thank God they changed the formatting here. You don’t get top babble on like you used to.
THX 1138 says
“If Elon Musk follows through and returns First Amendment rights to Twitter, he will be remembered for taking the war against censorship into one of its most consequential bastions.”
Freedom of speech is a political principle philosophically dependent upon and derived from an epistemology based on reason. Freedom of speech is an effect, and end result, the finished baked cake so to speak, dependent upon many previous philosophical ingredients, the most crucial ingredients of which are REASON and LOGIC.
Elon Musk is trying to save the cake, the product of reason, when Platonic-Kantian-Hegelian philosophy has for 230 years now, CLAIMED to have “limited”, i.e., discredited, reason as an absolute, opening the way to the philosophical ingredient of unreason and faith.
If Elon musk, or any other billionare, wants to save the fruits of reason, they need to take the war for freedom and freedom of speech to the one crucially consequential bastion — the university — the Ivory Tower. A republic of liberty requires a philosophy of reason. That philosophy is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Let Musk fund a department of Objectivism at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and California State University.
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” – Abraham Lincoln
Michin David says
Hear, Hear — to the university!
And of course, the article is not about your girl friend and her moribund Philosophy. No one cares.
Twitter lives and is liberated, in spite of you.
Spurwing Plover says
Trump back on Twitter this is sure to upset the leftists crowd if idiots
We are in the middle of learning that Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms are being told what topics to censor by Homeland Security and other parts of the federal government. I guess Musk could be transparent about that if it keeps happening. That would probably get him on someone’s shit list though.