Saturday, December 26, 2020

Free Speech, Open Debate, and the Battlefield of Ideas: The Struggle for Control of the Mainstream Narrative

An increasing number of individuals in our society think we are moving into a pre-totalitarian societal state. At first I brushed off these concerns for the most part. I didn't see any way that such cherished values as freedom of speech and freedom of thought could ever come under attack in our society.  Those were values that were universal in society, transcending cultures, groups, and political movements. But increasingly, as social media platforms engaged in de-platforming and censorship, and news media manipulated the spread of information, and only allowed for certain narratives to hold the lime light, and as increasingly people in our society face the threat of being silenced for holding viewpoints contrary to the prevailing narratives, I began to take notice. 

I also took notice as "fact checks" began to appear in droves on Facebook and Twitter. And as you read the "fact checks" you realized more and more, that these supposedly "independent fact checkers" were nothing more than the same editorial and opinion writers at the major outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, and USA Today, just to name a few.  And as you read the fact checks, you increasingly realized that it had much less to do with facts than it did with the popular narrative, and maintaining that narrative at any cost.  And you increasingly realized that the fact checks were only targeting certain people, of a certain political persuasion.  Both sides were not being fact checked, but only certain individuals and groups.

Already in our society there is a sort of silence, where debate and discussion on certain issues has been shut down. The prevailing societal elites have declared these issues resolved, and anyone who might disagree or raise a counter-perspective is evil, and must be destroyed.  People are already afraid to speak about certain things.  People are afraid to post that they support a certain candidate or policy, because they know a mob may form to try to destroy their livelihood or shame them into apology. This is already a disturbing turn of events.  But imagine if it went a step further, to laws that bound your ability to speak. Imagine new hate speech laws, that condemned any belief outside the prevailing narrative to be a sort of heresy against doctrine. Already we see hate speech laws in regards to various issues in our society, but how hard is it to see those same laws expanded to target Christians who hold to the sanctity of life, and marriage, the family, and the truth of the scriptures? Maybe these concerns aren't as far away and relegated to the old world as we thought. 

These prevailing viewpoints, which must not be challenged, this prevailing ideology, really culminates into a modern narrative. But what do we mean by "narrative?"

See typically in a free society, there are various "narratives" that take hold.  These are general soundbites about what our society is, what it was, and where it's going.  They tend to be general collections of ideas, broken down to their key elements to help "tell the story" of our society.  Typically, there are numerous narratives out in the ether of society.  And they vy for influence through public debate, discussions around dinner tables, opinions of experts and leaders, and the way the news portrays events.  And that's as it should be.  Open debate, open discussion, and we simply hope that the truth will win out, as we speak out.

But now, with the advent of censorship, de-platforming, cancel culture, and fact checkers, we see that one narrative takes center stage not because it's won the open debate in the various realms of free society, but because opposing viewpoints and counter-narratives have been stifled, censored, shut down, and cancelled.  This my friends is not good.  And it's the beginnings of what some like Rod Dreher who authored the recent book Live Not By Lies are calling "soft tyranny" or "soft totalitarianism."  

Instead of many narratives, there is only one. One prevailing narrative that doesn't have to answer any questions, or be exposed to any debate.  Either you fall into line with the prevailing ideology, or you are shut down, censored, or lose your job.  This is a development I will be keeping a close eye on, and praying about.

I'll be writing more about it as I read Rod Dreher's Live Not By Lies, and continue to pray steadfastly, observing where our society is going.  But I know this much, when free speech begins to be stifled to enforce a certain narrative, there is great danger ahead.  Let's hope we can right our course, and not lose our way in the west, and fall into soft-totalitarianism, which might eventually become a more firm and rigid totalitarianism. We often think "it could never happen here." But it's interesting, as you study history, you realize many have thought the same thing, 'it certainly couldn't happen here.' And then to their shock and amazement, it did.  Pray brothers and sisters.  And stand up for free speech.