Post-Modernism and Free Speech

By: I.J. Makan

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You’ve read it in the papers, seen it on the news, overheard people talking about it on the subway, but you just can’t believe it’s happening. How did we get here?  You’d think that we would’ve learned from history not to do this: to limit free-speech. But we’re here again fighting for free speech. Did something happen that allowed this situation concerning free speech in universities and in the western world to unravel in such a manner?

I think there’s one possible candidate that, if not explicitly, implicitly granted people permission to fight against free speech: the acceptance of post-modernism, the reigning philosophy of our time.

Post-modernism has infected many a mind. It parades itself as humble, kind, and empathetic in discourse. It tells us that there is no right or wrong; that nothing is black and white; that thinking there’s objective truth only hampers social progress and progressive thought. And since saying that someone is wrong is offensive, we should not say that. Post-modernism tells us that since we cannot ever attain a “God’s eye view” of things, we can never know what is really right or wrong.

Take for instance philosophy, a field I love dearly. It’s commonplace in philosophy to think that there is no such thing as objective truth, whether in ethics, metaphysics, or epistemology. You frequently hear things like there isn’t anything objectively evil or bad, just things you either prefer or not prefer.

Now suppose you sign up for English 101. In that class, you hear that there is no objectivity in the world. That a poem can be interpreted this way or that way and that it doesn’t really matter so long as you connect with it. Or you go to a gender studies class and there you learn that you instead determine your own gender, not biology. I can multiply these examples, but you get the point. So, you then take these principles–that there is no true or false proposition and that no one can tell what is right or wrong–from your university classes and apply them to other areas of life. What you have then is a recipe for disaster! You are disgusted by anyone who thinks there are objective right and wrong. You think anything that flies against your belief is hate speech.

And this is precisely what has taken place. We now have an abundance of indoctrinated post-modernists walking the halls as students, professors, politicians, etc. These post-modernists start to get offended by some of the things they hear: abortion is wrong; theism is true; minorities can be racists; transgenderism is metaphysically impossible, etc. How could people say these hurtful things; don’t they know they are impeding social progress?

What happens is that they begin to insist on political correctness–making certain things off limit–for social progress. They make examples of those unwilling to conform by casting them out as bigots. But when post-modernists cannot deal with views that offend them they demand safe-spaces. A place to be coddled. A place to hide when they’re triggered.

Finally, post-modernists realize that political correctness and safe-spaces are not enough, so they attack the root of all causes: free speech. If free-speech were controlled then there would be no need for safe-spaces because everywhere would be safe. There would be no one maintaining that there is objective truth. If free-speech were limited then there would be no need for political correctness. So, they urge other post-modernists to think of ideas that trigger them and to label them as hate-speech. Now, once free-speech is twisted into hate-speech, it becomes much easier to attack. You can begin to assert that something is a hate-speech and so is a threat to society or incites violence. It can also justify violent action. But really claiming something is hate-speech is a way to police free-speech by groups of people claiming to fight for justice and fair treatment.

So, if post-modernity has caused such a disaster why still hold onto it? Likely because many still don’t see how self-refuting the position is. If you believe that there is no right or wrong, or that we cannot know what is true or false because we don’t have a “God’s eye perspective”, then your beliefs are self-referentially incoherent. For you’d have to believe that your belief that there is no right or wrong is right. And if that is right, then there is something that is right or wrong. And if you believe that we can’t distinguish between true or false beliefs because we lack a “God’s eye perspective”, then you believe that your view is true, meaning you have a God’s eye perspective, which you said was impossible. Any possible defence of post-modernism is fraught with difficulties, and that’s probably why there’s emphasis on the acceptance of all beliefs (except for the ones they dissent).

Post-modernity is not humble, kind, or empathetic, but rather it is proud, rude, intolerant, and anti-intellectual. I add anti-intellectual because it’s self-refuting and morass. If we are not careful, if we don’t stand up to post-modernism, we will lose our free democratic societies. Free-speech is the last stronghold; it’s what allows us to criticize and dismantle post-modernism.

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