Have you ever been forced to say something that you didn’t want to say?
Maybe you didn’t believe it, was pressured by peers, or blackmailed. There’s a great term for that: compelled speech. And it is absolutely deadly to literature and liberty.
Why I’m Writing This Article: Current Events
As I write this article, I have Facebook, YouTube and Twitter tabs open. Where social media influencers and brands are quick to say how they support Black Lives Matter, and will stand up against racism. Some go even further, and talk about systemic racism and white privilege. Now, these topics are obviously charged with emotion, and require care.
Although I disagree with the ideology and behaviour of Black Lives Matter, I understand that other people don’t, and it is their right to support whatever cause they please. That’s the beauty of free speech!
Read the comments. People ask: How much are you (the private company) donating? Why are you publishing an author whose opinions that I don’t like?
However, you can’t argue that every brand posting black squares on Instagram care about black lives, or even want to involve themselves in such a political topic. The riots and protests that are currently going on around the world, especially in the United States, are incredibly divisive.
Why a publishing house, or even a brand, would tangle themselves in it is beyond me.
What concerns me are the comments below the black squares, or the relationship BLM protestors have with brands. They are ‘I emailed this brand to speak up against police brutality’ or ‘why are you remaining silent? Silence is consent.’ Some goes as far to enquiry why certain authors are getting published, like Allie Beth Stuckey. (Guilty of Thought Crime, oh, the horror!).
Since when do we expect brands to support political causes? The role of a brand, or a publishing house, is to provide a service and / or product. It is not to grand-stand on a moral issue, or to use a hurtful political cause to ‘look good’ to consumers.
Yes, make no mistake about it: these brands do not actually care about black lives. They only care about how much money they can make, and what power they wield.
This is all a game to them. But it doesn’t matter, because whatever brands do for ‘the Black Lives Matter cause’ it will never be enough. I’ve researched heavily into Black Lives Matter and the demands go well beyond avoiding police brutality. Spare me with ‘black lives matter just means you care about black lives!’
Not only that, but these companies wield alot of societal power. They decide who gets published, and who doesn’t. I’m sure there are alot of aspiring authors out there, as well as current ones, who are discouraged by how brands are acting. I doubt that ‘the big five’ publishing houses value intellectual diversity and free expression.
I’ve also expressed my utter disappointment with Hachette, who dropped a contract with filmmaker Woody Allen after staff threw a hissy fit.
The bratty entitlement from protestors is shocking, as is the logic that ‘silence is consent.’ If you believe that, please do not say that to anyone who has experience with sexual violence. Just don’t.
The disaster point was the treatment an opinion-editorial got from The New York Times. Tom Cotton, a current US senator, wrote a piece about how military force should be used. The NYT staff was not happy, and betrayed their journalist integrity. It doesn’t matter that the NYT has published pieces by the leader of the Taliban, what matters is that Tom Cotton voiced an opinion that the mob didn’t like.
And thus, the op-ed editor resigned. You don’t have to like Cotton’s words, but to quote Michael Tracey:
He’s not wrong. In today’s world, conflict is conflated with abuse, and disagreement is violence. How Orwellian have we gotten. And it is foolish to expect that literature, the art form that prides itself on integrity and intellectual honesty, will thrive under such a regime. It won’t.
Instead, we’ll get generic books by big publishers, that are politically correct and inoffensive, without tension or meaning. To quote Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:
“Do you understand now why books are hated and feared? Because they reveal the pores on the face of life. The comfortable people want only the faces of the full moon, wax, faces without pores, hairless, expressionless.”
People don’t read books in F451 because they are ‘banned.’ No, they don’t read because it may challenge or offend them. I see more publishers and writers today bending the knee to political correctness and Black Lives Matter than free speech and inquiry.
That makes me sad. If you support BLM, that’s your right. But you can’t force others to, and no one likes a bully. In the past two weeks, I’ve witnessed doxxing, bullying, rioting and even murder of anyone who stands up to BLM and the rioters.
I am particularly saddened by the murder of David Dorn, a retired police captain, who got shot dead by looters as he was protecting his business. I’ve seen whole streets, absolutely burned down, and residents unable to get medicine and food in a timely manner.
And you know who is suffering from this? Black people. Yes, David Dorn was a black man. Those streets, looted in Minneapolis? Neighbourhoods with a strong African-American presence, and many of the businesses that burned down were owned by Blacks. Even social housing and the post office were not immune to the rampage by the riots.
This is exactly why I am not saying Black Lives Matter on social media. Yes, of course I care about black people. Duh. Regardless of your race, your life matters. But I refuse to use words that are tied up with so much mayhem and destruction, and are underlined by hypocrisy.
If you want to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ I will not stop you. And you won’t stop me from not using those words either. We all have choices in this world, and sometimes, people are going to make some that the mob doesn’t like.
It makes me sad that ‘the mob’ have high positions in journalism, publishing, politics, finance and education. How can art, let alone society, thrive? When even voicing the unpopular opinion gets you shouted at, fired, doxxed and vilified?
I have every reason to believe that the mob is capable of breaking book deals. And as a writer, that terrifies me.
The Nasty Effects of Self-Censorship
Self-censorship refers to an individual making a choice to remain silent and not voice their opinions out of fear or a desire for approval. Often, societies, particularly Western democracies, have ‘fashionable’ beliefs.
As said earlier, companies have few compelling reasons to actually believe the words they speak. However, they have plenty of reasons to convince you (the consumer) that they do. Why? Money and power, mostly. But also a lack of courage and conviction. The publishing houses that give into public pressure do not earn the public respect. They offer very little beyond producing products.
The world, it seems, is coded in secrecy. No one speaks their minds, least they be judged. We put on masks, hiding our real intentions and thoughts from the world, out of fear that we disturb it out of cruelty.
There are two excellent quotes by Russian author Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn that come to mind:
“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.
Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”
I also love his thoughts on ‘fashionable’ beliefs in the West, because they are true:
“Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development.”
Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent time doing forced labour in a Soviet Union gulag, knew the horrors of radical ideologies like communism. It’s not surprising that so many Western youths haven’t even heard of Solzhenitsyn or The Gulag Archipelago. It’s a terrific book, that does not hesitate to tell you the truth.
However, when you self-censor, the truth does not come out. No one hears it, and therefore, no one acknowledges it. Does that make society, or anything, better? What good comes out of cowardice?
We need to start standing up for ourselves. Sure, there are times when tactically, you have to remain silent. But never forget who crushes your spirit and requires obedience. Eventually, there will be a time and a place where you must speak. Because if you don’t, you’ll lose yourself and what matters to you.
Compelled Speech: An Evil That Must Be Destroyed
We are all human beings, and have agency and free will. Why would I waste my voice? It does not exist to chirp ‘politically correct’ words or phrases. Sure, you could tell me that I could be silent, instead. But remember? Silence is consent, and by being silent, I am contributing to an evil! (Apparently.) No one wins under this tyrannical school of linguistics, only the people who make the rules. And I have no intention to dictate what people can or shouldn’t think, do or say.
Compelled speech may be the only thing worse than self-censorship. It’s not enought to be apolitical, you must now be part of the cause. You must utter the words of your enemies, who do not have your countries best interests at heart. Are you allowed to speak honestly? Only if it benefits the dictatorship.
Compelled speech quickly turns into compelled action. You go from voicing certain opinions to committing atrocities. Tyranny will only get worse, because the tyranny never has a notion of stopping. Things will only improve if we stand up for ourselves, and each other.
I’m seeing awful parallels right now with the Chinese Cultural Revolution under tyrant Mao Zedong.
I value human dignity and liberty. That’s one of the founding blocks of Snowy Fictions. Whatever comments you have, you are free to share them below. I know this post will be controversial and upsetting to some, and I implore such people to re-read what I am saying.
What is currently going on in the world is not about George Floyd anymore, or police brutality. And personally? I will not say the words tyranny demands of me.
If you are a publisher or writer reading this, know that free speech and liberty are the building blocks for an effective democracy and society. We shouldn’t remain shrouded in fear because of a mob mentality.
Great art requires minds that are willing to speak up, even when it is the hardest thing to do. I believe that it is possible to do, and I hope you do as well.