“This has not been a great period for free expression. The range of socially acceptable opinion has shrunk, as independent-minded journalists and experts have been eased out of their jobs at places ranging from New York magazine to Boeing and Civis Analytics for saying unorthodox things. The esteemed scholar James R. Flynn wrote a book called “In Defense of Free Speech” which was in turn canceled by his publisher for being too controversial.
Fortunately, a range of people from across the political spectrum have arisen to defend free inquiry, including Noam Chomsky, Cathy Young, the University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer, Caitlin Flanagan, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Jonathan Haidt, John McWhorter, Yascha Mounk, Jonathan Rauch and magazines like Quillette and Tablet.
Rauch was the subject of an interview by Nick Gillespie in Reason magazine, called “How to Tell if You’re Being Canceled,” which gets the first Sidney of 2020, the awards I give out for the best long-form essays of each year. Rauch was an early vocal champion of the movement for same-sex marriage, which was led by people who, in the early years, said things that seemed shocking and offensive to others. All they had back then was their freedom of speech, Rauch observes.
In Reason, he takes up the argument that certain ideas should be unsaid because they make other people feel unsafe. “The emotional safety argument, I argue, is fundamentally illiberal, and there is really nothing about it that can be salvaged. It is just inconsistent with the open society,” Rauch says.
“The notion here is that emotional injury is a kind of harm like physical injury, and because it’s a kind of harm it’s a rights violation. The problem is this is a completely subjective standard, and it makes any form of criticism potentially subject to censorship and cancellation and lumps science into a human rights violation.”