I’ve always been in favor of freedom of expression, but lately I’ve become a free-speech absolutist. It takes all sorts to make a world and I’ve met a lot of them over the years, and I can stand pretty much anything anyone says about anything — until someone says to me, “You can’t say that.” At which point my inclination is to punch his lights out. I do this not just because I’m a violent psychopath with a hair-trigger temper, but to make the important point that in societies where you’re not free to speak your mind — to argue and debate — the only way to express disagreement is through violence.
But the Shut-up-he-explained Party is making great strides in the free world, too. The Latina actress Maria Conchita Alonso was recently fired from a San Francisco production of The Vagina Monologues because she made the mistake of appearing in a commercial for a Tea Party political candidate. “We really can’t have her in the show,” the producer Eliana Lopez told KPIX-TV. Which would be an Oscar-winning line if she were appearing in a George Clooney movie about blacklisted screenwriters in the 1950s. But in the 2010s is just business. Jonathan Kay, my former editor at Canada’s National Post (I seem to be having a lot of disagreements with my editors these days), felt that Daniel Korobkin should not have been in the party that accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Israel. Rabbi Korobkin’s sin was to have “praised” Pamela Geller, the “controversial” New York blogger and anti-jihad crusader. Actually, he didn’t praise her. A year or so back, he gave a masterly demonstration of “moral turpitude and pharisaical narcissism” (as David Solway put it) all about how spiffingly marvelous Islam is and what splendid chaps his two Muslim teachers at UCLA had been — and, after 15 minutes of oleaginous multiculti boosterism, said, “And now here’s Pamela Geller.” But Korobkin committed the crime of being in the same room as Pamela Geller, and, therefore, the prime minister of Canada should not be permitted to be in the same room as him.
I don’t care for all this beyond-the-pale stuff, because the pale is already way too shrunk. And, aside from anything else, once you get into the habit of banning and proscribing, your critical thinking goes all to hell. Many of us have seen one or two of those ill-advised shows on al-Arabiya or al-Jazeera in which some fire-breathing imam invites on a despised, Westernized, apostate woman in order to crush her like a bug, only to have her run rings round him. The Syrian émigré Wafa Sultan famously did it to Faisal al-Qassem and Ibrahim al-Khouli. It’s hardly surprising that a culture that puts so much of life beyond discussion renders its inmates literally speechless — to the point where, faced with, say, a school teddy bear innocently named Mohammed, the default opening gambit at the local debating society is to shriek “Allahu Akbar!” and start killing.
We’re not at that point yet. But, raised in the cocoon of conformity that is American academe, the Left is increasingly showing all the critical-thinking skills of your average dimestore mullah. The other day, in between its ongoing complaints about Michael Douglas’s “homophobic” awards acceptance speeches, Salon ran a story by one of its many pajama boys headlined “Ted Nugent Writes Insanely Racist Op-Ed.” Apparently, Ted had written a “vile rant” at “the batshit insane right-wing fever swamp of a site known as WorldNetDaily.” “Even for Ted Nugent,” cautioned Elias Isquith in his opening sentence, “this is bad.” Alas, poor old Ted couldn’t quite live up to his batshit-insane billing: There followed a few unexceptional observations about black crime and broken families maybe a smidgeonette more heated than one might hear from, say, Bill Cosby or Juan Williams. More to the point, the hapless pajama boy didn’t even attempt to explain what was so objectionable about Nugent’s “rant.” As the Canadian blogger Kathy Shaidle put it, “Salon calls out Ted Nugent’s ‘racist’ MLK Day column — without refuting his points. Must be Friday.” All Mr. Isquith can do is reprise Ted Nugent’s words and then shriek “Batshit insane!” and “Insanely batshit!” over and over, like Lady Bracknell with Tourette’s.
Which brings us to Michael Mann, the fake Nobel laureate currently suing National Review for mocking his global-warming “hockey stick.” Of the recent congressional hearings, Dr. Mann tweeted that it was “#Science” — i.e., the guy who agrees with him — vs. “#AntiScience” — i.e., Dr. Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. That’s to say, she is by profession a scientist, but because she has the impertinence to dissent from Dr. Mann’s view she is “#AntiScience.” Mann is the climatological equivalent of those bozo imams on al-Arabiya raging about infidel whores: He can’t refute Dr. Curry, he can only label her.
He explains his aversion to appearing with anyone other than fawning groupies thus: “Getting on a debate stage signals that, while you might disagree, you respect the position of your opponent. #WhyWeDontDebateScienceDeniers.” But the reality is that he’s too insecure and dull-witted to argue. That’s why he’s suing me over a pun (“tree-ring circus”), why he threatened legal action in Minnesota over a song parody, and why he’s in court in Vancouver objecting to a bit of wordplay. “You can’t say that!” is the refrain of those who can’t hold their own. Michael Mann is seeking massive damages from me and this magazine. Nuts to that. But I would be willing to buy him a course in debating technique — because in free societies that’s how you win. I’d also like to buy the wee thin-skinned chap a sense of humor, but I don’t think there’s a course for that.
– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline (www.steynonline.com).